Freelance Reflections #15

It’s been over a year since I wrote a freelance reflection, and my 3 year anniversary of being self-employed passed by just recently. Although the current pandemic impacted my work, and meant I had to sadly cancel planned and potential tour dates for my book ‘Circles’, published by Burning Eye Books at the end of 2019, I am now back to my usual work.

I spend mainly my mornings content writing, and my afternoons tutoring. There’s not as much time for creativity as I would like, but I love being freelance and I’ve now moved out of my parental home for the third (and hopefully final) time, living with a friend in South East London. I’d moved to SW around the age of 4/5, so prior to that I had lived around Herne Hill and Norwood, so I feel very at home now, more than I did before.

Part of why I love being freelance is being able to create balance in my life, in a way that isn’t always possible being employed (though it should be, and I think this pandemic has shown how flexible the workplace can truly be). I wake up between 7:30-8am, and after listening to a guided meditation in bed, I’ve started doing my Spanish apps for 15 minutes whilst having breakfast. I digest my food whilst writing my journal, then do some exercise. This has been at home (dancing, hula hooping, skipping, lifting dumbbells, and Nike Training) or outside (jogging, skateboarding, rollerblading), but I’m thinking of joining a gym. After 2-3 hours of content writing, I have lunch and then I have some time for other activities like submitting poems, and studying Spanish. I come home from tutoring between 6:30-7:30pm, depending on the day.

After making my feedback notes, I have dinner and try to spend the evening doing less work-focussed activities. I’ll mess around on my phone, probably a bit too much, watch some sort of programme, and then ideally have some time to do some varied activity, which could include listening to a podcast or music, drawing or colouring in, playing games, chatting, or writing. I also love baths, which I like to have before watching a programme, so this free hour sometimes (often) goes out the window, and then ideally I would read for an hour. I do tend to self-sabotage in the evenings, rebelling against my own structure of the day, and some evenings I’ll go out and do none of these things I plan, but I know when I do follow the structure roughly, it can be really fulfilling.

During the last few months, I’ve been doing some Instagram shows, including with She Grrrowls, my own channel and a couple of other online shows, including Spork, which can be listened to on Spotify, and The Word Bin, where I just talk about why I would bin the word “needy”. I was also commissioned to write a poem about small acts of rebellion during the current pandemic and lockdown, as part of the Royal Museums Greenwich’s Museum From Home series.

I had the urge to look back at my last 5 year plan from 2017 and made a new one. I find it interesting how overly-ambitious I have been, and I’m not sure if I’ve done the same with this new one, but it’s funny to think I had put ‘think about children’ in 2021, and now in 2020, I’ve changed this to ‘freeze eggs’, which I really hope I can do through the donor scheme as I have donated eggs three times now, so this would be my last chance. I’ve included career goals alongside personal goals like this, and imagining I may be able to save for a deposit on a place by the age of 36, and think about children around that time too. I have no idea what situation I’ll be in then, and though it’s a nice idea that I may have a partner to do these things with, in 2017 I had also hoped to move in with my then-partner, and I’m much happier now living with a friend, so there’s no saying that any of these things will make me happy, which really is the most important goal of all.

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.

12.03.18 – Women of the World Festival

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I’ve been attending Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre since its inception, and I’m pleased to say that this year, She Grrrowls will be at WOW on Sunday 11th March.

You can catch us at 7pm as part of Gem’s Jam, where there will be live music and DJ sets along with poetry from SG poets Selina Nwulu and Bridget Minamore.

You don’t need a ticket as this part is free for all to attend and takes part in the Clore Ballroom in the Royal Festival Hall.

Verve Poetry Festival 2018

Well, readers (if you exist, it feels like writing into the abyss), I haven’t written properly her since Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Most of my reviews are written for The Norwich Radical, and I’ve now been writing for them for over three years as a volunteer. I felt the urge to write having recently come back from Verve Poetry Festival (alas, as an audience member, not a participant).

One of my cousins is at university in Birmingham, so I took the opportunity to get her a Saturday ticket and visit her whilst attending the festival. We had a lovely time, and I discovered new voices amongst old favourites. It was a bit overwhelming at times being surrounded by so many familiar names and faces, and by the end of the festival my brain kind of stopped working, but it was well worth it. I’ll go through some of my personal highlights.

Dead or Alive Slam

I’d never been to a Dead of Alive Slam, where actors read the work of past poets, and compete against the alive ones. I was very much in team ‘alive’, who were the overall winners, but I discovered poems by both I enjoyed. It featured Genevieve Carver, Isaiah Hull and Caroline Teague – the first two being new to me, and all of them brilliant.  Team Death consisted of poems by Christina Rossetti, Forough Farrokhzad, and Djuna Barnes (read by Tembi Xena, Lorna Nickson Brown, and Zeddie Lawal). Djuna Barnes really stood out to me, which might come in handy for the workshop I’m going to run with Spread the Word – The Femme Canon.

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City Poems

This section featured six commissioned poets, alongside competition winners, and was hosted by the judge Luke Kennard. What I liked about this section was that there were so many poets, and so much variety. It can be difficult to listen to poetry across three days (even for us poets) so this quick succession of poets was welcome for a morning event at the start of a long day. It featured local poets including Roy McFarlane, Bohdan Piasecki, Amerah Saleh, Jenna Clake, Casey Bailey, and Ahlaam Moledina. Having been tutored by Piasecki whilst in the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, and having met Saleh on a previous trip to Birmingham, it was particularly good to hear both their poetry. You can buy the book of poems here.

