A tough month or two for writing – but still a bunch of good things have happened

The last few months have been hard. Several things have combined to remove many of the anchors that keep me grounded and help me manage my anxiety. Loss of routine, plus a sense of impending threat to home, which I’ve been lucky enough to have as a safe space means many of my coping mechanisms have been challenged. The small routines and rituals that help me manage both physical and mental health have been thrown into disarray by various levels of disruption that more than a little too close to home.

So what’s been happening? You may remember we were facing the prospect of a house being built on the opposite – which would mean having the owners garden and living areas just feet from our bedroom windows, as well as a big increase in noise and light pollution on a day to day basis. We found out in June that planning permission has been given. This has left many of us in our little community at best perplexed and at worst dealing with an unsettling feeling of betrayal and hurt. I managed to be pretty chilled and philosophical about it al at first, but recent weeks have seen me feeling rattled by the injustice, and lack of understanding. Managing these emotions is hard and takes an enormous amount of energy – that is often in short supply.

We’ve also been doing a bit of renovation, with a view to moving, or a view to making things nice if we stay. Old houses always need more doing than is anticipated, and we’ve come up against various delays that have meant a long old time with a house full of boxes and dust.  Add in a huge upturn in my paid work and you have the prefect recipe for a significant spike in mental distress. No time means no writing, no writing means no release and no release means no peace. Neglecting the things that allow me to make sense of what’s happening, and to grow as a person, rather than be constrained by the poor behaviour of others, is foolish. I am turning over yet another new leaf.

Hope is emerging. The work on the house is coming to an end, I’m working hard to move on from the hurt and anger to a place of reflection and understanding (we’ll see how that goes once the diggers and concrete move in) and I’m finally feeling the words come back.

Despite all this turmoil and challenge, I’ve lots of lovely poetry news this month. I’ve put together a small exhibition of poetry and photographs that’s on display locally, had several poems accepted for publication including an absolute favourite Whilst you were doing that Adria was jumping rope for three hours published in the fabulous Sledgehammer Lit. I’m particularly fond of this poem because both technique and content are more “me” if that makes sense. The poem is a cut-up poem ( a technique which brings me a real spark of excitement) based on an article about the reality of being a Victoria’s Secret model, which naturally leads to questions about body image and our response to the ideals placed upon us.

The other good thing is that my second column has been published in Spelt magazine, and I’ve managed to do my first ever live reading as part of the magazine launch. I was nervous, obviously, but I do really like the column I’ve written for this issue and the gentle support of everyone involved including editor Wendy Pratt made me feel safe enough to enjoy the experience.

So I keep moving, even when everything feels impossible and all I really want to do is run away to the sea. I’ve a few new projects coming up, plus a new group course which is proving to be just the right balance of challenge and interest. Autumn is coming, the wheel keeps turning and hope is always somewhere to be found.

The words do come back

For the first time in months I’ve woken with a poem in my head. It’s not terribly good,but it’s there, and now it’s tapped out into my noteapp waiting to be read.

This year has been strange. Much of it has been taken with trying to save an old garden opposite our houses – it’s a bit wild, and has been consciously neglected by the current owners to facilitate their somewhat ironic plans to build an eco house. The upside of this neglect created a home for such an array of birds and wildlife – it’s sad that it will be torn up under the cloak of sustainability.

Wild garden – soon to replaced by a house

Trying to save this garden has taken lots of time, lots of writing, lots of emotion and lots of the energy I usually use to write creatively. The decision has been made and the developers got their way. I am happy we tried our best to save it, happy we were on the side of good, and above all happy that my happiness does not depend on something that causes so much distress to the land and our village community.

So there’s been that. There’s also been the curious challenges associated with everything reopening. I’m thrilled to be able to see people, thrilled to go out but also really don’t want to get back on the merry-go-round of exhaustion and recovery. I seem to have forgotten how to modify and manage myself – interaction is so terrifying/exciting it sets all my alert sensors off and inevitably I end up completely floored. I need to go back to monitoring my baseline and careful planning….

