More thoughts from Adelina

 

Aardvark

Hello everybody

I’ve just retired from being a Profile Picture on Face Book but thought it would be nice to come out again into the Public Domain just for a little while. I’m not sure where the Public Domain actually is, but I expect that like everything else on the Inter-net it has a Domain Name somewhere. I haven’t got a Domain Name or a Web Site, but I do like being able to have my say sometimes on this Blogg. It’s a great honour to be able to talk to so many people.

As you may know, the Belated Writer has been writing lots of Poems and getting some of them Published, which is quite exciting. It’s a pity, though, that a lot of the poems are about such strange Subjects, when she could write proper Poetry if only she would try a bit harder. The things she has written about include Chocolate and Woodlice, for instance (not chocolate woodlice, I’m glad to say), a Piano that killed somebody (I didn’t like that one), a Photocopier, and Serbian Bean Soup. Not very Poetic, are they? I keep telling her she ought to write about proper Poetic things like Love and so on, and in fact she has written quite a few Poems about Unrequited Love. Unfortunately she had rather a nasty outbreak of that earlier this year and it has taken her a long time to Recover, which is why she has to keep writing Poems about it. A few of those Poems have been Published or are going to be Published, but you might not want to read them as some of them are not very happy  – though others are supposed to be funny. I don’t really understand about Unrequited Love myself as I have been Happily Married for a long time, but I know it is something Poets suffer from and write lots of Poetry about.

You would have thought the Belated Writer could come up with some other Poetic Subjects apart from Unrequited Love, wouldn’t you? I suggested she should write about the Meaning of Life but she thought that would be too hard, especially on account of being a Budd-ist. I also thought perhaps she could write some interesting Poems about being a Spycho-therapist, but she said that would be impossible because of having to be Confidential, which means you mustn’t tell anybody about anything. I said last time I wrote on this Blogg that Being Miserable was a proper Subject for Poetry because a lot of Poets seem to have written about it, but I’m afraid I don’t really like reading miserable Poems, do you? I think Poets also write about being happy, and plants and flowers and trees and so on, so perhaps I can encourage her to write a few more Poems like that. Nature is a good Subject. I believe there was a very famous Poet called Wandsworth who wrote lots of Poems about things like Nature and Daffodils.

I’m sorry to say that my dear Husband, who writes such wonderful Poetry, hasn’t written anything for a long time now. He doesn’t feel Inspired very often, but when he does he writes such beautiful Poems that they put the Belated Writer to shame. I put one on this Blogg a little while ago and I’m sure it was a great inspiration to everyone. It was called To Adelina, which is a wonderful Title. Here is another one called Wedded Bliss, which he wrote when we were still living in London. I was so proud of him. The Aster-risks are there because the Belated Writer doesn’t want people to know her real Name, which is Confidential (though that isn’t her Name).

Wedded Bliss

We have now been married, dear,
Very much more than a year,
Living beside the bedside here
In * *’s cosy Room.

Such happiness, Adelina mine,
Light of my life, O my sunshine,
Nothing could ever undermine
Or cast down into gloom.

It’s been a pleasure unalloyed,
Every hour an hour enjoyed,
Never at any time devoid
Of you, dear, without whom

My life would be a lonely thing,
A garden where birds never sing.
But thanks to the great joy you bring
My pleasures all are keen.

We’ve never had an unkind word,
No quarrelling has * * heard,
No discord have we ever stirred
Or malice ever seen.

Let’s hope for many good years more
And cherish what life has in store
Together, as we have before
Here in Golders Green.

There! Isn’t that beautiful? I wish the Belated Writer would write Poetry like that as I’m sure everybody would want to Publish it. It Rhymes and Scans properly and it says a lot of Very Profound Things, as you can see. I will try to persuade my Husband to write another Poem as I know you would all love to see it.

I had better stop now as it’s getting dark and the Belated Writer needs the Computer back. (In case you’re wondering how I type, I have a very agile Nose.) It’s been lovely talking to you all, as always, and I do hope you will take your Poetry seriously and write lots of proper Poems about proper Subjects.

