2019

I’m sitting in a bit of my home that didn’t exist this time last year, watching a sunset of winter colours. This building has spent the year in transition from a functional shelter to the family home I’ve never quite dared to dream about. Two teenagers’ bedrooms huddle upstairs, empty at this moment. My partner puts his Mum on speakerphone, telling us about her latest visit to his Dad in hospital. This house crackles with life, love, K-Pop and heated conversations.

Over the last two weeks of December I found it useful to acknowledge that I’ve found this year difficult. It’s hard for me to really sit and look that in the face. I feel burned-out. Some days I’ve felt hollow and sure only that I will drag myself through the day, without the certainty of why it’s important I do so.

At the same time when I stop and flip through my cherished memories of the year I’m amazed at the treasure trove I’ve amassed. I make a conscious effort to do so, to avoid losing the moments I’ve worked hard for and the gifts of connection with beloved people. That doesn’t stop me feeling more than a little bruised by my course through the year.

Home, hearth, kin

Transition, I realise, has been a big theme in my 2019. It was year 2 of living with a long term partner, only the second time in my life I’ve been in that situation. 2019 has seen me redefine my shape and boundaries. I’ve chosen family life as an integral part of not only who I am, but also my safest living spaces.

With some mental gymnastics, I now think of myself as a parent. Parenting teenagers is sometimes everything, sometimes contracts to a small, folded bundle. Which then edges unnoticed into unexpected areas of my life. I’ve also learned both to offer more empathy for my partner’s coping strategies and to hold more tightly to my boundaries. It turns out the two are not mutually exclusive, in fact they operate well together.

It’s been a year of unscheduled uncertainty too and I’ve found that taxing. My partner has been unemployed for the last six months and ultimately decided to pursue retraining and a career change. In terms of his well-being and personal development this is great. In terms of being able to say “I’m shattered, let’s go out for dinner”, or even “let’s finish the flooring throughout the house” or, for me, “I want to feel financially secure” it’s less great.

But this isn’t only about me as part of a family unit. This place is an extension of the line of bricks I set down some time ago, ready to house my identity, my core sense of who I am. My home is about what nourishes and inspires me. I love watching the birds fossicking in the garden, from the sofa. This evening lilacs, greys and silhouetted trees mark the boundary, not only of my own cosy home, but the edge of town. I love the feeling of freedom I get when I look out from the back of the house over the river valley.

A grand and foolhardy project (or two)

I’ve managed to capitalise on my growing sense of freedom in my work life, too. This year I took on managing and running a 1 week summer school for 100 PhD students, along with an academic colleague. It involved working a LOT more hours than I expected AND it was hands down the best event I’ve ever been involved in organising. I met some wonderful and inspiring scientists and was treated to a hilarious thank you speech from my boss.

I’ve also given myself more freedom to make decisions in my freelance work, resulting in delivering the best marketing campaign of my career to date. This was thanks to the lovely, talented team I worked with and my own determination to do it properly, despite methodological resistance from the client.

Reading my poetry on stage

By the time I got to October I’d delivered both huge projects, was exhausted and found myself ill with a cold every weekend. I’d just pick up enough on Monday to struggle back to work, only to start feeling crap again on Thursday / Friday. In this month, I found out I’d won a prize for my poetry and I finally started thinking of myself as an actual poet.

A web of chance encounters encouraged me to start writing poetry in earnest in 2019. A gift of a new translation of Gilgamesh last Christmas plus chats and unrelenting energy from Maf’j (a colleague at Brighon’s Fusebox) led to ideas for a VR experience around poetry and naming spells.  An introduction to CommonPlace, a project led by Evelyn Wilson, and unerring encouragement from dear friend Neil Hopkins got me to dust off an old WIP and start writing new poetry. I entered a poetry competition run by BHAC, won 3rd prize and got to perform my poem.

Performing my poetry on stage for the first time, to 300 people is a thing I’ll never forget. Honestly, I was still shattered and ill but it cheered me up for a bit. I now give myself permission to think of myself as a creative and a poet. I take myself seriously with it.

Being a daughter as an adult

I had an amazing start to the year in Thailand, a trip motivated by a family wedding. I made some fantastic memories, especially of being with my Dad. My most cherished memory is the wedding procession in a village just outside Uttaradit where he and I marched in the grooms’s procession, hefting small banana trees in 35oC heat and full sun. You kinda had to be there for that one and most of my Dad’s side of the family were 🙂

I shifted my relationship with my Dad for the better during that trip and over the last year. I’m proud to say that in November he came to visit with my step-nieces and we all had a really lovely day. That’s only the 2nd time in 10 years he’s travelled south to visit me and it’s taken 2 years of patience and nudging to make it happen.

Over the last year I’ve learned to ask for and accept help from my partner (moral support is useful!) and to be kinder to myself about my frustrations with my relationship  with each of my parents.

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I started this blog post nearly three weeks ago, just as the year turned. As I reflected and wrote about the conflict of feeling anxious, exhausted and burned out while also knowing I’ve created so many brilliant experiences and connections in 2019, I’ve realised that it’s ok to hold both sides.

I can feel my own need to come up with a grand reveal and to present, with a flourish, my unified, beautiful and flawless ‘achievement’ or discovery for the year. I’m resisting it. My practice of the moment is be (more) okay with conflict, with disagreement and without having a unifying narrative.

