If I am lucky, and there is no Armageddon, no terminal illness to cut my life short, I should make it to 2058. I’m wondering what the next forty years have in store. Not excited, not sad, not…well, not sure how I’m supposed to feel.
Today I went to “Hebden Rag”, a haberdashery and all things thread-based day organised by Hebden Bridge Women’s Institute.
I managed to buy some very lovely things including nearly 3 metres of high-quality black linen, pretty viscose, four skeins of fingering-weight yarn, books, a steamer (to dye yarn in) and some other bits and bobs. We also met Mr X Stitch briefly so I did have a small fangirl moment. (My heroes seem to be educators, creative types, artists, writers, and NHS staff!)
I moved to Todmorden over a year ago now and I’m still finding my feet a little. I’ve found that as I’m getting older it’s become harder to make friends. I have some wonderful people in my life who I do get to call friends so all’s good really. I do feel grateful and blessed to have met three wonderful women who live nearby.
I recently finished another draft of my PhD thesis. I’m still very, very tired from it all which is why I’ve missed a couple of days. Today I caught up with a lovely friend for some lunch, a walk in the woods, and a sneaky gin.
So I’m (nearly) out of the metaphorical woods in terms of another hard thesis edit, but it was wonderful to get physically back into the real woods.
[I’ll go back and fill in the blank days later for sake of completion.]
Having one of those weeks where your body just says no. Last week was punctuated by aura migraines – the shimmy, opaque trippy spiky eye illusions that they cause (I call them “disco hedgehogs”). And mild labyrinthitis-like dizzyness. (Since my first bout of labyrinthitis, accompanying an Oxford folk festival weekend (my timing is impeccable) this sicky-feeling dizziness now accompanies flu, blocked sinuses, and colds. Yay. At least I’ve never struggled with travel sickness and don’t throw up easily; I hear that if you have travel sickness then labyrinthitis can be so much worse.)
Today: painful period contractions (yep, went there) like a fist pulling downwards on my lower back. They’re rare, only every other month over the last decade, but these are the screaming ones. The I-can’t-quite-open-my-mouth-loud-enough-to-make-a-noise-that-befits-the-cramping. Then curl into a ball — a shape like a nautilus — tucked into myself. And then the big clots of blood.
If you’re reading this male. Lucky you.
I can’t really push myself as hard as I used to. Over the last month, I’ve pulled several writing all-nighters and, when I do get some sleep, afterwards — my word! — I feel as if I’ve been hit by multiple bricks. Sluggish and slow. When will I learn?
While I feel well, and relatively happy, I forget how frail and fleshy and easily broken we actually are.
I guess as I get older, there will be more aches and pains to come. And I’ll learn how to deal with it. At least, I hope I will.
You know those Instagram-perfect desk pictures. The ones with the iPad, almond-milk cloudy coffee in a gorgeous ceramic mug – possibly Denby or Anthropologie, a fountain pen, a Leuchtturm notebook with fancy calligraphy and Washi tape. Probably something seasonal too like some pine cones, cherry blossom, sunflower seeds, a novelty bauble, whatever. Artistically arranged on a tabletop of rustic wood or marble. Photographed from above with a mobile phone with excellent pixel potential or fancy DSLR camera. Well. Here’s some honesty heading at you.
This is how I write.
Taken with my mobile phone with nothing cropped or photoshopped (although I use GIMP). I’ve just scaled it from around 4,000 pixels to 800 by 600 so it will upload.
I cannot even claim that this is ‘organised chaos’. What you can’t see on the other side of my ancient, heat-guffing laptop is: a lamp, the other speaker, a used cotton “man-sized” handkerchief, a pile of dog-eared PhD thesis notes, a spool of Gütermann thread (colour = 890), and a tennis-ball sized stress ball in the shape of the earth.
(In defence of my own writing wankery. Yes, that IS a Leuchtturm notebook with my original #40daysto40 thoughts. I like the binding, nifty envelope at the back, and note paper; it’s more durable and leakproof than Moleskine paper. I normally use a fountain pen – the second cheapest Parker (the Urban) is the preference if you’re really interested – with refillable cartridges as I have some sort of weird belief that they’re more environmentally friendly.)
Honesty, dude, it’s the way forward.
As I’m getting older I care less what others think. I care more about being kind and honest.
(And with that in mind – I do have to admit that some of the Insta desks are very pretty in an impossibly aspirational kind of way. Sadly, it’s just not how my own entropic life works. Although I may go and try to find some pine cones later. To tell the weather with obviously!)
I have decided to break up with poetry. Oh, Poetry. It’s not you, it’s me.
Now, I’m not expecting a stampede. A chorus of ‘don’t do that’. I am just done with writing poetry and will be concentrating on other writing. At least over the next year or so anyway. I’m going to concentrate on writing other things like stories and non-fiction pieces. (I know that I’m excellent at describing things. Which is, to be frank, a useless skill. Unless I’m planning on moving into the catalogue industry.)
As Marianne Moore puts it in her poem ‘Poetry’:
‘Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in /
it after all, a place for the genuine.’
So, I will still flirt with poetry. Trying to discover ‘the genuine’. I’ll metaphorically flutter my eyelashes at it, offer to buy it a drink. If it’s a fine piece of poetry then I’ll listen to the music of its words and allow myself to sink into it.
Loving poetry is a fine, and perfectly, acceptable practice.
But poetry writing – you and me are o.v.e.r. And don’t you dare give me a “booty call”. . .
