Invigorating imaginations with At-Bristol

Nephew exploring At-Bristol by Judy DarleyAt 10am yesterday, my eight-year-old nephew was the first person to enter At-Bristol. For the fleetest of moments, he had the whole, magical place to himself. The expression on his face was one of awe, but also faint panic. As a child with ADHD, being presented with limitless possibilities can be daunting. Swiftly he focussed on his favourite exhibit and we hurried over to feed a skeleton and watch his energy levels rise and fall.

This is just one of countless interactive exhibits at the Bristol hands-on science centre, and before long we were moving on to listen to music through our teeth, play with pint-sized parachutes, and test our reflexes in countless ways, as rain drenched Millennium Square beyond the plate glass windows.

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram1

Glass Microbiology by Luke Jerram

I crept way for a few moments to take in Luke Jerram’s stunning Glass Microbiology exhibit – breathe in a moment’s peace among the viruses sculpted in glass and head back out into the mayhem where my husband was helping the nephew milk a pretend cow.

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

Exploring the Solar System Planetarium show

We’d deliberately timetabled in a couple of shows in the Planetarium to allow the nephew and ourselves a bit of quiet time. I’m also partial to a bit of space travel, and the 3D shows offer a sense of swooping through the solar system. We visited Venus (too hot, very stormy, not the best place for a holiday), and Saturn’s Rings (too cold, but very beautiful), before swooping back to Earth (just right, and the most beautiful of all). We spent time on Mars and Pluto, and learnt about atmosphere, gas giants and that Neptune is the most glorious shade of blue.

Nephew in Planetarium by Judy Darley

The Planetarium is also on the floor with some of the most engaging displays, in my opinion. The Aardman area animation is ideal for children and adults who like to doodle, while an impressive wind drum provided the chance to build structures to mimic a sycamore seeds spin. We discovered the cause of the Bermuda Triangle’s many ship disappearances, and entered a tilted room where perspective skewed in a pretty magical way.

Constructing roadways

Elsewhere the nephew devoted himself to building roadways for plastic balls, spun metal disks and proved himself to be impressively adept at creating bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. Just watching him get to grips with his surroundings was a masterclass in harnessing a fizzing mind to gain the most rewarding experience possible.

Exiting the science centre into sunshine, the research continued as we headed up to College Green and discovered the tree full of shoes (close to the cathedral, in case you’d like to see it for yourself), met a shy juggler (the nephew’s many questions seemed to alarm him somewhat!) and discovered that it’s possible to skim pennies on the water surrounding the fountain – four skips across the surface from one side to the other.

At-Bristol is a marvel for curious minds, giving adults a way to access their own inquisitive side and nourishing children’s natural sense of wonder. The clamour and chaos is all part of the mix, but if you get in tune with that, you’ll emerge prepared to reinvent the world.

Find out more about At-Bristol

Exercise your creativity

Arnos Vale sky by Judy DarleyIn today’s guest post, writer Nina Wells urges us to get up off our backsides and dash out into the world to beat writer’s block.

Every author from Stephen King to Dan Brown has come nose-to-nose with writer’s block at some point in their career. Even casual writers know the frustration all too well; staring at a blank computer screen, feeling hopeless in progressing their work…

Susan Reynolds from Psychology Today explains that writer’s block is only a phenomenon that has existed since the early 19th century, where it was described by English Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “indefinite indescribable horror.” Writers at the time believed it to be a reflection of a poor relationship with their deities. They literally felt cursed to struggle in their work.

While that explanation might be a bit outdated, people still struggle with writer’s block today. What’s an aspiring author to do? Sure, we could become caricatures of historical writers by turning to drugs and alcohol for encouragement, but what if you could get your fix of chemical-inspiration without the theatrics?

Reynolds explains that writer’s block is a result of mental exertion because of the immense amount of focus required to write for long periods of time, and that even simple activities like mowing the lawn or showering can help give writers’ a much-needed breakthrough. So, taking breaks to relax can help clear up writer’s block, but what else can be done to stimulate ideas?

Arnos Vale path by Judy Darley

For years, experts around the world have praised exercise as a means of mental stimulation, but just how much can your noggin benefit from working up a sweat?

When you exercise, your brain produces chemicals called endorphins, which provide relief from pain and boost a sense of contentment- colloquially referred to as the “runner’s high.” WebMD reports that regular exercise has been proven to: reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve self-esteem, and make you healthier all-around.

But what does this have to do with writer’s block?

A study from the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has shown that regular exercise boosts creativity by improving “convergent” and “divergent” thought processes, which are responsible for creative thinking. Convergent thinking can be defined as thinking of a single, “correct” solution for a proposed issue, while divergent thinking is the ability to think of multiple solutions for a single problem.

In their study, researchers tested the convergent and divergent task-completing abilities of two groups of people; 48 being athletes, and another forty-eight being non-athletes. Both groups were subject to “intense physical exercise,” which yielded some interesting information.

As it turns out, the non-athlete group showed convergent impairment with exercise, while the athletic group showed “a benefit that approached significance.” According to the researchers, this is because the less-active group experienced a greater amount of “ego-depletion”, or in other words, they used up all of their will-power on the exertion. Meanwhile, the athletic group can capitalise on the cognitive benefits because their bodies are already accustomed to the exercise.