I’m also in an oddly buoyant patch of copy and content writing work – this means my brain can barely find the creativity to read, never mind write. Where 5.30am starts were once for poetry and journalling,they’re now for product descriptions and web content. Work is wonderful, and the money is essential but I’m very much out of bakance. I’ve missed the calm of the last year, an realise how much I crave either absolute routine or absolute spontaneity. At the moment I’m in a limbo mix of the two that I’m not enjoying.

The words do come back

There’s a hazel tree in the woods at the back of the house that I sit under and it’s become a place to just be, and to let my mind wander and recover a little. The words are slowly coming back, the thrill at reading good poetry is returning and I’m starting to feel like myself again, to feel like my mind is my home.

Publications in June

Precious few subs have meant precious few pieces published (odd that) I do have two new pieces out this month. I am – the story of a tiger girl is part of Streetcake magazine and another due to be published in the amazing Sledgehammer Lit. Issue two of Spelt is due to land soon too – it’s going to be incredible and I’m still a bit giddy to be a regular columnist for them.

What’s next?

I’m setting aside a day for writing. I have a commissioned piece to finish, and perhaps a new piece to start. I’ve discovered some exciting new places to submit to too, thanks to a Twitter thread from Elizabeth M. Castillo. I don’t think I’ve given myself a day like this in months. It’s quite wonderful.

Fallow? Or just exhausted?

I always know when my writing needs to take a back seat. My brain simply ceases to play ball. I grasp for words – and find them – but the fizzy excited feeling has faded. I’ve lost my oomph.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m not writing. It means I have to turn my attention to being able to pay the bills – so my writing energy is spent on creating killer product descriptions, and beautiful web content. It’s still writing, I still enjoy it – but poetry is dormant. For now.

That said, I’ve a few pieces due to be published soon, in places like Sledgehammer, The Dawntreader and Streetcake, and they’re poems I’m really proud of. I’m also immensely pleased with the writing I’m producing for Spelt – it’s an honour to be part of this growing publication.

I’m very aware of how my style has grown over the last six months or so. I really believe in the work I’m submitting, and feel confident that they are worth reading. The need for approval ebbs and flows, of course – I’m putting my heart on a page but I feel my words are more authentic.

I’ve also realised what kind of creator I am. There are some who are market and money focused – a place I dipped into – and some who are not. This is encapsulated by an experience with a local artist who was just delighted to have found a home for a piece she’d done. This doesn’t mean she didn’t charge for her work – it means there was a genuine warmth and love for both the sketches and the recipient.

The whole experience was joyful. I have never been avaricious, and the times when I’ve been least happy have been if I try to force myself that way. I write for money, because it’s my living, but I create for the sheer love of creating, and because I have something to say. And that is when my work is at its best.

So is this a fallow period? Who knows – the warning signs that I’m pushing too hard are nipping at my ankles, and I’ve made the decision to withdraw from my York CLL course, just to recover a little breathing space. If I know myself at all, in a week or two I’ll get that naggy feeling (usually as I’m dropping to sleep) and the words will return.

Thank you – your support and interest is invaluable to me.

Kathryn xx

What’s the first rule of M.E. club?

Yep. Don’t overstretch yourself.

What have I done?

Overstretched myself. I’ve signed up for all the things, said yes to all the jobs and I’m just about coping…

The thing is, new year, new intentions, the weird belief that being in lockdown means I’m less busy (being in lockdown isn’t that different when you’ve got a chronic condition) and a good deal of need for distraction means my “no” filter is well and truly clogged.

Cat is disappointed with my lack of discipline

Starting the year with a rejection or two

is never ideal. It’s part of being a published writer, and I am less likely to weep and wail and snap pencils in half* than I used to be but it still hurts. One in particular was for a set of poems I’ve worked really hard on, and pinned a host of hopes to and the days after finding out they’d not been chosen oscillated between Pollyanna-like positivity and a touch of crushed despair. Putting your heart on a page to be judged will do that I guess. Add in the context of knowing people are going through a whole lot worse than you, others are working round the clock to save lives, continue education and feed people who are too stubborn to wear a mask, and the whole business of submitting poetry feels a little hollow.

