Publisher’s Bum and other Western World Woes

 

Publisher's Bum, by Marija Smits

Publisher’s Bum, by Marija Smits (painted with coffee and watercolours)

 

A Confession

First, let’s get this out of the way: I’ve been a bit dishonest. I could have titled this post ‘Publisher’s RSI’ or ‘Writer’s Wrist’ or ‘Why Exercise Is Good For You So You Should Do It’ but those titles weren’t as arresting (read: potentially titillating). Apologies to those who really don’t want to read about exercise…

Anyway, but yes, it’s true. I have ‘Publisher’s Bum’ as well as ‘Writer’s Wrist’ (i.e. RSI in my wrist) because I spend far too much time on the computer for my publishing work: writing emails, filling in Excel spreadsheets, typesetting, cover designing, writing blurbs, managing the website etc. etc. and I really must get myself a proper mouse thingy because this glide pad on the laptop is really knackering my wrist.

I digress. The point is that I do a lot of sitting around and not enough exercise. In September 2015 my youngest started school, so back then I thought to myself: ‘Aha! I will now be like one of those “proper” freelancers/portfolio living folks and do what I want in my free time. I will schedule some exercise time into my week.’

Of course it didn’t happen because I had a lot of publishing work to do, and you know, there’s less of an activation barrier to continuing to sit at the computer doing work than there is to actually getting off my bum and doing some exercise.

 

Mothering As Exercise

Now, at the start of September 2015 this wasn’t an issue, but gradually, it became an issue. Because there is a shift from the early days/years of motherhood where calories are being burnt up simply by breastfeeding and babywearing and running around after a young child to, let’s say, a more sedentary phase of motherhood when the children are older. In the early years there’s no time for “formal” exercise because baby and toddler and pre-schooler care IS exercise. But then they get older and those calories aren’t being used up to make vast quantities of breastmilk or child weightlifting or running down the road after a toddler/pre-schooler who has discovered that actually, they can go pretty fast on a balance bike. Hmm.

But still… I’m EATING like I’m that younger-than-now mother. I’m hoovering up the kids’ leftovers like I’m going to single-handedly rid the world of all the problems associated with the imbalance in global food supply. (Actually, I know in part why I’m doing this, it’s a) because I’m greedy and b) it’s because of history i.e. my parents indoctrinating me with the idea that as others don’t have enough I must finish what is on my plate. Also, it’s rude to your hosts to not finish off food.)

So, yeah the wobbly bits of me bother me somewhat (actually, I have affection for the wobbly bits, they are actually quite endearing and very humanizing. If I ever find that I’m taking myself too seriously I simply have to look down at my belly and squoosh it into a funny shape). BUT, the wobbly bits are stopping me from fitting into some of my favourite clothes AND, most importantly, they are indicative of the fact that I’m not as fit and healthy as I used to be.

 

The Psychology Bit

So, after almost a year of having exercise at the bottom of my list of priorities, I am finally making the psychological progress necessary to make it rise up the list of priorities.

First, I reminded myself that my good health is as important to my family as is the good health of my children, my husband and other family members. So it’s okay for me to spend time on keeping myself fit and healthy. Also, exercise actually makes me work more efficiently (as well as helping me to have a healthier mind – freer of anxiety, OCD etc.) so it’s important to build some formal exercise into my week. Also, reflecting on our eating habits as a family has been useful – I know that we lapse too easily into processed food because it’s quick to prepare.

Second, I have had a good think about what kind of exercise suits me best. I am hypermobile and have to be aware of tendons that can get overstretched and damaged (just because they can easily bend in all sorts of random directions!) so something like running, which impacts on my right knee badly isn’t going to happen (although years ago, pre-children, I enjoyed running). And by the way, I’ve probably got a post brewing about hypermobility, hormones and motherhood, but that’ll have to wait for a bit.

Third, I am now wise enough (or is that mature/experienced enough?) to know that I cannot radically change the natural build of my body. I can tone my muscles but I sure as hell can’t do anything about my bone structure. I am what I am, and that’s okay. (Although, of course, the fashion and beauty industry would like to tell us otherwise. But hey, that’s neoliberalism for you. There’s always a product that you can buy to change yourself, right?!)

