Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Rain in Montenegro

I've just returned from a week in Croatia and Montenegro. Of course, I was hoping for a little sun, a little warmth. It rained for almost seven days solid. My bikini, flipflops and lovely summer dresses stayed in my suitcase and I was forced into a waterproof, wet trainers and various umbrellas. My feet were damp for most of the week. I wore the same warm clothes over and over. There were more indoor days than I imagined, and dripping soggy walks that were not too unlike my rainy Manchester days. Did it spoil the holiday? Nope. Did I moan sometimes about the rain? A little. 

But I'm not adverse to rain. And there was something so exciting about creeping onto the balcony one dawn to see how the mist had descended over the water and clung damply to everything, and then dozing with a huge smile on my face. And there was something fateful about walking into a restaurant one afternoon, dripping with rain, shaking myself off like a wet dog, and asking if we could have coffee, not realising I would spend four days with the man who answered my question. And there was something entirely beautiful about lying in bed in the early hours one morning, while rain lashed the roof and thunder cracked the sky open. I lay awake for hours listening to it, not wanting to sleep in case I missed something. And walking through the village under an umbrella, seeing the different dramatic skies, with nobody else around. And breathing in that delicious after-rain smell. And visiting towns that were empty enough for me to wander round and feel as if the town was mine. And the dripping of water into a drain that sounded like a tiny bell. And all the conversations with people about the rain where we laughed and shrugged because really it doesn't matter, and maybe it brought me close to people that otherwise I might never have known.

I'm struggling to know how to write about my time in Montenegro, because there was so much happened, so many shifts and changes in me, such a beautiful sense of connection and feeling 'at home' and so very free.  

So, I'm doing what we do when we're not sure what else to say. I talk about the weather, hoping that I get across somehow a sense of how I felt and slowly maybe I'll be able to unravel all my experiences there and find a way to describe them. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

My Current Occupations

I was in Oxfam books today. The two volunteers running the shop were talking for their lives, like, non-stop hardly pausing for breath and I wanted to turn round and rudely ask them to be quiet. Their noise was incessant. But a) the world does not revolve around me and b) they were obviously volunteering their time and how rewarding and nice for them that they found so much to talk about while doing good for an amazing charity. However, I realised I like a quiet book shop, one where I can browse and enjoy the creases in the spines, the smell of the books, pick them up, read the back covers, flick pages in peace. So I grabbed two books and didn't linger.

My holiday reading. The Accidental by Ali Smith. Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

Oh, also Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. It's been on my bookshelf for a few years and I dusted it off the other day and had a dip into the first two chapters/essays. I am so in awe of her writing. It pushes the poetry in prose beyond anything I can imagine being able to write. It's insightful, beautiful, well-researched, moving and I can't wait to read on.

I went to BlankSpace in Manchester yesterday. There's an exhibition called Inside.

A very physical exhibition, with each installation in its own room. It's interesting being able to physically be within an art space and be 'inside' each piece of work. There was one piece of work called Womb by the Drop Collective. I am hesitant to describe it, as I feel that if you are in Manchester you should go along and take a look yourself. It's one of the most disturbing and affecting art installations I've seen. Even the physical act of opening the door and walking into the space was disturbing, as if discovering the most intimate, dirty, painful secret. I felt like a voyeur and witness. It was visually brilliantly done. The whole room was transformed into a scene with video, sound, strange light, and I felt myself shudder as I went in. I've not been able to stop thinking about it.

