New goals, new leaves, new logo, new resolution

I have a planner. I love the planner. I love making plans. I have not stuck to the plans and my planner has had a stern word with me.

This year has been a floundering year. I’ve pinballed around trying to take care of aging parents, trying to work enough to be able to afford to do all the things I don’t have time to do, trying to reconnect with all the people I haven’t been able to see , trying to carve out a way to actually make money from poetry rather than spending so much energy on copywriting, trying to create and publish Dust, trying, trying,trying,trying …

The result is, of course exhaustion. My body is showing various red flag symptons that it hasn’t shown for a couple of years, pain levels are high, and mental health has taken a huge dive. For a time, during the pandemic, I felt as though I was getting a little better. I realise that I simply wasn’t pushing my body and brain beyond their limits. And what of the planner? The planner has shown me how little progress I’ve made towards my goals, despite being performatively busy. So silly, and will I ever learn? The answer is I have to – if I want to achieve anything, I need to do less. How daft is that?

New goals

My first goal is quality rest. Whilst I kid myself that I take a day of complete rest each week, the reality is that day is spent online, organising bills, doing shopping, looking at things that are incredibly important…I don’t rest at all. Quality rest is my new watchword. It’s boring, I hate it but it’s the only way I can avoid the crushing exhaustion that plagues my days.

I struggle writing this of course, struggle with the thought that people will read this and think “it’s alright for her, lazy cow”. I know most people won’t but even after all these years I struggle to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to allow myself freedom to heal. However foolish it is I still get a kick out of burning the candle at both ends and love the feeling of having worked hard. I can still have that feeling , but only if I take more care of myself.

New writing

The truth is that writing is the most important thing I do.  I spent a couple of hours this morning working with notes on a new course from Wendy Pratt – and honestly it felt like I began to breathe again. The tension has washed from my shoulders, the methodical placing of letters and sound has created a calm that nothing else gives. I am in danger of focusing on the business of poetry, publication, making a living from it, being involved  and so losing the essence of why this matters, why it is so important.

News on Dust

My main focus this year has been Dust and the good news is that we’re very close to going to print. Proofs have been proofed, full stops have been agonised over, illustrations finalised (they are so beautiful) and this labour of love and sorrow is almost at an end. We have created a beautiful thing and I can’t wait to show you.

New logo

I’m hoping to relaunch my bespoke poetry business later this year. I love doing it and hope to expand my buyers from friends an acquaintances. As with everything, marketing is key, and I’ve taken a small first step by commissioning Saffron Russell to create a logo for me. I’m so pleased with it. Small steps.

New leaves

Several in fact. I shall protect my rest time, and protect my writing time. I’ll calm down and stop pushing, running around doing all the things. I’ll spend more time stepping back, reflecting and embracing the calm, quiet, caring nature that allows me to nurture myself and others. Self care, I think they call it. It’s hard to place enough value on myself to do it, but I’ll get there. One day.

Would you like to read three pieces of good news?

Of course you would and it just so happens three good things have happened this week.

First of all, the Poetry for CALM crowdfunder raised £1018 in direct donations and cash contributions. I’m amazed and humbled at people’s generosity, especially in such challenging times. The amount going to CALM and SOBS will continue to grow as copies of Dust go on general sale later in the summer.

Our goal is to have them ready for Raven Studios open days which are part of Shrewsbury Arts trail in July and August – we’ve a fair bit of work to do before then, but fingers crossed we’ll make it. The bursary from Raven Studios was instrumental in helping this pamphlet come into being so it feels right that this is where it begins its journey into the big wide world. I’m so pleased with the look and feel of this little book – Saffron has taken such care to respect the words, and there’s a sense that she genuinely values the project. It’s been a joy to work with her. 

So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that I’ve been asked to lead a couple of poetry workshops. Now obviously my first thought was “I can’t do that” but then I remembered I have over 15 years of experience in training people to be excellent optical assistants, as well as a good few years of being part of poetry workshops. I’m confident I can combine these skills to create a really enriching experience. I’ll be working with subjects that I genuinely love too, and for organisations that I really admire. It’s exciting, and lovely to be asked. 

