At the beginning of the year I decided I wanted to have a different kind of life. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is I am aiming for, but it is something to do with living a slower life: professionally, psychologically, personally and most importantly, creatively. It means allowing myself to bed into projects, prioritising my creativity and finding a way to hold on to a creative form of myself. Sometimes I feel like I have accidentally created the perfect nest that allows me to write well, and to hold onto that without quite knowing how I did it is like holding onto a thread of spider silk that could break at any minute. But creativity isn’t a magic trick. To be able to write well is as much about creating a place around yourself to be able to think, as it is about the discipline of sitting down and writing every day; something I am still doing, incidentally, it’s good practice.
Speak to any writer and they will tell you that it is difficult to force creativity, especially poetry which is a medium of translation – events, pain, love, happiness – into art. I feel I have burned myself out through striving to get to a place that is perhaps non-existent and more about my need to be recognised as valuable, than about my need to create. All the striving has, though, allowed me to climb high enough that I am now on a platform that I can, to a certain extent, control. I can sit on this platform and grow into myself and my writing. Right now I am working on myself. I feel like I am undoing myself, peeling away long papery layers of habit and compulsion and sitting with each version of myself, asking her what she needs and what I need to do to validate her. I’m addressing all sorts of things, both personally and in my writing. I mentioned recently that my next collection has been put back a year, which feels like a terribly long time but, actually I feel this might be fate playing a hand for me. Without the pressure of the imminent end of year deadline, I have been able to allow the poems to come when they come. I’ve used the last of my Society of Author’s work-in-progress grant to take the time to write when I need to; a change from what I initially planned, which was to set a big chunk of time aside to write write write, which just didn’t work for me. I always felt I worked best under the pressure of a finite time scale, but it turns out that my procrastination is a lack of confidence, the ‘working well to a last minute deadline’ is a way of avoiding having confidence in myself and my work, a way to ‘trust the gods’ and have an excuse if I didn’t do as well as I wanted. The truth is, we don’t always do as well as we want, that’s just part of it. Some things work, some things don’t.
As part of my growth as a writer (pretentious, moi?) I have been consciously making an effort to investigate how other writers cross some of the difficulties I am facing, especially around confidence and class. I’ve been reading about other writers and their journeys, how they come to their work, how they value themselves and how they turn away the internal voices that we all seem to have, the ones that tell us to give up as we are not good enough. I have book recommendations:
The first is Tanya Shadrick’s The Cure for Sleep. This is a memoir about coming out of a near death experience and reevaluating life, making different and difficult decisions. It’s more than that, but it would be difficult to create a one line summary on it. Tanya’s story is worth so much more than a soundbite line because the story itself is complicated, because life is complicated. Occasionally I come across a book that does something to me, it changes me. This is one of those books. It has allowed me to hold a mirror up to myself and has inspired me to change my own journey. And whilst I was already on this journey towards a slower creative life, this book created in me an impulse to grasp it, to stop having it as a wishy washy idea that I never did anything about, and make a stand, against myself, to make a decision to value myself and value my work more. I was wary of the parts of Tanya Shadrick’s story that were about learning how to be a mother. My daughter died at birth in 2010, and after two eight week miscarriages and thirteen years of infertility and infertility treatment, thirteen years of trying to have a family, we chose to draw a line and move on as a childless couple. we chose, I chose to create a different kind of life. But what I found with Tanya’s book was that I could empathise with her on the changes she needed to make in herself to be the mother she needed to be, to think outside of what society wanted her to be. Knowing me, I can see that if Matilda had lived, I would have wanted to be the perfect standard of motherhood and get it right, but I would hope that, (also knowing me), I would eventually find a path that suited me, that took me where i needed to be. In fact, that’s exactly what I did do, in many respects, I chose to have motherhood as a part of my life, a part of my story that wasn’t the focus of that story. A different kind of mothering, and a future doing something entirely different to what i had been doing. I took a hard right turn out of the hospital I worked at, whose clinical negligence had in part resulted in my daughter’s death, and went in an entirely different direction, with the spinning, glorious goal of being a ‘writer’ as my drive. I think what i’m doing now, in this part of my life, is reevaluating what a ‘writer’ looks like to me, and how I want to exist in that state. Because I have been calling myself a writer without quite having the guts to step over the line into that place. I make a lot of excuses, I lie to myself, I fill all the gaps and spots in my life where writing could occur with ideas that are related to writing, but often are more about helping other people to become writers. It is very much about how I value myself, to be help other people, and I hope I never lose that impulse, not that I’m some sort of saintly presence in the writing world, far from it, but I have tricked myself into thinking my purpose is a platform for other writers and have somehow lost myself in that. It is hard to value yourself. I find it excruciating. This book has an honesty to it about being a person with faults and a person with beautiful gifts and I love that, I love the openness of it. The journey we take as readers, with the narrator, is not a direct journey, it is a journey of ups and downs and finding the right way to be true to self, the right way to validate yourself and Tanya has become a real inspiration to me in that honesty, the honesty to confront yourself and your needs, the honesty to try different ways of living, but also to accept that the past has irreversible consequences on how one sees oneself, and will swallow you up if you let it. I’m not sure I am doing justice to this book, you need to read it. I guess I’m saying that I appreciated the idea of how the real journey is not about external validation, of fitting in, it is about internal validation and being true to self; which is a really obvious thing to say, but not an easy thing to accept. I have been recommending this book left right and centre, to every woman, especially the creative women, that I know, because at 44 years old, and still trying to get to where I want or need to be, I feel old. This book helps to undo that feeling of time limits and what the ‘correct’ way of getting somewhere is. It’s brilliant, helpful and inspiring and really beautifully written.
