The Luxury Gap

This post should have happened on Friday, but it didn’t. My personal blog has recorded the sordid details, should you be interested as to why: with time and space to deal with the fallout, it’s a salutatory reminder that dealing with anxiety and inability doesn’t ever go away, it simply becomes easier to rationalise. You’d think after the week I’d had that everything would be fantastic as a result. That’s not how this works.

Being mindful of self is the reminder needed to move forward.

There’s a lot that can be done to understand why self is as problematic as it undoubtedly is: some of you may stress at the amount of self-help flotsam that undoubtedly ends up online, but an awful lot of it is incredibly useful. The idea, of course, is to take everything initially under consideration: some advice may simply not be what is needed. It’s the equivalent of my exercise class trainer stating “this move may not work for you, here are the alternatives.”ย It’s your job to know what’s best at that moment and then give it a try.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important for me to follow as wide a range of followers via Social media as possible. It’s not about believing that somehow my experience represents a typical one for everybody else either. There’s so much difference in the world, such a wealth of individual experiences. I cannot possibly expect to be able to understand them all, but they demand both respect and empathy regardless. The only way that changes is if someone is actively hostile; then there are other paths to tread.

Fortunately for me, there’s an awful lot of love in my life right now.

I’ve spent an awfully long time not granting myself permission to be fallible. It’s okay not to write when you say you will, or to take time to do other stuff. It’s not sensible to compare yourself to anybody else either, especially if you’re trying to be realistic about objectives and goals. The path that you tread is very much individual to you. Don’t let others define you, and certainly don’t allow negativity to drag your dreams down to the gutter. You are enough. It is okay to get stuff wrong. Rejection as a writer is part of a path you need to tread.

Learning what you are is all part of the experience.

Surprise, Surprise

Yesterday, at about 10.45pm, I recorded my first poem. Well, that’s not strictly true: a lovely BBC Sound engineer in Manchester did it for me.ย 

At NO POINT in my planning was there provision to get anything other than a mention in passing for this project. It wasn’t about recognition, after all, just to give back to my home town, which I’ve now done with some style. To talk to one of the Project founders, and a poet in residence, was a brilliantly unexpected bonus. It took that Guardian mention and knocked it out of sight. I’m gonna be thanking these people in dispatches for quite some time to come.

EVERYTHING that’s changed my course this year has come from a willingness to be vulnerable, to place mind and body in situations that were previously frightening. The knock on effects from this are only beginning to register, but in last night’s recording I can hear my own fear, nervousness in voice that comes from being exposed to an audience. In time, I’ll get my head around it. It will get better with practice.

All these things will improve with practice.

Here’s the poem I read on the show.


Two Tree Island ::
Bleak, Hoarse

Golden hour,
I came here to begin
next chapterโ€™s transformation

remade through otherโ€™s imagery,
inspired
earth to sky,
brown
to gold
adheres, presenting unexpectedly

grubby printed brilliance, webbed feet
pointing path, open silt bar
my usual; steaming,
anticipated
epiphany of
self abstained, regained.

I asked for a sign;
you gave
graffiti covered
rubberised playgrounds
broken boats
peeling
saintโ€™s
names

Pierโ€™s glorious insertion, failures forgotten
thousand harsh rejections sail away
masts of possibility remain,
renewed
mirrored sunrise
into grateful eyes.

Bleak, hoarse failure recedes
to seeds,
green runway, as above, first plane

softens

mumbling to trains.


I really hope this isn’t the last time I read a poem on national radio. This is a pretty high benchmark to exceed.

I do so love a challenge.

Musclebound

It’s been a week since everything literary got a bit of a shift about. Now it is high time all that productivity and new understanding got thrown at constructive projects. Therefore today’s when the pitch I took to Mslexicon gets some depth and shape, poetry is finally edited and submitted for a range of different awards and contests, plus the mess that’s my hard drive is given a much needed clear out.

It’s time to get some work done.

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I already have five (count them!) of my best poems ready to roll for the prestige Poetry Society contest, that have existed in one form or another since May: they’re ready now, at least as ready as I will ever be for submission. There’s a first novel thing that one of my other WiP’s well set to enter too, so that’ll get a proper synopsis ahead of deadline this week. Then, it is all about words on the page for the idea I took to Leeds.

