Freelance Reflections #29

It’s the final few days of the Living Record Festival, and I’ve received my first review of the festival! The Reviews Hub writer Maryam Philpott reviewed my piece ‘Circles’. I found out via Twitter, seeing my photo (taken by Tyrone Lewis) and the four lovely little stars. I told my family straight away, and my dad, who’s a history teacher, immediately knew she was also a historian and author of ‘Air, Sea and Power in World War I’. How exciting! I’ve also managed to get a press pass to write some reviews of other shows for The Norwich Radical, so I can listen to as many as I can squeeze in until the end of the festival.

Aside from this, and doing a bit of a takeover tomorrow for The Bedford Place’s Instagram on Saturday, this week has been less hectic than others, though I’m still trying to get on top of things so that perhaps by March I may be able to test out a new schedule that will seek to bring more creativity into my life. Although I’d love to create a binaural version of ‘Circles’, moving forward, I’m looking towards other ongoing projects, including prose, poetry and a spoken word show.

For some reason, these have been printed with a black background, but here are a couple more activities I’ve been sent. You have until Monday 22nd February to ‘Circles’ and send me your designs via @carminamasoliver on Instagram or head to my contact page for other ways to get in touch. You just need to print out the design and colour with pens, pencils, felt tips – whatever you have at hand!

Freelance Reflections #27

The third week of the Living Record Festival has come and gone, with nearly 10 tickets sold so far, and some kind words from Sally Proctor, the Community Director at Slung Low. I hope to see some more colourful pictures in the final week. Please listen to ‘Circles’ and send me your designs via @carminamasoliver on Instagram.

Last week was also my grandad’s funeral; it was and is surreal and sad, but the sun shined that day. I’ve been watching films like ‘Saint Frances’ and ‘The Book of Life’, and have felt exhausted and overwhelmed, trying to be kind to myself, but still not fully giving myself what I needed. I listened a lot to podcasts like ‘The Good Grief Podcast’ with Alex Di Cuffa, and Griefcast with Cariad Lloyd.

On Friday, I tried to be kind to myself, knowing I had She Grrrowls on Instagram Live in the evening. I took myself off for a walk to my local park to make the most of the sunny weather, and as my grandad also had a sweet tooth, having eaten some lemon curd biscuits in his honour on the day of the funeral, before She Grrrowls, I made myself a hot drink to have with some shortbread biscuits and a blackcurrant and apple pie.

I was glad I didn’t cancel She Grrrowls, as with nine acts on the open mic, it was a full house. I read a poem about Yorkshire that my grandad had written, and a poem I’d written for him as part of his eulogy. In speaking of death and grief, I’ve also shared one of my favourite books on sadness: Sad Book by Michael Rosen.

As I write now, there is a flurry of snow outside my windows, and I’m safely inside after a long walk to Greenwich yesterday, covering 19km. Any sun soon turned to cloud and then rain. Exhausted, I had an array of Korean dishes for dinner, and played the ‘7 Wonders’ board game a couple of times. It is the unbelievableness of the situation that allows me to enjoy these moments, but at other times I lean into the grief, allow myself to feel the shock and sadness of such unexpected loss.

Freelance Reflections #26

It’s the second week of Living Record Festival, and after just five ticket sales, I’m being reminded that it’s better than nothing, and to hold on to the reasons why we do this, why we create and put it out to the world. It’s not the number of connections, but the connections themselves. So, I’m holding on to this lovely comment I’ve been given permission to share from Jodie Adams.

I’ve reached out to family members, which has been encouraging. After over a decade in poetry, it gets harder to ask for support from friends and family. A part of you thinks, shouldn’t you have an audience by now? Shouldn’t you not need them anymore? These kinds of thoughts can lead to a bad spiral, so sometimes it’s best to just ask directly, appreciate those who give the time, and understand those who don’t.

So far, my maternal grandmother and one of my cousins have sent me pictures of how they listened. I love how my gran has put her margarita inside the circle as something she loves, and how both of them have created such a nice space to give themselves that 15-minutes to focus on listening and colouring.

When you buy the audio stream of Circles, for £5 as well as the audio and the Zoom Q&A, you get a copy of this black and white PDF of the book cover to colour in and draw inside, following the instructions. I also had a go at it myself and just about got the flowers coloured in by the end, finishing with this new doodle that was inspired by an exercise my friend Natalie Cooper (who illustrated the She Grrrowls anthology poems). I have often doodled and actually, as someone who is more of a conceptual artist (when it comes to visual art, this is always what I say, tongue-in-cheek, having illustrated my ‘Circles’ book myself), this is something I’d love to do more in an active way. After talking to someone else about their art therapy, which sounded like it incorporated similar techniques, I find it fascinating how doodling allows the free flow of moment without a plan, in a way that is so opposite to how I often work and live.

