I detect a change in my outlook this autumn. For many years, this time of year has been a source of dread, a time to gather strength and hope I emerge on the other side of winter. Not this year. Many things I think contribute, but the overwhelming difference is that I feel more connected to the rhythm of the natural world. For many years I worked for a high street optician, squirreled away in a shopping mall or in an office in one of the less appealing parts of Birmingham. This meant that for half the year, my only time outside was a chilly sandwich on a bench in a carpark, or a glimpse of a starling murmuration as I waited for the bus home, and because retail means weekend working the opportunity to spend time absorbing and simply being in the outside world just didn’t happen.
Since contracting M.E., and having to switch careers, I’ve felt an increased awareness of the subtle shift of the seasons, the way that on some days in spring plants seem to grow by the second. My senses have become heightened, scent is sought, the unique texture of a leaf is treasured, each bird is greeted with a friendly hello. My neighbours are used to me.
This shift in attitude has grown even more this year, for two reasons. The first is my work as columnist for Spelt magazine. My concept Micro Spelt, was to harness and describe the subtle changes I see each day, and to explore and express how these make me feel, how they help me connect. There is some frustration in there too of course, but on the whole, Micro Spelt is a place of positivity and solace in the simplest of things. Research for the column has led me down paths rich with myth and folklore, and I’ve discovered an aspect to the rural, to the natural world that chimes loud and long.
Alongside this forced focus on what’s in my backyard, I’ve developed a more disciplined routine. I realise my useful hours are in the morning, and that by getting up a little earlier I gain more scope to use my energy wisely. I begin the day by journaling, some days a few pages, some days a line or two saying that I don’t want to journal. I always look out at the trees, and I always notice the change in hue, or density of leaf. They’ve become a companion to my morning, and a way to wind down at the end of the day.
Taking this time to focus, before the business of writing web content or just the day to day of trying to live with M.E. begins has made for better writing too. I’m more confident in the work I produce, and feel that that elusive, and slightly snigger worthy concept, of finding my voice is becoming more real. I understand why I write and understand what I want to achieve by writing. I also understand that this will change and shift as my interests and worries alter. I’m happy to have had several pieces of work selected for publication recently, for various small presses including Dreich, Broken Sleep Books and Lighthouse. These are publications I have enormous respect for, and genuinely considered beyond my reach.
My progress as a poet has always been slow and steady, but where before I felt bewildered and baffled by the whole business of publication, I’ve reached a point where I am writing what I believe needs to be heard, and publication is secondary. I’m spending huge amounts of time honing my skills, learning my craft if you like, and gaining courage to work with others, read aloud and take steps in to the poetry community proper. I feel just a little more confident, and a little more like my work is good enough to share. My pamphlet is out for submission, and whilst I desperately want it to be accepted, I have steeled myself against the inevitability of disappointment. I’ve realised that often just a small change to a piece of work will elevate it to being something that many will want to read, and the combination of a little more confidence in what I write, and a lot more ability to make changes as needed means that work not being selected is just a sign that it wasn’t quite ready. Of course, it doesn’t always feel like this – there are many hand-wringing days of frustration too, but I feel much more measured about the whole business than I did a couple of years ago.
The next few of months will be spent completing my Crafting and Redrafting course with the university of York centre for lifelong learning, working on bespoke poetry commissions, as well as a couple of projects around creating poetry postcards in collaboration with local artists and artisans. Then, next year, I may, just may begin to distil ideas for a full collection. Maybe.