Creative convergence

I started a creative writing course in September and our first assignment was to write a 500-word story with only one primary character and one primary setting—not a heck of a lot of space to develop anything. Thankfully walking the dog (or more accurately standing around while she wanders slowly from sniff to sniff) gives me lots of time to mull over story ideas. That slow-paced dog walking was the genesis of the fictionalised episode I created for the assignment and have included below.

Imagine my surprise when my cousin Kelsey posted a similarly-themed photo on Instagram the day after the assignment was due. Eerily appropriate. And I’m delighted that Kelsey has given me permission to use that image to accompany the story here.

That creative convergence is just one of the wonderful things that has arisen from this creative writing course. The course is giving me confidence in my writing ability, making me think about the mechanics of storytelling, and encouraging me to push my creativity—I certainly wouldn’t have plotted out an Instagram influencer-inspired spin on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ otherwise! 😆Nor would I have actually read Kipling—I’m very much out of practice with the whole required reading part of schoolwork.

My plan is to post more of my creative writing here and to actively pursue publication in the year to come. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send them along! And I hope you enjoy both the writing and imagery Kelsey and I have created.


Natural habitat

Heron standing in the mist
Into the Mist
Photo courtesy Kelsey Kushneryk © 2019

I stand watching the long-legged bird at the water’s edge, running through the possible names for it in English, German, French, Danish. Heron. Der Reiher. La grue. Crane. Kranen. I’m uncertain whether this sharply-pointed beak belongs to a heron or a crane, but the voice of my bird-watching mother in my brain pushes me to settle on ‘grey heron.’

Whatever its scientific classification or common name, I feel a kinship with this gangly silvery-toned bird. Ardea cinerea, or something very close to it, is common both in the dyke-bound suburb of Vancouver where I was born and in the outskirts of San Francisco where I first lived outside my home country. It waded into the boggy heath of a former tank training ground near my flat outside Munich, stalked the shores of lakes I hiked around on weekends in Southern Alberta, tromped through the snow of my local park during the sole winter I lived in Brussels, and paraded along the moat of a medieval fortress I passed by on my way to work in Copenhagen. Now it lands along the banks of the square-edged, man-made lake within a stone’s throw of the Swiss Alps, in this place I currently attempt to call home.

The grey heron has been a constant everywhere I’ve lived, whereas the feeling of belonging, the sense of being settled, has been far less reliable. There’s some intangible alchemy that made Calgary feel like home, but California not. A magical calibration that allowed life in Denmark to slot into place, but keeps Zürich unwieldy, unpleasant, unwelcoming. Maybe my migratory adaptation stops short of the 37th parallel.

To the right I catch a glimpse of movement through the low-lying morning fog. Barking a hello or perhaps a warning, a dog lopes towards the water, encroaching on the grey heron’s territory. With a screech, the stationary bird frees its massive wings and rises into the air. There is something prehistoric, primordial about its flight. The pterodactyl-like quality of its movement speaking to the timelessness of this bird, its elegant ability to adapt.

The heron’s movements are graceful, but its distinct “Frarnk” call leaves no doubt as to its displeasure at being moved on. Through that single, universal sound the bird conveys everything necessary. Would I possess that same eloquence in any of the languages that flit through my mind?

The heron will blithely move on to its next perch. It will not question whether it belongs in its new location, but rather fixate on practicalities—finding food, avoiding dogs, staying alive. My worries are vapid in comparison, decidedly human.

I have to believe that both the grey heron and I will comfortably resettle. That unfamiliarity and foreign languages do not create an insurmountable barrier. Both this ubiquitous feathered creature and I will find stillness and contentment—and a landing place near to the water.

An original story by Laura Matheson © 2019

Relax with yin yoga

Laura helping a student settle into a relaxing yoga pose

‘Tis the season for being indoors in the Northern Hemisphere. Time for hibernation and hygge—and there’s no better way to hide from the greyness and colder temperatures than yoga!

Starting Tuesday, October 29th I’m teaching yin yoga from 19:45-21:00 every Tuesday at Younion Yoga in Zürich. This lovely boutique yoga space is loaded with props (and I looove using lots of props) and the slow, meditative movements of yin yoga are excellent for encouraging a zen-like state. I draw on extensive teaching, training, and personal practice experience to make sure students are well-supported in every pose, allowing the sense of dropping into the positions and surrendering to relaxation.

Join me for a yin yoga practice that will help reconnect body and mind—and escape from autumn’s gloom!

A sense of savasana

“Hari om, tat sat. Hari om, tat sat. The practice of yoga nidra concludes.” 

Satisfied that the class has surrendered to the spell of my voice, I sink down to the bolster, knees out to the side, ankles crossed. From this so-called easy pose, I observe my prone students enjoying their supervised nap—but hopefully without the actual REM state. 