Lastly, I also want to recommend the film ‘Soul’. With everything that is happening in my life and other people’s lives at the moment, it was just so heart-warming and appropriate. I also recommend the short film on Disney + that goes into the background of the film.

Freelance Reflections #24

The Living Record Festival is why we do what we do. The creative work is why I have pursued the path of being self-employed. At times, I can lose sight of that, so it always feels good to be a part of something that nourishes the reasons for our being.

Tomorrow, Living Record Festival officially launches, and you will be able to listen to my audio for ‘Circles’, and use the PDF to print and use as you listen. You can buy tickets now and listen every day from tomorrow until 22nd February. I’ve also included a Q&A session for free, which will take place on Zoom on Friday 12th February 5-6pm. Tickets to listen cost just £5, and there’s also a link to buy the book, which I can sign and dedicate to you.

I’ll probably continue to bang on about the festival throughout it. As well as my own show, I’d recommend checking out Maria Ferguson’s ‘Alright, Girl?’ reading her book (which I’ve read) published by Burning Eye Books and Leanne Moden’s Skip Skip Skip (which I’ve seen live at Edinburgh Fringe Festival). I’d also like to recommend Elian Gray’s show as he kindly helped me when recording my piece, and it sounds exciting! With the national lockdown, it’s the perfect time to support artists and listen to something different each day, perhaps using the money that may otherwise be spent on your lunch break!

Freelance Reflections #23

Since my grandad passed away just over a week ago now, I’ve found how difficult it is to experience such close familial loss and try to work at the same time. This week has been a struggle, but when you’re self-employed, there is so much uncertainty about your finances and I didn’t find out about the funeral date until the end of the week, and which days of work would be impacted. It’s hard to even allow for time off, even when it’s so needed. Then again, my cousin has also been in the same position, unable to take time off from her job, despite 3-5 days being the standard, from what I know. It has meant welling up with tears whilst walking to work for 45 minutes, finding more time to talk to family without being able to see them, and writing poems of grief in the early hours of the morning.

I feel like I’m just about staying afloat, whilst wanting to carve time that allows me to realign my schedule the way that is more fulfilling each day. I’m also ordering 25 copies of my book ‘Circles’ from my publisher, Burning Eye Books, ahead of the digital ‘Living Record Festival’, which will be taking place from 17th January until 22nd February, where listeners can buy a copy of my physical book, along with the audio and creative activity. You can now buy £15 tickets for the festival, remembering that this includes a copy of the book, which is worth £10.

I am also waiting to hear the results tomorrow having been shortlisted for the Anthology Magazine prize, so fingers crossed! It would be something positive to hold onto for my poetry career, for sure, but even making the shortlist is still an achievement worth celebrating, something that I forget to do all too often.

Freelance Reflections #22

The start of the year will begin with the Living Record Festival, where I’ll be sharing ‘Circles’, as previously mentioned. I’ve been challenged as things have not gone as expected. My binaural experiment failed as it appeared the microphone was broken after spending an hour and a half setting it up, with lots of phone calls for support. I’d realised when I collected it that I could only test it out in the studio, and everything went perfectly in terms of set up, but it was just sod’s law that it didn’t work.

However, this has all been put into perspective and I’ve given myself more time to rest than ever. Yesterday, my maternal grandad died. It is still so raw and the shock is intense as he was in hospital only a week. As many others have experienced this year, it is the worst time to lose someone, as my parents and my nan are having to self-isolate after having seen him. But I am grateful they at least had that. He turned 80 just as we went into lockdown, and although we never got the celebration, we managed to see him in August.

I had 25th – 27th off to rest and relax, and likewise, I have given myself most of the time from the evening of New Year’s Eve until now to do the same, and just taking things slowly. Tomorrow is ‘Blue Monday’, but work may end up being a welcome distraction at the moment. Perhaps grief will allow me to work more in the way I want to, rather than with the stress and pressure I have been putting on myself on the lead up to and between these holiday breaks.

Freelance Reflections #21

The main news this week is that I am in the process of recording audio for the Living Record Festival. I’ve done one recording already, but I’ll be experimenting with a binaural microphone to see if I can do something a bit different. I’m going to try to give myself three solid days off for spending time with my bubble, walking, reading, watching films and eating good food, then I’ll be back in the studio recording and at my laptop polishing the piece.

