When Poetry Saved The Day

I’m sure that many people are aware of how the UK government’s interference with the education system is failing children. You only have to read this powerful article about the school, work, world problemand this one by my friend Sophie – to see that something is very badly wrong with mainstream education. I have lots of thoughts swirling in my head about this at the moment, however, that will keep for the time being. The issue is vast and complex, and although I believe there are many solutions out of the mess not every one of them will be right (or doable) for every child and every family.

Anyway… this is the background to which my two children are doing their schooling. For a good while my husband and I were aware that our daughter was finding reading a challenge, and worst of all, a chore. Considering our academic background and the fact that books are literally everywhere in this house, our daughter’s dislike of reading was… startling. And of course we felt saddened by the fact that reading – something so vital and rich – was apparently not something for her.

So, we began to take steps. We’d always been supporting her reading at home, and reading to her – which she clearly enjoyed – but we sensed that there was more at play here. We asked for a dyslexia screening test to be carried out because her various teachers’ assurances of yes she’s not as confident a reader as she could be, but she’ll get there were not proving helpful.

The test came and went, and we waited for the results. In the meantime, the school decided to put on a talent contest as part of their Comic Relief fundraising activities. Our daughter wanted to take part because she enjoys performing. But then the worries came… The night before the class auditions she had misgivings about the first act she’d considered doing. So there we were, in the kitchen after dinner, with me filling the dishwasher and listening to her concerns. The other kids would make fun of her. She’d already heard them being negative about someone else’s act. She no longer liked her idea. So I ran through her options: 1) Don’t do the act. (I warned her though that she may regret not taking part.) 2) Make the act the best it could be and perform it with confidence, ignoring the opinions of others. 3) Choose an alternative act, one that really played to her skills, and do that with confidence.

She found number 3) appealing and so we went through things she really enjoyed doing. As she likes acting and performing the thought: a poetry performance! popped into my head. I remembered that a while ago she’d really enjoyed Angela Topping’s poetry book The New Generation. Cue the mad hunt for where the book actually was…

 

Minutes before bathtime I found it and we went through the poems, trying to find just the right one. Well, soon enough we found it and she practised it, and she was just perfect… And the best thing of all? The huge smile on her face as she did something she clearly enjoyed and was good at. Her audience (little brother, me and Dad) rapturously applauding her made her smile that bit wider.

The next day she aced the auditions, and was put through to the grand final. She didn’t quite get a place in the top four acts, but she performed the poem in front of the whole school and, again, spoke up and out with emotion and nuance. Quite a remarkable thing for a sensitive 9 year old to do – and especially one who is finding reading a challenge!

That poem, in many ways, was an emotional lifesaver. And in a time when fronted adverbials, predicates, long division and SATS are throttling children’s creativity, my daughter’s connection to this poem was utterly right and joyful.

So here it is, for you to enjoy. Huge thanks to Angela Topping for allowing me to reproduce it here.

 

Lonely

 

I’ve got no friends,

it’s sad for me.

At playtime they all

leave me behind,

alone in the classroom.

 

They laugh together,

go round for tea.

No one ever, ever

asks me.

 

They play skipping games

I can skip too

but they won’t let me

even turn up.

 

They go round singing

all join hands

if you want to play catch.

No one catches hold of mine.

 

I sadly wait till they

come back inside.

Perhaps now they’ll talk to me.

It’s hard being the teacher.

 

 

ANGELA TOPPING

 

Lastly, I would like to add that just today we had the test results back, and as we suspected, dyslexia is a part of my daughter’s life. So begins a new chapter as we begin to support her reading in the way that is best for her. I’m sure that poetry will play a part. 🙂

Save

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’. 🙂

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Writing Bubble

Save

Save

Save

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.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Writing Bubble

Save

Save

Save

On our summer holiday, reading, writing and having an epiphany

As it seems to have been an age since I last blogged (though I’m still just about managing the once-a-month blog post!) I thought I’d go with a list to help me put into words all the big things that have been happening around here.

