Slave to the Rhythm

This time next week, I’ll already be on holiday. Before that happens, however, there are some plans being rearranged. There’s also some other things that it would be lovely to start working on. The biggest single problem, undoubtedly, is time. Most carers will tell you that if you’re parent first and writer second, the latter will always take precedent because of the importance of individual responsibility.

Therefore you find time, whenever you can. 

After counselling, my attitude to a lot of things has inevitably altered, process that is still being considered and refined as time goes on. Sometimes it seems amazing that I finished that journey only five and a bit weeks ago: it feels like months, years since that ended. The reorganisation of factors has also presented both benefit and disadvantage. I know what needs to be done however. In that regard, nothing really has altered at all.

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It does feel like a trip into Wonderland, when all is said and done: doing a weekend in Leeds, re-organising my leisure time, having confidence to stand up and be honest about what bothers me. The plan, going forward, was to do a certain set of things in a particular order, but the reality is that there isn’t enough time available to do so. Therefore, the plan has changed.

Vanity projects have become considerably more important.

I don’t want to talk any more about it just yet, not until I’ve been able to work it what it is I want to do and how it happens. However, there’s a lead in now available in mid-September to this next phase of existence, and that’s what I’m going to aim for. After that, it’s all about how well my knowledge will spread to accomplish what then needs to happen.

If this does work, I’ll be really very happy indeed.

The Last Time

– Excuse me brain, do you have a minute?

– Yeah, sure I’m between tasks right now, what’s up?

– You know we had that talk after Mslexicon that we wanted to scale back on the workload?

– Yeah, I remember, but the plan was gonna be that we did a bit of everything, right?

– Indeed. Except, I realise now there’s more work to do with the practical lifestyle change guys over there than was first anticipated… and I need a rest. You know, like proper ‘away from all the writing…’

[laughs] So all those unconscious signals we’ve been sending for months finally got noticed, eh? [shakes head] I’ll give you credit, a year ago you’d have been too far up your own arse to notice. This is definitely progress. So, what you wanna change?

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Hi there, novel. It’s been [looks at the calendar] a week since I touched you last. Right now, our two introduced protagonists are in a car park off the A13 hacking into a BT exchange to ascertain their motivation and to provide some exposition. There’s no way this story’s being written in time for a September deadline. You and I both know this. I’ll reset the schedules tomorrow and that poetry I’ve been tinkering with can come to the front.

It’s okay to admit your shortcomings. Right now, what matters more than the words is your own mental health. You feel that sensation as you type this and built up pressure slowly releases? That’s the bigger issue to fix. You still haven’t addressed it. If you don’t do that now, trust me, lots of stuff is just gonna disintegrate later down the line. Therefore, take the poetry and let it help you. It’s the therapy you need right now.

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It’s okay though novel, I’ll be back. Lemme finally get myself in some kind of workable order. It shouldn’t take long. We’ll pull down the schedules tomorrow and sort out the issues. I’m gonna go see my best mate next week, that’s gonna be awesome, and remember to take that gift I got as an apology for standing her up last month, coz head and heart still don’t work properly in tandem. We can totally fix this.

The poetry knows what it has to do. I’ve been watching it quietly, in the background, preparing our working space. It understands the pain and has a unique, special way to help me make progress. It’s been the unsung heroine around here for most of the year. I should bring some gifts too, when we both finally sit down. Knowing what matters most is really important, especially if what is yearned is an authentic voice.

I’m glad we had this chat, brain. It’s been REALLY helpful.

Play to Win

It’s been three weeks (almost) since Mslexicon and my brain’s finally beginning to integrate what happened then with the reality of now, plus my life as a writer. Tomorrow is August and I want to do my damnedest to capitalise on what is undoubtedly alteration in mental attitude: this is not the same as what it was before. The change that counselling facilitated is manifesting in many differing ways.

I don’t need to have all the answers to start making a difference.

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The whole point of starting this blog (when it existed over on Blogger, how many years ago was THAT) was to tell stories. That still happens, but starting tomorrow a great deal more thought and effort will go into the process. It’s not like I wasn’t doing that before, OF COURSE, but there’s the need now to work that little bit harder. This isn’t about saving the best stuff for publication any more. It’s doing my best work every day.