Lastly, I know that at heart I’m lazy. Give me a book and a full fridge and a day off and I’ll happily lay in bed all day simply reading and eating, reading and eating. Okay, so what with having kids the whole “day off” thing isn’t going to happen, but still… my point is that inertia to exercise is very real. The way that I eliminate/reduce inertia is by making the exercise another habit. For example: I write most days. It’s not that difficult to find a 15 or 30 minute slot per day, if (health-permitting, of course) you really want to. Once writing every day (or every other day) becomes a habit, it’s a difficult habit to break. Same with handwashing after going to the toilet. It’s done automatically. So three times a week I do some kind of formal exercise (I tend to favour a bit of weightlifting and high intensity interval workout, a la Joe Wicks), a little bit of skipping, wild dancing, as well as swimming. And most days I walk somewhere. Something else that can help with motivation is having a friend, or partner, giving a gentle nudge or some words of encouragement so that you just get on and do it. Oh, and the Paralympics ALWAYS motivates me. If those brilliant individuals can overcome the challenges in their lives to excel in various sports, then really, who am I to moan?

My local swimming pool, image by Marija Smits

My local swimming pool, image by Marija Smits

 

Exercise as Creative Endeavour

So that’s it, I guess. An exercise routine is for life, not just for Christmas. And like most creative activities, e.g. drawing and writing, it doesn’t require a lot of money to get started. (A massive bonus for me as I really can’t afford gym fees or anything like that.) Rather like any other endeavour (such as writing) that is important to our lives, exercise has to become a habit and something that we can fairly easily commit to, BUT without giving ourselves hugely unrealistic expectations (such as I WILL get published by one of the Big Five and get a six figure advance; I WILL have a body like a supermodel) because when/if we don’t attain those goals it is very easy to beat ourselves up about this so-called failure and not re-start the process. Physical activity is, in a way, analogous to the creative process. As long as one finds some form of activity that is enjoyable then it feels good to do it and the “habit” more easily becomes ingrained. Exercise, like creativity, is mainly about the process; regular physical exertion is the crafting of our own bodies through the growth of muscle tissue, blood capillaries, lung capacity and the reduction of other tissues e.g. fat tissue. And it’s also a brilliant excuse for listening to plenty of up-tempo music. Ricky Martin anyone?!

 

 

Lastly, if you’d like to recommend/share your own exercise tips (or what exercise works best for you) or healthy food recipes, or just some groovy music, I’m all ears…🙂

And thanks again to Maddy at Writing Bubble for providing the necessary spur to write this post!

 

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Ice cream, and other good things that come to an end

 

Mint choc chip ice cream, by Marija Smits

Mint choc chip ice cream, by Marija Smits

 

Tomorrow my children will be going back to school. I will, no doubt, be experiencing a mix of emotions as I do the school run: sadness (I want to have more fun with them!), worry (will they get on okay in their new year?) and a touch of relief (I desperately need some quiet hours to myself to catch up with my publishing work) as well as the usual overwhelm that the school run social niceties and small talk cause me as an HSP.

 

Strawberry ice cream by Marija Smits

Strawberry ice cream by Marija Smits

 

Anyway, I will get through it. And my children will, no doubt, manage. But, again, it is an obvious end to the summer and the freedom (and fun) that it brings all of us. And when good things come to an end there is a certain amount of sadness. So, I will feel the sadness, say hello to it, and then get on with things. I will say goodbye to it when I am ready.

So on that note, I will leave you with one of my (somewhat bittersweet) poems. It was recently published in this lovely pamphlet: Food & Drink – Bramley Apple Festival Poems, 2015.

 

Food and Drink, Bramley Apple Festival Poems

'Mint choc chip' poem, by Marija Smits

‘Mint choc chip’ poem, by Marija Smits

 

If you write poetry I would definitely encourage you to enter the annual Bramley Apple Festival poetry competition – it is free to enter and the organizers are friendly and helpful. There really is nothing to lose! Here is a PDF with all the info:

2016 ‘Green’ Bramley Apple Festival Poetry Competition leaflets

Whatever you are doing tomorrow, I hope it brings you a little sweet ‘something’. Amidst the sadness I will enjoy having a creamy coffee and listening the stillness of the house. And after school, who knows, maybe we will go for an ice cream. But what flavour to choose…?

