Thursday 2 April 2020

& it was all a dream


Some ate plants and some ate meat some ate fish and some ate beasts

Imagine someone who studies dinosaurs actually meeting a dinosaur- they would love checking out its tail, teeth and feather dusters (which they have been reading about for so long- although I don’t think they actually have dusters) but they would be utterly terrified too. They know exactly what the dinosaur is capable of.

I’m finding it hard to write this post because I am shy of saying the words out loud. It’s Autism Awareness Week and one way to make others aware is to not be self-conscious about telling your story. However, people like certainty- they need proof. The spectrum is so fluid that often this proves difficult. Pursuing a diagnosis has its own issues- it’s a double edged sword. 

Some feel there is no need for labels, and I understand that too, we know so little about the brain. However, the older I get the more I can see how my experience has not been typical, and I do look for explanations- I’m human. Although I have had trouble accepting that fact, and although I still am wary about defining my behaviour in any particular way, I also need to find my place. As David Byrne says ‘I’m just an animal looking for a home’.


It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out

Once in primary school I put my hand up and asked if the teacher had watched last night’s episode of Dallas as I was genuinely interested (it was the day after the one where Pamela Ewing woke up from her ‘dream’ that basically negated an entire series) and she told me to get out of her classroom. I guess it seemed cheeky but I wanted to talk about how something could all be a dream like that, it was so strange to me.

By the time I went to secondary school I had become bolshy due to constantly being in trouble. At that age if you get named something you go with it. Autism in girls is only just beginning to be understood so my behaviour was painted as disobedience, always. The lines were blurred. As a teenager I had what I can only describe as meltdowns- huge emotional fallouts where I would cry and cry, especially if I was faced with change. I didn’t understand the rules of socialising, had no idea why people might lie or cover things up and couldn’t work out why some people- including teachers- were mean to me- it made no sense. 

Meeting people, talking about myself, getting stranded at parties with no lift home, going to strange boys houses and regretting it- all of it was coloured by a loneliness that I couldn’t name. I didn’t exist in the same way that everyone else did, so none of it mattered. I had zero boundaries and constantly put myself at danger. Some of it was fun- it’s nihilism really. I’m not sure I’d be happy if my daughter did the same though.


Out along the edges, always where I burn to be

I slip through the cracks constantly. I’ve learnt to live like this, I’m OK now- but imagine trying to do a job interview or speak seriously to another grown up. You’re very far away and make inappropriate jokes. I find talking to kids much easier, they instinctively understand where you’re coming from. Animals are fine too- they exist within time in a similar way to me, they understand ‘zones’. There are morning zones and excitement zones, but yes also danger zones. Sometimes you can find yourself walking straight into a sad zone, like a cold bit in the woods. Zones make more sense to me than time.

Family lore laughs at the fact that I couldn’t read a clock until I was 12. I have problems following rules in general, they make me physically uncomfortable. If someone gets a board game out I literally want to cry. Patterns have always been hard for me unless I’ve made the rules myself, then they are brilliant. (Some of the best art is made by people who make up their own rules [some of the worst too if we’re being honest]. You can take a rule and bend it to make it yours, then it’s not scary anymore and you are not owned by it. This is where I’m happiest). 


And all the world is biscuit-shaped, it's just for me to feed my face

When I was a kid I jumped off a bridge into a river as I didn’t like the catsuit I was wearing. It had white piping on it and it made me really uncomfortable- I wrote a silly poem about it. I crave comfort. I love being at home with its deliberate zones. At the moment we are all social distancing because of coronavirus but my life really hasn’t changed all that much. I like people the way I like dinosaurs- I think they are really cool but they also take up a lot of space, the sheer scale of them can be overwhelming.

I’ve beaten myself up unnecessarily for feeling this way, but if you say it out loud then nobody actually cares. Most people are happy for others to do whatever they like but after a lifetime of being treated as if you are wrong in some way you become very adept at feeling as if you are wrong in some way. Perhaps a diagnosis would act as a magic key that would unlock all the secrets of the past, or give me some kind of sparkly pass that explains away my ‘wrongness’, I don’t know. I suspect there are positives I can’t even imagine. It’s probably just a matter of time.