 

  1. HOLIDAYS
Blue beach. photo by Marija Smits

Blue beach, photo by Marija Smits

Our one week away to Wales at the start of August was lovely, and very much needed. The weather wasn’t great and a couple of planned trips out got cancelled for various reasons (beach inaccessible due to a completely full car park, a favourite restaurant/café closed etc.) and our youngest got a cold on the first day so, of course, we all ended up snotty/sore throaty BUT, the holiday was still hugely beneficial. It was great to simply get away from the pressures of work and the never-ending call of social media and I got some reading and writing done too. I even managed to get an hour or two all to myself to write on the beach while my husband went out with the kids. Writing on the beach accompanied by the sounds of the sea, a coffee and a pain-au-chocolate was pretty amazing. And at the end of the week I even got to swim in the sea. Bliss!

Our journey back was even more exciting since our car broke down a few miles away from home. Yes, it was a huge annoyance, and yes it has cost us a lot (the car was pretty much written off…) but I’m still very thankful that the breakdown didn’t happen on the motorway. While we were waiting for the breakdown truck to get us, I even managed to write a little more of my new book…

 

  1. READING

 

Reading has consumed any free moments, as usual. I do want to mention some books that I’ve read recently, and which have made an impression on me. I love to help out authors by writing reviews but I’m aware that there’s not enough time in my life to do each of them justice (it can take me an age to write a review) but it seems that the least I can do is mention them here.

 

Fiction:

Moss Witch by Sarah Maitland

Moss Witch And Other Stories by Sara Maitland. I love the way that Sara has taken various concepts and ideas from various scientific fields and built (or hinged) stories on them. Some stories, I feel, work better than others but each is beautifully written and page-turning. Of course, I found the bits written by the scientists fascinating too. If you’re a fan of short stories and/or wishing to learn more about science I’d highly recommend this.

I’ve got so many other fiction books on my to-read list that I have no idea what I’ll read next fiction-wise, but I’d like to make a start on White Lies by Lynn Michell (of Linen Press).

White_Lies by Lynn MItchell

 

Poetry:

The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James

The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James

What Sarah has done with this narrative of poems that echo the book Madame Bovary is remarkable. I thought it highly original and fascinating in the way that Madame Bovary was fascinating to me when I read it many, many years ago; Emma Bovary is a difficult character to empathise with and yet I was transfixed by her unravelling life… If you enjoy contemporary poetry or would like to read something that gives an insight into the darkness of a mind overwhelmed by depression, I’d highly recommend it.

Although I’ve got various other poetry books on my ‘to-read’ pile Ruth Stacey’s book Queen, Jewel, Mistress has caught my eye and I hope to get it one day soon! (Maybe at Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair, in London on 26th September, where I will be selling my Mother’s Milk Books books.)

Queen, Jewel, Mistress, by Ruth Stacey

Non-fiction:

How to Win Writing Competitions by Cathy Bryant

How to Win Writing Competitions by Cathy Bryant

I bought this book because I’m a fan of Cathy’s writing, although I did initially think that surely there wasn’t a lot more I could learn about submitting to magazines or writing competitions. But you know what, I was wrong. As I wrote in my Amazon review, “I’d certainly recommend this to amateur writers but also to those who think they know the drill by now.” Oh, and it includes one of the funniest short stories I’ve ever read.

 

Take It Cool, photo by Marija Smits

Take It Cool, photo by Marija Smits

 

Take it Cool by Jonathan Pinnock

When I received this book I knew very little about reggae, or the slave trade, but by the end of the book I knew a whole lot more and was glad that I’d stretched myself by reading something I’d probably not normally consider reading. This book is fascinating and as creative non-fiction goes, a highly-enjoyable read. The author is a fine writer and very, very funny; he has the kind of self-deprecating, weird humour that really tickles me and I laughed out loud at many parts. I’m really glad to have found Jonathan through my random stumblings across the internet (I won the book in a giveaway on his blog) and want to read more of his books — his short story collection Dot Dash sounds brilliant, as does Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. What a fab title!

