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.

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. 

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 chapter’s transformation

remade through other’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
saint’s
names

Pier’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 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.

Words

Sitting here, catching up on the last week or so, finishing the poetry project seems a lifetime ago.

My health club was presented with an A3 poster of the Blaze poem on Tuesday, and A4 copies went to everyone who featured in the poem at their relevant classes (as there are two a week.) There were unexpected tears, and genuine pleasure that I could thank so many people for inspiring me to greatness. Then, on Thursday, I bumped into the woman who was responsible for a significant change in direction of my narrative.

I’ll spend some time next week taking all the pictures produced for the project and shoving them in a Portfolio, allowing everything photographic to be accessible from the website. It’s been lovely to get unprompted, independent feedback too, especially as I ended up being featured on the PoP Facebook site as a ‘Poem of the Day.’

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The plan has been to have a rest, and having done so, to start July fresh and with some new ideas… so I suppose I’d better get started on that sooner rather than later. I’ll be honest, however: there’s not going to be weekly poetry again until probably September. I need a rest, but more significantly, it’s become apparent from this project that my style has begun to evolve.

This is probably the moment to go practice on my own for a while, enter some works in specific contests, then see what happens as a result.

The Final Countdown

It’s done… well, the technical bit is. All the poems are pinned on the site, I just need to do my part of the deal and fill in the back end details. As of typing this, all but five of those poems are now up and linked with pictures. By Wednesday, as planned, we will be done.

Revelations have risen from this journey that have been singularly unexpected. The reactions I’ve received, support that has been offered beyond considerable. It started as a means by which I could give back to the town, but so much has been given back without even asking. I’ll be printing out a version of the Jazz poem for the lovely people at the Centre who were so kind to me, and one for the member of staff at the Beecroft Gallery who changes my outlook so early on.

These people’s generosity has been the unexpected and brilliant bonus to this five week’s worth of work. Once I’m done, there will be time taken to consider what I’ve learnt, ensuring it all gets use down the line. This is truly the project that’s really altered not only my outlook on poetry, but on how I have become a better person thanks to the ability to shave away small slivers of my soul before binding them to moments captured photographically.

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Everything has come together perfectly, and I could not be happier.