From the depths of the candlelit studio I hear, “Snork.” Ah. Who has succumbed? I scan shadowed faces, looking for the tell-tale droop of slumber. There! The parent who earlier complained of sleeplessness, lips moving with each noisy exhale. 

Up I creep, deliberately placing each step, skirting around arms, legs, and squeaky floorboards. Holding my breath, I move through the kaleidoscope of yoga mats until I am next to the slumbering student. I crouch down and gently reach out a hand. With a touch, I bring the snorer back from dreamland. Eyes fly open in response and I nod reassuringly. A sheepish smile and the student’s eyelids descend once more.  

Another careful dance through the yoga mats and I am re-seated. Again I look out over the darkened room, hearing a few deep exhales, but no further clattering breaths. 

The silence of savasana continues.

Back to the original (or orig-yin-al)

In what now feels like a completely different lifetime, I borrowed Yin Yoga: The Foundations of a Quiet Practice on DVD from my local library—and kickstarted my love of yin yoga. 

Laura settling in to a yin squat pose
Me settling in to a yin squat

The DVD led me to seek out yin yoga in real life and I stumbled into an amazing class at a local community centre with the knowledgable, approachable, sensitive, fantastic Brenda from Beautiful Yoga. Eventually, I was able to stop repeatedly borrowing the DVD when I received it as a Christmas present. Again and again and again I followed Paul & Suzee Grilley (its ‘stars’) through their slow, mindful sequences—and went to a real-life class one evening a week.

I left Foundations of a Quiet Practice behind when we moved to Europe in 2013 as the Canadian DVD would be about as useful as a Frisbee in German DVD players. But I never left behind the practice of yin yoga. 

After unsuccessfully searching for a digital edition of Foundations of a Quiet Practice and contacting Pranamaya (the distributor) several times over the years begging for online access*, I had brilliant revelation. My husband’s Xbox, which includes a DVD/Blu Ray player, is from Canada and works in Europe! I’m slightly ashamed to admit how long it took me to realise that I could play North American-region DVDs in Europe by simply using the Xbox. 

This delight was short-lived, however, as I realised that I no longer had the DVD itself. 

My mum came to the rescue, digging through the media cabinet in my parents’ house and unearthing my original Yin Yoga: Foundations of a Quiet Practice, minus the case. And who needs the case!

She brought it along when my parents came to Europe this past April and I’ve been practicing alongside Suzee, with Paul guiding the practice, in our Zürich apartment since then. Hearing Paul’s straightforward cues, watching Suzee’s smooth flow, and getting back to the original handful of simple yin poses has taken me back to the roots of my yin yoga practice—and let me re-discover why I love it so much. 

As I shared in a post long ago about the ‘Why’ of yin yoga, the practice is more than physical; it’s really the psychological impact that keeps me coming back to yin yoga. The quietness of the poses helps me quiet my mind, while the introspective nature helps me be more patient in my life off the yoga mat.

Returning to my orig-yin-al yoga practice with Paul and Suzee feels a little like coming home—and it’s so nice to feel at home. 

Suzee and Paul Grilley (photo from paulgrilley.com)

*Of course, a couple of months after my mum brought the discs to Europe Pranamaya released Yin Yoga: Foundations of a Quiet Practice online. Ha!

Hiding from the heat and eating flatbread

Zürich is having its second heatwave of the summer and it’s making me more than a little aggravated. I am not a fan of hot weather. (That’s an understatement!)

Weather in Zurich: Wed 8:20, sunny and 24.6°C
Almost 25°C before 8:30 in the morning!

Thankfully, this round of high temperatures isn’t quite as extreme as the +40°C days and 22°C nights we had back in June. And most of Europe is seeing the mercury climb, so I can take comfort in the fact that I’m not suffering alone—but I’ve still become somewhat obsessive about keeping our flat cool.

In addition to blocking out the sun’s rays and keeping the windows closed to prevent the hot exterior air from seeping in (vampires would probably feel right at home in our nearly permanently-darkened flat), I’m also completely opposed to turning on the oven or having anything bubling away on the stove. That makes cooking a little more of a challenge.

Bring on the grill! Lighting up the barbecue avoids raising the kitchen temperature, although standing on the patio can get a bit toasty, and produces a lot of yumminess without a lot of fuss. The summer weather has also pushed me towards to crisp greens, fresh herbs and bright citrus flavours. And, of course, ice cream, which isn’t part of this recipe, but I do have a post about making ice cream cake.

Grilled flatbread with arugula

This recipe is quick, easy and highly customisable. The one we made last night featured basil and prosciutto, but I’ve also done it meat-free with mushed up peas and mint. And you could use just about any topping you’d like, as long as they’re not too moist—soggy flatbread is no fun.