 

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

This book introduced me to the powerful idea that a writer must be aware of what kind of story they’re writing before they write it. He uses the acronym MICE for the four kinds of story there are:

 

Milieu

Idea

Character

Event

 

And even though many novels are a mixture of the above (i.e. there are various sub-plots in a book that can be any of the above) a writer can potentially fall into various traps if they set about, say, writing an idea story that then morphs into a character story. Anyway, I know that every writer has their own favourite how-to books but there’s something about Card’s writing style, and his approach to writing, that really clicks with me. And although I’ve seen the movie of his book Ender’s Game, it’s made me want to read Ender’s Game when I next have a free moment.

 

The next non-fiction books on my to-read list are The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron and Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. I’m also desperate to read Angela Topping’s book: Focus on ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter. I’ve asked for this several times for birthdays and Christmases but it hasn’t been gifted to me as yet. Fingers-crossed it’ll be in my stocking this year!

Focus on The Bloody Chamber

 

Work-wise, I recently read a fantastic manuscript by Becky Smith and then I re-entered the world of another fantastical literary world, as created by Alison Lock. I’m super-excited again about the fact that I get to work with writers of Becky and Alison’s calibre as part of the publishing venture that is Mother’s Milk Books. (And I also wanted to say that it was a pleasure to watch Ana Salote — author of Oy Yew — in action recently at a bookshop event for children. Seeing the children lose themselves in the words of her book was simply magical).

 

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

 

  1. WRITING

 

Although now it seems ridiculous that I ever had an ‘epiphany’ moment about my writing, I must say that this is what happened to me this summer. My first novel was mainly a character story (it was a commercial fiction book set in the contemporary world. Well, mostly the 1990s, but to my mind that’s still pretty contemporary!). Various events powered the story along. For a good long while I toyed with the idea of getting it ‘out there’ but now that I’ve re-read it I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really want it out there. It was written as part of my own personal writing apprenticeship (a 10 year long apprenticeship!) and now I want to move on to other things. Quite honestly, I just don’t think it’s good enough to be published. And I don’t think it’s necessary (or a good idea) for me to expend time and energy on trying to edit it further and publish it. Also, it made me think long and hard about what I do want to write and try to get published, and as I’ve got a fair few story and novel ideas in my head that are of a fantastical nature I suddenly realized — WOW! — I’m a sci-fi and fantasy writer.

TB The Forgotten & The Fantastical cover 2015 version 5 colour Lt Oksana font with outline scaled

That was my big epiphany (which kind of seems silly now as only in March I was writing an introduction to The Forgotten and the Fantastical and explaining how my name means fairy tale in Latvian, and how books of a fantastical nature had always been a big part of my life). Hmm… why didn’t I get it back then? Anyway, no matter, I’m thoroughly enjoying focussing on writing my second novel which is, yes you guessed it, a great sprawling work of fantasy. I’m not ever going to completely pigeon-hole myself into just that one genre – I’m still enjoying writing poetry and I do have the odd short story and novel idea not in the sff genre, but on the whole, yes, I’m a writer fascinated by the fantastical…

31emljRrCpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

Which is also why I simply had to read How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. For someone fresh from their epiphany of ‘I’m an sff writer’, this has been a pure joy to read and I want to go out and buy the following two books that Card mentions in his How-To book: Helliconia by Brian Aldiss and Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. In fact, I want to get all the SF Masterworks. I’m smitten!

 

  1. ART
Broken engine in the boot, photo by Marija Smits

Broken engine in the boot, photo by Marija Smits

Sadly, because of work busyness and writing busyness and family busyness (not to mention the pesky business of dealing with a knackered car – see above!), I’ve only managed to do a little sketching. But, and this is a very bittersweet but, but when my youngest starts school in September (just a few days away) I’m planning on spending a little time focussing on painting and drawing. I think it’ll help me to adjust to this huge shift in our family dynamic. I’ve been an at-home mother with either one or two kids at home for 8 years now and yes… although I will welcome not having to deal with holiday sibling squabbles every 5 minutes and not having an audience when either on the loo or in the shower, the house will seem strangely silent, and yes, no doubt, I will weep.