Time out over Christmas gave me a chance to re-centre and rebalance.

I’m ok.

Really listening: a poetry network

Sometimes the beginning of a change is so small no one notices it. I wonder, in fact, if this is always how it begins. How would we know otherwise? 

Shifting from feeling intimidated by poetry to asking for help with exploring it is something I started on years ago. So many people light up when you ask them about what poems they like. Try it for yourself, listen with genuine interest and see what happens. 

Wonderful, fascinating people have done me the honour of reading aloud a poem they chose and talking to me about why they like it. I’ve captured recordings and published them here so you can listen to our voices speaking words we enjoy. 

Over the years I’ve changed from being fearful about opening up and sharing the things that move me, to being curious and joyful about being vulnerable. I find this encourages those around me to open up too.

Within every recording is a moment of human connection with someone else. From lived experiences in military service training to the scariness of being the person who decides where you go in your life. Every single one started with an offer to truly listen while the other shares a poem they like.

I’d love you to join in. We invite you to listen to poems we’ve recorded and / or contact me if you’re up for recording a poem of your choice to go on the site.

Above all, please enjoy!

 

White noise

With thanks to a friend for the inspiration for this post – someone asked me what I thought of an album recently.

We were both found a lot that resonated in our lives in The National’s Trouble Will Find Me when it came out. The new album Sleep Well Beast was therefore an interesting one to share some thoughts on.

What I discovered about my experience links to my discoveries about emotional repression and expression, so I’d like to share it here. I’ve not shared anything of what the other said as they’re not my words.

Guilty Party

It’s complex: layers of sound and each one is distinct from the others, but they have a kind of chaotic-ness in common. It made me think of white noise – my attention was darting everywhere in the space of my awareness in response to the sounds.

My musings moved on to imagining of a kind of intellectual white noise. Listening was like distracting my conscious / rational watch-guard and letting an emotional response unfold without judging it too closely. Which is a thing I’ve often used music to do: allow my intuitive / emotional self some space without judging myself too harshly for it. I wonder if that is just me, or if that resonates with anyone else?

This evening I’m listening to Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless, which I discovered about 9 years ago now. It was one of the first times I enjoyed something that wasn’t relentlessly upbeat, though it has that layered, consciousness-occupying quality to it I was talking about above.

I wonder if I’ll ever enjoy really, really simple music?

 

Past hurts

Therapy is hard. Reconnecting with past hurts is painful. Some days I find it overwhelming: 3 years (and counting) of picking through the debris of past hurts. In overview, I find it consoling or I’d not still be doing it, but in individual moments it sometimes bloody hurts. Sometimes the hurt feels bigger and stronger than me.

I choose acknowledging how I feel as often as I can bear it. The alternative is ignoring it and so ignoring part of what it is to be alive. Ignoring a chance to be vulnerable with others and share something of what it is to be me. But some days it is harder than others, so I try not to be unkind when my feelings about things seem bigger than I am and I want to cry.

 

the glass on the table

The liquid in the glass laps gently against its sides as I move. I mustn’t spill it, it must remain intact. It’s my job to look after it. I’ve only just realised I’m cradling it to me. I’m so used to holding it I don’t even see it any more. That’s why I’m always so careful. Funny that I stopped realising why.

As the session goes on I describe this mental image. It arrived unannounced and as clear as day. I routinely dismiss my internal imagery: it never occurred to me it was any more than a frivolity.

your hand in mine

Tears growing around my eyes, I reach my hand out to seek comfort in contact. Funerals are difficult. Unexpectedly, she takes my hand and I feel warm fingers in mine.

To physically know that someone is present, alive and breathing, is a gift. Gratitude swells within me spilling my tears over the brink of my eyelids. I bring my left hand to rest on the back of my sister’s hand so it is between mine.

Skin catches against my palm: her skin is drier than mine. I want to soothe, make the skin supple and soft for her. Anxiety prickles in my gut: evidence of fragility is difficult to bear. “She probably does too much washing up,” I think.

Guilt washes over me for this interfering over-protective thought and I remain still. Focus on breathing, focus on touch.

Rinsed by emotion after emotion after emotion I am left the impression of a dry hand clasped between mine, the texture a pattern I can see. The warmth and pressure of our folded fingers an indent upon me.

the middle of the forest

In an instant, like the flick of a switch, I am in the gloom surrounded only by thick trunks and still, damp air. No path, neither more nor less traveled, and I am rooted. Black tree filled terror inhabits me and I’m surprised to blink and see the pale walls of the therapy room.

It was real. The forest in my head sprang up in an instant and it was as real as the prose in your mind right now. It gripped me with fear, fear of being lost. Irretrievably. Forever.

That was one of the strongest and earliest experiences of consciously tuning into my internal landscape. It was terrifying and held a deep foreboding. It was also a way to navigate my internal processes: these are the things that stop me dead in my tracks in my normal train of thought.

I’ve become so good at switching out of the fear and anxiety that I didn’t even realise it’s a substantial part of my experience and it stops me in my tracks regularly. Without realising it I switch tack and find something else to focus on. It limits me: limits my creativity, limits my ability to connect with my own feelings and stops me from exploring the extent of what it means to be human, to be me.

If anyone ever thought therapy was easy I can now report, categorically, it is the polar opposite.