A Sense of Belonging

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My first blog of 2022 and I’ve already broken my promise to blog every week. Oh well. Such is life.

The first two weeks of 2022 have been spent getting into a routine, finding a way to work and work. ie finding a way to do all the money paying stuff that pays my mortgage and bills and find time to write which does not pay my mortgage and bills, but is essential to me calling myself a writer, and has the potential to help pay my mortgage and bills later down the line. Growing a career as a creative writer is very much about offsetting time, working out what is worth and not worth doing. I am behind with answering emails (apologies if you’re waiting to hear from me, it’ll be this week) I’m behind with promotion stuff, and planning stuff and prepping stuff, but I am up, so far in January, seven new drafts of poems. Which is bloody good going as I’ve been under the cloud of imposter syndrome for a while. Imposter Syndrome is my biggest block by far. Some of the poems I’ve written are good, really good, some are utter crap. I have to keep reminding myself that I tunnel through the crap poems to get to the good poems. This is how my brain works. When I posted about this on twitter, the poet Jo Bell gave this piece of advice, which I have actually copied into my journal. Perhaps I should nail it to my forehead so I don’t forget:

Remember that if you write three crap ones and then a good one, the good one isn’t a fluke; it’s a direct result of the defragmenting and process of elimination that went on in the background, during the process of writing the first three. Nothing is ever wasted.

This is the best advice, and it is also the one that is so easily dismissed by worrying about whether you can actually write, whether you are the imposter, that your successes are flukes etc. I don’t know a single poet, or writer in general, that hasn’t had this train of thought. Write that advice down, putting where you can see it, remind yourself that writing is not a one time event, it is a series of events leading to something that is complete.

Social media has its upside and its downside. The upsides are obviously connecting to writers and poets further along in their careers who can impart wonderful knowledge to you. The downside is a weird sense of unreality. I’ve taken facebook off my phone this week because I find of all the social media sites that Facebook is the one most difficult to be on. Perhaps I’m just a sensitive soul. The thing about it is that it runs on algorithms, and you have to be constantly present on the site: posting, responding etc to have your posts seen, the less you post, the less your posts are seen. It gives the impression of cliques, playground gangs and everything feels like it’s based on popularity. I’m not off Facebook completely, but I’m cutting back my use of it and slowly disappearing from view. I find twitter an easier site to be on, I can manipulate the algorithms by reposting nature and art and poetry and by doing that I see much more nature and art and poetry. I keep the political ranting to a minimum and try very hard not to whinge and pity party myself on there. That’s the other thing about social media, it’s so easy to use it as a way to validate your pain, to validate your existence, but all that happens is that you end up not being able to tune in to your own sense of self validation, you become reliant on outside perspectives; the way people see you, you change yourself for other people and forget that really it doesn’t matter, that really you just need to get on with it, you need to be you. And of course, this ties into the writing. We write for ourselves, of course, but writing is a conversation; there’s got to be an audience. It’s hard to accept that if the audience doesn’t want to read your work, it’s ok, because the other half of the conversation, you and your creative exploration and impulse, is as important as the reception for your work. This goes for the need to have work published, the need to have your work recognised by your peers. Another great poet, Pascale Petit, posted this fantastic piece of advice on twitter last week, a thread which I’ll unroll here:

One of the big challenges of being a poet is keeping on an even keel. Rejections lead to depression, acceptances give a high, Winning or shortlistings for prizes & comps etc a hit. Beneath this rollercoaster are the highs and lows of the writing itself, the difficulty. Then you get a book out, the highs & lows of reviews or none. tips I’ve learnt: downer of rejections / bad reviews is to remember this WILL fade in days. Go out, walk, look outside the self. Another tip: don’t bring your partner down with you, keep perspective, their mental health on the highs. It is so important to celebrate the good things, prizes or whatever, mark them as special, they may not happen again, but trouble with that hit it’s addictive. So mark it for the gift it is, so you can look back on this joy forever, even if it never returns Another big antidote to getting down on the poetry rollercoaster is to be generous to others. Be happy for their wins. Enjoy their joy with them. Poetry is not really a competition, it’s a wondrous art and we could all help each other, we pass craft and praise on.

Out Walking

In my desire to challenge my own anxiety and to research for the book/s I’m writing and to reconnect with myself and the landscape, I have been taking some solo walks. I’ve been listening to the trees.

I’ve been back up to the beacon and the bronze age cemetery and I’ve been out to Star Carr and I have been finding myself and my life in these places. This week, as part of Spelt’s ongoing workshop series, we had RM Francis running a workshop on ‘Topological Presence. I didn’t attend the workshop as Saturdays are the day in which most of the Spelt work gets done, so I had to go to the post office. But I knew it would be good. I caught little bits and pieces of it as I was going about my work and picked up on one comment from Judi Sutherland, whose book Following the Teisa has just come out. She described feeling like writing poetry about landscape was a way to connect to the place she was in, having moved around so much. It struck a chord with me, for a different reason. I have always lived where I am, the landscape and the stories embedded in that landscape are embedded in me and are part of my personality. But I have never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere. It’s been a long journey to recognise my nerdy, quirky, not-pretty, not-slim self as entirely valid. In fact, it is this embracing of that nerdy quirky, sensitive person that allows me to write, so no wonder I write so much about the land I live in and how I fit into it. I’m looking for myself when i write about the land and I’m looking for where i belong, because I do feel like I fit in when I am out walking, or out in nature in general. I feel like I fit in when I am with animals and also, on the whole, when I am with creative people. Creative people are my tribe. I think most creatives have that sense of not quite belonging in one way or another. Being aware of this allows me to write, allows me to give permission to myself to be a writer, from my entirely valid point of view, which is of being my quirky, nerdy self.

I am finding that the new poetry collection is very much about that sense of roots and belonging that nature and landscape give. It’s not an easy collection to write, it’s so very different to the very personal stuff I’ve been writing with Horse; it’s a less compulsive way of writing. It’s difficult in another way, but I find I am enjoying that exploration, that challenge.

This week I gave my first poetry reading for Cafe Writers alongside Claire Dyer. It did me good to put myself in a place of vulnerability and read poems from the current collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse, but also to read a couple of new poems from the new collection. The new poems went down well. I feel like they are good poems. It was fab to be the support act too, as it meant I could go first, get the nervous bit out of the way and then settle in to listen to Claire, who was phenomenal, and the brilliant open mic. It was such a friendly, welcoming event, I’m going to start attending regularly, just to listen. It felt like coming home to family, and I have missed that sense of belonging. I have a bit more time to go to events and lectures and workshops for my own development this year, and I am going to enjoy it.

I spent all yesterday loading new courses onto the website, it’s one of those jobs that’s been waiting in the wings, and I am glad they are all up there now. There really is something for everyone, go and check it out: Courses and Workshops. I need to do some tidying and updating of the website as a whole, but that’s another job for another day. Today I am going to sit in my PJs and watch films. I hope you also have a restful Sunday.

Until next time

x

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