Thursday 31 October 2019

Today would have been Kingsley’s 2nd birthday. If you’d have told me last year that he would no longer be with us I would have laughed at you. Kingsley was my whole world. My favourite thing was to go rambling with him. We started off in the park but progressed to the forest as he got larger. He was a big fast fluffy dog and his recall was amazing.

When we walked we were totally in sync. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t like dogs but there was something spiritual about it. He knew where I was going before I did. Sometimes he would lead the way and I would let him take me into the undergrowth. Sometimes we got right inside bushes and into the deep grass. I let him sniff every single thing he wanted, always. 

He loved the squirrels best but never meant to catch one. I saw him slow down just before he’d get his teeth around one more than once. He wasn’t a cuddly dog but he was gentle in his core. He would sit beside you and raise his leg in the air until you stroked his tummy. Then his face would go all regal. 

He loved other dogs and always wanted to play. Sometimes they were a bit scared of him, but I called him scaredy dog because he would run away from even the little tiny ones. He did this thing where he would dodge them and his bum would go first, a bit like an articulated lorry. He loved to play with other dogs and was always friendly first. He didn’t understand when they didn’t want to play but wouldn’t bother them if they didn’t. I’d whistle and he’d skip it.

Kingsley made everything better. When I got him I was a bit sad and he made me go outside and get back in nature. I’d forgotten how much I needed it. I also started talking to strangers and really enjoyed it. Lots of dog owners are a bit shy around people and that suited me just fine. He was the best company and I would laugh at him constantly. He was a funny dog but never meant to be. All dogs are like that, just pure and perfect. 

He was always a bit hectic. He had this energy about him which was difficult for some people and he had a big bark. He was always a bit wary of strangers but when he was little he put up with people approaching him. He looked like a bear and kids liked to stroke him, they especially liked his big white fluffy tail. He was so good with it for so long until he became an adult. After a while I had to ask people not to touch him as he didn’t enjoy it any more.

The Vet says that when dogs become adults their behavioural problems come into focus. I have learnt that it was nothing we did that made Kingsley change, but that it was written into his genes. It’s difficult not to blame yourself but I know why he struggled and it wasn’t us. I should have asked his breeder better questions but I so wanted to keep him. It happens all the time.

King had the best life any dog could have had. I was with him constantly, every day. He came on holiday with us, swam in lakes and we loved him so much. I didn’t like leaving him more than six hours in a row and rarely did. I’m glad we had him and wouldn’t change it, even with this heartbreak we are going through. I needed him and he needed me. 

It’s been a month since he went to sleep and I have cried every day. I am sleeping a bit better now but I still miss him terribly. Sometimes when I come home I expect to see his paws up on the glass of the front door, barking like mad to say hello. The house is so quiet and clean but I’d give that up to have him back but happy again. He was so good with the baby, licking his feet and rushing over to see if he was OK when he cried. We had to keep him safe though.

Kingsley hurt some people and me too but it doesn’t make him a bad dog. He didn’t know what he was doing, he thought it was the right thing. He was anxious and scared and acted on it- it makes sense. When I took him on his last walk he wasn’t with me, he was already gone. It was one of the worst days of my life. He was 95% perfect and his body was healthy. He trusted us and we had to take him into a little room and say goodbye. I’m sorry. 

Walking with Kingsley was when I felt best. I loved being with him and watching him crash through the trees. I felt closer to the seasons and took him out in snow and rain even when I was heavily pregnant. I felt so much joy with him, it was all so simple. People say he was ‘just a dog’ but he wasn’t. He was my friend and companion, he was family. He listened to me and looked after me, he was one of a kind.

We planted a tree for him last weekend, a Rowan tree the colour of copper like him. I put some of his ashes in the river at the end of the garden where he used to stand and bark and I told him I loved him. I am not religious but I hope he is happier now. I don’t know what it means but I feel like he’ll always be around. When I take the baby out I say ‘let’s see if we can find Kingsley’ and do the special whistle. It’s happy not sad. I think he’s just splashing about in the river somewhere. I hope so.

Thank you for being my best friend Kingsley.

Thursday 23 May 2019

Shyness is nice &

What poetry form(s) or style(s) best describes your work?