I’m reading other books too, but I’ll talk about them in other blogs. Right now, this is the one that is having the biggest effect on my own personal journey, and one I feel I needed to have in my life right at this minute.
The other thing that is slowing me down, for different reasons, is my dad’s illness. He has now gone through all the tests he needs to to be diagnosed with a T3 oesophageal cancer. A very serious type of cancer in which the treatment is surgery. The operation is enormous and complicated. The surgeon said it’s the sort of operation in which he won’t be doing any other operations on that day, the whole day is given over to my dad’s operation. It will mean dad will be in intensive care for at least three days in an induced coma and in hospital for about a month all in all. It has a year long recovery time and will irrevocably change him physically. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there is a 1/20 chance of him dying during the operation or afterwards of infections, partly because during the operation they need to deflate one of his lungs. The lungs have to be strong enough for this in the first place, but it also increases the chances of infection and it is usually ex smokers and those with chronic lung problems that succumb, because their lungs are already damaged. My dad smoked for fifty years. He’s been given up a while, but it’s one of the things that makes it all even more dangerous. So myself and my brother and sister are trying to support them the best we can, trying to put in place the practical support we can to get them through this. At the weekend we met to discuss wills and inheritance and it was very difficult. My dad has very clear ideas of what he wants to happen in the event of his death, to the dream life, the quirky, self sufficient home-style, small holding life that he built for mum and him, and it’s very complicated in passing some of this stuff on to children, especially three siblings who are all so very different in their outlooks and needs. There is no getting around the crushing awfulness of the situation. There’s no avoiding it, there is no controlling it, you just have to live it and feel all the pain and sadness and fear and just get through it daily. It’s affected my quickness somehow, I’m struggling to get through the brain fog of it all, especially as Chris and I have just had covid and I am still coughing and feeling fatigued weeks afterwards. Chris’s mum’s partner is poorly in hospital too. And I could do without the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and feelings of helplessness over the appalling situation in Ukraine. What can you do except just plod forward. Apologies if you are waiting on stuff from me, I am even worse at getting back to people right now and have to just lean into whatever I need to do in any one minute. That’s a lot of details about my dad and I may delete that part of the blog. It’s not my story to tell, I’m a bit player in this trauma. Then again, this is how I deal with stuff and maybe I shouldn’t apologise for that.
I have a reading on Saturday, reading my Lyra Festival commissioned working class poem. Would you believe it is about my dad. I wanted to create a poem to celebrate the way my dad worked so hard when we were kids, to build the life for himself and my mum that they have now. I used a version of a Golden Shovel form to do that, using a quote by Boris Johnson as the structure. I’m pleased with it, and hoping I can get through the 30 seconds it will take to read it without pooling into a sad crazed mess on the screen. It’s a zoom reading, and free, and there are eleven other fantastic working class poet commissioned poems being platformed. I’m excited about it. Please do come along: Lyra Festival Tickets
Last week I got some writing done and an application for a writing residency. I feel like it was a good week. I am growing the poems in the new collection, using different ways to connect and bring them down onto the page and I am really really pleased with the work I’m producing. It’s a very different to Horse, much less organic, much more thoughtful. This week is all about prepping for courses I’m running, and tackling feedback. There are still a few places on my April Write-A-Thon . I’m about to set the closed facebook group up and invite folk to come and introduce themselves. I’m already looking forward to the community feel and the fun of it. Why not come and join us? Follow this link: April Write-A-Thon. And around all that, I’ll be trying to find the space to read, to think, to hold fast to that spider silk thread of creativity, to live a slow, thoughtful life.
Until next time