With love from

Adelina xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Being the belated writer

When I started this blog a couple of years ago I had just emerged from the wonderful MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and was still incredulous that here I was, having reached retirement age, at last doing properly what I had wanted and struggled to do for most of my life. ‘Better late than never’ was definitely the motto, but the emphasis was perhaps on the lateness – regret that I hadn’t managed to do it earlier and doubt that I could get anywhere because of the late start. Well, two years on I still haven’t got anywhere with the novel I wrote but I am beginning to publish poems (another magazine, an online magazine supplement and an online anthology since the last blog post) and to feel more like a proper writer. In the online poetry group there are quite a few poets of about my age who seem to be in a similar position, all launching out into this new world with a mixture of trepidation and delight.

What seems important is not the point where I’ve started – much later in life than I would have liked it to be, even though I’ve been writing off and on since my early twenties – but the fact that it’s possible to start at any age and still do one’s best with the time and energy available. When I first set up the blog, a wise friend commented: ‘If it’s happening at the right time it isn’t belated,’ and perhaps it’s good to acknowledge that often things happen when they are ready to happen, and with a logic of their own that we don’t control. Supposing I was fortunate enough to get anything published, I never imagined it would be poetry or that it would happen with relative ease – I’ve had rejections from two magazines but they are outnumbered by the acceptances.

Perhaps the time has come to stop apologising for being a belated writer and just get on with being a writer. Watch this space…

 

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Out of the comfort zone

Since I joined the online poetry group 52 at the beginning of May I’ve written about 60 poems. Yes, that’s right – 60. Me, who used to write one every few months if I was lucky and would usually add them to my collection of unfinished drafts, having given up on them. Not all the new poems are of high quality but I’ve been quite pleased with a few and think my work is showing signs of improvement. I’d like to believe that as I read all the marvellous poetry other people post something may be rubbing off on me. Many of those people are properly published poets whose work has had or is starting to get the recognition it deserves and I’m deeply grateful to be in there somewhere, even if I’m only waving from the back row. I’m also pretty chuffed and grateful that I’ve now had poems accepted for three magazines and two poetry websites and that a pamphlet of mine was shortlisted for a competition, even though the shortlist was very long.

The way the group works is that every week the person who runs it sends out a theme for the week. The themes vary from apparently safe ones like sound and colour to ones that are definitely near the edge – like the erotic. Whatever the subject, though, it seems to take people right to the limit of what it feels possible to write about. There have been poems about illness, death, bereavement, violence, rape, sexual abuse, guilt and shame and the ordinary varieties of unhappiness, as well as poems that are joyful and loving and celebratory and funny and wonderfully surreal. And it’s genuine poetry, so beautifully written and full of imagination that that alone would make you weep; it’s not simply the kind of ‘therapeutic’ writing whose main function is to say what needs to be said, never mind how.

I’ve found that other people’s openness and the safety of the group have helped me to write about things I never thought I would, and in ways that I haven’t tried before. The poems haven’t always been successful or even appropriate, but I’ve managed to survive that and write poems about it too. Although it is most definitely a poetry group and not a therapy group, what happens in it has many of the qualities of the best kind of therapy. There is acceptance, support, care for one another, freedom to be who you are and a welcoming of diversity. And there’s the shared love of poetry – writing our own and reading other people’s – and encouragement to make our work as good as it can be.

In case that sounds too utopian, the group is very large and poems don’t always get the amount of feedback the writers hope for, and that you might get from an in-person group or class. I’ve sometimes felt overlooked or discounted, even though I recognise that many of the other poems are better and more noteworthy than mine. Nevertheless it’s a community, and some people from it actually met for the first time at the weekend. I didn’t manage to get there, having been away somewhere else, but realised as I was driving down the motorway that I easily could have taken a detour. But perhaps that would have been too far out of my comfort zone: scary and awe-inspiring, not to mention just plain socially awkward. Knowing people online, however well, is very different from knowing them in person. I’ve had some pretty personal online ‘conversations’ with people I’ve never met or hardly spoken to, and the question then is: where on earth do you start? Having seen the photographs, though, I wish I’d had the courage and – more than that – the navigational competence to get myself there and have a go. Had I planned it properly, there would have been nothing to stop me coming back from Nottingham via Stratford upon Avon.