I saw fellow Burning Eye poet Maria Ferguson post about it and thought I would also apply. After many years after doing Scratch That Hackney, I’ve been working with producer Ellie Barr as part of the festival, which I believe is where I may have performed some of ‘Circles’ before. To find out more about the festival and the other artists involved, please sign up to this mailing list.

As part of this digital festival, I’ll be featuring an audio version of my book ‘Circles’, with a ticket option to include a copy of the the physical book. Whilst listening, I’ll also include a PDF of an activity with every ticket. The festival launches in January 2021, so make sure to sign up to the mailing list to keep updated.

Las Chicas del Cable & The Spanish Civil War

I recently finished watching Las Chicas del Cable and so I thought I would share some extracts from my poem on the topic that dominates the final series: the Spanish Civil War.

They greased their rifles with olive oil,
with Vaseline, with cold cream, with bacon-fat:[1]
an opera, with the occasional death.[2]

It was pneumonia they were fighting against, not men[3]
yet some of the voices that cried out in pain were still falsetto,
soon to be broken by the war with thousands dead.

I wrote this at least five years ago after reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which was recently in the news. You can see from the footnotes below, that the poem includes direct references to Orwell’s descriptions. Reading the book provoked me to have a conversation with my paternal grandfather, who lives just outside of Barcelona, after having lived as an immigrant for many years in London. Also a poet, there is tour about him, which the leaflets below are from.

I absolutely loved watching Las Chicas del Cable, and the parts that were about the Spanish Civil War touched me even more because of my familial connection. The ending was so moving and powerful, it brought me to tears. I highly recommend it.

A granddad I’ve never named as such, now through phone-lines
brought closer, he tells me at the end of the conversation

how proud he is to have another poet in the family. I smile,
as my bloodline extends back in time. My family, I think, with war wedged between them, yet in the end, they remained intact.

To read the full poem, you can sign up to my mailing list.

[1]  George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37 [2]  George Orwell, (Georges Kopp), Homage to Catalonia, p. 34 [3] George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37

Freelance reflections #13

Well, it’s a new year and the perfect time for reflection – though having always worked in education, I always see September as a good time as well. In fact, I think it’s important to reflect on how things are going, which is obviously why I started this blog series! I finally started the bullet journal that a friend got me a while back, and I’m going to see how well it works in combination with my current system of using my iCalendar. I used to use an Excel spreadsheet, but I think I need to better utilise this in combination with my calendar system for specific tasks such as submitting work. For example, I have put ‘submissions’ into my calendar to repeat for an hour a week, but I would be better to work through these in my spreadsheet. What I’ve been doing instead is just having the tabs open, which is less effective, cluttered and stress-inducing.

Despite being happy with the work I’m doing, as I’m thinking of moving out of my parents’ place, I am becoming concerned that my income needs to be higher. I’ve applied for a few poetry jobs – one editor role and a producer role. I’m even thinking about applying for more part-time EFL work, and have gone for one that is three days a week… the issue is that it is 20 hours, and this often refers to contact hours rather than total hours, so lesson planning could mean that more of my time is eaten up. I think I’m still questioning what I’m doing too much rather than just getting on with things and enjoying it.

When thinking of the year ahead, I’ve used the bullet journal to plan poetry-related activities as the other work I do is pretty consistent. There’s a couple of key submission deadlines at the end of February, so I really want to focus on getting these two projects I’m (supposed to be) working on completed by then. This means that the show stuff might have to wait until the beginning of March, but I’m sure that time will come around quicker than expected! When I wrote out all my goals on the yearly timeline, it made it easier to see. I need deadlines in order to actually make things happen creatively, otherwise I tend to let the paid work takeover.

I have found myself being annoyed when people ask about work, especially when there is an assumption that you are only working when you ‘go out’ to work. In fact, most of the work I do is at home, and most of the time I ‘go out’ to work is spent travelling rather than teaching (with the exception of maybe one day when I have three students). Planning lessons is work. Marking is work. Content writing is work. Checking emails is work. Writing poems is work. Updating bloody financial records is work (this is what I spent all day yesterday doing, finished with a bit of content writing and admin). When I am at home, I spend a majority of the time working, so even if I’ve been at home all day, it is pretty damn safe to assume that YES I have been working.