***

I hope you all had healthy and happy holidays and I wish you all the best for whatever autumn brings. It’s currently bringing us the joy of blackberry smoothies and homegrown green beans and tomatoes!

Fruit & veg snack, photo by Marija Smits

Fruit & veg snack, photo by Marija Smits

Thank you also to Maddy and Chrissie for once more taking on the fine thing that is What I’m Writing. Welcome back y’all!

Writing Bubble

Dear highly sensitive soul

Welcome to the June 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Talking to Yourself

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written letters to themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

Dear Ten Year-younger-self,

You are about to begin a new phase of your life. You are excited and a little fearful, but mostly excited. You look back on your life, your childhood, your teens and twenties, and somehow know that they were leading to this moment.

All those years of desperately NOT wanting to get pregnant well they seem ridiculous to you now, because getting pregnant is ALL you can think about.

Don’t worry, it will happen, and it will be all that you wished for and more.

The deep ache of maternal love that you can already feel the one that tugs at the fibres of your heart will grow and expand as your first child grows in your womb. This love will, at times, be all-consuming. This love, so pure, so uncomplicated by ego or shame or guilt, will make all the romances of your past ridiculous they will seem as flimsy as the film of a newly-blown soap bubble.

Mother and child sketch, by Marija Smits

Me & my girl (Mother and child sketch) by Marija Smits

But there will be more that you won’t have anticipated. Fear will be an ever-present companion to this deep maternal love. For by witnessing, and being an active participant in the miracle of birth you will also understand death better. You will catch a glimpse of your mortality, and your child’s mortality, and it will shake you to your core.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you. This knowledge, so vast, will be useful. It will deepen your understanding of the world and yourself. It will help you to grow as a person. And your husband will always be there for you, to help you absorb this new, vast, knowledge. He will hold your child with great tenderness. He will support you. He will protect you.

But fatherhood will change him too, although the change won’t be as drastic. You will have to work harder at communicating with each other. You will have to trust your instincts and parent your children in the way that you both want to, rather than how anyone else wants you to. You will have to learn how to assert on behalf of your new family unit and your husband will be your most loyal ally.

Yet it won’t be a smooth journey. You will have to learn how vital clear communication is. You will have to be creative in how to meet the needs of your little ones and your needs as a couple. Be patient, listen to each other. Know that your husband is ‘always on your side’. You will find a way.           

There will be more too… more things you won’t have anticipated. You will find birth to be an empowering experience. You will be amazed by the strength of your birthing body. You will also find breastfeeding and co-sleeping and carrying your little ones in a sling to be deeply satisfying. You will find a tribe of like-minded mothers and share the joy of breastfeeding with them. You will become passionate about helping mothers to breastfeed and the necessity of normalizing breastfeeding in our society. You will become a breastfeeding counselor and meet some wonderful women who will play a large part in your life. You will discover life-changing books and then set up a small press with the aim to publish books that normalize breastfeeding and celebrate empathy and femininity. You will sometimes wonder at how your life so suddenly changed direction, and for the better.

My girl and me, photo courtesy Marija Smits

My girl and me, photo courtesy Marija Smits        

And lastly… along the way you will come to understand and accept your true nature. Remember all those many, many times, and those many, many years, when you thought that there was something wrong with you because you somehow always felt too much, much more than anyone else seemed to? You will come to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with you. Other people have those feelings too but you (like many others out there too) experience them with a greater amplitude.