It doesn’t bother me that I’m getting older and I don’t mind talking about money (or, more often, the lack of it). This, I believe, is not culturally English. I’ve only lied my age before I was eighteen to get into nightclubs – and even then I wasn’t ID’ed until I was 26. I’ve been thinking about the idea of returning or looking back. Visiting places where I’ve lived, perhaps. Or considering Googling ex-partners to “see what they’re doing now and where they are”.
It is so tempting, so seductive. I think we mostly live in memory and through experience – even if there are plans made. I’m not sure whether we’re built to be “future” thinkers that can consistently live in the ‘then what’ rather than the now. (Not everyone, I recognise this is just conjecture.)
And then there are the roads not taken, the regrets, the choices we didn’t make, the things left unsaid or un-did.
And I know that there is no going back in my life to take back some of the crappy things I’ve said or done to others. That a “sorry” is neither desired or enough.
The past holding hands with the future.
And, in some respects, I’m nervous about the future. I’m nervous about the knackering impact that humans are having on this planet. I often find myself thinking about wildlife, in particular hedgehogs. Will we live to see the extinction of these mammals in England? And raptors – will we live to see an extinction declared on hen harriers in the next few years? I do hope not. I hope that the decline in other species can be slowed down, I do fear that it cannot.
And then I think of the human aspect again. I think of loss and the people that I would love to talk to again. To speak with. Some are dead, some are no longer in my life.
If someone asked me “what years would you ‘do again'” I have a vague idea, although they’d play out just the same into the years that I wouldn’t ‘do again’.
Like many other writers, I write because I feel compelled to write. I’m one person in a larger herd of word nerds. I write to make sense of the world. To try to find, and write, the right words for the right moment. I can trace back my first attempt at fiction writing to something I wrote when I was about 9. It was an epic science fiction story about an alien who landed in the back garden of a young girl called Clare Anderson and it was up to her, and her parents, to help get the titular Poor Little Alien back to their spaceship and then home. (OK, it was the late 1980’s and E.T. had probably been a heavy influence.)
Over thirty years later I’m still making stuff up. Had a couple of rejections for work recently so I’m trying to lick my wounds and carry on. I’m also finishing off my PhD corrections (that includes critical and imaginative writing). It is the biggest piece of work I’ve done since my MA poetry portfolio between 2013/2014.
I’m still learning, and practising — if not making perfect — will make my writing better.
I have ideas for other pieces and, when my brain is less full, I’ll work on them. Until then, I have a load of other people’s novels, poetry, and short stories that have been piling up over the last four years and I can’t wait to go through them.
I hope that over the next forty years I’ll carry on being a writer (and still feel all right about determining myself as such) and bookworm.
It has been seven years, well, it will be seven years at 14:07 BST. Today is the day you were stillborn. I would write you a poem if I could. I am struggling to find the words. I still think about you every single day. If I were still in Stockport, I could visit where you’re buried, give you once again a small token: an autumn leaf, one with bright colours – perhaps a Japanese maple – with neon greens, sunshine yellow, firey red.
Sometimes, still, when I’m in the most unlikely of places, I’ll see a piece of clothing, or a soft toy with big plastic baby eyes. I’ll think of what could have been. And then there are silent tears, in T K Maxx, or in a supermarket aisle next to a selection of tee-shirts or flannel bigs. I’m sorry. I just cannot seem to think poetically any more. And I will think of you today in the words that I have. I mourn the words I don’t have yet. I will remember you.
Oxford, 2006: Feeling unworthy. Tired all the time. More down than up. Overdrawn, heading deeper into the red. Overweight and gaining no matter how far I cycled. Trying to do all the things, then not being able to get out of bed nor open overdue bills. Although I didn’t have a name for it at the time: I was depressed, completely burned out. My doctor at the time, rather than throw antidepressants at me, prescribed: getting out ‘into nature’ and going for lots of walks (plus, consider changing job). Then he gave me a copy of The Guardian newspaper. . . Walking: along the Isis to Iffley lock avoiding vicious looking geese, squidging through Port Meadow, walking near ‘The Kidneys’, cycling to the various college parks – sneaking in and picnicking next to heavily scented and bee busy flowerbeds. Swimming in the canal near Donny Bridge, in the river during full moon. Boating adventures with ‘borrowed’ canoes near Magdalen college.
Todmorden, 2018: Still overweight, still slightly skint, but so much happier.
Sunday walk: through Buckley wood and around The Ridge, headed – almost vertically! – up towards Woodfield top, following country roads with whimsical sounding names: Doghouse Lane, Parkin Lane, Sourhall Lane.
Descending to Gorpley Clough and following the slightly busy Bacup Road. Then, following the brook as if backwards and against the course.
Through Gorpley Woods (deemed ancient woodlands).
Up to Gorpley reservoir and the vista. Windblown and walking along the shallow wall of the reservoir – admiring the meld of late Victorian engineering, the human-shaped landscapes, the geological formation of the hills.
Gathering leftover pieces of fleece to felt, the sheep gently munching and slightly inquisitive.
Then home again via a pint and some chips! It reminded me that when I can – time and back willing – walking helps clear my head. Shared walking is even better.
Walking has helped me. Getting out into the woods and beyond does offer what author and naturalist Richard Mabey calls the ‘nature cure’. I think emerging oneself in wildlife is helpful but, for me, it’s not quite a panacea. (Sometimes I can’t walk as my lower back won’t let me. Sporadic sciatica, not bad enough for prescription drugs and never for ignoring without the addition of over-the-counter painkillers and some light stretching.)
Hopefully the next forty years, back and health willing, there will be more walks, more green, more lanes to tread, hills to climb and wildlife to meet.