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Creative Writing Courses

Interview Angela Jeffs (Japan Times Journalist) on her writing class "Drawing on the Writer Within", the book she is working on at the moment and labyrinths.

Have you always been a writer?

No. I was, and then for years I wasn't.

I was one of those children who wrote, directed and starred in their own plays. Sounds precocious but actually I was struggling to maintain a natural confidence and essential creative talent that was very soon lost - or rather forced out of me. It did not help to have my parents always breathing down my ear: "Work hard, be successful and independent, but know your limitations and never leave home." Talk about mixed messages.

I studied drama, thinking to act, then after moving to London in 1962 (along with the Beatles!) got sidetracked into publishing, working for companies in Soho and Covent Garden long before either became trendy. A marvellous time.

I went freelance in 1973, working as an editor of magazines and books, then a consultant editor, development editor, consultant development editor, even packaging books with a designer partner.

I wrote little - editors' letters, captions, a few features, the occasional short story etc., spending 25 years mostly commissioning, encouraging and editing other peoples' words.

Life before Japan: Lee,  Buffy and I, London, 1977. Can't believe I was 
smoking...
Life before Japan: Lee,  Buffy and I,
London, 1977. Can't believe I was smoking...

I began writing in earnest only when I came to Japan in 1986. Having raised a family, suddenly I had the time and energy to try something new - or rather return to my first love. Also, having no major responsibilities for the first time for what seemed like forever, it didn't matter (I rationalised with daredevil enthusiasm) if I didn't make much money for a while.

In fact, The Japan Times took my words onboard within a few months, and a wonderful publication, THE MAGAZINE (long defunct) offered me great commissions - to track down former head-hunting tribes in the Philippines, and wax long and lyrical about mud walls in Shimonoseki, for example. A company of Japanese women (TGA Inc.) asked me to help develop a client magazine. Tokyo Journal assigned me to interview some great characters. And Asia Magazine in Hong Kong hired me as Japan Correspondent for seven glorious free-ranging years.

This, of course, was the time of Japan's economic Bubble.
Anything seemed possible, and was.

What is your regular working schedule now?

An interview every Saturday on the PEOPLE page of The Japan Times. Also "Lifelines" - answering readers letters - every other Tuesday on the paper's COMMUNITY page; I share this column with Ken Joseph Jr, who founded and runs the worldwide emergency organisation Japan Helpline (phone 0990-54 0953/03-3435 8017; fax 0990-54 0954/03-3588 1202) or check web page www.jhelp.com

Soul sisters:  me and favourite neighbour Julia Ito, 2003
Soul sisters: me and favourite neighbour Julia Ito, 2003

To access the last two years of my columns, go to www.japantimes.com then search my name. (Ditto for Ken, searching his name; he usually does visa and legal enquiries; I cover more general matters.) A long list will come up going back some two years...

A lot of my interview subjects and the advice given could be described as "alternative", being more interested in people and organisations with a holistic sustainable approach to development and wellbeing.

Soul sisters:  favourite postcard, 2004
Soul sisters:  favourite postcard, 2004

Mondays I am usually in Tokyo or roundabout in various formal and informal meetings. Tuesday and Wednesday are writing days - articles, columns, books - and I try to keep them sacrosanct. Thursday and Friday I do shifts at NHK in Shibuya, helping collate news clips from Japan for the weekly programme AsiaVision.

Thursday evenings I facilitate creative writing classes at the RBR New Center for Creative Arts in Moto-Azabu.

Can you explain your creative writing classes?

I have been looking for a way to pass on my skills and experience for some time now. When RBR (Right Brain Research) opened in May 2004, I was talking with founders Kristin, Lia and Mayumi and a light went on: creative writing.

I began teaching autumn last with the idea that anyone could drop in from week to week. But by Christmas I had decided this was not working. Meaning it was working - writers unblocked, imagination soared - but not well enough. So I began casting around for a more subtle but powerful methodology that was in line with what I knew I wanted to do but was at yet unable to put into words. When I began reading 'Writing the Mind Alive' by Linda Trichter Metcalfe, Ph.D. and Tobin Simon, Ph.D., the resonance of their Proprioceptive method of teaching was so familiar that I began shaking...