 

Cherry ice cream by Marija Smits

Cherry ice cream by Marija Smits

 

p.s. A huge welcome back to Maddy (and all) at ‘What I’m Writing’.🙂

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Running on “empty”

 

Beautiful sunset, Bamburgh. photo by Tom Bellamy

Beautiful sunset, Bamburgh. Photo by Tom Bellamy

 

In the run up to our holiday I knew that I desperately needed a break; my publishing work was making me feel incredibly stressed (the financial and other pressures seem to be ever-increasing) and along with the usual family worries about how to make ends meet, school issues, sibling arguments, a lack of time for my own creativity, a lack of alone time and time with my husband, as well as the frustrations of the same old same old environment and routine, I knew a break was necessary. But I didn’t quite know how badly I needed the break. When we got to our holiday cottage after a mostly stuck-in-traffic 6 hour journey we immediately headed to the beach for an evening stroll. When I saw the wide expanse of white sand and the breathtaking sky – to say nothing of the amazing castle in the background – I started to cry. It was a sudden jolt to realize how ‘empty’ I had been and that ‘empty’ felt so very, well, empty. I cried on and off for the rest of the stroll, thinking about how beautiful the world was, and how lucky I was to be at this beach with my lovely family.

 

Bamburgh Castle, photo by Tom Bellamy

Bamburgh Castle, photo by Tom Bellamy

 

I had planned to do some writing during the holiday but I honestly didn’t feel like doing it. I listened to my inner voice (the voice of the Wild Woman, if you will) which told me that I needed to just be. To feel the sand between my toes, the (very cold!) seawater at my ankles and the sun on my skin. I felt rather like a sponge, which had been wrung out, emptied of every drop of moisture, but then deposited into water where I slowly began to soak up every drop of this everyday and natural beauty. At the end of the holiday I felt better; so much more refreshed.

 

I’m what you would call a fairly ‘social’ HSP, but in today’s world, with constant online socializing, news and info. dumping, as well as the whole neoliberal agenda going on in the background, which tells us that we have to ‘work harder, work longer’, time to simply be, without reporting on our every thought and act, is rare. This holiday was a good reminder that I need to stop more and pause. Because running on empty really isn’t a good idea.

 

I hope that you have all had a chance to pause this August and to feel some sun on your skin.

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The Poetess, The Outraged, and The Wild Woman

The other day I was genuinely discombobulated (and a bit upset) that a fairly well-known literary author (or should that be authoress?!) decided to, completely out of the blue, tweet me at my Marija Smits Twitter account to say this:

 

@MarijaSmits PoetESS? Really? I’ve find that title very belittling. Poet is genderless. Like writer. And chemist.

 

Now, as some of you know, I am a deeply reflective person. I don’t do quick, clever retorts or off-the-cuff tweets (as I have to assume this was, given the typo). I don’t do ‘soundbites’, so I’m sure as hell not going to start a discussion about this on Twitter.

But… I thought and thought about it, and carefully considered what to do about this tweet. The HSP in me said: ‘Say nothing, don’t speak out, be silent, because then you won’t get hurt and overwhelmed by it all.’ But the Wild Woman in me – she who is very good at helping me to speak out when I know an issue is dear to me – said: ‘Be brave. Write. Explain yourself. Speak out for all the Wild Women who are silenced in small and big ways every day.’

So here are my thoughts. I would also like to add that as most of you know, yes, I am careful with my words, so I did not choose the title ‘poetess’ lightly, and I want to explain my reasoning behind this. To help me do this, let’s begin to analyze that tweet…

 

Definition of 'poetess'

Definition of ‘poetess’

The Poetess

Why is the female gendered form of ‘poet’ belittling? Is ‘poet’ truly genderless? I sometimes see women calling themselves ‘female poets’ but I don’t read about ‘male poets’. So is ‘poetess’ “belittling” because the author who tweeted me assumes that the male form is the usual default, and that the female form is obviously subordinate and therefore lesser?

This is the same impulse in genderless environments/occupations like ‘scientist’ or ‘chemist’. In fact, these cultures (academic and commercial) are competitive, aggressive and confrontational, and, in fact, stereotypically masculine. Women are equal in this “genderless” world as long as they behave like men. But not paid the same, of course. And, it’s worth noting, some women are better than other women at behaving like stereotypically masculine men. (The arena of politics is another apt example.)

Removal of the female gendered form in artistic contexts is denying the different lived experience and different aesthetic/sensibility that women have. It belittles them by suggesting they can only be equal to men by being the same and having the same identity.

