Freelance Reflections #84

Sure enough, the work is coming in, so I am trying to schedule it so I can also not burnout, creating balance whilst making some necessary sacrifices. This means I’m absolutely not doing any work on Tuesday evenings as I’m at uni on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I need this time to recover, have some down time with fellow students, and reflect. So my schedule of students is currently 2 hours on Mondays, 6 hours on Wednesdays, 2 hours on Thursdays (with 3 more pending) and 3 hours on Fridays. Plus some LEGO parties on weekends, and I’ve just signed up for a Living Wage events staff role!

Despite the positive turn of events, I’ve also have lost out on a big chunk of my income this week as one of a student I’m now seeing 6 hours a week has not been able to attend for the week, and unfortunately the agency won’t pay me anything for this time… which I could also do with using as preparation time as I will need to re-read the novel being studied (Purple Hibiscus, which I have read before at least!) I was able to make a little more money to compensate for this loss of income by doing some last-minute EFL cover!

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I got to host an Apples & Snakes Work From Home workshop, and I had some positive feedback from people who attended (between 40-50 people joined I think!) and although I proved to be a little rebellious with my form samples, I absolutely loved it! Hopefully you can see I’m working hard (and also trying to rest hard… rather than party hard)! If you would like to help me on my journey to become an Art Therapist, please donate to my crowdfunding campaign, and/or buy some books, and/or share my links!

Freelance Reflections #83

Do you want the good news or bad news first? Well, the good news is that I feel reassured about my work situation. After I had found out that I didn’t get the scholarship for university, it didn’t quite hit me until I had a meeting with my personal tutor, where I started crying. However, I managed to get myself into a place mentally where I wasn’t worried, and could reassure myself that the work would pick up. Either that, or the escitalopram kicking in.

Sure enough, I’m on my way to getting enough work that will mean that I should be able to live and pay my tuition fees – I’ve got more tuition work, which is mainly alternative education provision at the moment, and I’ve even got some casual work doing Lego parties for children! I’m also doing a workshop online for Apples & Snakes next week, which I’m really excited about!

However, the work is still expected to be up and down, especially given holidays, and I will still need to be on a strict cabbage budget in order to make this work. I’ll still be asking for donations to my crowdfund campaign, which recently got two big ones that will help me pay off my January fees, and I’ll still be plugging my books. Speaking of books, here’s what I read last year!

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I did take my ukulele with my on my travels to see family, but alas, I still have not perfected ‘Jingle Bells’. I’m looking forward to starting my routines again, as I ease into the New Year. I’ll be booking a monthly in-person lesson to add to my Fender Play practice. With my goals being about rest, balance, healing and joy, I hope to dedicate more focussed time to playing, which will give me fulfilment as I learn more and more.

I’m also going to record the penultimate podcast episode and begin to edit all the episodes to start putting them out by the end of the month, on a fortnightly basis. I’ll also need to figure out how to get them on Spotify. After listening to lots of podcasts on dating and sex, and grief and mental health, I’ve now been enjoying more poetry podcasts, including those from Apples & Snakes, Faber, and Dead Darlings.

Freelance Reflections #47

Mainly a reminder this week that this Sunday 4th July, I’ll be performing a new piece for children, alongside Simon Mole and Gecko, at 12pm and 3pm at Stephen’s House and Gardens in North London. I know it by heart now, but will I be able to do it in front of a live in-person audience? I might trial it with She Grrrowls tonight, which is on Instagram at 6pm tonight (in about 20 minutes as I write this!)

I also came third place in the E.H.P. Barnard Poetry Prize, judged by Sarah Smith and presented by Tom Neill, winning £50! I’m really chuffed with myself. You can hear the winning poem online. I’ve found out a teaching placement I have is going to continue with more hours in September, so I’m pleased about that, as coming home for lunch is probably more tiring than going from A to B. I’ve also started going to a Spanish conversation class on Thursdays, so it’s a pretty jam-packed day!