Some days you will hate being what is now recognized as a Highly Sensitive Person, because you’ll hate not having a ‘dimmer’ switch in your brain; you’ll hate that when you get an illness or an ache in your body it will niggle at you constantly and then turn into a monstrous fear that there’s something seriously wrong with you. You’ll hate that guilt and shame for past misdemeanours will often threaten to cause you to want to rip yourself apart, out of life itself, and you’ll hate that sometimes you feel as though human interactions aren’t worth bothering with because they’re a minefield of subtle physical and verbal gestures (yours and the other person’s) that are just so complicated that they send your mind reeling. And as much as you love, love, love your children, you will hate that there will be days when their arguments, shouting and never-ending stream of questions and requests will jangle your nerves so much that your normally patient self will snap! and then you’ll feel so bad that you’ll want to crawl into a hole and never, ever come out. You will hate that shopping or the school run is a big, big deal because of the noise and the possibility that something untoward might happen. You will hate the feeling of powerlessness you’ll experience when you know that politicians and giant corporations are doing scary, scary things to our planet and inhumane things to the humans and animals in it. You will cry when you see another human in pain on the news, and you’ll have to turn it off, and you’ll hate yourself for being overwhelmed by the pain and overwhelmed by the feeling that there is very little that you can do about it.        

But then there are the days when you wouldn’t swap being an HSP for anything. Those are the days when you’ve listened with empathy to a loved one and felt that you’ve helped them a little; the days when the sight of a blue sky can cause you to weep with joy; the days when you write something you’re pleased with or you make a good job of editing something for someone else; the days when you create art (something you’d always wanted to do but was frightened of doing for fear of it being wrong); the days when someone out of the blue says that an act of charity or an act of kindness you performed a while ago helped them; the days when the love for your family flows out of you and you thank God and all the stars in heaven that you got to be blessed with this beautiful family who love you so much.

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

I know that you’re probably weeping as you read this; I know because I’m weeping as I write. But you know, that’s okay. This is who you are. This is what you always will be, and it is better to know yourself than to not know yourself. This is the bittersweet gift you have been presented with: self-reflection.         

Try not to spend too much time worrying the future. Get yourself a couple of books Quiet & The Highly Sensitive Person (they will help you to learn all about yourself and people like you) and People Skills (so that you can learn how to communicate better and assert for yourself since passivity is another unfortunate trait of the HSP). Get hold of a couple of good books about mothering and breastfeeding (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 7th edition and What Mothers Do for a start) and then you’ll pretty much be sorted. Oh, and keep on reading all that fiction – especially fairy tales – that sustained you through your childhood and early adulthood. It will be a constant source of comfort and a magical escape from the everyday stresses and strains of being a sensitive soul in a life full of noise, cares and people who say you need to get a thicker skin. (You don’t, you’re fine as you are, [but knowing that a useful critique of your work is not a criticism of you as a person will help!]

Sending you much, much love.

M x

 

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dear Me. — Meegs at A New Day writes to her decade-younger self offering a good reminder of how far she’s come, and she addresses some fears she wishes future her could assuage.
  • Reflecting on Motherhood with Parental Intelligence: A Letter to Myself — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at Parental Intelligence writes about raising her two loving, empathic sons with Parental Intelligence and finding they have become industrious, accomplished young men with warm social relationships.
  • A Letter to MyselfThe Barefoot Mama writes to herself in the moments around the birth of her daughter.
  • A Letter to Myself — Holly at Leaves of Lavender offers a missive to herself in the past… three years in the past, to be precise, when her little one was only four months old.
  • Dear me: Nothing will go the way you’ve planned — Lauren at Hobo Mama gets real with her just-starting-parenting self and tells it to her straight.
  • A Letter to the Mama Whom I Will Become — Erin from And Now, for Something Completely Different writes a letter to the Mama whom she will one day be, filled with musings on the past, present, and future.
  • Dear Me of 7 Years Ago — Lactating Girl at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes to her pre-baby self telling her about the whirlwind she’s about to enter called parenting.
  • Talking to My 18 Year Old SelfHannahandHorn talks to herself as she is just entering college.
  • Dear highly sensitive soulMarija Smits tells a younger version of herself that motherhood will bring unexpected benefits – one of them being the realization that she is a highly sensitive person.
  • Talking to myself: Dear Pre StoneageparentStoneageparent enlightens her pre-pregnant self about the amazing transformations life has in store for her after having two children
  • Dear Me: I love you. — Dionna at Code Name: Mama wrote herself a few little reminders to help her be at peace with who she is in the moment. That may give her the greatest chance of being at peace in the future, too.
  • My best advice to the new mama I was 8 years ago — Tat at Mum in Search shares the one thing she wishes she’d figured out earlier in a letter to her 8-years-ago self (that’s when her first baby was 6 moths old).
  • A Letter to Myself — Bibi at The Conscious Doer sends a letter back in time eight years to her darkest moment post partum.
  • To me, with love — Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama makes peace with her past and projects what a future her will need to hear.
  • To Myself on the Last Day — Rachael at The Variegated Life tells her panicked last-day-before-motherhood self not to worry.