As a deeply reflective person, I thought about the pros and cons of using the word ‘poetess’ for a fair while before I decided to give myself that title on my blog… I meant to call myself ‘poetess’ because my poetry reflects (and is generally about) my life as a woman and the impact that my feminine identity has on my artistic expression. Why should we women NOT be allowed to draw attention to our gender in the names we choose for ourselves? Why must the female form be suppressed? How does this suppression “enlarge us” and make us less “little”? And finally, why must I, a woman, face attack from another woman who wants to censor the names I use for myself? This, in itself, is a belitting, and sad disempowerment – which is fundamentally against everything that I have strived for in my breastfeeding counselling voluntary work, my writing and my publishing work.

Continuing to look at the bigger picture, I also see from the breastfeeding support world that sometimes people get upset about the use of the word ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and that it should be simply ‘parent’. Now, I think we’re getting into difficult territory here, because mothers and fathers have differing, though unique roles. And believe me, I’ve seen enough people arguing about this until I’m fit to burst with melancholy. I’ve been drawn into it myself, while arguing for safe spaces for women, and I’ve been called names to my face and seen some pretty ugly name-calling online. And then I’ve also read the arguments about how we should all just call each other and ourselves humans so that we cut out any gendered stuff like ‘man’ or ‘woman’. And perhaps, while we’re at it, we should get rid of female and male names (or perhaps adopt the male names only – they can be the standard, right?!). Again, this is tricky territory we’re getting into, and one that needs far more critical (and nuanced) thinking about than our social media–savvy society seems to be able to cope with.

 

The Outraged

But, coming back to the tweet… I cannot see that my use of the word ‘poetess’ is worth the outrage. Or perhaps it is? Maybe, by labelling myself thus, I unknowingly hit upon a nerve. But I know too that we are living in the age of outrage and people seem quick to look for reasons to be offended. Indeed, some of them go out of their way to be offended. (Something I cannot for the life of me understand.)

I also thought it particularly apt that just the other day I read this excellent blog post by Kristen Lamb about whether or not Facebook is dying, and how it really isn’t about fun (and harmless) socializing anymore. Kristen said that she’d done something she’d never expected to do – unfollow other writers – because they were simply too busy being outraged (my words here) and it wasn’t much fun.

These writers—The Unfollowed—have mutated from friends into geysers of hysteria, hate, ranting, or general pissed-offedness. And I think that’s sad. The same writer who’s spending time on social media might one day announce a book that I would have seen and maybe even bought…had they not pushed me to the point of unfollowing anything they posted.

There are even some well known authors I used to read and buy their books…but now I no longer like them. Deep down I resent how they’ve selfishly beaten me over the head with their opinions. Frankly, there are too many nice and considerate authors to buy from instead.

The thing is… when this author-tweeter started following me on Twitter the other day, I felt genuinely excited because she is an acclaimed writer. Though now… I feel deflated and I have a desire to stay off social media. But hey, that’s the world we live in at the moment and it’s probably a good reminder to me that no matter what I say online someone somewhere will be offended by what I, a woman, choose to call myself.

 

The Wild Woman

I now feel in a place in my life where I don’t just want to stick to Aren’t cats cute? online. Maintaining a front of 100% bland and inoffensiveness is exhausting and depleting to the soul. So I will continue to be me, to be genuine and truthful to my own Wild Woman. For she is the one who reminds me in countless ways every day that I am a woman, and a mother, and a poetess, and that I should take pride in my identity.

 

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A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Poetry World

Last Saturday, I took part in ‘An Afternoon With The Small Press’ at Southwell Poetry Festival. In my “work role” as the Managing Editor of Mother’s Milk Books, I was one of four indie publishers at the event to talk about this strange thing known as ‘Poetry World’. (Credit goes to the marvellous Helena Nelson of Happenstance Press for naming it thusly.)

Ross Bradshaw, of Five Leaves Publications and Five Leaves Bookshop, put questions to myself, Di Slaney of Candlestick Press and Martin Parker of Stonewood Press, and the audience listened carefully, asked questions and whenever one of us had mentioned something particularly note-worthy they eagerly scribbled down what we’d said. Poets, especially those new to writing poetry, want to understand Poetry World, and they especially want to know how to get their poetry published.