Freelance Reflections #46

Last week was Camberwell Arts Market and despite the grey weather, it was really nice. A couple of people recognised me, which kind of made me feel like a celebrity haha. I got a few new sign-ups, sold a few books, and even got to read a few pages of a Breathe magazine! I’m considering doing a couple more stall as well. Summer seems to be a big question mark in many ways, so it might be good to do a few. You can also buy my books online.

Next up, on Sunday 4th July, I’ll be performing a new piece for children, alongside Simon Mole and Gecko, at 12pm and 3pm at Stephen’s House and Gardens in North London. I’m trying to learn my poem at the moment, and feel super nervous performing live. I’ll probably print a cheeky palm-sized copy just in case I get a mind blank. It’s the first time I’ll have performed live in over a year, though I did learn the poem for my grandad that I recorded with Muddy Feet by heart.

I also watched the film Fatherhood, which was really beautiful and Kevin Hart was fantastic in it. It was funny in places, and really touching, which is exactly my kind of film. I highly recommend it. I also recently posted up some other film recommendations from the past few months on my Instagram.

Freelance Reflections #44

This week’s biggest news is that I’ve had work published in The Rialto, with issue 96 launching on the Thursday just gone. My poem ‘my name in an english accent’, is about my name. It deals with the experience of being ‘Othered’ because of it growing up in the UK, and my experience of then living in Spain, where my Englishness was more apparent than ever before, and talking to someone I met there, who I never became as good friends with as I would have liked, but felt an affinity to, perhaps as they were from Norwich, where I went to university, and perhaps also because our conversations were deeper than a lot of others when getting to know new people in a new city. 

I’ve tried many times to write about my cultural identity, and my Hispanic heritage, and with this poem I feel I’ve managed to capture what I wanted to say in a satisfying way of which I’m proud. It’s a complex piece that deals with other things aside from being just about me, but I also feel like it’s easy to understand the meaning. The issue features work chosen by Degna Stone, seeking to bridge the gap between the stage and the page. Most poets will know what an achievement it is to be published in The Rialto, but I hope many others will read it too. 

I’ve also recently been published internationally in Hong Kong’s Proverse Mingled Voices 5 (The Hungry Caterpillar as a Body Positivity Icon) and Untitled Voices: Issue 3 Volume 3 (Tattooing the Moon). I’m really proud of the poems in each of them. The first two can be purchased online in print form, and the latter can be read online for free. 

I read and reviewed Rosie Wilby’s ‘The Breakup Monologues’ just across one weekend, which is very fast for me (I’ve got several books on the go, some of which I’ve been reading for a year or two!) The temptation of sunshine has got me reading more! Keep your eyes peeled for a review in The Norwich Radical soon.

I also went to an Apples and Snakes workshop on first collections with Lewis Buxton, who I’ve not seen for years, but felt inclined to mock his “Yorkshire” accent; I remembered many things about him, including his love for Simon Armitage (hence the impression), his desire for neat stanzas, and the fact Roger Robinson once questioned why he didn’t read poetry books cover to cover (he does now). Now, I just need to get into gear to work more on my collection, which seems to be ever growing as time shrinks.

Next up, poetry-wise, this Saturday 19th June, I’ll be holding a stall at Camberwell Arts Market from 9am – 5pm. I’ll be selling books, paintings, and providing some bespoke poetry at bargain prices! I just have to get organised this week, and dust off my iZettle ready to sell out my stock!

Freelance Reflections #37

This week I’ve only had one student, and I also did my tax for 2020-21. Let me tell you, ignorance is bliss! It looks like I’ll be paying a third of my income until the end of the year, with the other third on surviving (and hopefully the last third on saving for the next tax bill…) My head is buried deep still. Now would be a good time to buy a copy of ‘Circles’ off me from my Big Cartel: https://carminamasoliver.bigcartel.com.

The plus side, I’ve been sticking to having at least an hour of poetry writing each day, and have started workshops with Simon Mole to produce poems for children and families, alongside the ongoing Red Sky Sessions with Apples and Snakes. This week we had Adam Kammerling, and it was nice to see fellow Roundhouse Collective (Kid Glove) member, Antosh Wojcik get a name check. 