Well, I didn’t. But what I did do was write a poem about it – the shyness and the awkwardness and the fear of seeming an ‘unpoetic fool’, as well as the regret at having missed out on the party. It wasn’t a good poem, but for once that didn’t matter. I wouldn’t have been able to write it at all before I joined the group.

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Coming out

When I was just four, one of the littlest pupils of Miss Perry’s dancing school in South Norwood, I took part in a show. I was supposed to be a chick, dressed in a yellow satin costume with a cute little peaked cap (I still have the photo). At the right moment I should have burst out of the egg, a hoop covered with tissue paper, ripping the paper with my little wooden spoon. Unfortunately it didn’t tear and a large grown-up hand had to smash through it for me, whereupon I stepped through the hoop with great delight and called out, “Oh look, there’s my daddy.” I don’t remember saying that. What I remember most clearly is being fascinated by a large basket of fruit on a table in the centre of the audience – presumably a raffle prize. My memory has been aided by a piece from the local paper about the show: clearly the journalist enjoyed my debut as much as I did.

Although I can’t say that all my comings-out – of whatever kind – have been as well received as that one, coming out in the widest sense seems to be a theme right now. As well as literally coming out after being confined at home for weeks with a bad back, I seem to have been emerging in other ways too. I’ve been sending work off to magazines and competitions – no luck so far – and to my amazement have been writing several poems a week, thanks to the wonderful online poetry group that I’m part of. If I’m not careful the group could become a full-time occupation. Some of the poems people post are amazingly beautiful and many more are amazingly honest, taking the most raw and difficult experiences as material for poetry that’s eloquent and heartfelt. It’s enabled me to make poems about things I never thought I’d share on paper and to feel part of a community of creative, generous, witty, insightful people, some of whom already seem like friends, even the ones I don’t know in real life. The great thing about writing for the group – and writing poetry generally – is that no-one bothers about whether their work is commercial: people are just themselves in all their quirkiness and individuality, which invites others to be themselves too. Of course they want their poems to be published, and many have had poems published, but there’s a great freedom in not writing with one eye towards the market.

Having said that, I realise a novel is a very different animal from a poem or a collection of poems. It has to tell a story, oh dear yes, as E M Forster said, and it has to draw the reader in. Although I don’t write novels solely in order to be published, being published does matter and that means doing all I possibly can not only to make the novel better but also to make it more engaging for the reader. The one I’m writing at the moment has some rather dark themes and I will have to be careful it isn’t so grim and gloomy that it simply puts people off. In that sense I do need to think about the market in a way that I wouldn’t if I were writing a poem, which could be as grim as it liked. It also means stepping back and seeing the book as a whole – seeing it as though I were reading it and not writing it, which of course is necessary with a poem too. I’ve got to a point with the first novel now where I could imagine myself as a reader actually wanting to read it, though I’m not sure I’ve moved away completely from my infatuation with it as the writer. Whether I have or not, I’m about to submit both novels to a publisher who is having an open submissions month and have entered the new one for yet another competition, shelling out more money in pursuit of the dream. There’s persistence for you, and the continuing hope that this time someone at last might want to read what I write. At least the publisher isn’t asking for a fee: competitions come expensive, if you enter a lot of them.

This far from the first time that I’ve written about coming out with my work. Perhaps what’s different now is that more of me seems to be coming out with it. I’ve been feeling a bit like a champagne bottle that’s just had its cork popped, which is how I often felt on the MA course. Not all the time, though. It was strange to go back to Bath Spa University just a week or two ago to hear Tessa Hadley’s inaugural lecture as professor – in fact a beautiful short story. The event was held at the university’s main campus, not at lovely Corsham Court where we studied for the MA, but nevertheless it was good to be breathing that inspired atmosphere again. I didn’t feel so much like coming out there, with so many fellow-students around who had already published books or were about to do so. “Well, no, I haven’t actually got anywhere yet. Oh yes, I’m still writing. No, I’m not going to give up,” I managed to avoid saying, and pushed the cork firmly back in. However, it’s soon popped out again as I unrepentantly continue to post poems in the group and make comments, appropriate or not, on other people’s work.