Finally, I’ve had some great news from one of my copywriting clients. I’ve been asked to take a role in planning and organising content, as well as simply producing it. It’s a great feeling to have someone say “we really love what you’re doing”. If I consider what a convoluted journey I’ve had to carve out this tiny career (I say career, I still only manage a few hours a week but it’s something) I’m amazed. I’ve taken a chance and it’s paid off. I’m thrilled to be able to work in a field that I genuinely love, and I appear to be reasonably good at it too. 

Good news is especially poignant since this week marks the anniversary of my diagnosis with M.E.. It’s been nine years now. Choosing to rediscover my writing , and finding ways to work despite my poor health has been a bright spot in the face of losing all that I knew as normal. I’m delighted to have found these opportunities, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was well, so I could do as much as I’d like to.

Today is about good news though and the truth I have discovered is that there is always hope, small as it may seem.

Thank you for reading, as ever. 

Kathryn xx

A new term

On Monday I started a new course with York Centre for Life Long Learning. It’s called Crafting and Redrafting, and is created and facilitated by Wendy Pratt. I’m hoping the course will help me hone my editing skills – I’m at a point where I have dozens of drafts, some which are good to go, and many that need more work. I’ve also got a few that keep getting turned down, despite the fact that I think they’re ok – a sure fire indicator that a few tweaks are needed. The image of the beleaguered poet agonising over each comma is indeed accurate.

I’m excited about this course. It’s meeting my need for a bit of stretch when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the poetry business. I spend a lot of time on developing my creative practice but have been quite reserved about the mechanics of promotion. The fancy answer would be that I didn’t want to sully my art. The truth is twofold – I was a bit scared, and I didn’t have a strong body of work that I really believed in. I’m hoping the work I do over the next eleven weeks will help me understand how to fine tune my work – how to step back and look at it with an editor’s eye.

This week’s selection of poetry

There are good habits coming already from the course (and it’s only week one!) I’ve always known  don’t read enough poetry and one of the key directives from my first week was to read much more. Now, this lack of reading isn’t because I don’t want to or have any ridiculous notion that it will cloud my own voice.  Good reading is essential to good writing – it’s how we learn what works, how we learn what gives us goosebumps and what leaves us cold. If I know all that, why not just do it?

Lack of time, of course – plus reduced energy and M.E. brain swish in to take a chunk of each day. By the time I’ve completed whatever copywriting work I have (and I’m so glad to have it), and taken care of the general business of living, reading is almost impossible – my brain just won’t take anything in, and the physical act of making sense of the page is beyond me.

Clearly this has to change. My strategy is to adapt the way I spend my journal time. I’ve always written a journal of sorts and I try to do it early each morning. Now in that half hour I set aside, I’m reading three poems. I’m making really brief notes on them too, but that’s not the goal – the goal is simply to read. I’m choosing from different sources, choosing different styles, falling in love with some, not really liking others and being simply baffled by a few.

We’ve also been tasked to find our perfect writer’s notebook. Envelopes and shopping lists seem to be my tool of choice .

The desired outcome is undefined, and to this extent my liking or disliking doesn’t matter – what I’m hoping is that I will become even more immersed in language, even more immersed in how it plays and moves me. And I’m hoping this understanding will make me a better writer. Regardless of all this, I’m enjoying my reading, enjoying writing, and feeling a bit more like a proper writer than I did a few weeks ago.

Writing poetry in a pandemic

I’m reading a great deal about how much harder this lockdown is – and it feels strange reaching the anniversary of what many of us believed might be a brief period of hibernation. This anniversary means that the reality of a whole year of living through a pandemic hits hard. For me it still feels almost dreamlike, and although my digital footprint continually reminds me of all the confusion and fear of last year, it still feels otherworldly.

The fear has faded – and taken the adrenaline and fervour with it. Hackneyed use of warlike language has abated, and ever more sensational the headlines are continually created to turn our minds to other issues. It feels a little as though we are trying to hide from the anniversary, the horrific loss of life  and the ongoing uncertainty.