Muddy Feet Poetry also put out my video ‘Grandad’ out on Tuesday. As I said in my Instagram post, poetry has always been my way of processing difficult things. I am nowhere near processing this, but it felt good to honour my grandad in this way, in a poem that is sad, but also joyful in that it touches on fond memories. I hope others grieving in this time especially enjoy this piece and that it allows you time to grieve. 

I ventured out this week for a meal outdoors, trying to balance between the overwhelm of unfinished to-do lists and enforced relaxation. I’m a little worried that summer may still be bad work-wise, but even if it is, I can comfort myself that I’ll still have some savings and at least I’ll be able to focus on some creative projects. And hopefully sunshine. 

I’m actually writing this on my phone in a park in between my second vaccine appointment and a massage (to support the beauty industry y’know). Some kids just walked past and one asked where I got my “Jordon’s” from and I said I couldn’t remember, “some vintage shop”. One took the piss two steps away and I realised what a middle-class hipster wanker I must have sounded like, all the while they were probably from eBay.

Remember this Saturday is the free exhibition Free Spirits: Loss in Lockdown, by Jo Sharpe and poet Rachel Sambrooks at Studio 9 Oaks Park Studios in Carshalton on the 17th and 24th April, which you can register for online on Eventbrite.

Freelance Reflections #35

One of the perks of being self-employed is that sometimes it’s possible to change around your schedule. Why might you want to do this? In the middle of a national lockdown that feels like all there really is to do is work, when it hits 20-degrees, that’s the reason.

I worked all Sunday, with my eyes to the weather forecast, and met the necessary deadlines. If anything, I wish I had made the most of that sunny Tuesday even more. I did some work until around midday, then headed out to Brockwell Park to read and sunbathe, after having been there for a sunset stroll the night before, and a morning jog. My partner has a balcony, so after lunch there, I continued reading and eating ice-cream until I needed to leave for work.

The next day, I expected at least another couple of hours of sun, but sadly it was more of a grey day. Still, I went for a read and walk in Dulwich Park, and did a little skateboarding too. I also have a lot of the next couple of weeks to catch up with stuff, and begin to put into action some of the writing and studying routines I want to implement into my daily structure.

I attended the first Zoom workshop for the ‘Red Sky Sessions’ by Apples & Snakes, with Bohdan Piasecki, featuring Malika Booker. She spoke a lot about writing routines, so I really have no excuse to not get started this week. Although Bohdan did also say that my diary writing is a valid form of writing!

I also have some good news about a project that I’ve been accepted onto, which feels really great but I’m unsure if I can reveal the details right now. It’ll involve creating and workshopping new material for a show in the summer months, likely at an outdoor venue.

I’ve also managed to memorise the poem I am recording next week, so I just need to keep going over it to really ingrain it into my mind. I don’t find memorising poetry easy (even when it rhymes, as in this case), but it’s something I want to do more, and really requires daily practice to do. At least, for me, like Malika Booker was saying, having such routines means I actually do it, whilst it’s when I slip out of the routine, or at least that intention, that the danger can be to just NEVER get anything done.

Today, I’ve managed to do the work I wanted to do, and will be exploring a new park for a walk, as well as seeing some family outdoors this weekend, despite the disappointing weather. Next week, I’ll be catching up on emails and my many open tabs, as well as making sure to carve out some time for writing projects, whether that be editing or writing.

Tonight is also the next She Grrrowls Instagram Live show. So far, only one person has signed up, which is my fault for putting the word out too late, but hopefully more messages about signing up with come in today. Either way, the show must go on, and I will be back from my walk in good time to get going with it! I did my Instagram Live ‘Poetry Slumber Party’ on Monday, and if anything, it’s funny seeing my face as I get interrupted by my partner accidentally speaking aloud whilst playing a game, and by a knock at the door!

Is Poetry Therapy?

It was recently World Mental Health Day, and I wanted to start writing this blog again. I made a note in my calendar to try to do it weekly, but even then I’ve ended up pushing it back to three days later. It’s been over a year since I actually wrote a proper freelance reflection, so I guess things are going well in that respect, but for my next post, I hope to catch up with that.