Poetry isn’t pointless though

nor is music, art, tv (unless it’s actually Pointless of course) film or any hybrid collab you can shake a stick at.  It helps distract, comfort, crystallise emotion. It might make someone laugh or be the gateway for unshed tears. I’ve said before, the thing that means the most to me is when people getting in touch to say what I’ve written resonated with them, moved them, mattered to them. And of course I’ll keep going because that appears to be what I do, what I stick at despite the challenges and what I seem to be good at. I’ve sent another batch of submissions out today…I’ll spend the next week or so checking my inbox far too often, then forget about them and get either a fabulous surprise or another knock. And so the cycle continues.

Reading is hard at the moment

because I’ve taken on all the things, when I stop, it’s hard to focus on reading. I know this is bad – my brain needs food to function. Having said that I’ve enjoyed a fabulous collection of short stories Black Vodka by Deborah Levy is a collection that explore all kinds of love, in all kinds of cities and all kinds of lives. I miss travel, I miss people, and this collection of stories has snaked its way around my heart and mind. The writing is so beautiful I can almost taste it as I read.

Poetry wise I’m revisiting an unfinished book Urn & Drum by Lila Matsumoto. The poems are sparse. They leave me with a sense of hanging in the air. I enjoy the quiet that surrounds the words, the focus that inhabits each line. It’s a collection I’ll return to.

Halfway through February

already and it’s Valentine’s day! I love this day, the hearts, the kitschness, the overcommercialism. I am taking the weekend off to spend time surrounded by paper hearts  eat every heart shaped item of food I can find and drink every pink drink produced to celebrate the brutal martyrdom of a 5th century member of the clergy I can lay my hands on. At this point in winter, it really is a case of any excuse for a celebration and I really do love a heart or two.

Thank you for reading, stay safe, wash your hands, eat your greens and hug a tree

Kathryn xx

Three great things that have happened this week

Having an illness like M.E. creates many unexpected twists* and forces change. Losing social life, the security of regular work, the simple convenience of popping to the supermarket to get a few bits for tea creates a sense of disorientation and a whisper of fear.

These are things I’ve spent the last seven years adjusting to and things that are now “normal”, and perhaps not unexpected.

What I didn’t expect was that having an illness like M.E. would create opportunities. I certainly didn’t expect those opportunities to be quite so close to being what I’ve always dreamt of.

Columnist for Spelt Magazine

Opportunity number one is being part of Spelt Magazine.This morning I had my first meeting with editor Wendy Pratt and I’m just fizzing with excitement.

Spelt sets out to do something different – it seeks to capture  the brilliance of the natural world, but also the reality of living in a rural environment. From our chat this morning it’s clear this is going to be a magazine that amplifies the voice of those who don’t feel part of the edgy urban scene, but certainly don’t identify with the cosy lifestyle version of the countryside presented by other magazines. It’s something that excites me, something that I think is valuable, and somewhere that I think I fit – which is a wonderful thing to be able to say.

I’m not going to say too much about the column, other than I’m hoping to create something uplifting that brings a smile on gloomy days and gives a window into tiny joys.  

I’m so excited about this new role – I’m even using my beloved Ciak notebook. Makes a change from recycling envelopes.

Bursary from Raven Studios

My second opportunity comes in the form of a bursary courtesy of Raven Studios in Shrewsbury. Raven Studios is an incredible organisation that offers creative space and support to all manner of artists. My bursary is essentially buying me time to write – as you know M.E. means my physical and mental resources are limited and often writing to pay the bills takes precedent over creative work. My goal is to give around the 5 hours a week to developing poetry for a pamphlet that explores mental and physical health – it’s still in an embryonic stage, but I’m excited to have a new project to work on, and to have support from such a vibrant group of artists.