I like my poems to feel like little text adventure games, almost like you could click on any word with your eyes and get to a new place. Sometimes I accidentally write in a specific form and everyone thinks I’m doing something clever but I’m not.

Statement about your practice. Describe your practice, your interests and some key projects you have been working on in the past six months.

I have been putting together a collection for Broken Sleep Books called ‘Valour’. It is a book about journeys, but a little tongue in cheek. It swaps between the domestic and the epic, different types of bravery and different types of expeditions. I am interested in how we recount our own stories and how we tend to put a spin on them, like the bits in X-factor where everyone has experienced a tragedy. I think I have taken those things very seriously in the past but as you get older you turn into a laughing Buddha and see that you are not your past or even really your present. You are nothing much at all, so narratives are generally useless.

I think that is the same thing that stops me being ambitious and applying for things. I like writing poems but once I’ve finished the work seems done. I have been reading about Zen Buddhism for many years and once you realise the ego is the thing that makes you unhappy you can’t unknow it. It’s a blessing and a curse, but Zen would say neither of those things exist so you can see my problem.

The biggest project I am working on is that I am six months pregnant. This is basically like writing a new poem every day. I feel like a 3D printer. Pregnancy is making me creative in unexpected ways. The world feels sharper and I am having incredible dreams. I know I have quite a few poems in me and would like to have the time to write them.
How would you use a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship to develop your practice? There is no expectation of publication or performance as a result of the Fellowships. Here we would like to know how you want to grow creatively and professionally with the freedom the bursary offers and the expert support of mentors.

I am a little shy and would like to learn how to endorse my own work with a bit more conviction. I am not very grown up about it and I feel like it has held me back. I really like the word amateur as it stems from the word ‘love’ so have strange hang-ups about being a professional anything- perhaps this is something I need to work on. There are so many things I am interested in. I love films and photography and also computer games, although I don’t play them. I would love to take the words off the page and explore new kinds of poetic expression. I spend lots of time in the forest with my dog and would love to make a small film about it. The forest is my number one place to be.

I’m really interested in teaching others. Not poetry workshops per se, but experimental sessions using words, visual art and music in new ways. I have long wanted to put on a night of poetry and drawing. I have devised courses that use Google maps and reviews as spaces to write, and people seem to love this. Over the last few years I have also run workshops using subjects such as the monomyth and world building as starting points for writing. Sometimes poems come from strange places and I like the idea that you can start in one weird place and end up in a completely different one.

I am a trained coach and would like to explore how to reveal the untapped creative energy that so many people have using exercises and open, honest conversation. I have run a few things like this, but it is hard when funds are limited. Most of all I want people to see poetry as an exciting fun thing that everyone can join in with. I am not comfortable with the more academic side of poetry. I understand that exclusion can be a bit of a passion killer.

What three things do you hope to achieve as a result of your Fellowship? Think about what you would like to accomplish during the supported-year that would significantly help your career and craft.

I would like to finish ‘Valour’ and learn how to promote it properly. It is 20 poems long so far and needs about the same again. It started off being about infertility but then I got pregnant by surprise so I have had to rejig it a bit which has changed its course. Although I am a social media manager and enjoy technology immensely I am also quite bad at talking about myself and ‘selling’ my books. I always forget to tell people where they can get a copy or just give them away, which is pretty silly. I need time to write the rest of the poems and I am well aware that I will soon be on maternity leave. This is going to reduce my income even further and also eat into my time. I can feel my next book coming to life already and I haven’t even done this one yet. I hope people like poems about babies because they are in for the ride of their lives.

If I had a little freedom from thinking about marketing strategies I am pretty sure I could create something unfettered and brilliant.

I need to learn time management skills and ground myself in reality a little more. I am writing this application with about an hour to go until the deadline which is absolutely ridiculous. I am so happy to have this opportunity yet dream and dream until there’s about one minute left. When I went to read at Ledbury Poetry Festival the same thing happened. I was the bad poet who hadn’t sent them the right things. I also forgot to order books for them so there were none at my reading. I don’t understand it because poetry is the thing I care most about, even though I pretend it isn’t. I would like to learn how to become a little more focused and to not feel like it’s bad to be a little ambitious.