This uncertainty that is the challenge. A string of unkeepable promises means the dates hung before us are no longer  something to look forward to, but something we gingerly hope may happen, and gingerly hope won’t cause further damage. Shifting sands and changing tales all cause a sense of needing to double check oneself, and needing to keep hope at bay.

Yet normal life continues. I enjoy a nice dinner, clear up the latest mouse head the cat has brought in, watch for the daffodils opening and the first shoots of early spring – the phrase “this time last year” reverberates, and there is a whiff of nostalgia for that feeling of being “all in it together”.  My anchors haven’t changed, but my need for them has increased immeasurably.

Music and travel all in one bag from Syd Records

Writing during a pandemic is hard

Writing is hard this year. I feel my work has gone backwards a little, and I don’t seem able to concentrate or focus. Maybe tiredness, maybe M.E. maybe just the culmination of a singularly peculiar year – where my normal stimuli of live music, travel and time by the sea have been curtailed. I’ve work forthcoming in some great spaces, notably The Dawntreader, as well as a poem in Louise Mather’s celebration of cats Feline Utopia and my column in Spelt magazine, but the sense of losing myself in writing, that fizz of excitement when something is really coming together is absent. Perhaps  just need to step back for a while – read more, listen to more, replenish my soul battery.

Thanks as ever for reading, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands,

Kathryn

xx

What does it mean when people with myalgic encephalomyelitis (m.e.) talk about a crash?

First off,I’m writing this from bed, on my phone, so forgive any creative spelling or innovative phrasing.

How have the last few months been?

I’ve had a good run. Two, maybe three months where my routine (M/T/W rest -with at least one full bed day- Th/F/S/S dressed,do things) has worked. I’ve been able to find time to write both poetry and a daft story or two, amongst the stuff like housework, keeping the garden looking nice, cooking healthy food etc. I’ve even found time to do some paid work, and been asked to take on a permanent role with my copywriting agency (just 4 hours a week, but it feels amazing to be able to say “I’ve got a job”). Things have felt positive.

Despite m.e. I’ve had a good couple of months – this is from my birthday walk

What do you mean by a crash?

Like it says really. My body and brain have stopped. I am breathless when I walk (just from bedroom to bathroom) , I have this weird fizzing through my limbs, I sleep almost constantly and wake feeling like I’ve been run over. At the moment I can still read,but I suspect that will fade later today.

How long will it last?

This is the other joy. I don’t know. Experience tells me that three or four days is usual, but there is always the chance that this could be the one that tips me, the one I don’t recover from.

It’s a scary thing, and every time I crash I curse myself for becoming cavalier over my illness. I get so fed up of having to be careful, having to ask for help that I just plough through; and here we are again. Bed, very little writing, very little work no life – just the neighbours chickens and the cat to entertain me.

What happens next?

I wait. I try to rest. I get up too soon then have to come back to bed. I get cross and frustrated and sad. I dream of having a bath, washing my hair. The worst bit is when I feel a bit better – my brains working, but my body won’t. That’s when I’m most likely to push too far.

This is one of the reasons Covid worries me so (there are a million for everyone, I know). If I catch it, and survive, my body is likely to react the same way as it did when I got the strain of tonsillitis that kicked all this off. Bearing in mind this seems to be a much feistier beast, it’s almost certain that I will end up very ill. It’s important to understand that I’m not “better” I’m just better at managing my health – any change to the balance has a major impact. Contracting C-19 could be devastating.

Writing about m.e. always makes me nervous – some people I considered friends were so unkind when I was first ill (they’re not any nicer now, they’re just not friends) but I think it’s important to talk about. As we see more people struggling to live with long-term symptoms of Covid-19, which bear striking similarities to m.e., an increased level of understanding is essential. And kind.

What can we do?

Send flοwers, kittens, cake and a one way ticket to Abel Tasman. I’m joking (I’m not), for me it’s a case of waiting it out – I’ve a warm safe home to do this in, a very fluffy cat for company and a partner with a great line in fish finger sandwiches, jacket potatoes and mushroomy pasta, so I’m sorted. The hardest thing is understanding how I’m feeling, and not pushing myself to do more. It astounds me that even after seven years, the protestant work ethic is so ingrained that I still believe that if I just work hard enough I’ll push through. My body has told me time and time again this is not true. I need to believe it. And to live in Abel Tasman.