When I say that more of me is coming out, more seems to be emerging into the public domain. For the poetry group I’ve written Jewish poems, a Buddhist poem and a therapist poem – all aspects of myself and my background, none of them unknown to people who know me and all of them in some way woven into the fiction I write. I’ve admired other people’s courageous poems about their own backgrounds and families, and applauded those who have come out more directly about themselves. I’ve been reluctant to do that – though again these things have been part of my fiction and on the whole are not hidden from the people I know. When I posted a piece not long ago about gay conversion therapy I said very little about myself. I did refer to ‘those of us who find ourselves elsewhere on the sexuality spectrum than at 100% heterosexual’ but deliberately left it at that. However, the urge to come out more fully on this blog hasn’t gone away.

If asked, I’ve usually chosen to define myself as bisexual, though over they years I’ve fallen in love with more women than men. I have been and still am attracted to men, but when I fell in love again recently it became very clear that I’m more attracted to women and that probably isn’t going to change. When I’ve told people about the experience I’ve tended to fudge it by saying ‘the person’ and ‘they’ (dead giveaways in themselves), but then I’ve thought, “What the hell? The sky isn’t going to fall in if they know.” If anyone couldn’t deal with it, they probably wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d want as a friend. I think my carefulness says more about my own lack of acceptance, which after all these years of therapy has rather surprised me. I still cringe a bit at the thought of defining myself as ‘a lesbian’, especially with that stigmatising ‘a’. If I use the term, about myself or anyone else, I prefer it to be an adjective rather than a noun: that way it doesn’t label the person as a whole. In the same way I wouldn’t want to define someone as ‘an epileptic’ or ‘a schizophrenic’. ‘Gay’ still seems to me easier and more manageable, though, perhaps because it doesn’t have to be gender-specific.

One of my concerns about coming out on this blog is not only that I’m making my sexuality public – though this isn’t very public. The blog only has about 50 followers, whereas the poetry group has over 500 members. It’s also that if I do so people may start to pigeonhole me as a ‘lesbian writer’ rather than simply a writer. I do write about lesbian relationships in my novels, among other relationships, but I would like to think that the novels are about more than sexuality. I’m glad Sarah Waters wrote Tipping the Velvet as an explicitly lesbian novel but I’m also glad some of her later books include other themes and relationships – and that her work is popular with the public at large. Although Alan Hollinghurst writes about relationships between men, he too isn’t seen simply as a ‘gay novelist’, perhaps because the quality of his books takes them out of that niche. While I’m obviously not comparing my novels with theirs, I would also want mine to be read by people who could see past the label.

So there we are. I’ve said it and I’ve yet to see whether the sky will fall in. And I’m continuing to enjoy coming out, as a human being, in all the ways I’ve mentioned above.

 

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Poem is a poem is a poem is a poem

You’ll have to excuse the title: I’ve been reading Gertrude Stein. Or rather I’ve been reading Diana Souhami’s engaging biography of Gertrude and her other half Alice B Toklas (perhaps her other three quarters, considering how much Alice did for her), and trying to read some of Gertrude’s own writing. There’s no doubt that in different places it is baffling, repetitious, excruciatingly tedious and sometimes screamingly funny – whether intentionally or not I’m not sure. Here is part of a piece from Tender Buttons (no, I don’t know what it refers to either, though some people have hazarded a guess):

A SUBSTANCE IN A CUSHION.

The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable.

Callous is something that hardening leaves behind what will be soft if there is a genuine interest in there being present as many girls as men. Does this change. It shows that dirt is clean when there is a volume.