Ingredients

Grilled flatbread topped with arugula, red onion, basil and prosciutto
  • A small roll of pre-made pizza dough (ideally, get a variety that’s not round as it’s easier to cut into nice-sized pieces)
  • 150g creme fraîche (mascarpone or ricotta also work)
  • Zest from 1 lemon and half of its juice
  • A handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 150g arugula (a few handfuls), roughly chopped
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced
  • Six slices of prosciutto, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 10g parmesan (or pecorino or another hard, flavourful cheese), finely grated
  • Sea salt & pepper

A clove of chopped garlic is nice in the sauce, too, and other herbs (oregano, mint, thyme, whatever) would be perfectly lovely mixed in as well.

Method

  • Preheat the grill to medium heat
  • Make the sauce by combining the creme fraîche with the lemon zest and juice and half of the finely chopped basil; season with sea salt & pepper
  • Cut the pre-made pizza dough into easy-to-handle pieces, about the length of your hand from wrist to the tip of your fingers and as wide as your palm
  • Grill the pizza dough pieces for 3-4 minutes per side, checking to make sure there are beautiful golden-brown grill marks on the bottom before flipping
  • Take the flatbread off the grill and spread one side with the creme fraîche mixture, then top with arugula, red onion and prosciutto
  • Garnish with the extra basil and parmesan cheese, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Serve warm while the flatbread is still crispy

Friday Evening Yoga Escape in Copenhagen

Person lying in effortless pose on the grass under leafy tree branches

While I’m starting to feel more settled in Zurich, Copenhagen remains my yoga home. And since I’ll be back for a quick visit in May, I’m squeezing in teaching a class!

If you’re in Copenhagen, you can join me for an extra-long, extra-relaxing class on Friday, 17 May from 19.00-21.00 at Østerbro Yogaforening.

It may seem like this is a ‘workshop,’ but I didn’t want to use the word work anywhere in the name of the session, as it’s the exact opposite of what I hope students will do. This extended class is an escape from the everyday and encourages deep relaxation with well-supported yin yoga poses and rejuvenating yoga nidra (guided relaxation). It’s perfect for both beginners to yin yoga or regular yoga practitioners and ideal for anyone feeling stressed or fatigued.

This extra-long class, and my almost hypnotically relaxing voice, will bring deep relaxation to the Great Prayer Day holiday – and let you play hooky from your everyday life!

The cost for this extra-long class is 145 DKK (non-member price: 195 DKK) . Space is limited and online registration is available through the Østerbro Yogaforening membership system.

Østerbro Yogaforening is a co-operative yoga studio and everyone is welcome to become a member.

Why I resolve to ask for help more

Writing can feel like a very solitary task – and it often doesn’t provide much opportunity to ask for help. But at both cylindr BBN, the Copenhagen content creation agency where I work, and in our larger community of BBN, people are always open to lending a hand – and there are tremendous resources to draw on.

My New Year’s resolution is to draw on those resources more often. To both ask people for help and to turn to the wealth of case studies, best practices and other guidance available through BBN. 

Getting lost in translation

Content creation is somewhat a solo activity, but it doesn’t need to be a lonely one.

For example, I’ve worked on several dozen Danish-to-English translations for a company with a stable of lifestyle brands. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what the Danish text means or if a turn of phrase is universally understood. (Local context can be everything!)

I could turn to Google and dive down the rabbit-hole of publicly-available opinions. Or I could simply ask for help from a real person.

I’m thankful to work with native-English speakers who can field the ‘Does this make sense?’ kind of requests for help – and even more grateful that a couple of them are Danish citizens and long-term residents. Getting their feedback saves me time, dramatically reduces confusion and delivers content that reflects the original Danish text – and makes sense to non-Danes around the globe.  

Check what tools are available

Seth Godin recently pointed out that rather than finding a ladder (or asking for help) we waste time and energy throwing ourselves at the wall, trying to find a solution on our own. Is re-inventing the wheel the best use of time and energy? Why not ask for help from others who have the tools you need?

For a recent pitch, one of my colleagues asked our BBN compatriots if any of them had experience with the same kind of branding quandary our potential client was experiencing. The quality of responses was impressive. Some of our partner agencies had worked with clients with almost precisely the same needs and they were happy to share their insights.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we used our colleagues’s methodologies as inspiration – and put together a robust pitch that was filled with real-world examples.

The perks of not knowing it all

Asking for help might be a challenge. After all, who likes admitting that they don’t know something? But tapping into collective knowledge can speed up the process, provide an opportunity to incorporate varied perspectives – and create content that builds deeper connections with your customers.


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.