Thanks for reading, it’s good to talk, even if only on a virtual basis.

Keep safe, wear a mask, wash your hands

Kathryn xx

To find out more about Yes to Tigers or a bespoke poetry commission just follow the links or email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

………to good things coming soon.

It’s finally happening, my poetry zine is on it’s way to the printers! Very excited, and very grateful to Amanda Hillier printing for her patience with my endless edits – finalising poetry punctuation is hard – finalising poetry punctuation when you’ve a head full of brain fog is almost impossible. We got there though, and the finished zine will be with me soon.

A poetry zine sounds like a wonderful thing, how can I buy one?

If you live in Telford, you’ll be able to pop into the Ironbridge Bookshop to pick up a copy. If you’re further afield just drop me an email or a message and I’ll post one out to you. I’m planning to set up an Etsy/Folksy shop to sell the zines, as well as some bespoke poems which will make great Christmas gifts too, and I’ll post the links here and on my social media pages.

A short post today – brain fog is beating me, but I’ll write a longer one soon.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask,

Kathryn

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.

Do you remember…

a post I wrote last year, talking about the restrictions I experience as a result of M.E.? Well I’m cured! Ha. Not really, it’s all still the same, tricky getting about, needing two, three times as long to do simple stuff like prepare a meal. All here, doing it’s stuff.

Despite this, I have some news that baffles and delights me. I’m publishing a collection of poetry. It’s based on my time as poet in residence for Secret Severn and is an achievement in many ways. Not only have I got twelve poems that I think people will enjoy, I’ve put aside my disappointment at having my funding withdrawn and pushed ahead.

Why keep going?

I believe in this project. The overriding feeling is joy and respect, a desire to celebrate the relationship between art and words. I gain so much sense of place from enjoying the work created by these talented artists and makers, it didn’t seem right to waste the time and effort we spent putting in the groundwork with visits and follow-ups.

Why crowdfund?

The usual path of approaching indie presses didn’t seem right for this project. Firstly, it’s a fairly local scene and subject – that doesn’t mean it’s all just poems about the iron bridge* but it does mean it’s something that may not have the mass appeal the average indie press needs to guarantee sales. Secondly comes the issue of time – it’s been a year since my first visits and meetings – this feels like the right time to publish.

Crowdfunding is nerve wracking. The whole thing of asking for money feels weird, and a bit rude. This is why I created a reward system – essentially people are buying a copy of the poetry zine. I’ve put together some reward bundles too, so it doesn’t feel quite so much like asking for handouts. It’s worth exploring why this whole thing feels so awkward though – perhaps a subject for another post.

How’s it going?

Really well. I’ve been amazed by the level of goodwill and positivity from people – it’s good to know there’s an interest and that there is a market for when I come to sell. It’ll be in Ironbridge Bookshop, and I’m hoping to place it in local cafes, bookshops further afield as well as selling direct. It’s more than the funding – it’s about having people believe in what I’m doing.

When will it be published?

Assuming I meet our funding target, it should be published in October – just in time for Christmas!

*there are no poems about the iron bridge – sorry bridge fans xx

You can buy a copy of Yes to Tigers by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and popping in to Ironbridge Bookshop just as soon as pandemic restrictions have waned.

Thanks as ever for reading, and for your ongoing support

Kathryn

xx

July

has been a difficult month. Various events have conspired to create a wave of minor panic attacks and underlying swell of anxiety that I’ve been free of for some time. These patches will come and go, and I’m better equipped to meet them head on and use all those techniques like counting things and managed breathing to jerk my brain from its doom-filled track. These techniques don’t always work, and it’s fair to say that living with this kind of intense anxiety is exhausting (and scary).