But although I run a small press and know a bit about Poetry World through the publishing of other people’s poetry, I do NOT consider myself an expert on Poetry World as a poet. I have only been seriously writing poetry for about 5 years. That length of time is nothing in Poetry World. Seriously, it is just a blip (especially when you’re not actually writing poetry every day and sending it off every day). But… I have learnt a thing or two in that time. And so I thought that for those other fledgling poets out there, who are just about to strap on their poetic backpacks and head off into the realm of Poetry World, I would give them a few pointers.

My favourite accompaniment to a good book - creamy coffee and dark chocolate.

My favourite accompaniment to a good book – creamy coffee and dark chocolate.

1) Every successful hitchhiker needs a guide or two. The absolutely ESSENTIAL guide is called How NOT to Get Your Poetry Published by Helena Nelson. Seriously, if this had been published 5 years ago and I had read it then I would have saved myself a few poetic embarrassments and felt much more prepared when entering Poetry World. So buy it. Seriously. If you’re serious about poetry and getting your work published BUY THIS BOOK. It has bucket loads of information about how Poetry World works and how long it takes to get established in Poetry World. (Hint: we’re talking decades here, not months. So if you’re serious about this poetry stuff, start planning in the long term.) Also, it has lots of useful poem-making exercises. I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t convinced that I needed to read (or do) those exercises, because I don’t have any problems with inspiration, but boy, were they eye-opening! And funny. And insightful. And amazingly inspirational. And they made me look at poem-making in a whole new way. So hats off to Helena Nelson for writing this very, very good book.

 

2) Alongside the above excellent guide, I would also add that if you consider yourself fairly new to Poetry World then you should buy and read The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry. And don’t just read it. Do every single crazy, beautiful, damn exercise that Fry has dreamt up. I promise you that it will give you a good basic knowledge of how this thing called poetry works. And by the time you complete the last exercise your “poetry brain” will have grown and absorbed a huge amount of knowledge.

 

3) Now, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, because if you’re new to Poetry World, it may be a little too early (like, years too early) to start sending poems off to poetry journals and literary magazines. But hey! I know about that feeling of excitement that comes with the desire to get your poems out there. So when you’re thinking that you’re ready and are looking for places to send your work, you have a couple of options. The free and electronic-only option is to visit the website known as Comps and Calls. The wonderful Cathy Bryant spends ages each month listing all the free-to-enter submission calls and writing competitions that she’s discovered through t’internet. AND some of them even pay. Yes, you heard me right. They PAY. So check it out. And then the not-free (but still, very good value), paperback option is the indispensible Mslexia Guide to Indie Presses and Magzines 2016/2017. And while you’re flicking through the magazine, dreaming of the day when you’ll get your first poem or pamphlet or collection published… do something else. Make a note of the indie presses that publish poetry and BUY some of their books. This leads us nicely on to the next point –

 

Mslexia Guide to Indie Presses

Mslexia Guide to Indie Presses

 

4) A huge part of successfully navigating Poetry World and then becoming an established part of Poetry World is READING POETRY. It is not enough to simply write poetry, one must read it, read it, read it, read it. And continue reading it. Again, I’ll have to admit that it takes me a long while to read single author collections, because although poems are (mostly) short, they are dense in the sense that a good poem can make me think about it for days. And make me want to re-read it. So a full, say, 80 page collection can take me several months to read. So, if you’re new to this, maybe start with buying a few poetry magazines. Or anthologies. One can easily dip in and out of anthologies, (Being Alive, edited by Neil Astley is brilliant, as is my own Musings on Mothering – even if I do say so myself!). And pamphlets are a brilliant and less time and money-consuming way of reading contemporary poetry. I can heartily recommend the below which I read recently; all are haunting in their own unique way:

The Density of Salt by Kate Garrett, Earthworks by Jacqueline Gabbitas, Lampshades & Glass Rivers by S. A. Leavesley

The Density of Salt by Kate Garrett (Indigo Dreams Publishing), Earthworks by Jacqueline Gabbitas (Stonewood Press), Lampshades & Glass Rivers by S. A. Leavesley (Loughborough University’s Lamplight Press)

 

(And by the way, if you’re looking to get a single author collection, I can definitely recommend starting with someone like Angela Topping, whose poetry is wide-ranging, tender and absorbing. Or Cathy Bryant, whose writing is thought-provoking and funny and witty. Or Sarah James whose writing is insightful and full of detailed imagery.)