Learning how to be a better poet

You may remember I had to curtail my formal study with OCA – for many reasons it just wasn’t working, plus the fees proved to be overwhelming. What I have discovered is the wealth of courses available to help me develop as a writer. These range from simple prompt-a-day courses (I say simple – they’ve been the single best thing I’ve done), to more involved courses like those run by the York Centre for Life Long Learning or Poetry School. Thanks to a gift from Santa, I’ve been able to enrol on three courses this year, one looking at women writers, exploring body and illness and one looking at how to put together a themed collection. The last two are particularly exciting given my new project with Raven Studios.

So, here ends the post. It’s a grim month after a grim year, and the day to day is hard. I miss all the things! Despite the many lacks, I’m so excited about what the next few months will bring. More than anything I realise how much I’ve learnt since my diagnosis in 2013.

As ever, thanks for reading

Kathryn

xx

*my less than accurate tying created the phrase “M.E. creates many unexpected twits.” I’m not entirely sure that was a typo.

The final gift of 2020

My news feed is full of folk feeling joy at “seeing off” 2020. I get it. The year has oscillated between terrible and banal, frustration and despair. People have lost loved ones in a way none of us would choose. Teachers, healthcare workers,retail staff, hospitality teams are all working to keep things running so we can keep feeling “normal”. The year has been hard, and the things that keep us going have, well, gone.

Christmas covid-style. Fire pit and family.

For me – it’s not been so very different. Being trapped at home is my “normal” and in many ways not feeling the pressure to socialize (one of my biggest energy sappers) has created a sense of calm. I miss people terribly, but I realize that the round of events I rope myself into does need to be managed more closely when we emerge from the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

We’ve had fun stuff too. Lockdown birthdays with Llama bunting, livestreamed gigs, a visit from friends complete with exciting trip to get a sausage roll from our local café. It’s been a year of thinking small, and learning what I really love.

This considered calm has meant more writing. I’ve developed so much this year. I think I’ve had more publications, including my pieces in Popshot and Paper Swans Press, I’ve launched my own bespoke poetry business and dipped my toes back into flash fiction.  More than this, I feel like something has shifted – I feel like I understand that I’ll never understand,that I’ll never feel like the world’s best writer, that my work may never be declaimed from the rooftops. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write, what matters is that I think. I end the year feeling that small quiet strength that carries me through so many changes and challenges.



The final gift of 2020 came a few days before Christmas, when we learned our neighbours are planning to build a large house directly opposite our bedroom window. This means we may be facing a house move. This in turn means leaving a community we’ve been part of for twenty years, and losing the support, safety and calm I enjoy and rely on for my mental and physical health. It’s a blow, and has caused some distress during an already fretful Christmas,but I’m trying to keep my positive hat on and see this as an opportunity rather than a loss.

I’ve been lucky to have this view for 20 years. It seems my luck has changed.


Sending hopeful wishes and thanks for your support over what has been a most unusual twelve months. Here’s to more love, kindness and empathy.

Kathryn xx

What does it mean when people with myalgic encephalomyelitis (m.e.) talk about a crash?

First off,I’m writing this from bed, on my phone, so forgive any creative spelling or innovative phrasing.

How have the last few months been?

I’ve had a good run. Two, maybe three months where my routine (M/T/W rest -with at least one full bed day- Th/F/S/S dressed,do things) has worked. I’ve been able to find time to write both poetry and a daft story or two, amongst the stuff like housework, keeping the garden looking nice, cooking healthy food etc. I’ve even found time to do some paid work, and been asked to take on a permanent role with my copywriting agency (just 4 hours a week, but it feels amazing to be able to say “I’ve got a job”). Things have felt positive.

Despite m.e. I’ve had a good couple of months – this is from my birthday walk

What do you mean by a crash?

Like it says really. My body and brain have stopped. I am breathless when I walk (just from bedroom to bathroom) , I have this weird fizzing through my limbs, I sleep almost constantly and wake feeling like I’ve been run over. At the moment I can still read,but I suspect that will fade later today.

