from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 27 November 2017

a writer's life: from the ragbag

I'm under pressure. This is nothing new: for the best part of 40 years, I've worked extremely long hours for little financial reward, and that's just how it is. Making your way through creativity, freelance, has its own stresses – like those above two points – but not the stress of commuting to eg an office in a city to be an employee jumping through others' hoops on others' terms in an environment that is perhaps not nurturing. Being self-employed in the arts also fits my ethos, and stretches my imagination.

But there's pressure and there's pressure. I cannot at the moment see – this is about ten days ago – how I can meet the various different deadlines.

Do you know what I mean if I say you can drive yourself and you can drive yourself and then there's more piled on, and suddenly inertia sets in? But not the kind of inertia that might make me do something sensible, like take a break, have a walk, get some rest, see a film. More the kind of inertia that resists the priority task at hand and turns to something seemingly extraneous.

Having promoted my work, mainly the courses and retreats I lead, mostly online for five years or so now, I decide it's imperative to create a new paper brochure for my 2018 work, right now.

Courtesy of some friends (thank you J and M) I have an old version of Pages, the Mac software, on my computer again. Hooray! – it has some wonderful templates that the new version hasn't.

Most of us are notified of events via the internet these days. I notice that I'm much more likely to remember them if I have a paper leaflet. And my local printer uses recycled paper. So half a day later I have a PDF which I think looks good. Two days later the brochures are in my hands.

Gone are the days where I'm willing to spend the week between Christmas and New Year stuffing several hundred envelopes with 2018 brochures – and paying the postage. So these are just to take around the place, like for my final sessions at Greenway.

Ah yes, Greenway. My residency, which is about to come to an end.

This is what I ducked out of in order to spend some time (actually, lovely time) on visuals instead of words: prepping and delivering two more workshops; putting together all the writing ('ALL' the writing?? – aaarrggh) that I've created myself in my residency for an exhibition on the last weekend; and starting and completing a 2000-word essay arising from my time at Greenway.

And because it's the last week of the month, I also have the work of three poets on my online Elements of Poetry course to comment on – between 2 and 3 days' work without fail.

It's not possible, unless I give up on sleep entirely (always an elusive beast, sleep, but see here).

A neighbour texts me to ask if I could let out and later shut in again her ducks and chickens for the week. A lovely task, but an extra hour+ to find in the day, including the short walk.

I just slip in under the wire some redrafted poems for a couple of competitions and another Dark Mountain anthology – such a long time since I put anything out there, but DM has published some of my work. I also meet a copy deadline for some ads that I do at the end of the year for the courses.

The publisher of my next poetry collection emails to ask if I'll be around for the week for a back-and-forth on matters editorial. (Unused as I am to having a publisher engage so closely with my work I'm taken aback – and delighted. But am barely here in any coherent sense.)

I realise it's NOT the end of the month this week (that is, last week). Jubilation! In celebration I go out and scrub the birdfeeders; tell the dog that IF she were still mobile we'd have a long walk. Then have a long walk minus dog.

Come back to 2 greater spotted woodpeckers; 1 nuthatch; masses of great tits and bluetits, 1 coaltit, a willow tit and 2 marsh tits – and hooray a pair of goldfinch at the newly-installed nyger-seed feeder.

Start the essay.

Finish first draft of the essay.

Dog sends me into panic as all her legs stop working, entirely (her hindlegs have often failed her lately. She's truly ancient for a deerhound-type) – it's no fun half-lifting half-dragging 42kilos of wet dog in the dark from where she's collapsed in mud and let's-not-enquire-what-else.

Brace self to call vet in morning. We've been here many times, one way and another, in the last 6 years.

Dog staggers up and gets herself out for pee etc. Don't call vet.

Email my co-conspirator at Greenway basically saying HEEELLPPP about the exhibition. After having come up with a poem for the children's poetry pumpkin trail to be carved into Greenway pumpkins, and then a 15-poem (OK, very short poems) lyrical trail to be painted on 15 slates and placed in the woodland garden, I feel a bit poemed-out and fresh out of new creative ideas for display, too. She's very calm; says she has loads of ideas and lots of my course participants have sent in material, some beautifully presented (a series of haiku on postcards with illustrations from one person, for example). Leave it to her. Phew. I do find some more material of my own in the notebook to send her.


