The power of silence

Sleep often eludes me, and the small hours can see me committing that much turned to sin of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, to distract my mind from wakeful thoughts. This ill-advised activity usually results in the purchase of a porcelain dragon, or a bargain set of food parasols, peppered with ever increasing despair. Occasionally though, this endless search for distraction reveals something good. Something worth being awake for at the wrong end (or indeed beginning) of the day.

This extract from Michaela Coel’s speech at the Emmys needs no elucidation. I recognise myself, as I suspect many others do. This addiction to visibility, this search for validation is as toxic as any failed relationship. Perhaps it is a failed relationship – a failure of a relationship with social media, with the internet with the overwhelming slew of ways to publicise, monetise, magnify our work.

My thoughts now turn to “who am I to even think like this”. I have precious little visibility, precious little work in the world – perhaps I’m just making up excuses for my lack of presence? Yet the thing is, the search for visibility is the very reason for this lack of presence. We are all publicists now, all addicted to the rush of dopamine from seeing those “likes” creep up, all hoping that we will make it, somehow, without really knowing what “it” is.

This takes time – keeping up the social media posts, wondering why this one was liked and that one wasn’t – I live in a world where even my pets or garden could monetised if I only have the time and savvy to make it happen.

Not only does this need for visibility take time from the act of creating, it seeps into the moments I carve out to write – the ever present wonder of how this poem or tale could be marketed, how I could work it into a blog post.

The concept of celebrity is not new, but it’s importance is somehow skewed. For small time poets, or painters or singers the pure act of creating is no longer enough. We need to be seen, to be liked, to be followed and fêted worldwide. Suddenly, the concept of being brave enough to “disappear…and see what comes to you in the silence” seems like the most freedom I could possibly choose.

The obvious thing is to just step away from social media. It’s not so easy though, especially for those like me who have physical or mental conditions that make real life interaction a challenge. The praise and primping of social media brings value, even companionship – but it also brings endless noise, endless routes to comparison, endless ways to chalk up faults and failures.

Nonetheless I’m going to try. I haven’t enjoyed writing this year – I’ve allowed myself to confuse visibility with validity and my focus has shifted to somewhere that feels suffocating. I can feel my brain wanting to twist back to the words, to bathe in them, love them, let them home. I want to feel that prickle of excitement, that moment of magic that comes when heart and head meet. And so, this dark end of the year will be different, it will be devoted to writing – to seeing what comes to me in the silence.

Ways to keep working

It’s no secret I’ve had a patch of rejections recently. It’s made me a bit gloomy, a bit petulant. As I emerge though, it’s made me seek ways to improve – and also to be kind to myself. I’ve only been submitting work for a couple of years – I’m doing ok. Not sure who’s measuring me anyway – nor what scale they use.

Butcher’s Dog is a dream journal. It looks beautiful. It’s printed on good paper. It comes with stickers in the parcel! It also contains poetry that moves me, that makes me go “oh” – poetry that I can’t stop thinking about.

With this in mind, I decided to take this advice and use it to escape my fug of self pity. I’ve been reading issue 13 of the journal and have been carrying this poem Absence by Stephen Keeler in my heart and head ever since I read it.

So what is it about this piece ? I immediately liked the turn the poem takes in the final stanza. I enjoy the simplicity . I still consider imagery beyond me, yet here it is – secateurs and tangle thorns used to explain, explore the complexity of grief in a way that quietly moves me, a way that comforts me that I am not alone.

In terms of technical things – poetic devices I think they’re called – the overriding element of this poem is the measured rhythm and the strongest point is where that rhythm is disrupted by the run on sentence between the final two stanzas. This is the point the poem turns, the point that makes me as a reader stop and feel.

Of course, this may not be about grief at all. It may be about lost love, or about missing a thorny hedge – and that’s the wonderful thing. I can read this and connect with some part of myself, and perhaps with some part of another humans mind. All through a few words on a page.

And that is why I keep writing.

Rejections are part of all this…

repeat after me. Rejections are part of all this…

However they’re dressed, not placing,we are not moving forward with work, your work is not right for us at this time, having work rejected hurts. Really.