In January I began facilitating an 8-week course at RBR. In the first part of each class students focus on the exterior world, with a wide variety of exercises and discussion. The second half is theraputic and exploratory, allowing students to listen to and write from their authentic interior voice. For this PW (Proprioceptive Writing) use Baroque music, which takes the mind from an Alpha state to a semi-meditative Beta state, candlelight and one simple tool: the PQ (Proprioceptive Question): "What do I mean by...." In allowing students to start from wheresoever they choose, ask their own questions and supply their own answers, they can go as deep as they dare.

RBR Propioceptive writing class in progress, February 2005
RBR Propioceptive writing class in progress, February 2005 

We are now over halfway through this first course. No-one has dropped out (in fact numbers grew); the solidarity - also courage and confidence - of the group increases by the week; the work they are producing is awe-inspiring.

I facilitate a similar small private class - eight is about maximum - in my own home in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, on the first Saturday afternoon of the month. And plan to organise one-day and weekend workshops on request.

Much of the centre's work is concerned with liberating the creative right lobe from the restrictive focus of western education on the rational logical functions of left lobe (reading, writing, maths, exams!)

I understand you are interested in labyrinths?

True. But Kathryn Treece is the certified expert (042-363 8640, e-mail <jktreece@inter.net>).

Kathryn is the guardian and facilitator of the 11-circuit labyrinth that she and other women at Tokyo Union Church commissioned from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. You can read the interview I did with her (November 8, 2003) on the JT website given on Monday. Just scroll down to the headline: WALKING LABYRINTH SATISFIES HUNGER FOR THE DIVINE. The fact that the earliest labyrinth found to date, inscribed on a rock face in Sardinia, is 5,500 years old is surely intriguing enough to make anyone want to know more: Rev. Dr Lauren Artress' Worldwide Labyrinth Project: www.gracecom.org.

Because the canvas labyrinth is only suitable for walking inside a building, I decided last year to try marking out meditational pathways on Zushi beach. So successfully did I enter into the heart of myself, that I fell off my bike on the way home and fractured my elbow - part of yet another wake-up call.


Labyrinth on Zushi beach, May 2004.
Labyrinth on Zushi beach, May 2004.

I drew (and volunteers helped dig) two labyrinths - a 5-circuit and a 7-circuit on Isshiki Beach as part of the 2004 Hayama Arts Festival. Some 70 people walked over the two days, with fascinating insights and comments. A group of high school girls and their teachers walked as part of a festival project. One Japanese woman shamed into walking by her partner, stamped around in a fury, exiting with a resentful "So what?" But the next day she returned alone and walked twice, quietly and contemplatively. Interesting, right?

I shall be drawing 7-circuits circuits again this Spring as part of HAF, on Isshiki Beach on May 1, and Zushi Beach (which being wider and flatter is in fact more suitable), May 7. Anyone is welcome from 11am to sunset or whenever the tide takes back the pathway.

A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is designed as a tricky intellectual exercise. A labyrinth leads you naturally and safely to the centre and you return by the same route. It is the nature/design of the turns along the route that opens up right brain and allows emotions, thoughts and insights to surface. Every walk is different.
If you think nothing is happening, even this offers potential insights: maybe you are too easily distracted, or find your own company uncomfortable - in a state of dis-ease?

You have written a number of books. How did 'Insider's Tokyo' come about?

Most of the books I wrote or collaborated on in the UK were practical in nature. 'Insider's Tokyo' was commissioned by Times Editions (as was) in Singapore after they read some of my travel writing on Japan in Asia Magazine.

One of a series on capital cities, I was asked to research and compile 45 stories about the history of Tokyo by focussing on objects - an address, a monument, even in my case, a willow tree and a golf course. It took a year to plan, and about a year and a half to research (on the hoof) and write. I learned a lot; my knees have yet to recover.