This already has a soundtrack to go with it, which has been listened to at the Gym and during school runs for a good few weeks now. What needs to happen is a subtle rearrangement of the running order to accommodate a firmed-up timeline, because some songs are in the wrong place and if I’m going to optimise the visual part of my brain, that needs to change.

In fact, I’ll do that now before anything else happens.

All three protagonists have a theme, and then there’s the connecting plot ‘songs’. I know some people do their preparation differently, but this is what works best for me. It undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact film and TV studies happened along with an English Literature degree. Finally, after almost three decades, education finally has some kind of actual relevance. Let’s see if we can adapt form to function.

All of this will be updated on the Twitter account as time goes on, so if you want to know how things are going, you know where to find me. On top of that there is likely to be a bit more effort shoved into August’s short story, and indeed all the daily works produced in the months that follow. That’s the area I’m weakest on, but after some cracking sessions at Mslexicon, all of that is altering rapidly…

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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,ย  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 โค

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.

The Long Road Home

Right then, today’s when I start planning what happens at MsLexicon 2019.

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I intend to Blog the entire thing in 3 posts: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but not on those days, because I wanna enjoy it and not have it feel like a job. Therefore, there’ll be no more blogs here after this one this week, and all three of next weeks will cover a day: Friday on Monday, Saturday on Wednesday and Sunday on Friday. This allows for copious note-taking and digestion of what has been presented.

However, you can expect a not inconsiderable amount of live-tweeting of said event via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed and on Instagram. I’ll be taking business cards and quite possibly some printed gubbins with me, and am already playing with the idea of haiku-ing ‘in situ’ over the weekend (note to self: take PostIts!)ย A lot of this will be played by ear once I’m established at the venue. My check-in is 4.30pm but I expect to be established well before that.

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After that, I’m pretty much in the lap of the literary gods on this one. I’ve never done anything like this before in my entire life, and as a result it could all get a bit scary.ย That’s why I’ve decided that this point is going to mark the start of a new chapter of literary evolution (plus why there’s a NEW GRAPHIC for the occasion). Everything that comes from this process will be learning.

Even getting to and from the venue itself has become an exercise in logistics.

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What has already been reassuring is that I’m making connections before arrival: people have offered tea and calm if I feel anxious (and in turn I’m happy to do the same!) plus this gives me an idea of who is active on Social media before the event even begins. That’s been a really encouraging positive in all of this: clearly there are those who don’t use this medium in the same way I do. Knowing who does, and therefore who will be receptive to being approached this way is a really important starting point.

I have a day and a bit to get my shit together. This is utterly doable.

Enough is Enough

No, really, I need to ask the question: just how much effort into a piece is ‘enough’?

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To my right, in a pile, is a bunch of poems being edited. When I was writing End of the Fearย and only my own standards needed to be fulfilled, editing seemed considerably less stressful. Was that because of the work being easier to create, or the process not being dictated by what other people would think, I wonder? Is there too much general worry over the end quality of my output?

More and more, the answer to this question is YES.

I’ve read pages of advice over how to make my work shine, on the inner voice that needs to be nurtured, on umpteen differing styles and approaches, and yet none of this is able to assuage that creeping, terrifying sense that however had you edit, it simply won’t be enough. Impostor Syndrome’s in an increasing list of external factors that weigh down my output, and needs to be dealt with alongside everything else.

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Releasing myself from the tyranny of validation certainly helps make the poetry flow, but then how much editing is enough to produce something I think is worthwhile? It’s the classic ‘how long is a piece of string’ argument, I suppose: if I was being taught and the teacher covered my work in corrections, would that be what was needed? If the voice is strong enough, and there’s enough confidence in the finished product, that should be enough.

Increasingly however, as stuff is rejected, that’s not the case. You’re forced into a situation where there is no real sense of what is right or wrong, and you have to hope that what is on the page is enough. If you’re not writing in the style a random person decides is what they’re looking for, what can you do? In the end, there is very little to do but just keep working and hoping that eventually your style will intersect with someone else’s interest.

Unless of course there’s some magic that I’m missing along the way…

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I’ll be back to poetry next week: for now, it’s time to start gearing up for my trip to Leeds…