If you’re cash-strapped then borrow poetry books from your library. Or read poetry online. There are many excellent websites and blogs that publish contemporary poetry. And if you don’t know where to start, why not try this excellent blog – The Poetry Shed, run by the fine poet Abegail Morley. And oh ho! What’s that I see? A poem and artwork by Marija Smits? Go on, check it out. I dare you…!😉

 

5) Now, I know that every poet (and writer) goes about editing their own work in different ways. Some have one trusted Poetry World friend (or if they’re lucky, a good editor) who gives them useful critiquing and works with them to get their poem/pamphlet/collection just right. Others are part of a supportive crit group that may meet every month or so, and others may be a part of an online crit group. And yet, some poets work solely (and happily) by themselves. Find what works best for you, for that stage in your journey through Poetry World, but be open to the other methods of getting feedback/useful critiquing. And knowing where you are along the path of ‘how well I take criticism’ is also useful. It can take years (and this I know from personal experience) to untangle the quality of the writing from one’s own personal worth, so if you’ve just started out in Poetry World and are feeling a bit disorientated (and perhaps a bit tender) it may not be the best idea to get your first poem taken apart and re-built by a ‘someone’. Just do the work — the reading and the writing — and you will get there.

 

6) When you’re ready to send your precious poems off into the world, (how will I know? you may ask. You’ll know, my friend, you’ll know…) then I’d suggest being methodical about the task. Set up a spreadsheet or use an exercise book and make a note of when, where and to whom you are sending off your poems. You’ll get rejections. Lots of them. But that’s okay. If you think of the submission process as the endpoint itself – then as long as you keep submitting stuff, you’re a success! I aim to always have 2, 3 or 4 submissions out there and under consideration (as I’m a short story writer and novelist as well as a poet, I have a range of stuff ‘out there’ which I bundle together under the heading of ‘writing’). Having just checked through my ‘little red book’ I submitted around 30 pieces in the past year. And 5 of them found homes. The others didn’t. And that’s okay. I obviously sent them out to homes that weren’t quite right for them (or perhaps the pieces needed another little tweak) or they simply weren’t to the editor’s taste. (Perhaps I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t really know what the editor was looking for by reading their publication thoroughly. Or perhaps I’d been lazy and taken a shortcut and didn’t buy (or read) the journal, assuming I knew what they were after.) Or… (and this is very often the way) the numbers game wasn’t in my favour. Because this whole submission lark is just that: a gamble. And one mustn’t get too serious about gambling (I know this from personal experience too). Numbers don’t care. They just are. When you send off your submission with (perhaps) hundreds of others, it’s always going to be a longshot that your work gets placed. But it does happen, sometimes. Enjoy it when it does happen and then break out the bubbly. See it as a pleasant bonus that happened because of you building your submission list (which, after some time and a few publications later may just turn into a proper publishing record).

 

7) And lastly, if I’ve given the impression that Poetry World is deadly serious and only about the end result of publication, then I’m sorry and I will have to address that. Because it isn’t. It’s full of fun and innovative ideas – Poetry Trading Cards, anyone? (I LOVE the idea of Poetry Trading Cards! Go grab some!) – and it’s also full of lovely, friendly and inspiring people, just like those who were on the panel and in the audience last Saturday. So get involved! Go to poetry festivals, go to readings at bookshops, perform your poetry (online or on the stage), or just get chatting to poets you admire on social media. And, of course, keep playing with words.

 

And a final, final p.s. I will tell you a secret. There really is no shortcut to becoming an established member of Poetry World. There is only the work, and the only reason to do the work is to love the work. And loving doing the work IS THE REWARD. But there is a longish shortcut to getting known in Poetry World. It’s called ‘becoming a poetry publisher’. But unless you have a penchant for quite literally, taking bank notes out of your own wallet, and setting them alight, then don’t do it my friend. Don’t do it.

 

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Neoliberalism: the invisible monster

I had intended for this blog post to be about some books that I read recently and greatly appreciated, but instead, something rather big happened here in the UK which derailed me. (Apologies to writers Angela Topping, Kate Garrett, Sarah James and Jessica Starr – reviews of your books will be along later.)