If something ends up not being good enough, then it simply isn’t completed. I’ve been tempted, in the past, to rush things to a conclusion under the misguided apprehension that having something is better then nothing, and whilst that occasionally is helpful for self esteem purposes, it is not successfully developing my craft to a standard I’m happy with. That means being honest with myself.

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Having said all that, I doubt many people will even notice the changes being implemented. Most are for my own benefit, or relate to stuff outside the sphere of writing. If you follow my personal blog you’ll see a lot of the #accountability hashtag over the efforts being made to physically streamline myself for the journey ahead. Without the physical strength, mental fortitude is a lot, LOT harder.

It’s also my antidote to writing. This used to be my hobby, but is now pretty much the job, and therefore something else has to happen instead of that as relaxation. Exercise allows self-esteem to grow, confidence to be nurtured and success in places other than through someone else’s definition of progress. I’m competing with myself, and that’s a useful metaphor that can be dragged from the real world into my imaginary ones.

Anything that helps me become a better person is utterly worth the effort.

You May Be Right

This weekend, I learnt about Casuistry:

Casuistry (/ˈkæzjuɪstri/) is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances.

Wikipedia

Why the sudden interest? Well, it’s all the fault of a podcast my husband likes listening to, with a realisation that religion isn’t as black and white as perhaps I’ve always assumed was the case.

Learning how to think differently is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened in my life this year. It isn’t just objectivity that’s improved in this time, but the ability to look at situations in a sympathetic manner: effectively, being less harsh on myself in the process. My personal approach to problem-solving, it transpires, is not far from that of the Jesuits. Knowing this method has a name is, frankly, a bit of a revelation.

It’s also not an exact solution:

Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is a branch of applied ethics. It is also criticised for the use of inconsistent—or outright specious—application of rule to instance.

That needs a wee bit more definition before we go on:

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As became apparent in the Podcast above, and the next one in the series (which talks about contraception and the invention of the Pill) you can solve problems in any number of ways: what one person considers morally wrong may be the polar opposite to what somebody else would consider as problematic. Experience is the key to how we all look at solutions: the wider a world view, the more likely is that decisions are made based on optimal criteria.

It’s why the predisposition of so many people to live in their own bubbles is a growing concern: it is life experience that allows a person the opportunity to give reasoned, responsible input and therefore make decisions based on the most diverse set of perceived situations. I’ve often been accused of overthinking my approach to life in the past, and those people are right. To strike the right balance is a incredibly tough ask sometimes.

So, what has all this got to do with writing?

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When I was being interviewed on BBC 5Live about Places of Poetry, there was some discussion over how emotional poetry ought to be in reference to the subject matters in hand. Learning how to write objectively, especially when it comes to a form where economy of words can make a real difference, allows you the ability to problem solve a lot of situations where emotion must exist but not overwhelm.

It is the different between an impassioned feeling and a full-on rant: subtlety and clever word use will allow you to create vastly different solutions to the same problem. That’s also true in longer-form work: two protagonists are talking about a deeply personal event, that one feels uncomfortable about. How does one create a feeling of empathy between them? Is that even required with these two characters… how do their own moral compasses deal with casuistry within the framework of your narrative?

To understand your words, you must begin to understand yourself.

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Part of the reason why my fiction has suffered so much over the years undoubtedly has to do with being unable to really give emotional depth to situations and characters. I thought that this would be easily remedied but, it transpires, there is a lot of work to do. Helping myself expand as a writer isn’t just understanding tenses or the importance of narrative flow. There needs to be a more spiritual, philosophical element to proceedings too.

The best writing is that which is compelling and ultimately life changing, and to do that one must be prepared to alter parts of our own being in the process.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.

The Bends

Not gonna lie, I didn’t sleep much on Friday to Saturday. It always takes a night to adjust to strange surroundings. That’s not just me either, it’s a deep-seated genetic quirk. We’re all mammals, expecting the first night in an unfamiliar habitat to result in us being eaten by a predator. In my case, it was ants, but there weren’t many of them, and we came to an arrangement. I blocked the crack they were swarming from, we existed in harmony.

Saturday was the first proper bit of work for me: two lectures, two 1-2-1 sessions, and a lot of hanging about in the College building. That’s how I met Ezzie for the first time, and Shona, and finally worked out who Bridget was from Twitter. Suddenly there’s a whole new bunch of people to talk to, and situations to deal with. This is where there also needs to be a moment of honesty: not everybody wanted to be my friend. In one case, I tried talking to someone, before they very smartly and efficiently shut me out.

