Audio of ‘Circles’ (Burning Eye Books, 2019) as part of the Living Record Festival. Buy tickets here.
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.
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.
So, I have intended to do weekly posts, but when it came to it, I didn’t know what to write about. I had a think earlier today about what I could share, and I realised that I just need to get into a better habit of making notes of what I could share, reflecting on the previous week. I think I sometimes build things up in my head to be bigger tasks than they need to be, so perhaps this habit will help me to be concise and share some of what I’ve been up to, as well as what others are up to.
For example, at the same time as celebrating Trump’s loss in the elections, I believe this is my first poem in a North American publication, in the first issue of nine cloud journal. As I was wary of submitting this piece, ‘Toy Truck’, written as stated after the shooting of Charles Kinsey on 18th July 2016, it was so insightful to see the commentary on the first page: ‘…it’s okay not to have all the answers and you’re kidding yourself if you think you do know the answers. We can merely ask relevant questions and sit with these unanswered questions for a time until we inhabit the interior world of that question and live its truthful response.’ (Vijay R. Nathan).
As I stated in my Instagram post, three years later in 2019: The officer who shot Kinsey, Jonathan Aledda, after being arrested in 2017 and charged with attempted manslaughter and negligence, was found guilty by a jury of culpable negligence. Although fired from the police force, he didn’t serve any prison time. Kinsey could have been killed, and the culprit was instead sentenced to probation and had to write a 2,500 word essay on policing, serving a total of less than 5 months of probation before being released. It won’t even appear on his criminal record.
Whilst looking through a backlog of emails, I came across Laurie Eaves’ post on the Burning Eye Books website, outlining ten tips for writing a collection. It was a great read, and I really recommend it for those who have yet to publish anything. Even though I’ve had a couple of books published, I’m currently working on my first full-length collection. Although I felt finished in some sense, I’ve still been producing work that fits well within my vision for the collection, and I don’t want to rush it, especially as I already have work out there, and other projects going on in the background. One thing I have been trying to do is look at my schedule and how I can make more time for my creative work whilst still keeping everything else afloat.
Although I am largely just trying to get on and ignore the news, I was pleased to have had a negative COVID-19 test, and this was thanks to me doing a ‘freeze and share’ egg collection, as it was necessary to have regular temperature checks and then a test (which I didn’t get the results for, but assuming the procedure went ahead, I assume it’s all good). I had actually had a little cold, which I was paranoid about, but blasted it with garlic, plenty of vegetables and hot honey and lemon drinks, and now I’m feeling better.
Initially, I didn’t think I was coping as well in ‘Lockdown 2.0’, but I think when you compare the fact that my work has increased, and it’s cold and dark, then I’m not doing too badly. I’ve had triggers when it comes to BPD, and within the recent week, I’ve become more accepting of losing certain friends, if only through an understanding that it’s their issues and not me. I’ve actually started the DBP skills workbook I have, and came up with a boss distraction plan. I thought I’d share it below, in case it works for anyone else. I tried to think of things I could realistically do when intense emotions are triggered, as well as some rooted in the five senses (smell, touch, taste, sound, sight).
A friend of mine who has suffered with depression and found living alone in the previous lockdown really tough also has been practising gratitude, which is always a useful trick. Sometimes I can just walk around my flat and feel a wave of joy, and I am so grateful for my living situation now, as even though it’s completely fine to be in your 30s and live with your parents, I realise how much I needed independence as an adult in this stage of my life, and I’m so grateful of my friend who I lived with at university to be reunited in this way once again. It wasn’t healthy for me to be stuck where I was, and feel so trapped, and essentially be trapping myself… when I could have this freedom and form better relationships with my parents as a result, rather than living as a teenager, running home for dinner from the park.
Looking to the week ahead, I’m also excited for The 10 Year Anniversary and 50th Event R.A.P. Party. It’s unfortunate that it’s online, but it also means so many people can bare witness to the incredible line-up. It’s happening this Thursday, and tickets are Pay What You Can, which I certainly appreciated just after my rent went out. Inua Ellams and Theresa Lola are joined by Breis, Charlie Dark, Zena Edwards, Joshua Idehen, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Kae Tempest, Musa Okwonga, Nii Parkes, Gemma Weekes, and Polarbear. I plan to cook and eat in front of it, so I otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend due to my work schedule (although I live super close to The Albany now, woop!). There’s another silver lining to this surreal situation. And on a final note, I was really inspired and motivated by the four-part documentary ‘The Defiant Ones’, so check it out on Netflix.
