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.

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

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.

Managed May and the Ballad of the Bees

Just when I think I’m adapting to lockdown, another wave of grief rears up. I got very teary about not seeing my Mom and Dad, and May was packed full with gigs, family stuff, birthdays and general merriment. In hindsight perhaps a little too packed, and a bit of me is relieved to have the pressure taken off.

This mix of relief and grief is curious, and it’s directly related to having M.E.. May is M.E. awareness month, and it’s also my anniversary of falling ill. Seven years now – which I find baffling. I feel like I’ve learned everything and nothing. I push myself. I always have, and it seems that I always will. I have a brain that is always leaping forward or back, and a body that can no longer keep up. I suspect this aspect of my nature may be the reason I ended up with this dratted thing, along with our culture of “pushing through” any kind of illness or sadness. I’ve always lived at extremes and my response to M.E. is no different.  I’m either extremely busy, pushing myself, or extremely incapacitated. Over the last seven years I’ve learned to accept this. Adopting a measured, managed life isn’t likely to happen, and I’m coming to terms with the extremes, and coming to terms with the fact that every activity I throw myself into will have a consequence (usually in the shape of two or three days in bed). Giving my body time to recover is crucial, and perhaps this enforced return to simplicity is doing that.

The sharp eyed amongst you will notice this isn’t Yorkshire

May also marks the beginning of a new poetry course, Walking and Writing. As many of you know, walking is a challenge for me and I’ve not been able to do any sort of coastal or hill walks for the last seven years. I was disappointed when I read the title – assuming that I wouldn’t be able to take part and it was only reading a chance comment that made me realize I could. Our prompts are a mix of videos, articles and local legend, which we take and build into a piece of poetry or short fiction. This week we’re on the coast of Yorkshire, and spending a morning watching the sea whilst wondering about dragons has been marvellous. I can’t recommend Wendy’s courses enough – whether you’re a beginner, seasoned poet or somewhere in between you’ll find inspiration and a spark of joy. I’m back in love with writing again, and I’ve said goodbye to that square peg feeling of not being good enough for the poetry world. I’m still a square peg, but I’m learning to love my corners. On that note, here’s a poem I wrote as part of last month’s course, which was published on Pendemic. Our brief was to write a ballad, in response to the concept of telling it to the bees. I worked in the traditional ballad form complete with rhymes. This isn’t a fashionable form but I like the way it lilts along.

Ballad of the Bees


He said he knew how I felt

when I told how my world had grown small,

when I told of my fears, my guilt,

that I could have spread it at all.


He buzzed about days in the hive

when they realised all was not well,

described colleagues crawling with flies,

bouncer bees growing fierce with the bell.


He couldn’t explain where it came from,

he couldn’t explain what to do;

distancing wasn’t an option,

pollen can’t be gathered by few.


His buzz grew loud as I cried

for people I thought I might lose,

wondering whether my life

could return to be what I choose.


It grew louder as though there were thousands

hovering over his wake,

I looked on further horizons,

realised my part in his fate.


I accept that my world may be shrinking,

I accept change has to be made.

I’m embarrassed this bee has more inkling

of the collective impact we create.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Please comment (feedback is nectar to a writer) and please share this post wherever you’d like, just click the buttons below or to the side.

Kathryn xx

New poems, new short story and a bunch of thoughts

An early prompt on Staying in and writing it out was to create a piece of dystopian flash fiction. I have a reputation for being slightly contrary, and found myself writing a sort of dystopian rom com called Bread and Roses instead. Have a read and, if you fancy, leave some comments about it, (or anything else!)

At the moment, writing feels very odd, almost disrespectful.The gravity of the situation in the U.K. grows each day, and each day brings its own brand of strange awfulness. Did you imagine in January that the words “596 dead -see page four” would not only not be headline news, but reduced to some kind of “teaser” with fun splash graphics? Me neither. We had it on Monday from one of our most tawdry of papers. Social media is a minefield of opinion and accusation where anyone asking any questions is decried for not “being positive”, yet no-one seems to have any answers. So yes, sitting in my sunny room writing poems and silly stories feels pathetic, and entirely unhelpful.

What else am I going to do though? I’m growing vegetables and flowers (which also I do in non-pandemic years), I’m cooking, baking, cleaning, trying to make sure I take care of my health (which also feels disrespectful) and just, well, living. The discipline of daily prompts from my course means I can step into a different part of my head for a while, and stop obsessing about my next online delivery for at least fourteen minutes. I’ve written more this year than in the whole of last year, and that is good. I need to step away and redraft a some of the pieces, and disregard others, but it feels good to just be writing. The contradiction of this calm with the chaos I know is happening in wards just a few miles away is palpable but not writing will not curtail the pain of others. In all honesty, there’s no conclusion to this little piece. Here’s a link to another new poem, and I hope you’ve noticed I managed to write a whole post without using the word “unprecedented”.

Wash your hands, stay safe, ask questions.

Kathryn xx

Writing is happening (thank goodness)

Self imposed isolation for almost a month (I’m not on an official list but getting a simple cold puts me out of action for weeks, so I’m taking no chances for fear of relapse). My brain has thought of nothing beyond how terrified I am for everyone and being utterly obsessed with making sure everyone I know has enough food. I seem to be morphing into some kind of domestic fanatic, making bread, baking cakes, growing veg and generally about finding one hundred and one recipes to use up beetroot. I’ve been too scared and angry to write anything that isn’t work related (and therefore essential to keep eating) and that’s been fine….