Once upon a time, that rejection would have been perceived as my fault. Now, I am smart enough to know that sometimes, however hard you try, certain people aren’t willing to give. In such circumstances I would have previously run away, licking my wounds. This time, I politely excused myself and moved on. The fact that’s possible now is probably one of the most significant personal takeaways from the entire weekend. You make the opportunities happen, and if they don’t work, you learn to adapt and not dwell.

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#365daychallenge Meanwhile, in a talk..

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I owe a massive debt of thanks to both Jane Rogers and Stephanie Butland for two sessions on short stories and plot choice that were significantly transformative in terms of how I view my own work. It’s been apparent for some time what was required in my prose was a sense of basic structural understanding, and both of these woman gave me not only what I wanted, but also what I’d not realised was needed.

More importantly, meeting Stephanie later and Hayley Steed for 1-2-1’s gave my novel idea a level of legitimacy that didn’t previously exist. This wasn’t a trip to be validated as a writer, or to try and sell my finished work, we’re not even at that stage yet. What it presented was the means by which to identify the shortcomings in my style (‘sort those tenses out’ said Hayley and BOY is she right) before going away and starting the writing task.

It’s Stephanie however who I feel deserves an extra, written thank you in public. Giving a piece of yourself to strangers can alter them profoundly, and she has ❤

Events like this undoubtedly are a sum of their parts: if you put loads in, then there’s an equal amount allowed to be taken away. In that regard, I am hugely indebted to those whose names I never got, or have forgotten, who would be happy to engage in conversation simply whilst I passed from one place to another. For those like Gail, Jane, Patricia, Jackie and Martine who took the time to pass on contact details… I’ll get there with establishing communication. It’s just going to take me a while…

By the end of the evening, I’d read poetry at the Open Mic (and inadvertently ended up running it for an hour) whilst editing the same three pieces performed in the process. There was an amazing and solid hug from Debbie Taylor that I will remember for many, many years to come and an emerging realisation that for the first time I have become arbiter of my own written destiny. If it’s going to happen, this is the time, and nobody gets to take that ownership away from me.

I was up writing poetry until 2am. It was beyond glorious.

Look Away

However hard you try, stuff sometimes is out of your hands. That’s tough to rationalise as a woman who, most of the time, finds it hard to function without a measure of notional control. It asks increasing amounts of you not simply as a person, but as an artist. I call myself a poet when it suits me, but there are other strings to this bow: writer, novelist, short story writer, photographer and, quite possibly, performer.

That last one’s still being played with: poetry needs to be read, aloud. It should be the notional means by which both passion and expression are properly expressed. I’ve only done it once with an audience, but it happens every time a new set of poems are produced. To make sure they ‘sound’ right and my voice is correct, everything needs to be spoken, with passion

This is when I allow myself to fail as a poet.

I can allow a succession of TED speakers tell me how failure matters on the way to success. People have famous people on podcasts talking about failing. It’s a means by which you are allowed to open yourself to being critical of development. It is looking at work and knowing that yes, you can do more. However, what you define as a failure in a  larger sense is utterly and totally subjective.

It’s taken over two years to actually find my real voice, one that matters most to me. More and more, expectation arises is to write a certain way, or to a specific brief, and to end up with something that isn’t true to me, rather something that’s saleable. I’m trying to do this to make other people notice me, and that’s exactly not the way to do the job. I have failed myself on multiple levels, and now it has to stop.

I should be writing for myself, first and foremost. A very good Social media mutual is about to embark on a journey that reminded me of this fact today: why you write is as important as the subject matter, and the reasons why you choose to focus on particular subjects and interests. When I write about things that are important to me, that are passionate points of contention, the work is better.

How did I forget this? Well, that’s easy. My life in poetry has become the mental equivalent of a Supercut: to fit everything in, you just remember the best bits of everything, whilst the rest of the output is relegated. I want to produce this brilliant, aurally arresting selection of works, all carefully intercut, but totally fail to grasp that by doing so real goodness is diluted.

It is time to go back to my roots.

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The last four poems written are probably my best work to date. This is how I need to work moving forward: passion, honestly and personal accountability. Anything else, quite honestly, is a waste of my time and effort right now.

Let’s try and do this right.