How long will it last?

This is the other joy. I don’t know. Experience tells me that three or four days is usual, but there is always the chance that this could be the one that tips me, the one I don’t recover from.

It’s a scary thing, and every time I crash I curse myself for becoming cavalier over my illness. I get so fed up of having to be careful, having to ask for help that I just plough through; and here we are again. Bed, very little writing, very little work no life – just the neighbours chickens and the cat to entertain me.

What happens next?

I wait. I try to rest. I get up too soon then have to come back to bed. I get cross and frustrated and sad. I dream of having a bath, washing my hair. The worst bit is when I feel a bit better – my brains working, but my body won’t. That’s when I’m most likely to push too far.

This is one of the reasons Covid worries me so (there are a million for everyone, I know). If I catch it, and survive, my body is likely to react the same way as it did when I got the strain of tonsillitis that kicked all this off. Bearing in mind this seems to be a much feistier beast, it’s almost certain that I will end up very ill. It’s important to understand that I’m not “better” I’m just better at managing my health – any change to the balance has a major impact. Contracting C-19 could be devastating.

Writing about m.e. always makes me nervous – some people I considered friends were so unkind when I was first ill (they’re not any nicer now, they’re just not friends) but I think it’s important to talk about. As we see more people struggling to live with long-term symptoms of Covid-19, which bear striking similarities to m.e., an increased level of understanding is essential. And kind.

What can we do?

Send flοwers, kittens, cake and a one way ticket to Abel Tasman. I’m joking (I’m not), for me it’s a case of waiting it out – I’ve a warm safe home to do this in, a very fluffy cat for company and a partner with a great line in fish finger sandwiches, jacket potatoes and mushroomy pasta, so I’m sorted. The hardest thing is understanding how I’m feeling, and not pushing myself to do more. It astounds me that even after seven years, the protestant work ethic is so ingrained that I still believe that if I just work hard enough I’ll push through. My body has told me time and time again this is not true. I need to believe it. And to live in Abel Tasman.

Thanks for reading, it’s good to talk, even if only on a virtual basis.

Keep safe, wear a mask, wash your hands

Kathryn xx

To find out more about Yes to Tigers or a bespoke poetry commission just follow the links or email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

………to good things coming soon.

It’s finally happening, my poetry zine is on it’s way to the printers! Very excited, and very grateful to Amanda Hillier printing for her patience with my endless edits – finalising poetry punctuation is hard – finalising poetry punctuation when you’ve a head full of brain fog is almost impossible. We got there though, and the finished zine will be with me soon.

A poetry zine sounds like a wonderful thing, how can I buy one?

If you live in Telford, you’ll be able to pop into the Ironbridge Bookshop to pick up a copy. If you’re further afield just drop me an email or a message and I’ll post one out to you. I’m planning to set up an Etsy/Folksy shop to sell the zines, as well as some bespoke poems which will make great Christmas gifts too, and I’ll post the links here and on my social media pages.

A short post today – brain fog is beating me, but I’ll write a longer one soon.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask,

Kathryn

Trees and unknown normality

I’ve found myself complaining a lot over the last few weeks. It’s not sitting well. Whilst I have bouts of gloom, I’m not generally a complainer. I’m a keeper of gratitude diaries, a giver of personal pep talks, a reluctant Pollyanna. Counting my blessings is second nature – I’m aware it’s not hard – I have food, warmth, safe home. Still these last few weeks I hear myself moaning about things that shouldn’t bother me – trees blocking a bit more light in my yard than I’d like (SAD begins to creep around at this time of year) envy of those with big skies and wide views, moaning about a misplaced sock or overlooked watering. I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Alongside this is an utter lack of creativity. Not a note, a scrap and scribble.  I can barely read let alone write. I’m not sure if my brain is just overwhelmed by the awfulness in the news (although that’s usually fuel not foe) or I’m having to readjust to being in social situations after several months of solitude. It feels like the good creative part of my brain has twisted shut, and all that seeps out are petty grumbles.