Arnos Vale leafy path by Judy Darley

Chapter four of the book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write by Alice Weaver Flaherty goes into detail discussing the neuroscientific reasons that people struggle with their writing. Flaherty breaks writer’s block into two groups: low-energy and high-energy. The former is pronounced by symptoms of depression and lethargy, while the latter is likened to anxiety.

According to Flaherty, depressed, low-energy writers who become sedentary to save energy, or anxious, high-energy writers turn to caffeine or other stimulants to stay on-task are both exacerbating their problems.

Both of these groups, however, benefit from regular physical activity. The endorphins that are released don’t only have an effect on your current mood, but also have the potential to treat long-term issues that can affect your entire outlook on life.

In short:

  • Writer’s block can emerge for a few reasons (all of which relate to your brain’s chemical processes)
  • Exercise and creative (convergent and divergent) thinking go hand-in-hand.
  • Writer’s block can be divided into two groups: high-energy and low-energy (anxious and depressed)
  • Regular exercise will help in both the short and the long term by activating endorphins, sparking creative thought processes, and giving relief from the paralyzing symptoms of depression and anxiety

Whether you write novels or blog posts, regular exercise will not only help you conquer writer’s block when it appears, but will also help you stay happier and healthier in general. Maybe now’s a good time to start running with a notepad, eh?

About the author

Nina WellsThis article was written by Nina Wells from Clearwells. She has more than 10 years of experience in writing health related topics and specializes in the health benefits of saunas and hydrotherapy.

I welcome guest posts. If you’d like to get in touch, you can find me on Twitter @JudyDarley, or send me an email at judy(at)SocketCreative.com

Free up your creativity

Paledrips painting by Sara Easby

Paledrips by Sara Easby – www.sara-easby.com

I’m a great believer in the energy we can derive from creative mediums other than our own. My comfort zone is writing – spooling words together to create stories, narratives, or images in the mind. It fires me up and helps me make sense of the world.

Listening to music can influence this, while baking or any kind of physical activity, from running to dances, makes ideas pop in my mind like mustard seeds in a pan of hot oil. And art has been the starting point of many of my creative written works.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been moved to dabble in making my own art – splashing a bit of paint around or doodling scenes as they form in my head. I’ve begun attempting to draw the views in front of me, or focus on small still lives, in an attempt to get my body to wake up the muscle memory laid down when I drew and painted copiously as a teenager.

But it’s been so many years since I last took an art class. Or at least, it had been.

Last Tuesday I strolled over to the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster to see Sara Easby‘s BRÆTT (MELT) exhibition, inspired by Iceland. The work was raw, elemental, and enthralling. I wanted to know how to capture emotions the page as she does.

Then I discovered that the very next morning she was due to teach an art class at the gallery. I sent her an email and she promised to squeeze me in.

What a wonderful experience. Two hours of freedom to ink, paint, glue, scrape and create.

Artwork by Judy Darley

It connected me to my emotions in a way that reached beyond words – such a liberating change! Creative writing cannot exist in a vacuum – we need to experience life and part of that is to experience art. As enjoyable and moving as it can be to view it, to make it is far more vigorously inspiring.

Blue and gold by Judy Darley

It doesn’t have to be visual art, of course. You could learn to play the drums, or take up ballet, join a stitch and bitch group or even enrol in a Spanish language class. All these things exercise parts of the creative mind that writing along cannot reach.

To get you started, Sara is co-hosting an Art and Writing Workshop on 10th December from 10am till 4pm with Nigel Gibbons. “This will be a chance to enjoy both creative forms, exploring these two ways of working, and allowing them to interact,” says Sara. “The aim will be to enjoy a space to be creative. No previous skills or experience necessary.”

There is a charge of £20, which includes some art materials. For more details, or to book a place, contact Sara on sara@sara-easby.com or Nigel on 077 40 200 991. The venue is Cotham Parish Church Hall, Cotham Road, Bristol, BS6 6DR.

Who knows what riches it will help you to unearth in your future literary works?

Writing prompt – orange segments

Orange segments cr Judy DarleyFlavour, along with smell, is one of the most evocative sense. For this week’s story, poem or work of art, start with the simple idea of focusing on a particular taste, such as a firm, tangy sweet segment of orange, and see where it leads you.

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

How to make your neighbourhood magical

Bedminster Town Team Lantern ParadeLast week I published a feature on SkyLightRain about Bedminster Town Team and the efforts to regenerate this area of Bristol. That feature previously appeared in The Bristol magazine in August 2012. This is an update on that feature, with news about the current and upcoming events to make a better Bedminster.

So what makes a better Bedminster? At least part of the answer seems to be a greater sense of community, engaging events and some beautification of the more desolate areas. Here’s a taste of what you can look forward to. Continue reading

Shifting perceptions

total permission cr Sue AustinOn Monday I was lucky enough to attend the theatrical premiere of Total Permission at Watershed, Bristol.

The 30-minute documentary offers a glimpse into 12 of the performances that made up the Unlimited Festival as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Timed to coincide with the Paralympic Games, each of the creators was disabled in some way, and produced works that challenge our perceptions and preconceptions. Continue reading