Sensitivity


Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection).

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

***

Sensitivity by Marija Smits

Sensitivity by Marija Smits

 

Sensitivity

(a tanka)

 

Noise, movement, people,

chaos; my jangled senses

fret – rebel. I long

for quiet solitude, but

finding none I turn within.

 

MARIJA SMITS

 

When I used to teach biology at secondary school one of the first things I had to explain was ‘The 7 Signs of Life’. We used a helpful acronym – Mrs Nerg – to remind us of these 7 characteristics of all living things:

Movement

Reproduction

Sensitivity

Nutrition

Excretion

Respiration

Growth

I immediately picked up on the word ‘sensitivity’ – what a beautiful sounding word! But what exactly did it mean? Well, in essence, it means that all living things display sensitivity, which is the ability to detect changes in their environment. At the time I didn’t think much about how sensitivity applied to me (I was too busy explaining how bacteria and plants display sensitivity) but now sensitivity is something that I think about a huge amount.

After reading Quiet by Susan Cain, my amorphous thoughts on sensitivity became much more concrete. I wrote about my take on Quiet here, and how I found it to be a powerful read. In Quiet, the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron was referenced to quite a bit, and, thirsty for more information about sensitivity I bought it and am currently relishing every page. This is from the preface:

“Cry baby!”

“Scaredy-cat!”

“Don’t be a spoilsport!”

Echoes from the past? And how about this well-meaning warning: “You’re just too sensitive for your own good.”

Although the first three ‘echoes from the past’ weren’t a strong trigger for me – the last one was. After hearing this from trusted people on several occasions (and hearing it from myself too!) I was pretty sure that I was somehow ‘broken’. After all, the world is a tough place, and you just gotta toughen up. But Elaine Aron goes on to explain:

Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait. You probably inherited it. It occurs in about 15-20 percent of the population. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sight and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way. Thus, being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.

So when I realized that it really is okay to be sensitive – that’s it merely about physiology I felt so much better. Understood. On a more even keel. It doesn’t take away the stress I feel when I do the school run or walk through a busy shopping centre or go to an event – all those people! all that noise! all that movement! – but it makes me appreciate the advantages – the fact that I am moved by the sun filtering through a canopy of leaves, a musical phrase, a line of poetry, a book, or even a bunch of coloured pencils (this really is incredible exciting to me at the moment!). It means that I can spot typos, concentrate for long periods of time and pick up on subtle nuances in the emotional state of my loved ones. So there are some benefits, right?

I think it’s important to point out that it’s not only women who are highly sensitive. BOTH men and women can be highly sensitive. Our western society seems to allow for sensitivity in women (to a certain extent) but in men it’s not so desirable. After all – the world is a tough place, and you just gotta toughen up.  

