Well now, where to begin…
The other night, Chris and I watched a TV programme about 2020, a comedy. Every few minutes we’d exclaim ‘Oh wow, I’d forgotten that happened too’ or ‘was that this year as well?!’ What a year. The year started off with Australia burning; the world watching as scorched koalas limped out of ruined forests. An incessantly angry toddler squatted in the white house, there were storms, flooding, a world wide pandemic, life on Venus? (I missed this one, it must have been buried under covid news: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02785-5) hope for a vaccine, an actual vaccine, eat out, stay in, drinky winky, cheeky pint, oops, covid’s up again, open the schools, shut the schools, the ‘drive up to Barnard castle on one tank of petrol with a toddler who doesn’t need to wee on the way’ challenge, tik tok, dancing, clapping, screaming, dying, bodies being shuffled into mass graves in New York, cuddly pandemic bugs, Jo Wicks, window visits, nurses with red marks across their faces, nurses crying in their cars because of food shortages, the great bog roll stockpiling, thank god for wine clubs, the privileged flying to Switzerland for a jolly and sneaking back in the dark, rainbows and NHS ribbons in the village windows, a pebble on the pub’s doorstop painted with ‘stay happy’, people making masks, people sewing PPE, people stepping up, covidiots, riots, singing, OAPs learning to use FaceTime, elbow bumping, online open mics, online everything. What a year. My husband had a stroke and I thought I’d lose him. I sat in the car park of the hospital facing the hill beneath which my daughter is buried. This was the same hospital who had been held responsible, through clinical negligence, for her death. I had to trust them with my husband. He cried when he phoned me to tell me it was definitely a stroke, that he was being taken to York. I couldn’t comfort him. I went into survival mode the full year and properly came apart, burnt out and exhausted in the week my husband caught coronavirus, a couple of weeks ago. It still wasn’t, personally, the worst year, that will always be the year my daughter died, but it came right up there.
In 2020, I survived. My husband survived. And being forced to confront my fears and go and sit in the car park of the hospital, to deal with staff there, to entrust my husband’s care to them has helped to fix something, I think, that was broken in me. Or at least it has allowed me to prove to myself that I can do it, that the fear will not envelope me entirely.
In 2020 I was one of the winners of the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition. I have a full collection being published in 2021, it will be a real thing next year. This collection is about survival and acceptance and it feels right that next year, whether by zoom or in real life, I’ll be reading from it, launching it, celebrating it.
In 2020 I decided it was time to start my own magazine and successfully raised the amount I needed to get the first issue of Spelt started, it will launch in March, all being well, and I am already proud of what’s been achieved with my lovely co ed and technical wizard Steve Nash. You can find out about Spelt here: https://speltpoetry.wordpress.com
In 2020 I read so many brilliant books, I can’t name them here. I really ramped up my reading and started telling writers when I’d enjoyed their work. It became a satisfying, life enriching thing to do and next year I’m setting myself a target of reading 52 books.
In 2020 I met and worked with many, many wonderful course attendees, and mentored some truly exceptional writers. I worked on a memoir of a Scarborough fisherman and absolutely loved helping him tell his story. I critiqued a novella which I enjoyed so much I forgot I was supposed to be critiquing and just read it.
In 2020 I leaned to use a strimmer and a petrol mower, and surprised myself by how much I loved hacking back the massively over grown back garden. I also finally got around to sorting my patio out, I smashed the old hutches which had been part of my old life as a small animal carer, to pieces and it felt cathartic and deliciously unhinged to be battering the hell out of a rotten hutch with a sledge hammer. I made a good job of the patio, planted bamboo and ferns in pots, made it a little oasis of calm and when Chris was still in the early stages of stroke recovery, we’d sit outside in the evening with a glass of wine and listen to the blackbirds.
In 2020 I got over my fear of zoom, and I taught for York Centre of Lifelong Learning. I can honestly say my Thursday writing group was a real tonic, they were so enthusiastic it made me enthusiastic. I have more courses lined up for next year (link here: https://wendyprattpoetry.com/readings-courses-events-stuff/) and it made me want to run some more smaller writing groups via zoom.
In 2020 I lost work: my column, my play, live gigs, readings, paid opportunities, face to face teaching. I ramped up all my other work and worked myself to exhaustion, alongside the stress and anxiety of Chris being poorly. But being over worked to burnout has allowed me to reflect on how I can avoid doing the same thing again and I have designed an annual leave system for myself that ensures I take time off. If it’s in the planner and ‘officially booked’ I am more likely to take the time off. I’ll keep you posted on whether it works. I’ve looked at the work I enjoy and lost the work I don’t and started charging a more realistic fee for mentoring, meaning I can take less mentees and take them over a longer period of time. I’m already enjoying this system and have felt energised chatting to my new mentee who starts in January.
In 2020 I set up my office, my ‘room of one’s own’, though it is yet to be decorated. I sat in my office and watched the trees turn and watched the geese flying over. I’m watching the setting sun burning the tops of the trees as I am writing this, right now. It has helped me to take myself seriously as a writer.
In 2020 I talked to bird watchers and nature enthusiasts in the lanes where they walked during lockdown. In 2020, people who had never read, picked up books. I watched theatres fighting to save themselves, and each other. I watched people wanting to help and not knowing what to do and they did what they could. People volunteered. I ended up volunteering for vaccine trials, but was never selected. I feel better knowing I offered, at least.
My memories of the pandemic are of the anxiety, of the climbing numbers, of the post apocalyptic feeling of queueing outside the supermarket, but also of the way that people started to say ‘stay safe’ to each other, and really mean it.
And so ends my rambling reflection. Thank you to my brilliant course attendees, to my mentees, to my colleagues and the poetry community, thank you to friends who didn’t judge me for late night drunken emails and texts, thank you to the people who brought us shopping and to my bestie in particular who brought me Prosecco and Christmas tree shaped crumpets when we were self isolating. Thank you to the people who made me laugh, and those that made me emotional with their stoicism, their ingenuity, their kindness and compassion.