A cushion has that cover. Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance, supposing that there is regularity and a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange. Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton. Is there not much more joy in a table and more chairs and very likely roundness and a place to put them.

So there you are. I’d like to be able to dismiss it completely but somehow I can’t. What Gertrude Stein is trying to do is to get below the ordinary rational level of consciousness into a place where language makes sense in a different way, if it does. She wrote poems as well as prose and the poems work similarly, except that they’re written down the page instead of across. But even if they don’t seem to make sense, what the poetry and the prose both have is rhythm and their own particular kind of music. Gertrude Stein is some sort of poet, even if not the sort that most of us would want to emulate. And she wrote regularly, dedicatedly and fluently. Sometimes she only wrote for half an hour a day, but those half-hours soon added up. She just kept on writing without worrying about it, and let whatever came find its own level.

On Sunday I went to a workshop with the poet Penelope Shuttle, whose beautiful collection Sandgrain and Hourglass I’d definitely recommend. Without making it seem too arduous, she got us to write six poems in the course of the morning and another one at the end of the workshop. We had time to read two of our poems to the group and I was blown away by the depth and quality of the work that had emerged in such a short time. I should say that many of the participants were published poets, some of them very well-established, and had obviously written a great many poems before. But even I, who have only just begun to take myself seriously as a poet and have not written nearly so many poems, found I was producing work that was better than I would have expected. The message seemed to be: just write and don’t think too much about it; trust that it’ll be OK. We did have time to revise what we had written before reading it, but some people seemed hardly to have needed it. Sufficient unto the day were the poems thereof.

Until now I’ve often had to psych myself up to write a poem. Even if I have a half-formed idea – a phrase or an image or a vague sense of something – there will often be a gap between jotting it down and actually getting to work. Having a deadline – for a course, say – will usually push me into it, but even so I may well find myself hesitating, faffing around, writing a line and crossing it out, writing another line, looking at it and thinking it won’t do, blocking in the odd line or stanza further down and then thinking that won’t do either, and then leaving the poem for another time because it won’t come right. The trouble is that, much more than with prose, there’s something in me that feels any poetry I write has to be Very Good if I’m to be allowed to write it at all. I’m working on a novel at the moment and don’t mind churning out a not terribly good first draft which I will then revise, but somehow I have the feeling that even a rough draft of a poem has to show its quality in order to justify its existence. Which is why, of course, I’ve never written all that many poems.

I’d like to hope this is changing. I’ve just joined an online poetry group where people are given a suggestion every week for the subject of a poem. Some people post only one poem a week, some rather a lot, some possibly none. The quality – though very high  – can vary as the aim isn’t to send polished poems but to get feedback and encouragement. And to keep writing poems. I didn’t do NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) this year, though I had thought that for the first time I might. The aim of that is to write a poem a day, just for the sake of writing poems. Some of them may be good and worth keeping, others possibly not, but like Gertrude Stein with her half-hour a day you keep on doing it and see what comes. I’d be very happy if I managed to write one poem a week, and if I do I’m hoping the emphasis may shift from This Is Poetry And It Has To Be Good (and therefore I have to get uptight about it) to simply writing poems as a natural thing to do. I write poems therefore I’m a poet; I’m a poet therefore I write poems.

This morning I was sitting in the garden of Gaia House retreat centre down here in Devon, drinking fresh ginger and lemon tea and watching the fountain in the pond. The water rose up inexhaustibly, spreading out and breaking into tiny droplets as it reached its full height. It’s not exactly an original image for the creative process, but I couldn’t help feeling that was how I wanted to write poems: one after another, letting them fall when they are ready. Keats said: ‘If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.’  As far as I’m concerned that doesn’t mean don’t craft or don’t revise but it does mean don’t get too self-conscious about it. Poem is a poem is a poem is a poem. It has its own existence and needs me to get out of the way.