When we went into ‘lockdown’ in London, I started doing weekly poem shares via Instagram Live as a ‘Poetry Slumber Party’, called such because you can watch it in your PJs. I shared brand new material and I was writing weekly through a prompt group called ‘Poetry in a time of being alone’ on Facebook. This was a lifeline to me at times, and I enjoyed being able to connect with people watching, who would sometimes send me messages about certain poems they related to. As the world got back into motion, I have started doing these on a monthly basis.
This is just a short post to say to tune in via Instagram Live (@carminamasoliver), which is where I have found it easiest to share my work. It’s every last Monday of each month, when I figured maybe people are staying in more now there are less restrictions, as it’s near many people’s pay day. It can also be viewed later on IGTV. It’s very off the cuff, and all new material, where I chat around it, and sometimes the chat is longer than the poems.
I like it, as I feel YouTube videos need to be more polished, whilst on Instagram Live, part of what can be lovely is that it’s a little bit messy and raw. A couple of weeks later, I also host an online open mic on the She Grrrowls Instagram account (@shegrrrowls). It’s a strange time now as the rules are continuing to change, yet some people still are at home with very little human contact, whilst others are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m somewhere in between. I really enjoy doing these little streams anyway, so if even one person gets some enjoyment out of it too, it’s worth keeping up!
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.
I don’t know where to start today because this morning I spoke to Benjamin Zephaniah on the phone! I’ve got quite a bit of news but since I’m feeling so inspired by tour conversation, with a massive scrawl of notes surrounding my typed questions, I’ll start with this. I had been in contact via his agency about emailing some questions, however, I was told Benjamin doesn’t do email interviews and to give him a phone call. I was so scared at the prospect that my initial reaction was to run away in fear. Obviously, passing up the opportunity to speak directly to one of my idols would have been a stupid thing to do. So I did it.
It’s one of those days where Metric’s Help, I’m Alive comes into my mind. These are the things you need to do to feel alive, to be really living. I don’t like dealing with phones at the best of times, so talking to such a successful writer was bound to be daunting for me. I’ve admired his work since primary school, and got to see him perform live during secondary school. I even discovered I’d done a project on him when I was at school, so it seems almost meant to be that I have decided to do a piece of coursework on my MA about him again.
So, there was a bit of a mix up with timings but after a few nervous words from me, I began the questions. The rest of the questions connected with what Benjamin was saying, and just flowed very naturally, until I even began to ask questions that just occurred to me on the spot. I related to a lot of what he told me about feeling the desire to become a writer ‘deep in my bones’ and with wanting to do a range of work because of a ‘need to express yourself’.
It was so interesting hearing him talk about his experiences and the way he really lives and had no doubt that he would be able to achieve the dream he had when he was ‘eight years old’. It inspired me so much, especially the way he spoke about his belief in ‘love and peace’ and that it is something I really connect with, and something that if everyone did, a world without war would be able to become a reality. We are one world after all. He is a man with a lot of compassion and understanding, and sees the importance of being both serious and playful, and how even with lighthearted work, sometimes humour can ‘show the absurdity’ of something.
So, overall, I am so glad I got this amazing opportunity to speak to Benjamin Zephaniah. He spoke of receiving a hand-written letter from Bob Marley, and how it gave him a ‘big push’ and I feel this has given me the same push. When you speak to someone like Benjamin, it restores your faith in everything. I have always had this conviction that I will achieve my dreams, but it can be hard when you feel like you have to convince others, and that they don’t understand where you are coming from. I feel that I can look back on this day whenever I face any opposition or rejection, and know that I will not let the doubts of others affect my mind.
Just to end this post with a few bits of good news. I have entered a competition with Ether Books and need to get the most downloads of my short story from their app. It’s free, so please click here to download. You need to have an Apple device to access the app (I can use my iPod Touch) and then you just type in my name and should be able to find it. The ‘genre’ it would be under is ’18-25 iPad Contest’.
I have some love poems up on the Something Fine website, so check that out. And, last but not least, I have managed to just scrape a distinction in my MA coursework submission from last term. I got two 69 marks, and two 71 ones, so that averages out as a 70. I really want to work hard so I can achieve a distinction at the end now! Well, Benjamin Zephaniah wished me luck, so I’ve got a lot going for me right now! Also, look out for his next dubstep album, and see him live at Broadstairs Folk Week in August.