 

I refer, of course, to the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not, and the outcome in which a 52% majority decided to leave the EU. I was shocked and saddened by the news, and the subsequent car crash that is UK politics. I was (and still am) disturbed by people’s reactions to the news, as witnessed on the internet (particularly social media), as well as ‘meatspace’ i.e. the real world. It is enough to send anyone reeling, but as an HSP, I feel that it has quite genuinely wormed its way into my head and parked itself with a huge amount of anxiety, rumination and a feeling of powerlessness and pointlessness: that there is no way out. That there is no way for cooperation to win. That always, always, the powerless are trampled on. That quiet, reflective people have no ability to effect change. That we don’t have a voice. Liars win. Aggression wins. Everything I do is pointless, and without worth.

 

And yet, and yet, hope wishes to prevail. Optimism would like to resurface. But it is still too early. I am experiencing a form of grief. Because any kind of separation brings about grief.

 

I have been (and still am) reading dozens of news articles and trying to process the why of the matter. Some individuals are very ready with generalisations and absolutes. People voted leave because of X. This happened because of Y. It is human nature to try to simplify things in order to find a certain sense to those things. But this is an incredibly complex issue, with layers and layers of political manoeuvring and lies to uncover, economics to make sense of, and people’s very genuine disillusionment with the state of the UK (and UK politics) to pick apart. Throw in a good dollop of racism and xenophobia, nasty political campaigning and the media aiming to outrage (not forgetting the actual reason for the referendum – the advantages & disadvantages of the EU [which I still think was a distraction]) as well all the negative affects of austerity, the issue of class and wealth, and hey presto! A perfect recipe for disaster.

 

I feel as though I am living in a state of limbo right now. Everyday life goes on, of course, (although I am noticing my anxiety seeping into my interactions with my family far too much) but my mind keeps returning to the why. And what now?

 

This article, by John Harris, is probably the most useful and insightful one about the why of what happened last Thursday. In it, Harris writes:

 

If we fear not just what this decision means for our country but how much it says about Britain’s underlying social condition, we will have to fight. But first, we will have to think, probably more deeply than ever.

 

And thinking is what I am doing right now. The whys are going around my head and the possible answers to those whys. And yet I know that I am missing something. I feel as though there is a something just out of sight, or possibly there, but not visible to the human eye. So it was a happy coincidence that I began to read How Did We Get Into This Mess? by George Monbiot last Saturday, because straightaway in the introduction, Monbiot very quickly made visible the invisible.

 

Take, for example, the ideology that now governs out lives. Not only is it seldom challenged it is seldom even identified. As a result, no one seems to know what to call it. Neoliberalism? Market fundamentalism? Laissez-faire economics? Though it is a clear and consistent belief system, though it is the ideology to which most governments and major opposition parties subscribe, and though it determines everything from the distribution of wealth to the treatment of the living planet, it has no standard or widely recognized name.

 

What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

 

 

And, I would add, to operate invisibly.

 

We need to go back to the 60s, 70s and 80s and once again acquaint ourselves with what Thatcher did to the U.K. We need to immerse ourselves in history and learn about the rise of neoliberalism, the rise of individualism, and the dreaded curse of competitiveness, which has led us to this moment.

 

We are, as Monbiot suggests living in an Age of Loneliness. And so, in my eyes, the UK annexing itself from the EU – a supposed act of “taking back control” – was actually an act of enabling further loneliness.

 

So what now?

 

We need to name the nameless. To clothe the invisible monster that is neoliberalism and give it a form. For when we can see our foe, we can begin to fight it, rather than each other and ourselves.

 

We writers, artists, mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sensitive folk, and above all, the wild men and women – for there is nothing that neoliberalism hates more than wildness, the wildness of the human spirit and the natural wild – we must, in our everyday lives name the nameless and fight in our own gentle ways.

 

Disconnection must be countered by connection. Competitiveness countered by cooperation. And at the most fundamental level, hate needs to be countered by love.

 

The good thing about wildness, and the natural wild, is that it has an intrinsic desire for life and growth. It wants to grow. It wants to live and thrive. And with very little – empathy, a few kind words and deeds – it can and will thrive. Let us be like gardeners and tend to the wildness within ourselves and each other. But let us also be mindful of the nameless thing that wants to trample on us. Let us name it and fight it.

 

Neoliberalism image

Neoliberalism, the invisible monster

 

If you would like to learn more about the invisible monster, this is a useful book: A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey.