The objective side looks at the number of entries, the people who had work accepted and rationalises. The tenacious side finds other places that are seeking submissions and submits. The side that distilled, dispersed, revised, redrafted and finally pressed send…that side wants to have a little cry. And stop putting itself through this.

Still, that does no good – what I want to learn is how to know what editors want – how do I understand? I really thought I’d chosen a good place for my pamphlet sub – but it wasn’t the case. There’s no feedback of course, so I don’t really know whether the work is terrible, or just not right – and if not, why not? And whilst I understand that time and resources are stretched I’d just really like to know – the whole process feels like grasping for smoke.

A lower ebb than usual. A longing for both time and health. Either would be good. Gloomy, to be honest. Send kittens.

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.

EMDR published today on Fevers of the Mind

Speed post to let you know I’ve a new poem about EMDR therapy, published today on Fevers of the Mind.

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

Reading and writing in April

What I’m reading

For those of you familiar with my blog and progress as a poet, you’ll recognise the name Wendy Pratt. I’ve been a participant in many of Wendy’s online workshops and am sure that my work would not be where it is today without the benefit of these clever, kind groups that coax and charm the best words from each other’s pens.

I recently started reading Wendy’s fourth collection of poems When I think of my body as a horse, and I’d like to tell you about the impact it has had on me and why I think you may enjoy it (even if you think you don’t like poetry). This isn’t a review of style and form – there are many of these available by people with more expertise and skill than I, like this one in The Yorkshire Times, it’s simply my responses to the work.

 I began reading When I Think of My Body as a Horse with a little uncertainty. I knew the book had a core theme  around child loss and having never, ever wanted children of my own, I wasn’t sure if I would relate to the poems in any way beyond compassionate care. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the first poem For the Bridge Beneath Which I Became a Flock of Pigeons it was clear this collection was way more than what I imagined. The poems are searingly honest accounts of the complications and terrors of being human, from the messy and embarrassing to raw, ragged pain that comes with grief, interspersed with pockets of tentative joy. Poems like The Lemon Tree and Love Letter to Scarborough on a  Saturday Night delve into the magic of being lost in music and of so many towns on a Saturday night, and the sad shock of reality ( the last lines of The Lemon Tree are a killer), before moving me to the exquisitely described tension of The Parole Office.

As I move through the pages, I find poems like Sleep that captures the beauty of everyday love, and poems like When Rabbits Die and The Leverets Dream that take me to a world between magic and reality. There are poems like Air that draw tears from I don’t know where (the same type  get when I hear a beautiful singing voice) poems that raise confused smile, and poems that absolutely explain the pain of loss. This is an extraordinary collection of work, and one that genuinely creates conversation, empathy and understanding about some of the most painful aspects of being human.

What I’m writing

I’m a little lacking in verve at the moment. After a flurry of writing, submissions and acceptances in the first quarter of the year, my brain is distracted by the joy of sowing and growing  – I feel happy and content in the beauty of my little backyard (despite the imminent build over the road) and am not delving far into emotions. I’m a rainy day poet perhaps, plus I’m never sure I have anything original to say about flowers, when it’s all been done so well before. I am about to embark on a new short course with York University Centre for Life Long Learning, so we’ll see what comes from that, plus I’ve been engaged in NaPoWriMo through my April-write-a-thon workshop. So I am writing, but perhaps not feeling it as much as I’d like.

Marvellous Monday

Two posts in two days? What brings this flurry of blog based activity? I’ve had news! Happy news and I want to shout about it!

The first is having a piece accepted for a new lit mag called Sledgehammer. Having any work accepted is the most glorious feeling (and balances the gloom of having work declined) and this is no exception. The piece they’ve taken is a new poem too, which feels extra exciting. A new poem in a new magazine!

The second bit of news is seeing the proof copy of Spelt – my name is on the cover, and I could pinch myself. I’ve been close to giving up so many times, but I finally feel like I’ve found some kind of writerly home. I’m proud as punch, and going to spend an hour or two basking in the feeling of being part of something I really believe in.

So there we are. A spot of shameless showing off. Not the thing to do, but sometimes good things are worth shouting about.