…except I’ve missed it. I’ve missed going into another world, I’ve missed sitting seeing if I can taste the right word to use, I’ve missed hunkering down into language to let all those glimmers of joy quietly glow. I abandoned my Poetry School course (thankfully I have a credit) and wasn’t sure how I’d get on with my two new ventures this month. One is a free weeklong short story course, designed by Tania Hershman, courtesy of Arvon, and my other is another poetry course from Wendy Pratt. I missed out on funding to go to Arvon this summer, so I was thrilled to have the chance to benefit from Tania’s unique take on the world and how she incorporates this into teaching and as you’ll remember from my February blogs, there is something about Wendy’s approach that gives me a freedom – and a feeling of being good enough.

I started both today, after doing a super long piece of work about safety in the construction industry (I know). My brain is sleepy, and my thoughts are a little swimmy, but I seem to be able to connect to that part of me that can escape. The first exercise in the short story program was to gather phrases from three poetry books, two instruction manuals and a recipe book, then build a story,and the prompt form Wendy was to recall and respond to being the butt of a joke ( loads of material for this one).

My random collection of phrase sources

I’ve written a story about eating squirrels and drafted a poem about styling out a loss of control, both of which seem ideal for the current situation.

I doubt I’ll write King Lear, discover great scientific theories, or even get around to polishing up all the pieces I want to submit, but I finally feel a little more like me again, and that is a wonderful thing.

How to look after your mind while doing the best for your body

I was very poorly at the start of the year, which meant I spent most of January trapped at home, and a couple of weeks in one room. My biggest mistake was forgetting to pay attention to my mental state. This kind of isolation is something we’re all likely to face over the coming weeks, with added elements of fear and uncertainty to make things just that little bit tougher. Therapy last year has made me mentally more resilient, and I’ve been able to identify what I’d do differently next time so I thought it might be useful to people in the same situation. I didn’t think I’d have chance to test it quite so soon….

Create a routine

This is the most important thing, not so much if I’m really ill and all my body wants is to sleep, but for the times when I feel a bit better but can’t do loads. Over the last seven years I’ve learnt that having a rhythm to my life keeps me balanced. In an ideal week I get up as I would if I was going out to work and keep set hours. I can’t “work” for a full eight hour day, but I can do a couple of hours of something (writing/reading/gardening etc.) over the course of the day. I have a lunch break, and I “finish” in the evening. I try to keep my weekends as some semblance of a weekend, so that’s the time for lolling on the sofa, or eating a fancy dinner.  A routine helps me feel in control and keep a leash on the panic, so I can cope when things don’t go to plan

Treat yourself well

The worst thing about being so poorly is not being able to wash and be clean. Other than my scheduled rest days or if I’m crashed, I always try to get up, shower and dress. I have work clothes (thankfully not orange owl printed crimplene anymore), and I have nicer clothes that I wear at the weekend. I’m not swishing about the house in a ballgown (often) but I’ll put on some make-up and perfume if I fancy. It all makes me feel a bit more like me, if that makes sense.

Do different things

If there’s anything good about all this, it’s the raft of online resources that are popping up. There’s ways to visit a gallery, take a trip to the zoo and loads of online courses available for free. At the moment social distancing feels like a great time to do nothing but watch box sets and eat pizza. This is a wonderful activity, but it gets dull really quickly, and dullness leads to boredom which leads to apathy and suddenly getting off the sofa is a lot harder than it should be.

Talk to people

This is a biggie, and the single most important change I’ve made in the last year. Some weeks I see my partner for about ten minutes a day – his having to work  late and me being ill in bed makes communication hard, and it often gets to the point where the sound of my own voice is alien to me – like listening to a recording. This makes me nervous to speak, which feeds social anxiety and becomes self-perpetuating.  I hated talking on the phone and relied almost exclusively on text and social media to talk to anyone outside my own four walls. Since about September, I’ve been having regular phones calls with my dear friend, and this has made so much difference. We schedule a time, so I don’t have the panic that usually accompanies an unexpected call and spend about half an hour just chatting about everything and nothing. I’d really recommend doing this, even if you’re not usually a phone person, there’s something about the twists and turns of conversation that can’t be replicated by typing.

Eat well

Being well enough to cook is tricky, and it’s easy to slip into eating nothing but toast. I’m not going to repeat all the stuff about fruit and veg (but yes, eat fruit and veg), especially when these things are hard to get. I tend to keep “easy” foods in for ill times, so for me that’s ready to eat rice, chickpeas, tuna and eggs. It’s all stuff that takes minutes to open and eat as gives me good quality nutrition. I also fail completely and trough the packet of biscuits I was saving for if I have visitors, which feels wonderful for about six minutes and six minutes only.

Get outside

All those Italians on their balconies have the right idea. Even if I’m not up to walking, I try to feel fresh air on my face as often as I can, even if that’s as tiny as putting my head out of the window. Being outside takes me out of my own head somehow too. I’m lucky enough to have a small garden, and even a short time sitting watching a bunch of ants doing ant things or listening to blackbirds showing off about who’s the best blackbird ever, helps me put distance between myself and my thoughts.

Be weak

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it.  Reality is that our culture of repressing emotions, the much adored stiff upper lip, is bad for my mental health. Squashing stuff down gives it power, and sometimes that power becomes too much to cope with – cue tough times for my mind. It’s hard to ask for help, but harder to live without it. If you’ve got a friend you can trust to listen, then get in touch. At the end of January, I sent dear friend a scared email saying how I was feeling, and the impact of hearing someone say “it’s ok, I’ll help” was huge. It’s taken me years to get to this point, but I’m glad I have.

I know not everyone has their own “dear friend”, but there is still help – Samaritans and Mind are invaluable resources with trained listeners who will help you work out what you need.  

That’s it for now, I hope it’s helpful. I’m hoping my brain will have stepped out of panic mode soon so I can write creatively again. If you’re lucky (?!) my next post might be called Odes to Corona.

Stay safe, wash your hands and if you can, please stay home xxx