I’ve also been more active socially – by which I mean I’ve been to my mom’s for socially distanced egg and chips – and I’ve realised that this takes a lot more energy than I think. When we were in full lockdown my days felt more my own. As soon as I began to see other people, or to venture out of the house ( a slightly disappointing trip to Ellesmere) I get trapped in a cycle of preparation and recovery that means where I once had seven days in a week, I’m suddenly down to three. Being of a perfectionist persuasion, I’ve been trying to maintain seven days’ worth of activity, so where day to day things like cooking and cleaning were nicely spread out, I’ve ended up exhausted and unable to take on any freelance work, and certainly unable to write.

This is the reality I suppose. M.E. doesn’t go away and I feel like I’ve got to learn my baseline all over again. Combine this with leaden skies and the general terror of the times and it’s no wonder my brain has been on high alert. I haven’t written a single thing this month and I’ve missed it terribly. Even my journal is patchy, just scraps of thoughts and the odd drawing.

Wallowing is not my style though (I prefer tear-filled rage) so as August begins, so does another set of resolutions – to make time, to ease up on the cleaning obsession, to ask for help and to write. I’ll see how I get on.

August also brings a new publication, which is a bit of a big deal to me – Popshot magazine is notoriously hard to get into (I only discovered this after I submitted or I’d never have tried) so having a poem published as part of their Freedom issue is incredible. I’ll do a proper post about it next week, but if you are venturing into the shops you’ll be able to buy a copy in WHSmith – if anyone does please take a photo of it and send it to me  – it’s my first piece of print out in the wild as it were.

That’s it for now – here’s to a better August for all of us. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask and be lovely.

Thanks for reading

Kathryn xx

How does mental health impact on M.E.? *

The last couple of weeks have been tricky – I lost one week to M.E., which is never nice and seem to have taken a little longer than usual to recover. It’s been a curious combination of cold weather and reaction to revisiting past trauma, I think.

The cold weather is simple to understand – like loads of people who experience joint and muscle pain as soon as the weather turns cool and damp the pain in my limbs shoots up. It stops me sleeping and makes moving, showering etc. tricky. I’m used to it, don’t like it and think it’s yet another reason I should move to live in Abel Tasman.

The impact of my mental health is something I’m still coming to terms with. For a long time, I’ve fought against this idea, simply because a common derision of M.E. is “it’s all in your mind” (it’s not. if it was, I’d have scooted it out long ago). My EMDR therapist last year gently mentioned this and I felt very defensive – after the year of treatment though I noticed a difference. My symptoms were still present, but it was easier to find and stick to a baseline. I’ve also noticed that my symptoms increase at certain flashpoints (October through to Christmas is always hard) . So what’s caused this latest flare? It seems to have been my lovely poetry course – it’s called Telling your Story and touched a few trigger points for me. My first thought was “oh the therapy’s not worked” but I realised it has – it’s just not complete. The fact that I can recognise and take steps to minimise damage show that my instinct to survive is stronger than my instinct to destroy. There will always be triggers (just like for everyone) the difference is I know what to do, even if it takes a while for me to get there.

What does this have to do with M.E.? I don’t know is the honest answer – it’s just a connection I’ve made and that seems to hold up. There’s theories that past pain is stored in our bodies, theories that people with M.E. have developed a particular personality type that is the result of trauma. The idea of whole body health isn’t new, and each time I fall into this I realise that making time for good mental health practice is as important as making time for good physical health practice. I’m a bit rubbish at both, but I am getting better!

The other inescapable impact is the fear and chaos around every corner. I feel ill placed to talk of the current situation, but it feels wrong not to. I’m vehement in my belief in equality and at this moment that means supporting BLM – I can do very little other than educate myself and acknowledge my own privilege. This concept is something that seems to make people extremely uncomfortable – but you know my nan did it for years – she called it counting her blessings. Being aware that circumstance has given me opportunities that have been denied to others doesn’t denigrate the society I was born into. Not fighting to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to be the best they can be does.  

*this is my own personal experience – everyone with M.E. has different symptoms and stories. This is why we need research.

Thank you for reading, stay safe, speak up and wash your hands. I’d love your feedback and as ever if you like, comment and share on social media it helps beat the algorithm and raise my profile as a writer. Normal poetry musings will resume next week.