Or check out Wikipedia’s definition (the first paragraph is a good summation, and the paragraph about neoliberalism and feminism is also enlightening).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

 

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Turning 40 – some reflections

 

Some treats of turning 40! Photo by Marija Smits

Some treats of turning 40. Photo by Marija Smits.

I’m not particularly worried about getting older, but there’s something about the number 40 that doesn’t particularly appeal to me. You see, in my quirky little overthinking brain, numbers have personalities. 5 is probably my favourite number because it’s a little bit curvy but it also has some straight bits. I consider it a friendly (but upstanding) number. It’s odd but, somehow, warm. The number 4 is all straight and cross and it looks rather irritable. And 0, well, that could be taken as a disappointed ‘oh’ (as in ‘forty, oh dear’). Or perhaps a rather surprised ‘oh’ or perhaps it’s sole function is to look like the shape of the mouth of the person screaming in Edvard Munch’s famous painting. I don’t know. I digress.

Yet, time marches onwards and it doesn’t care for my own particular preferences when it comes to what my age is now. So… I’m 40 now, and it’s time for a little reflection on the past decade and the forthcoming decade.

At thirty, I was pregnant with my first child, my darling girl. She was born in April, approximately a month before I turned 31. That 31st birthday was not particularly memorable to me because my life didn’t seem to be about me anymore. Instead, everything was about this tiny being who had entered our lives and time itself seemed to have shifted. I have photo albums which, instead of being labelled by months (or years), were instead labelled with my daughter’s name and by how old she was (in months). It took me quite a few years to shift back to ‘normal’ calendar months, which, I guess, shows just how much my life back then revolved around her.

So, in essence, the past decade, for me, has been very much about becoming a mother, first to my daughter, and then three-and-a-half years later to my son. It has been about breastfeeding, coping with little sleep, finding my own path as an HSP parent, finding a ‘tribe’ of like-minded mothers and lots and lots of nappy changing.

But it’s also been about finding a new surge of creativity within me and learning hundreds of new skills (some of which I used to set up and manage my small press, Mother’s Milk Books – but that’s a whole other story!). And throughout this hazy decade, I’ve been reading and writing, which has helped me hugely with reflecting on who I am, my place on this earth, and what I want to spend my days doing. The non-fiction books I wrote about here helped me enormously with my reflections, but I realize that not everything is done, soul-work wise, so I’m sure I’ll be adding more to this list soon. I’m aware, too, that I want to read more about politics, psychology, feminism and history; Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond have been on my reading list for a while. And I’ve also just got Love and Limerence, by Dorothy Tennov, which I hope will help to clarify some of my (as yet) incompletely developed ideas about love, lust and romance and what they mean to me as an individual.

Writing-wise, I *think* I’ve served my apprenticeship having written an okayish first novel (which will most likely stay hidden away in a drawer), lots and lots of poetry, a fair few short stories, a children’s chapter book, several children’s picture books and lastly… a good beginning on an epic fantasy trilogy.

So, what will the next decade be about? Well, my last decade taught me a lot about time. And how it’s very precious. And finite. So, perhaps, my oh-so-very-urgent desire for ‘better’ or ‘success’ was understandable. I was child-like in my impatience for wanting to be ‘better’ at art NOW! Or ‘better’ at writing NOW! But when it comes to mastering a skill, time and patience and dedication to the skill are the only things that will make a difference. So I am definitely going to be more accepting of that fact. And I have to face the fact, too, that if I don’t make time for my creativity it won’t happen. And I don’t want to live with the regret of not having tried my very best to master a creative skill and then shared the fruit of my labours with others (although my view on how to share the products of my creativity is still very much in flux).

So… as ever, boundaries will be important. It’s too easy to let social media, never-ending work and other societal pulls drag me away from what’s really key to my wellbeing: time spent with my loved ones (at home, and in nature) and time spent on creative endeavours.

I know I have a tendency to overthink things (the horrors of OCD rumination never seem too far away) but I am cautiously (I’ve got to be cautious, right? I’m an HSP!) looking forward to this decade. And what more can I give myself than the gift of being open to the challenges and gifts of the next decade? None.

Forty, after the party. Photo by Marija Smits

Forty, after the party. Photo by Marija Smits.

 

And a huge welcome back to Maddy from Writing Bubble after her week’s internet break. It’s good to have you back!

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