Tweak the essay. Prep the 3rd novel-writing session.

Write to my accountant of 35 years to say I can no longer justify his fees (I never could, but they're higher now and my income isn't). Seem to have committed myself to doing my own s/e tax return for the first time online (my books are complicated, even if the sums are small). Further cause for panic.

Try not to think about the fact that I lost a third of my income this year anyway through events that had to be cancelled beyond my control, and that there's almost nothing guaranteed for the next few months. Wonder again about a Proper Job. Decide would rather live on potatoes.

Deliver final novel session. Will miss group. Decide to offer more one-day workshops again closer to home. 

Attend Positive Money meeting in Exeter with TM and my daughter, who both feel that monetary reform is crucial before anything else changes. I feel that our attitude to the rest of the natural world – the planet, the other-than-human, and topically the sentience of the latter – is even more fundamental. But it's not either/or, and Positive Money is an important movement:

Our current financial system has left us with the biggest debt in history, unaffordable housing, worsening inequality, high unemployment and banks that are subsidised and underwritten by the taxpayer... Do you know what's behind it?

97% OF ALL MONEY IN CIRCULATION IS CREATED AND CONTROLLED BY PRIVATE COMMERCIAL BANKS AS DEBT – that is, as loans with interest. It is NOT created by the Government. Did you know that?

Return the power to create money and decide what it is used for to public control.

Write and send feedback to one of the poetry mentees. Redraft essay. A bit.

DAY 10
Lovely day: a kind of tribute to a Westcountry publisher, Indigo Dreams Press, who have done much for so many Westcountry poets. 13 of us read, there was lunch, and it was fun, relaxing and often very inspiring. I don't remember the last time I attended a gathering of poets where I wasn't organising, facilitating or delivering something (other than 3 of my poems) and could simply listen, socialise and eat.

It was the first time I'd met the publishers, too – despite the fact that Ronnie had pulled me out of a hole about 12 years ago. I'd just had my first collection published by the then Bluechrome Press (Ronnie now of IDP was poetry editor at that point for Bluechrome and had put me forward for a potential collection to the publisher), and they had also taken on and designed the cover for my first novel, Imago, which had had a chequered backstory – 16 years of it – at that point.

Then Bluechrome simply vanished. The publisher had been ill, and we don't know the rest.

It had been SUCH a long journey to that point for Imago, with various publishers, including Penguin, so nearly taking it on but feeling in the end it was 'too esoteric' for the times. Then I lost my agent after she withdrew from the agency.

So I was utterly despondent at that point. Then out of the blue, as they say, I received an email from Ronnie asking me what I was going to do now. I emailed back saying I had no idea. He responded: 'Girl, I'm offering you a deal.' A 4-book deal, as it turned out.

DAY 11

was yesterday, and I had another wonderful day at Greenway (albeit arriving with some fullblown allergic reaction to something or other, with face, eyes and tonsils all swollen, and initially sneezing for Devon).

Several people I knew or who attended my workshops at Greenway came by, and we had a wealth of conversations on art, Hungarian poetry in translation(!), the lost feminine, the statue of Kwan Yin in the woodland garden and Buddhism in general, the North Devon beaches, the exact name of my favourite silver birch in the gardens (betula ermanii we think), and how to keep the novel-writing sessions going.

The exhibition looked great (no thanks to me), and the afternoon session, my last one, was a reading circle and discussion on the theme of RIVERS in prose and poetry (do you know how few good poems there are about rivers? - I was astonished).

That turned out to be a really lovely session, and it has made me want to do more. Watch this space.

To rival that, Carly the National Trust wonderwoman who'd pulled all my events together, including the exhibition, had brought in a cake that she'd iced.

Two of my favourite friends had turned up for the afternoon event, and we all had tea and cake together, at which point Carly presented my with the Poirot bag, some goodies, and the lovely little book by Robert MacFarlane in the top picture.

And so. Farewell, then, Greenway House...

I'm tempted to write some spoof doggerel here about leaving Agatha Christie's home (with no murder-mystery-plot burning a hole in my imagination) à la Tuesday Proper Poem – I think it might be time to close that soon, before I find I can't write any improper poems any more...

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