Being freelance means I work every day, and I choose to do that because it means I can be more flexible at times. Sometimes I have to fit things around work, and sometimes work can fit around other things I want to do. I would love to have more rules for myself about what work I do on a Sunday (ideally these would be reserved for reading, writing and relaxation), but at the moment they are just another day I can fill with things I want to get done. By implementing a slightly better system, I hope this year that I can work more towards spending time in a way that is closer to my ideal, because certain tasks end up piling up because they’re not “important”, then they just seem like such a mountain to climb. These things that pile up tend to be the financial record keeping, my scrapbooking, and copying quotations from books I’ve read (instead, I prefer to read more books and add more to this pile).

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I’m really happy with how the year is going so far. In fact, I’m going to break down what I’ve been up to each day briefly.

1st: I’d been at a small gathering with three others for NYE and it was perfect. I woke up without a bad hangover. When I have a really bad hangover, it tends to be the only time I do actually have a day of relaxation, because I’m physically forced into it. However, this day, I met my friend for brunch and then we went for a walk through Clapham Common. I spent the afternoon writing until past 11pm.

2nd: I hadn’t finished the writing I’d wanted to do, so I also write this day after starting the morning off with Zumba. I also did some admin, such as telling the tax credits office about my actual earnings since completing my self-assessment. I went through some emails before seeing my first student of the year, then spent the evening marking work that I’d collected from another student. I added a prompt for the ’12 Days of Form’ writing group I’m in, for the next day, and finished at 10:30pm.

3rd: I had my final session with one student in the morning. I’d stayed up late the night before watching a film, so I was a bit tired. I came home to do some planning and marking, and had to do a quick update on my ACE evaluation before doing some more writing. After working through a few more emails, I then met friends for dinner and a final festive celebration with a panto.

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4th: I did Zumba again, after writing the poem of the day. I then spent just six hours updating my records. It took me a lot less time than I expected, so that was great. I did some content writing and some admin for She Grrrowls. Still allowing myself some time to wind down from the holidays, I watched another film before reading in bed (this last activity is one I want to get into better habits with).

5th: Today I have been to the gym (I last went on NYE – go me!), written the poem of the day, and I’m about to have lunch, get ready, and go to Words Aloud in Sutton. It’s a great time to go to an open mic when you’ve not got plans. It’s quite local to me and my mum’s even offered to give me a lift! Then I’m meeting a friend from college for the 30th birthday of our old friend. It’s fancy dress and I’m using the ‘growing up’ theme for an excuse to wear all my old dance gear, tap shoes and all!

Tomorrow I’ll get working on those piles!

Happy New Year!

Late Bloomers

It was recently National Poetry Day, and a feeling waved over me that has been kept at bay since being in Spain. It has been around a month now, and I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. Aside from the usual stresses that come and go, especially when settling into a new place, I have had no doubt that coming here has been the right decision.

Yet, I still feel a pull back to London, something partly a fear of missing out (FOMO), but also more than that. FOMO has become all the more common since the age of social media. This means that I am seeing so many of my peers in poetry do all these amazing things I wish I was going. To be clear, I am pleased for their success, but I feel a gnawing at me that I have never really given myself a chance to truly reach my potential in writing.

I know that with full dedication, I am capable of doing what others are doing, in carving a space in the poetry world where it is possible to make some sort of living from what you love doing. So, I know that I want to return, to give myself that chance to blossom without having to dedicate so many hours to a full-time job. At twenty-eight, I will be doing this much later than anticipated, but I wouldn’t necessarily be where I am now if I had done anything differently up to this point. And, like I said, I’m happy where I am.

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Beautiful Cordoba

The point is, that one of the things that has been infringing on my contentedness is my own habit of comparing myself to others. Especially when others are younger than me. I berate myself for not having that version of success, for not doing what they’re doing. Even when I’m actually doing something completely different, with its own set of goals. I mean, how amazing would it be if, by the end of the year, I could actually speak Spanish. If I could write and perform poems in Spanish. I’m having an experience that may just be for this one year, and so I need to appreciate every moment of it.

I came here to learn Spanish, to make that my priority. I’m going to be having around 8 hours of lessons a week, plus homework, plus living somewhere that I can gradually use it in everyday life. The concierge at my block of flats already told me that I was getting better… after I asked how he was. I’m in the lowest group at A1 level, but I hope that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of Duo Lingo, that I can improve. I’m also obviously working to teach English as a foreign language, and still acquiring a whole lot of skills whilst doing it.

I’m still writing all the usual things – poems, stories, articles… blog posts! Just because I’m not earning money for the writing I’m doing at the moment, doesn’t mean I have to hand back my “writer” badge. So, in the vein of these thoughts, I wrote a poem that I started in the early hours of the morning following National Poetry Day having been busy with things not poetry related. It’s dedicated to all the late bloomers out there. Enjoy.