So, the topic of this post was the question as to whether poetry is therapy. My short answer is no, but that’s not to say poetry and other forms of art can’t be used for therapeutic goals. Over a year ago now, I made a new friend through other friends and he challenged me to write something everyday, and he would do the same. He wasn’t a writer, but wanted to be more creative, and he told me in this time that it was something that really helped him. After a year, I had a lot more material that I would have had otherwise, and I think the process was therapeutic for both of us. 

Poetry is cathartic for me, and it is naturally how I process things. I aim to write my diary each morning, but it is writing poetry that gets to grips with certain issues, delving into them in a way my simple prose writing often doesn’t. Fellow writers may also have the same experiences, whereby the same themes will reemerge time and time again, haunting you, as if each time you return to it, you are attempting to exorcise it from you. There is something about getting it down on paper in a poetic form that allows you to distance yourself from it somehow, as you then try to craft it into art, and shape it into something that can then also connect with others and help them too.

Helping others is what motivated the artist Rich Simmons to create the project ‘Art Is The Cure’. He explains in the short film how art has helped him with autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. He talks about how visual art can help as a means of self-expression, and how it can be a positive release, even going as far as saving his life. Throughout the last few months, experiencing lockdown, I have also recounted how poetry has saved my life, in response to the way the arts are suffering and how they continue to be devalued. He talks about how other kinds of art can help us, and that it is really creativity as self-expression that is at the core of what is therapeutic in this sense. 

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This concept was also summed up in one of my favourite podcasts (before they moved from Spotify to Luminary, which isn’t available in the UK), ‘Guys We Fucked’ by ‘Sorry About Last Night’, made up of comedians Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson. They would repeat the phrase ‘comedy is therapy’. After Tweeting about a show I’d listened to that made me both laugh, cry, and heal, on a train, they repeated this phrase again when retweeting me. Likewise, Apples and Snakes shared poet Inua Ellams’ ‘Art as Therapy’, where he discusses the topics, stating: 

“Any seasoned poet will concur that more time is spent editing than writing. Involved in that process is the going-over of memories and instances, of emotions and images, the combing-through and the filing-down-to-their-smoothest-most-ergonomic-shapes our creations. It involves meditation, introspection and inspection. This for me is where poetry becomes therapeutic, when the created serves the creator, when the feather serves the bird.”

All of these points are true, but it was this Tweet from Burning Eye, which put the state of mental health in UK today into perspective: when it comes to talking about mental health, things are getting better, but when it comes to funding and enabling people to have access to therapy, we are a long way off.

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Poetry, art and any kind of creative self-expression is certainly therapeutic, but it is not in itself the same as therapy. CBT and mindfulness are also great tools to tackle mind anxiety and depression, but even with CBT, I would argue that it is pushed because it is often cheap. It is often delivered in groups, and can even be DIY, but it is not a miracle cure. Really, what is needed is a holistic approach, that gives value to both therapy and medication, which can often work best in tandem, rather than it being a case of one or the other (though I’d argue sometimes therapy alone could work, I’m skeptical about medication alone working, but that’s more to do with my view that everyone would benefit from therapy).

At the start of this year, I saw a psychologist who said I had traits of BPD; she phrased it ‘Emotional Intensity Disorder’, but this is just one of the many alternative names for Borderline Personality Disorder. I tend to use the term ‘BPD’ because it is more well-known, though I do feel that EID does capture a large part of the characteristics of my own experience. What others may deem to be “too sensitive” simply refers to my lived experience, and whilst there are negative points to feeling so intensely, I am thankful that at least these experiences of emotions has given me greater empathy and compassion for others.

Although I see it as a kind of neurodivergence, because of the fact, I often feel I really need the support of therapy, whether one-to-one, or a support group. Unfortunately, the support I was given previously was inadequate, essentially due to lack of funding and not being suicidal enough to get proper therapy (though ironically, that changed over the last few months, when it has been impossible to get anywhere). After moving, I found a support group that would have been free to attend, but I was in the wrong borough, and I haven’t had much luck finding anything beyond the £75-100 BPD therapy sessions. If there was a way to pay a fraction of the cost, and for the majority to be covered, it may be doable, but I’m not aware that this framework exists. Previously, I had paid for one-to-one counselling at a cheaper rate, but it didn’t meet my needs.