Inside Collaborations is a free workshop at BlankSpace, run by me (poet) and Gemma Lacey (visual artist). It's on Thursday 26 April from 2-5pm. We will be spending a lovely afternoon, exploring and responding the exhibition, writing and making, lots of creative play with a focus on collaboration. I've been working with Gemma for a number of years, we've collaborated in all kinds of interesting playful ways mixing visual arts with word through making books, photographs and our current project-in-progress keepsafes, which will result in a very limited edition box of words and art pieces. We hope to be able to share some of our own experiences of creatively working together to maybe create some new collaborations. It's for beginners or more experienced writers and artists. And it will be fun, I hope. If you want to book a free place, email Nathalie at

I've been less confident as a writer in recent months. I think I've been taking it too seriously, being too ambitious. I was hung up on the idea of having a short story collection published, as if this would be the only measure of success. I'm trying to reclaim my independence and open up possibilities. I've always written for me, to play, be creative, to explore. I've been involved in all kinds of very tiny creative projects that have grown through love and imagination and I've always felt very much myself as a writer. I lost that path a little, being caught up in wanting to be more successful than this. But, I've realised this is silly. I'm not trying to be a career writer or make money from it. I don't care about prestige or reviews. But I do want to be work with other writers, have some kind of readership however small, and find a way to get my writing out there. And I want to enjoy writing and feel confident about myself.

On that note. I was really pleased to be approached by Back&Beyond to see if they could publish one of my prose poems in a little chapbook. Fast&Loose 2 is a set of chapbooks with work from Ian Seed, me, Jo Gillot and David Hartley, and includes one piece from each of us, prose poetry, flash fiction and lyric. My copies arrived in the post this week, and they are really beautifully designed pamphlets, neatly folded and bound together with a belly band. They are funky little things and I feel so proud to be part of it.

I've been very anxious about everything and anything recently. I'm not quite sure what's been happening. Life sometimes is like this for me. It's been a struggle of a year so far and I'm grateful for friends and small everyday things really. Some days, I want to hide under the duvet. Some days are good. Most days are hard in some ways and it's been months since I truly felt like me. There seem to have been a lot of stresses and barriers and challenges, and to be honest it's hard to rise to them. I know many people struggle with depression and anxieties, and there are tons of people who have much harder lives than me. We all get troubles from time to time. But, it can still be very isolating and lonely to be in the thick of it.

All the more reason to read and play and write, don't you think?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Solo Living

It's useless trying to write when I'm ill, even a shopping list is too difficult. I've been holed up at home for days and not able to write because my mind is like cotton wool and I don't have the energy it takes to work at a piece of writing.

I've watched DVDs, slept, felt sorry for myself, attempted a jigsaw and got cross with myself trying to put the sky together because it was just 100 pieces of blue and frankly I don't have the patience for that. I've groaned and sniffed and gargled and nearly fallen asleep in the bath. I've been very poor company for the brilliant friend that came round and spent a whole day with me, patiently shouting out crossword clues as I lay half dozing in bed, making my tea and waiting for about an hour while I painfully tried to swallow it, and listening to me moan. I don't do suffering quietly or well, and my tonsils have I'm sure been the most infected tonsils ever to grace the back of anyone's throat.

I've been stuck in the house since Wednesday and contrary to the Guardian's article on living solo  last week, living alone certainly is not a privilege when you're  ill for a week and not sure who might come round (if anyone) to bring well-needed provisions, medicines and make you a cup of tea..

I think the main difficulty about living alone is that most other people have their own support at home, partner or family or whoever, and so when it comes to being ill, needing help, things breaking down, being responsible in whatever way for home/self/job/life, there is nobody naturally there. I am nobody's number one priority, nobody's most important person.

This is what the Guardian article really didn't quite get around to discussing about solo living, is that no matter how much freedom, space, quiet, or selfishness it allows, it is really a very solitary, lonely state of being.

So, this is what four days of enforced stay at home does for me.

Tomorrow I am going to venture out of the house. I might even grab a cup of tea in a cafe, and possibly visit a friend. It feels a little like being let out of a caged place and I'm not quite sure whether I'll still be able to communicate!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

At night

At night I dream that you and I are two plants
that grew together, roots entwined,
and that you know the earth and the rain like my mouth
since we are made of earth and rain.

- Pablo Neruda