I am hoping that I don’t sound too flippant about all this, I am honestly so keen to make a change. I know my work is really excellent and I feel as if I do it a disservice by not being serious about it.

I would like to take some courses in different subjects, painting, film-making and ornithology amongst others. I work from home and spend long periods of time on my own so it would be really good to meet new people and learn new things. I would also love to start attending more poetry events- something I used to do all the time. It would probably be a good idea to enter some competitions or submit poems to magazines, I have only done this periodically and with very little conviction, generally when I need some fast cash.

I’m sure people might say that I’m afraid to succeed and they may be right. The idea of competition in general brings me out in a cold sweat, even writing this application is making me a little nervous if I’m honest. How amazing though that I could make a proper career out of writing poems. It has taken me a long time but now I am in my forties and have just bought a house and feel as if I have the security to pursue my dreams for real.

At the risk of writing one of those X-factor narratives I was talking about earlier, my life was quite difficult for quite a long time. I am in a new phase of completeness and happiness and feel as if this is exactly the right time to explore how far I can take my writing and teaching.

Friday 15 June 2018

Zen and the art

Coinciding with my learning Transcendental Meditation, the puppy has grown into an amenable good boy who wants to sit and watch as the people hurry to work. We sit on the grass and smile at the sprites that notice. The idea that we are all one- that there is one unified field- becomes stronger every time I take him out. I never knew dogs liked to sit down so much but I am very happy that they do. Often we will sit for quite a stretch simply feeling the slight breeze ruffling us up and it is very nice.

There are all kinds of great things that people write about the benefits of having a dog but one thing missing is how it slows you right down and makes you see things on the tiny level. A bit like having a toddler where you are on magic time, you begin to notice the smallest corners of every greenspace.

Remembering nature from when I was also little and so invested in every season. The memories of pink sunsets over Weeley towards the reservoir and the tide-sound of the trees are now closer than before. That sports day resonance where the grass is painted white and the sky goes twice as enormous. I can feel it again- perhaps the awareness is always there but we just can’t get at it.

McGroggin runs me through the back of bushes where kids have made trails, little cathedrals of briar. There are secret worlds everywhere and lost gloves in luminous colours. The park garden is gone absolutely psychedelic. Sometimes the flowers are so bright they sort of cut you a bit, they stink! It’s brilliant.

I am not sure how I ended up with a Zen dog, sometimes I wonder about the Chow in him, guarding the temples. His nose and ears are like tiny receptors, they suss it all out. He is as lazy as me- you hear about these old white men who walked tortoises in the days when appreciation was in fashion. Well, a lazy dog does the job just as well. He will take you into the smallest detail, right into the fibres of the wallpaper.

40 minutes a day I sit with my mantra and sometimes I can feel all the other people. Often I think about breakfast or hard words but I let it happen and look onward. It’s nice to be still but what I’m aiming for is much finer creative intelligence. Making more and all the new ways of making. I like poems but there are other things. Maybe I will write a whole book about my puppy. It would be mostly for me, but that would be just fine.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

New Bear

I got a dog- it's amazing and also really hard. Puppies are grinchy. He gives you this shifty side eye thing when he's annoyed and also sort of huffs and puffs like a nurse. I haven't slept properly for a while- once or twice a night I get propelled into the wet garden to watch him wee or poo by the light of my phone. He smells sort of dusty and gross but also quite sweet, like a powdered rug. 

I am scared he is sad to death about not seeing his Mum anymore. I am too soft to close the door of his crate but I have to soon as he keeps eating the Christmas tree. He headbutts the door and sort of scrabbles to get out, I can't handle it. I am sleeping in the living room to keep him company... he is a cartoon orphan.

Kingsley is brown and also turning ginger, he has a curly tail like a piglet but fluffy. His eyes are like mouse eyes and he has ears like a cat. He looks like a bear cub and fox in one and sometimes makes squeaking noises as if everything is AWFUL. I bought him a toothbrush but I am not sure he will love it.

In the garden he sniffs and bites everything, he wants to pull stuff up or down. He sits in the flower bed on his scrappy back legs like he's a bread bin and gallops back when a bird flaps past. I am enjoying being in the garden more- this morning I saw a wren. I had forgotten that things happen outside at 7.30- and so much does! Everything moves. Aeroplanes roar around like yawns and the seagulls complain like mad.

