The Tortoise Diaries:
On Creativity and Slowing Down

by Christian McEwen

Bauhan Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-0-872-33181-5.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 01/08/2015

Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Creative Life

In the fall of 2011 Christian McEwen published a book called World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. In the book, now in its fifth printing, Christian McEwen urges us to slow down, pause and reflect.

World Enough & Time is a pleasure to read for McEwen's wisdom, the sharing of her own story as well as for the many reminders of beloved poets and writers, teachers and scholars. As the book is divided into twelve chapters with 115 short sections, it can be used as a source of daily meditation. In her introduction to her latest book, The Tortoise Diaries: On Creativity and Slowing Down, McEwen says she was delighted to find World Enough & Time was being used in this way. Friends suggested a compact version to be used as a "daily reader."

The Tortoise Diaries is divided into the twelve months of the year with illustrations by Laetitia Bermejo. The structure is transferred from the longer book to this one, focusing on a different theme for each month. January introduces "the art of slowing down," and February is to "consider good company and conversation," while March is to investigate "child time" and April "the joys and relaxation to be found in walking." The entries have been arranged to flow smoothly from one to the next, helping to deepen and clarify each particular theme. You can keep reading without stopping at just one entry per day! The book offers support and encouragement for our own creative practice.

While the tortoise may be slow, it is sturdy and self-sufficient McEwen points out. In Hindu mythology, the world is supported on the back of a gigantic tortoise which is a belief found in many Native American traditions. I appreciated reminders of the work of beloved poets and writers such as Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Merton. Other teachers and artists such as Chuang-Tzu, Pema Chodron and Emily Carr are quoted. Even Lily Tomlin is included with some January advice: "For fast-acting relief from stress, try slowing down."

Among my favorite chapters were "The Intensest Rendezvous" (about the joy of reading, in June in The Tortoise Diaries) and "Learning to Pause" (which is a September entry and includes a quote from Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: "Take care of the joyful present so that it can be the joyful past."

McEwen wrote in her longer book that "it should gradually become apparent that through the door of the ordinary, when treated with curiosity and respect, the extraordinary can appear: a song, a tale, a painting, a new poem." That wisdom can also be applied to The Tortoise Diaries, which includes the sort of inspiration and insight that open doors to creativity.

Christian McEwen was born in London and grew up in the Borders of Scotland and currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has taught poetry, creative writing, and environmental literature at a number of venues including the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and the New School in New York. She is the author of World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down and has edited four anthologies and helped produce the documentary film "Tomboys!" Visit her website.

Check out our interview with the author of The Tortoise Diaries.

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