I know I need to do more self-help work as well, and part of me is using other (sometimes unhealthy) coping mechanisms rather than delve into the DBT book I have, for example, which is meant to be good for those with BPD. Aside from that, poetry, amongst other things, has saved my life, where the system has failed me, and so many others. The less fortunate are no longer with us.

Suicide rates are continuing to rise, and our mental health is bound to be the collateral damage of the current pandemic. Writing, drawing, walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, dancing, singing, cooking, playing games, and having a good support system have all helped me and continue to do so. But when things are okay, I still don’t feel I have the right tools to cope when triggered, where I might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether manifesting as an “episode” of crying inconsolably, screaming in a rage, or self-harming (in its many forms). When these moments happen, I’m reminded that I do need help, but at other times when I reflect on my instability in relationships, it can dawn on me how much I need support in unlearning certain patterns (one of the biggest I think being related to elements of emotional abuse, whereby I have grown attached to receiving comfort after either being ignored or treated poorly emotionally in some way, meaning I am finding myself becoming attached to those who use such manipulation tactics or simply behave in an avoidant way due to their own attachment issues, for example).

Where the system does fail us, we have art to reflect our experiences when we consume it, and we have this fantastic ability to create, where talent and skill doesn’t have to matter, as it is something that everybody can do to feel good, whether it’s as a means of self-expression, an attempt to heal from pain, or simply to get a buzz from creating something from nothing.

If you want to know more about BPD disorder, I stumbled upon this video, which I’ve found accurately describes most of my experience. The fears of abandonment, interpersonal issues, and difficulties with regulating emotions are described here as the main characteristics. The only thing I would say, is that I have a strong sense of identity, though I can relate to the idea of having different personas within myself, but in a way that I feel is somewhat “normal”. I also feel like to say a reaction is “too much” is difficult to fully get to grips with, as it is in response to real emotions, and whilst I fully acknowledge I need to take responsibility for the ways I cope with these emotions, more often than not, a little empathy and compassion goes a long way too.

In the video, Dr Ramani also emphasises that diagnosis is a tool to drive treatment, rather than labelling someone, which is also a great point to remember.

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. I have also personally found CALM’s chat function helpful, because phone calls with strangers can also provoke anxiety.

Freelance Reflections #4

The past couple of weeks, work-wise, I’ve done a mixture of exam invigilation, tutoring, and content writing. It feels like I’m slowly building something with more regularity, but work has taken over a bit from a lot of focused writing time.

The exam invigilation hasn’t really been worth it financially, but I’m going to give it a go at a school more local to me over the next month or so. It takes me 35 minutes to walk there (and just as long going on public transport), so that will tick off my exercise that day.

 

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Artistic Director, Lisa Mead

 

The last couple of weeks have included a lot of arts events. This started with Poetry Pioneers celebrating 35 years of Apples & Snakes, which was incredible – I enjoyed seeing those poets I know and love, as well as The Upper World, fusing music and poetry. She Grrrowls was a success this month, and I also saw 4.48 Psychosis and reviewed it for The Norwich Radical.

 

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Photo credit: Paul Point (Chocolate Poetry Club)

I had the privilege of attending a workshop with The BreakBeat Poets. Sadly, I had to leave early to cover a creative writing workshop for work. The fantastic Jemilea sent me notes on what I missed, so next time I carve some writing time out, I can return to this!

 

The following week, I saw Florence + The Machine at the Royal Festival Hall, went to my wonderful friend Sarah K. Perry’s book launch for her debut novel ‘Let Me Be Like Water’, and have generally commenced with my birthday celebrations, with the big day being on Monday!

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I tried to balance work with sunshine time since we had a little heat-wave, which meant a lot of drinking beer in pubs and parks with picnic food. It also meant I got a lot of my maths revision done. Now, I just need to be careful I’m not burning the candle at both ends too much, focus more time on writing, and make sure I have enough time to do all the paid work I’m committing to do.