Perhaps I just need a change of scene – like many people I’ve only left my home county once since the beginning of March. It’s not a terrible place to be by any means, but think the fact that many of my anchors, the things that make me feel like me, have been removed has left me a little rudderless. I miss the rush and collectivism of live music; I miss travelling to different places and seeing the similarities in human nature as well as the vast differences in culture.  I miss the way the light falls differently, the new scents that characterise a country. I miss living.

Missing these things is a privilege in itself of course. It means I’ve travelled, been able to afford both money and time to enjoy music. It means I have a partner who genuinely loves the things I love. My normal doesn’t suit everyone, and the world’s normal certainly didn’t suit me. At the beginning of lockdown, I was of the mind that it was quite nice, having all these gigs streamed, and joining various zoom quizzes, being able to go to museums and galleries online – things that M.E. has curtailed in real life. Six months in I’ve realised that these things are only a sticking plaster. I need that feeling of being with people I feel myself with, that feeling of community, of a common love and it doesn’t happen through a screen. I know that the future is bound to be different, but I’m scared we are going to lose the things that make being human a rich and vivid thing. The curated perfection of a screen is no match for a flawed, emotionally charged performance, or that moment when I stand back from a painting in a gallery and feel my synapses fizz with excitement. It’s no match for sitting around laughing a daft tv program with friends you’ve not seen for years, sitting down to share food you’ve cooked together, no match for the excitement of walking into a dingy nightclub an hearing the music you love, knowing it’s going to be a good night.

I feel curiously better now I’ve written this – I’m not a complainer. I’m just struggling a bit with being in one place for six months and so everything from overgrown trees to misplaced socks is starting to feel too much too Pollyanna my way out of. Reading back, this seems like a normal enough response to a six month lockdown.

Hopefully creativity will spring back soon. Until then, wear your mask, wash your hands, read widely and critically.

July

has been a difficult month. Various events have conspired to create a wave of minor panic attacks and underlying swell of anxiety that I’ve been free of for some time. These patches will come and go, and I’m better equipped to meet them head on and use all those techniques like counting things and managed breathing to jerk my brain from its doom-filled track. These techniques don’t always work, and it’s fair to say that living with this kind of intense anxiety is exhausting (and scary).

I’ve also been more active socially – by which I mean I’ve been to my mom’s for socially distanced egg and chips – and I’ve realised that this takes a lot more energy than I think. When we were in full lockdown my days felt more my own. As soon as I began to see other people, or to venture out of the house ( a slightly disappointing trip to Ellesmere) I get trapped in a cycle of preparation and recovery that means where I once had seven days in a week, I’m suddenly down to three. Being of a perfectionist persuasion, I’ve been trying to maintain seven days’ worth of activity, so where day to day things like cooking and cleaning were nicely spread out, I’ve ended up exhausted and unable to take on any freelance work, and certainly unable to write.

This is the reality I suppose. M.E. doesn’t go away and I feel like I’ve got to learn my baseline all over again. Combine this with leaden skies and the general terror of the times and it’s no wonder my brain has been on high alert. I haven’t written a single thing this month and I’ve missed it terribly. Even my journal is patchy, just scraps of thoughts and the odd drawing.

Wallowing is not my style though (I prefer tear-filled rage) so as August begins, so does another set of resolutions – to make time, to ease up on the cleaning obsession, to ask for help and to write. I’ll see how I get on.

August also brings a new publication, which is a bit of a big deal to me – Popshot magazine is notoriously hard to get into (I only discovered this after I submitted or I’d never have tried) so having a poem published as part of their Freedom issue is incredible. I’ll do a proper post about it next week, but if you are venturing into the shops you’ll be able to buy a copy in WHSmith – if anyone does please take a photo of it and send it to me  – it’s my first piece of print out in the wild as it were.

That’s it for now – here’s to a better August for all of us. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask and be lovely.

Thanks for reading

Kathryn xx