I have a puppy sling coming so I can take him out. He can't touch the floor yet but he can come round with me in his bag so I can show him the world. I can't wait to take this dog to the beach later on, or the marshes- he will go native. I do like this little dog even though he keeps trying to eat me. I think he's my friend.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Within you without you

Tomorrow we are getting a dog, he is very fluffy like a bear and maybe a substitute for something else. I am apprehensive- a little how I was when I was about to give birth. I know this thing will smash up my life for a while. Caring for something is terrifying but also the best.

Flo will be 12 on Dog Day. She has more complex emotions now, bright as a horoscope. I am still her Mum but it’s different, we are more like companions except sometimes I talk about how I see things and help her correct course- to the best of my ability at least. I still don’t fully know what I am doing, but compassion rounds you out a little.

My Mum was born on the same day so I will be remembering her too. She was so pleased to share a birthday with Flo- it made them the same somehow. Mum was a little preoccupied and the two of them never really spent the time they should have together, but Flo reminds me of her a lot. She marches about as if she owns the place like a wizard.

An end and a beginning, here's the real bit that I wanted to write:

We are coming up on 2 years trying for a baby and it’s a different world. Not many people understand- they can’t. Months and months of hope, lost hope, renewed hope- a madness really. Watching bellies blossom and shrink while you wait for the next test- one and one equals 0.

Talking about it is forbidden. If you do then it makes people a bit blinky. Friends say strange things about adoption and tell you stories about a friend of a friend of a friend. People tell you to relax. They say it will happen any day now or maybe it wasn’t meant to be, as if any of us are in control.

There is still an astounding amount of superstition tied up with the female reproductive system. There are cures and potions and mindsets and spells. But the bottom line is biology. Infertility is really common but it is chaotic and people don’t like that. People also think things like IVF are simple, like going to the dentist. They’re not.

We are getting a dog, it is somewhat of a solution. No one will buy us a card- I don’t care! I love babies but I don’t always want to be around them. I love small children but sometimes it hurts- that’s the truth. Pregnancy announcements are difficult but after a day or two it’s OK again. Happiness is a choice and we choose it. Family is an elastic category, every child is a miracle, I know this now more than ever.

Caring for things is the best. Trying to get outside of yourself and the boxes we put things in. Outside of myself is not even different from within- it’s all one thing. I can be a mother to everyone, there is so much love to go around. It’s a question of what we choose to focus on- staying at the centre of the universe hurts people. Next year I want to try to understand what my friends are experiencing so I don’t say shortsighted things. I don’t want to fix your problem, I just want to feel it with you.

When Kingsley comes home I will become a puppy for a while. The plan is to sleep next to him until he knows where he belongs. Physical and mental proximity...
a resolution.

Monday 19 December 2016

Thoughts on turning 40

The things I know so far are mostly related to birth and death. Everything else remains sketchy at best. Birth and death are the things that have had the most profound and genuine effect on me, changing me entirely. After the birth of my daughter I never thought things would get tipped upside down in the same way ever again. I was a new human holding a new human. None of my clothes fit. I wasn’t a punk anymore but I was more punk than I had ever been.

What could be more dramatic than feeling a mouth feed from your body? We spend hours watching science fiction and fantasy and all in one day it becomes a fact of your life, a tiny wriggling thing that lives off you, that needs your words and face to become a person. The shock of it was worse than electric. The shock was- I exist in this way. Even beyond all I’ve ever learnt and nothingness.

So when my Mum died I remembered, yes we do exist. Because she disappeared so I am pretty certain she was here- I do not think she was a magic trick. Since then I have felt death quite strongly, in everything that I do. These words will stay on this page but the fingers that typed them will soon never type a word again. There are songs that I love that I will hear for the last time, a finite number of kisses. I don’t mind.

Mum’s exit was as dramatic as her entrance- it bent time. It took us all out of our bodies and showed us ourselves as we are. Love forced us to focus, to see clearly that we are simply a strange kind of fighting light. I am 40 tomorrow and just as having a child made me older and younger, so I’ll continue. Real love.