 

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The spirit of competition

The writing world is full of competitions, for published and unpublished work alike. Several of my writing friends and acquaintances have won competitions, or at least been long/shortlisted in them, and it’s tangible proof that their work has reached a standard of excellence – that people think it’s worth publishing or, if already published, worth selling. There is of course a subjective element, in that the judging is done by a particular person with their own particular preferences, but nevertheless I can almost always see why a certain novel or short story or poem or collection of poems should have been selected. Yes, I think, X’s work has really got something. Of course people like it.

When it comes to my own work it’s much harder to see straight. I’ve entered for a good few competitions now – novels, poetry, short stories – and am growing used to the long and ever more disillusioning silence that follows the initial excitement. This one I’m submitting is so much better than the last one, I always think, I’m sure they’ll really go for it this time. Only of course they never do, and never tell you why because there are far too many entries – holding a competition must be quite a lucrative thing to do. The piece of work that you’ve laboured over with such love and care is lost without trace in the ranks of the mediocre and the not quite good enough. Or so it seems. I’ve no idea whether any of the work I’ve sent in has been rejected as hopeless or been a carefully considered near-miss, but the fact that nothing I’ve written has even been longlisted may be telling me something.

It hasn’t stopped me entering, though. At the moment I’ve got three poetry pamphlets and two novels, one finished and one still in progress, waiting in the endless limbo, and I’m about to send work off to at least three or four more competitions: single poems, pamphlets, novels again, perhaps even a short story. All of it costs money – usually at least £10 a throw – and all of it involves not only polishing the work to its absolute best but taking the time and trouble to make sure the entry fits all the competition’s requirements for layout and presentation. Why do it, I ask myself, when I know what the outcome is likely to be? Why keep throwing money into a black hole? But why not? Nothing venture, nothing gain, as people must surely feel when they buy their weekly lottery ticket. I don’t know if the odds for winning a competition are any better than those for winning the lottery – perhaps they’re in thousands rather than millions – but somewhere inside me there is still that little spark of hope or belief or self-delusion. If my friends can do it, why can’t I? People tell me my work is good, but I know good may not be good enough.

What will happen remains to be seen. Hope springs eternal, sometimes restrained by realism, but always lurking somewhere not far from the surface is the longing to become, even at my advanced age, a writer who not only writes but is published and recognised. Could it happen? I don’t know. In the meantime I can congratulate and celebrate those friends of mine who at different times and to differing degrees have had success in competitions: Tanya Atapattu, Daisy Behagg, Penny Deacon, Clare Donoghue, Hadiza El-Rufai, Emma Geen, Rebecca Gethin, Jane Shemilt, and most recently N J Hynes. All splendid writers whose reflected glory I’m proud to bask in. And I’m not giving up.

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Back again

If you read the post before last you will have heard from Adelina about my bad back. (You will also have heard her views on Poetry, but I take no responsibility for those.) I’m pleased to say that I’m now well on the way to recovery and have begun doing things again that for the past few weeks have seemed well nigh impossible: weeding the garden, going out for pleasure, even sitting at a desk. I’m only taking painkillers occasionally and the frozen sweetcorn is soon destined for the compost – though I have still got a rather neat gel pack that you can either freeze or heat up.

The thing about back pain is that it hurts. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such intense pain before, or had such difficulty finding a comfortable position to sit or stand or lie in. What happened was that an old injury from a fall I had in my teens, which normally hardly bothers me, somehow got disturbed. I felt it getting worse for a while, but the final undoing came when I had to empty the old garden shed and then put everything back into the new one. As with so many physical ailments, though, there was another layer. I’d just been through what you might call a romantic misadventure – a relatively mild one – and although nothing very much had happened it shook me up far more than I realised. At my age one doesn’t take these things lightly – not that I ever did. The physical pain and the emotional pain were tightly woven together, creating something that for a while was truly agonising.