Stablemates: Bobby Parker

Chaired by Jill Abram, creator of Stablemates, there was discussion and poetry from Martha Sprackland, James Brookes, and Bobby Parker in celebration of new work from Offord Road Books. Although I wasn’t expecting it, Bobby Parker was my favourite poet in this section. He was open about the criticism he had received from his poem ‘THANK YOU FOR SWALLOWING MY CUM’, of which I wasn’t previously aware had provoked accusations of misogyny. I read the poem myself and although I think it’s horrible, I think it’s the intention, it being an exploration of this dark side of masculinity and the validation that men may place on such an act. It is simultaneously simple and complex, and I like it and Parker’s other word. I didn’t realise the connection between this poem and Thank You For Swallowing, which publishes incredible feminist writing.

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The Poetry Assembly: Romalyn Ante

Although a celebration of Jane Commane’s Bloodaxe collection, the event was also supported by Roz Goddard, Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante, and Matt Black. My favourite poet was Romalyn Ante, with her slow, rhythmic poetry, with vivid imagery, it was beautiful to hear her recite. My only issue with the programming of Verve Poetry Festival is the division of sections labelled ‘poetry’ and ‘spoken word’, when there were examples such as this where Ante knew her poems by heart and was in the ‘poetry’ section, yet others such as the Out-Spoken Press section were labelled ‘spoken word’ when both feature books.

Out-Spoken Press Showcase

In moving on to this ‘spoken word’ section, I believe one featured poet, Raymond Antrobus, has been quite vocal about claiming the title of ‘poet’ as his own rather than solely a ‘spoken word artist’. This showcase also featured Anthony Anaxagorou, Joelle Taylor, Sabrina Mahfouz, and Bridget Minamore. I’m very well versed on the latter three poets, all three featuring the the She Grrrowls anthology from Burning Eye Books and so it was great to hear them all together at Verve Poetry Festival.

Nymphs & Thugs: Maria Ferguson

The penultimate event I went to featured Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson, and Jamie Thrasivoulou. Whilst they were all great poets, Ferguson was my highlight here, and is always completing captivating. After her show ‘Fat Girls Don’t Dance’ (which I have seen and bought a copy of the book of the same title), she is now working on a show called ‘Essex Girls’. As well as her usual fantastic poetry, in the second half of the two hour slot she gave us a sneak peek into some of her writing from the show.

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Luke Wright & Ross Sutherland

Tom Chivers of Penned in the Margins presented the last section I could attend before hopping on my newly booked coach (otherwise I would have been on night buses from arriving by train 1am the next day in London). It think it was actually Tom Chivers who introduced me to the work of Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland just under a decade ago as an awkward undergrad on an internship at PITM whilst studying at UEA. I have since worked with Ross Sutherland during Shake the Dust, and Luke Wright kindly published my small selection of poems with Nasty Little Press and put me on at Latitude Festival, and I have kept following both their work. It was, as always, great to hear their stuff, especially having recently read and loved The Toll by Wright, and listened to some of the Imaginary Advice podcasts by Sutherland.

All in all, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recommendations (I has taken me a couple of hours of writing after all). Hopefully next year I’ll be writing as a fellow participant! I’ve been officially freelance since October 2017, so stay tuned for when I find time to write about what that has meant for me thus far (clue: I’m still very much settling back into the UK since my return from Spain in July).

 

Book Review: Talk you round till dusk by Rebecca Tantony

I received a copy of Rebecca Tantony’s Talk you round till dusk by illustrator Anna Higgie, who I met last year when I performed at BoomTown. You can have a peak inside the book to see the beautiful illustrations here. You can also buy some of her work from the book at her Etsy shop.

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I fell in love with this book after reading the first piece and it’s become one of my favourite books from Burning Eye Books.  The pieces flow between flash fiction, poetry and short stories, each piece with strikingly vivid imagery and captivating stories. Slipping between third and first person, placing a ‘you’ between lines of poetry, leaving you wondering where the stories lie between autobiographical and fiction. This use of the lyrical ‘I’ is something I always find fascinating, and enjoy the element of play this offers.

Much of the work deals with relationships and searching, love and travel. At times it’s heart-breaking: ‘he only liked women who felt safe without colour and peroxide to hide behind.’ At other times it’s liberating:

‘What did you do that for?’

‘I did it for me,’ she said, before the wind set her hair free, spilling it across the sky.

From the statement ‘women don’t normally drink pints,’ I could immediately relate. When the next page spoke of Andalucia, I recalled fond memories of Nerja. Tantony managed to capture the feeling of the place, and its pages fuelled my excitement to carry out the same path and live in Spain: ‘Instead of breaking up we had moved to Spain’ hit me with its poignancy, and yet its humour. With orange blossoms showing the direction for discovery at the end, there is a perfect balance of reality and romance.

Different pieces are intercepted with short poetic descriptions and musings, like notes in a travel journal, such as ‘I found your at sunrise and fell in love with a combination of body parts’. The collection takes the reader across the world, from Spain to India, Cyprus, San Francisco, through a Californian road-trip, to Paris, to Mexico, and ending back in Bristol. Through the turbulence of many characters, of wanderings and wondering whether ‘we might not make it back together in one piece’, at the end of one year and the start of a next, bubbling with excitement with the journeys we might go on, it seems apt to end on the sentiment of We are Braver This Way. In it we find the title quotation: ‘I’ll talk you round till dusk and when the final countdown/comes we’ll be dancing, won’t we?’ Whether we get the happy ending we long for is up to you.

Talk you round till dusk is available from Burning Eye Books (2015) for £9.99.