I’ve moved to Hanoi for the foreseeable, so check out updates on my old travel blog.
There will also be travel writing coming up soon on Penandbackpack.com, a blog I’m keeping for Travelicious. These post will be less of a ‘Hi Mum, I’m fine!’ vein and more of a ‘If you come here, you might like to know this’ style.
Also, once I’ve settled into teaching/blogging/poeting here, and got a bit of a balance going, you can expect the odd post here, too, on all the words and pretty things which catch my eyes and ears.
Except I didn’t, not literally. I haven’t even bought a ticket since I was 16. But today I felt the way people look when they win thousands of pounds or a record contract on TV. The way Ellen Page and Michael Cera look when they kiss at the end of Juno. You know, life changing moments.
Except it wasn’t life changing, at all. I was just standing outside, hanging out the washing, looking up at a full cherry blossom tree and hearing a blackbird in it sing. And I felt happy. I felt like the happinness would overflow and run out of the top of my head, for no reason other than for existing.
When I feel happy, it really does feel like that. And when I feel miserable, I feel it just as intensely. I don’t particularly want to describe that, so you’ll have to take my word for it. And misery can equally be for no obvious reason at all.
When I feel one way, I can’t imagine feeling it’s opposite ever again. But today I looked up at pink flowers green leaves and a blue sky from a small garden and thought: if only I could bottle this, and take it with me for when I need it. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do, bottle happinness in a blog post for whoever needs it, including my future self. Even as I’m writing this I feel it won’t work. But I’m going to try, because I want there to be some kind of record that today, I felt good about life, and myself. And that was an incredible lottery to win.
So I know it’s February, but I’m always fond of making grand plans and resolutions. This month’s inspirations (or excuses) include:
1. It IS new year in China. Possibly also Vietnam.
2. Spring. Obvs. it’s not here yet, but it’s right there under the surface.
3. Lent. In my religious youth I always preferred the idea of taking up good habits during lent to giving up bad ones. I’m no longer religious but I still have the ‘hoarder personality + poor impulse control’ combination which makes the idea of spending 5 minutes learning French each day so much more attractive to me than the idea of skipping pudding.
So a kind of pagan/Christian idea of renewal and rebirth etc. etc. tends to be my catch-all excuse for not making New Year’s resolutions until February.
Christmas kind of whizzed past in a blur and I suddenly got pretty low really depressed after Christmas and by New Year’s Eve I just wanted to crawl into bed for the duration of the long weekend. I felt totally over 2016 before it even started.
The lovely thing about depression is that it always goes if you wait long enough. When 2016 started, I fell in love with it all over again and it was the closest a human could be to feeling like a snowdrop.
The truth is that change is ongoing though, and some of my plans for this year have been in incubation since December and I’m sure more will pop up as we go through the year. So far, though:
I mentioned in this post about how Roger Robinson, one of our Arvon tutors, got me to seriously rethink how much reading time I give to poetry. Roger Robinson is a big advocate of reading as much as possible, and after my Arvon tutorial with him I tried to make a list of the last 10 poetry collections I’d read. Not skimmed, read from cover to cover. If I included literary magazines, my total stood at a paltry 5.5 over the last YEAR, and one of those was a teeny-weeny chapbook. As soon as I got back from Arvon I pulled one of my unread poetry collections off my bookshelf and just read it in one week, cover-to-cover. There’s an underrated pleasure in reading a poetry collection like this. I never used to realise how much effort goes into the editing of a poetry collection, which poems and which order to put them in. When you read a collection cover-to-cover, you follow the poet’s journey through the collection, becoming really immersed in the world that those poems create. Since Arvon I’ve read a heck of a lot more thab 5.5 poetry collections and it’s been a pleasure (phew- might have needed to consider a career change if it hadn’t been :P)
I also want to make more of an effort to enter my writing into competitions and publications. In January I found a commission opportunity to write a response to this exhibition at The Collection Museum in Lincoln. I’ve loved visual art as long as I’ve loved writing and Lothar Götz’s work looked really interesting so I went for the commission…and got it(!) So on Friday I’ll be wending my way up to the exhibition opening. I don’t go to art galleries enough so to be honest I’ll be looking forward to seeing the work itself as much as seeing how my writing will be used in it.
Live. Like really, properly live. For months after I got back from my adventures abroad I had seriously itchy feet. Part of me wanted to save a bunch of money and do it again, and part of me really enjoyed not worrying about Dengue fever or needing to brush my teeth with bottle water. Conundrum, I know. But bit by bit I started to put down roots again — Mouthy Poets is a massive set of roots — and now I’m genuinely excited about the next few months, even though I’m not physically going to be going anywhere. A lot of the reason people enjoy travelling (or even just a short amount of time somewhere unfamiliar) is that it’s just easier to be different if you’re environment is. Easier to be open to people, easier not to be in a hurry, easier to convince yourself that ‘no’ is scarier than ‘yes’. That’s what I miss the most about the way I was living a year ago, and it’s totally doable to apologise for existing less, to go for aimless walks and spend hours in museums or writing in a cafe, even if I am doing it in the same couple of cities. In fact it’s probably even more important now, even if it’s a lot harder to do.
So there’s that. No flat stomachs but plenty of hippyish self improvement stuff. Basically, my resolution for 2016 is to enjoy it.
Out of a Facebook conversation about living British poets we love, a friend and I decided to lend each other our favourites-right-now. He lent me Jacob Sam-La Rose’s Breaking Silence, the long-brewed full length collection from published by Bloodaxe, and I will soon be parting with one of my birthday presents, Playing House, the debut collection by Katherine Stansfield, published by Seren. I’m nervous to see what my friend thinks of Playing House just because it feels personal — partly because I know Katherine from her days lecturing at my uni but mostly in that way that you do feel defensive when you lend someone a book/CD/Film which you like a lot. And I liked both these books a lot, in very different ways.
Stansfield’s collection is much shorter, giving much more time to wallow in each poem, whereas with Breaking Silence I felt like I had to come up for air before diving back into each section. Sam-La Rose’s poems all feel personal and strongly felt, too, which maybe added to the intensity of the reading experience. I’m part way through my second reading and I feel like I’ll need many more to really get to know the poems. I’ve seen ‘Faith’ performed by Sam-La Rose, and there are plenty of videos of him performing other poems from the collection online, and it’s always good to have the opportunity to experience a good poem in a new way. Playing House goes to some pretty dark, intense places, don’t get me wrong, but Stansfield skips between many different viewpoints, some which feel personal and others more distant, some poignant and others comic, and I think that this variety, as well as the length, makes it an easier ‘read-in-one-sitting’ collection, if you’re so inclined, although you’ll be rewarded for going back for more.
This video is brilliant for anybody who wants to be a poet, and I think a lot of it could apply to anybody who wants to do something which seems difficult and overwhelming but also full of possibilities.
Reading trashy entertaining women’s weekly magazines on a Friday night. Because sometimes you need to look after your mental health and pictures of the high street’s new fringed handbags and articles on body confidence are the way to do it.
Whether it’s bookswaps with friends, fringed handbags or the Great British Bake Off, I hope your (mental) health had a good week.