Insider's Tokyo, published November 2001
Insider's Tokyo, published November 2001

Insiders Tokyo is available at Amazon

Unfortunately it took a year to get into print, by which time (2001) I had entered another difficult period of my life. Unable to give it the attention and credit it deserved, IT quickly disappeared from book store shelves. You can still get it from Good Day Books in Ebisu, however. Alternatively you can order it from the publisher's online bookstore: www.timesone.com.sg/te

Yes, I was disappointed that IT was not provided with better marketing opportunities to reach a wider audience. But still it was a great experience. No regrets.

What did you mean about entering another difficult period of your life?

In late 1999 I made a month-long journey to Argentina, Chile and Uraguay to help resolve family issues. (I had spent most of my life either trying to ignore them or in denial of family ties altogether, but Japan had made me ask questions.) When I returned from South America, I thought I had failed, and became deeply depressed to see a pattern repeating itself. This was when I sought theraputic help from Azzah (<azzah9@hotmail.com>) a roving psychologist I had once interviewed and then run away from because I feared she could see straight through me. I was right.

Piriapolis, Uraguay
My grandfather in  Piriapolis, Uraguay, two years
before he died in 1954


The last five years have therefore been preoccupied with getting a grip on what I recognise now as an ancestral addiction to failure, habitual patterns that classify me as an Ennegram 4-type personality, and also writing a book about my journey. Two-thirds through I remain enthralled, weaving together my daily diary, 107 letters written by my grandfather in Buenos Aires to my father in England between 1935-1954, and a mass of ongoing research. Every day new connections are made and relatives turn up out of the blue. For not only did I put my own family together, but another branch altogether that prior to coming to Japan I had never known existed. My patriarchal family name may be all but dead and buried in the UK, but goes from strength to strength in Chile!
Some of my family in Santiago, Chile ( I on front row, 4th from right)
Some of my family in Santiago, Chile ( I on front row,
4th from right)


Some of my family in Santiago, Chile ( I on front row, 4th from right)
Travelling back to Buenos Aires across the Andes

Travelling back to Buenos Aires across the Andes
My cousin, Maria-Elena Bustamnate Loader laying
flowers on my
grandfather's unmarked grave in
Montevideo, 2000.


I pursue this project for my children, so that they better know their mother and and call a halt to the habitual undermining rot that sabotaged her own life, and those of their ancestors. I cannot think of any more important gift to leave behind. When I complete this, I shall know if there is a book to write for the wider outside world.

To find your personality type according to the Enneagram (another ancient system that deserves close attention) go to www.enneagraminstitute.com and do the free RHETT test.

Why are you so caught up in the past?

In order to better understand the here and now. In order to better understand myself. I spent years angsting about poverty and injustice, so desperate to change the world that I near drove myself crazy. Once I realised that the only thing I could change was myself, and that - as Azzah would say - "by changing myself I could help change the world", I found a sounder perspective. If each one of us tried to change ourselves for the better - meaning become more conscious and aware and less ego-driven - the world would be a very different place.

Journalist and writer Angela Jeffs in Zushi Japan 2004.
Journalist and writer Angela Jeffs in Zushi Japan 2004.

So I would not say I am caught up in the past. Rather I am very much present and living in the here and now. But I do agree with Socrates: "An unexamined life is not worth living." ENDS

Update:
Angela did finally finish writing the book she has been wrestling with for years. It is available on Amazon.

 

  CHASING SHOOTING STARS is more than just an fascinating travelogue; it is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, an intriguing family history, and a sometimes painful personal memoir. It tells the story of a journey taken to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay in 1999 in search of colourful ancestors - English expatriates who made (and sometimes lost) their fortunes. The story begins with an adventurous Liverpudlian great-great grandfather who crossed the Atlantic in the mid-nineteenth century and returned years later a "Gentleman". It is a true labour of love to find a far-flung family from the distant and not-so-distant past.
 

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