But here is my answer: NO. I cannot toughen up; I cannot make myself less sensitive, and I will not put on a constant persona to become the gregarious, social extrovert that society wants me to be all the time. Remember my wild woman post? Being wild is about being true to oneself, and this is me – often brought to tears over something sad, beautiful, or funny: often stroking my children’s hair – because, really, it’s just so beautiful with its fine texture, gorgeous smell and myriad subtle colours: and often in a dream world too, turning inwards to find the much needed soul-reflection which provides me with refreshment…

Of course I have strategies for managing my sensitivity and I admit that I’m constantly working on keeping my boundaries in place so that I give myself sufficient quiet time and room and space to be me, while ensuring that I put myself ‘out there’ enough to keep me stimulated, my ideas fresh and motivation high. I often have to remind myself that it’s okay to assert myself and fight for my own rights. But we all have our challenges, we all have to find balance in our lives. Just knowing that others (eclectic others!) are like me and experience similar sensations helps a lot.

If any of this makes sense to you in any way, please do let me know. But quietly. [Although you probably figured that out ;-)]


***

Look At All The Women, by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women, by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Book online store (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here:

http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Heroines and Inspirations— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her own powerful, inspiring poems, and the stories behind them.

‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.

Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’

‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.

‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie.

‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.

Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters.

Sophelia writes about the importance of her community as a family at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan.

The Cold Cup of Tea


Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).

 

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

***

 

'The Cold Cup of Tea' by Marija Smits

‘The Cold Cup of Tea’ by Marija Smits

The Cold Cup of Tea

 

An already-cold cup of builder’s-strength tea

is sat by the sink, and saying to me:

“I’m delicious, delightful, so drink me up, do!”

But I’m knee-deep in nappies, and children, and poo;

so call me again when I’ve sorted this mess

and have time to relax, and unwind and de-stress…

*

Later, much later, when the kids are asleep,

in my nightie and slippers I quietly creep

to the kitchen, and there is that cold cup of tea,

still delicious, still delightful, and still waiting for me…

 

MARIJA SMITS

(This poem was first published in Musings on Mothering, published by Mother’s Milk Books, 2012)

 

I wrote this poem about two years ago, when my youngest was still in nappies. Back then, every single day was hectic. It seemed as though no sooner had I dealt with one kind of bottom mess I had another one to deal with… The laundry machine seemed to be constantly on, with load after load of terry towels, nappy liners, wraps and body suits. As soon as I had met one child’s needs the other needed me. As soon as one household chore was completed another one needed to be done (and we’re not talking about fancy things like dusting ornaments but real heavy-duty stuff like cleaning very icky toilets!). When my youngest was hungry I could immediately satisfy him with a breast feed. When my eldest was hungry I’d rummage around in the cupboards hoping that some nutritious snack would be readily available to keep her tummy from rumbling. When I longed for a cup of tea and a little break… well, sometimes, I just had to wait until the end of the day when the children were asleep or when their dad (or their wonderful grandmas) could help me out.

It all sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It was tiring, of course, but looking after two children is tiring (no matter how much support you get, or what your mothering style is) but when I was in the thick of it I had the help of the lovely mothering (and breastfeeding) hormones to keep me going, and going, and going…

Now that my two are older it’s all rather hectic in a different way. Yes, they are independent enough now so that I can (mostly) enjoy a quiet cup of tea when I want to, but the list of ‘other’ essential chores grows: the ferrying to clubs, providing a listening ear for when there are friendship troubles, helping with maths homework.

And alongside all of this are the rest of the never-ending household chores…

I’ve been a mother for 7 years now and it seems ridiculous to say this, but it is only now that I really – and more fully – truly understand the implications of having a child. For this mothering work goes on and on… It will, no doubt, ebb and flow in its intensity but I am in it for the long-haul and more aware – and so better prepared for – its many seasons. It is also now that I feel immensely grateful for all that my own mother has done (and continues to do) for me and my children.

Mothers, what you do is valuable, it is necessary. Go make yourself a cup of tea and take a well-earned break. Better still, get someone else to make you a cup of tea. I hope you get to enjoy it while it’s still hot 😉

***

Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here:

http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/carnival-2/

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter.

‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother.

‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative.

‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child.

‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture.

‘Baby Body Shame: it’s Time to Push Back’ — Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body.

Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.