As a psychotherapist and the sort of person who has been engaged in self-exploration for most of my life (meditation, Focusing, my own therapy and, in a different way, writing), I couldn’t help knowing that the emotional pain was not only connected with the current situation. Our bodies carry trauma from the past, often from times well before we were able to speak or register it consciously. I was certainly in touch with plenty of that. I’m very lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find good complementary therapists (for those who think I should tie my camel as well as trust in God, I have also got a very good GP) and I’ve been fortunate to have an excellent craniosacral therapist, who has been working with me intensively for the past couple of months. As the pain has gradually lessened I’ve come to the point of cutting down on the sessions, but without them I would have been in a sorry state. Craniosacral therapy works gently but deeply with all that the body is holding and allows it to release, be it physical or emotional or – more usually – some combination of the two. I could have gone to an osteopath or chiropractor instead, except that a previous episode of pain in the injured area some twenty-five years ago was triggered off by some over-zealous osteopathy. Softly, softly seems to be the order of the day.

It’s only in the past week or two, as spring has unmistakably announced its arrival and we’ve begun to remember what sunshine is like, that I’ve started to get my life back properly. Since mid-January I’d hardly been out anywhere except down the road into town, and that only for treatments or shopping or to do a very small amount of work. I’d been having sessions with my psychotherapist on the phone as I couldn’t get to Exeter to see him, and also Focusing with friends via the phone or Skype. I even joined in a couple of meetings with my writing group – which meets in the Bath/Bristol area, some way from here – on Skype. The rest of the time I was in semi-hibernation: feeling sick and woozy with painkillers until the GP found me some that weren’t so disabling; struggling to get through my dissertation marking and other paperwork; reading; distracting myself with emails and Facebook and videos on YouTube; and sometimes feeling able to be with the process in meditation – walking meditation more easily than sitting. Apart from that I was simply trying to manage the pain as best I could – an enormously time- and energy-consuming process.

However, as Adelina told you, I did also do some writing. Not only did I finish the work for the poetry course; I also entered two novels for a competition, one finished and one still in progress, and put together some pamphlets of poems to enter for other competitions. The first pamphlet doesn’t seem to have been shortlisted but I won’t know for some while yet about the others. Completing the poetry course was a real rite of passage – I’ve now got my ‘poetic licence’. I said to my writing group that it was like getting a pilot’s licence, and lo and behold someone came up with the perfect image. Not only is the plane ready for take-off; it looks as though the pilot herself is about to take wing unaided. Ah, the power of poetry!

aviatrixb

The whole experience of being confined at home has been in some ways rather isolating, despite phone and email contact with friends. Some people have said it must have been like a retreat, but it was notably lacking in the focus and discipline that I associate with being on retreat. However, it has in its way been a time of regeneration. Coming out of the house again, in the beautiful Devon spring, I’ve been rediscovering a simple joy in the natural world, whether in the gardens at Dartington Hall – for a long time one of my favourite places – or up on Dartmoor, wandering through the woods or stopping to gaze at the wide sweep of hills and fields. I’ve been enjoying my own garden too. Though there’s still a limit to the gardening I can do, I’ve managed to start planting all the plants I’ve bought for a herb bed and a new herbaceous border. I’ve even got a tree peony – a magical plant – for the front garden.

The sense of coming alive again in the spring is always wonderful, but this year I’ve been even more poignantly aware of it. Walking in Dartington gardens, recognising the spring flowers, daffodils, primroses, bluebells, grape hyacinths, fritillaries, anemone blanda, and the pink and white magnolia trees down the flight of stone steps, was both a sharp reminder of previous springs and an exquisite pointer to this moment now, just as it is and unlike any other. The beauty of the setting, the vista of hills and fields and river, the terraced landscaping of the gardens themselves, the fact that just as I arrived a wedding party was assembling, all touched something in me that after a time of solitude and pain was perhaps more open to being touched. Eventually my back told me it had had enough – there’s a little way to go yet – but still it felt like a privilege to have been able to be part of all this: not only the trees and flowers and fields but the wedding guests struggling to carry oars up from the car park for the guard of honour, the bride in her cream silk dress, the families with noisy or curious or bored children, the elderly people with walking sticks hobbling up the steps, the staff bustling about too busy to notice what the rest of us had come to see.

It’s good to be back in life again.

 

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