For the past eighteen months, ever since walking away from a long teaching career, I have been wrestling with the concept of introducing myself as a writer. Just when I was beginning to feel reconciled with the idea, with one book published and the embers of a story sparking, along came lockdown to put out all such flames. I found myself unable to put pen to paper for weeks and all thoughts of the characters that I had begun to sketch out, receded to the darkest spaces in my mind.
I kept reading that people were using this enforced time of solitude to create in many different ways, from sewing to sour dough and much more besides. The more I read such claims, the more frustrated I became until after much soul searching I gave myself permission to leave my story writing alone for a while. So I left my main character and her granddaughter in a limbo world for the time being, sipping tea and dunking biscuits as they chat about their view of the garden - much like many of us are doing via Zoom meetings and group chats right now.
As soon as I did that, I found phrases connecting in my head, forming into poetry and slowly I came to realise that my inner voice was still there during lockdown, it just needed to sing a different song. I thought about poems I had already written and how they might contribute to a new project that was gradually taking form. Alongside collating these, new poems were finding their way into my thoughts too. Many of them were born out of my experiences of lockdown - the yearning to be back with friends and family in a more tangible way than through a screen, the need to drink in the blossoming nature around me during my fleeting time outside of the house, and the struggle to get a hold of my emotions as they roller-coastered away over the passing days.
I found myself scribbling away in my notebook on a regular basis, reaching for the pen to note a few scattered phrases before turning off the bedside light, sipping tea in the garden as I set about the task of re-working those phrases into one poem or another. I was connecting with the poet that has always been lurking in the wings and allowing her to stand in her own spotlight for a while. Several more weeks passed and I had managed to pull together enough material to begin forming a poetry chapbook. A truly cathartic experience for me but also one that I felt contained messages of hope for other midlife women or indeed, anyone struggling with their mental health. At this time that was bound to be a lot of people. With that in mind, I determined to release the book to coincide with mental health awareness week and tried to think of how both could be combined to help others in some way. That’s when I decided to contact Just Talk Sutton, a local support group that I had considered reaching out to before.
To cut down on the details and move to the current situation, a short while after publishing I have now been able to make a small donation from book sales to their cause and I hope to meet up with them post lockdown, when a chat over a coffee seems once more like a normal activity. The normal everyday moments of life have taken on so much more significance now and the uncertainty of where our trajectory is taking us seeps into the psyche and makes it even more important for us all to focus on our well-being and to speak up to gain support. I think my poetry has been my support and finding this during lockdown was a positive outcome that I am proud to cling on to.
Several readers have already told me that they have felt able to find a moment of calm, to carve themselves a little ‘me time’ when dipping into the poems in the finished book. That has been the best reward for me, to know that the words that I found forming in my head have stretched beyond my lockdown and helped others in some small way during theirs. Beyond that, the whole process has helped me to re-evaluate myself as a writer and to try again to gain confidence when answering that question "What do you do?"
Writing this blog piece, still in the 2020 world of semi-lockdown, I wonder how much we have all been re-evaluating. There has been so much going on that it is truly hard to hold onto a positive mindset, to keep walking a pathway towards your goals. Yet, giving myself that permission I mentioned to take off the pressure, to stop doing what others were expecting me to do - to be creative on demand, actually gave me some space to discover a whole other direction. A direction that I felt comfortable with.
As time goes on, slowly getting us into some strange new normal, I think it is important to keep pursuing a direction and actions that you feel comfortable with. Others may shout or coerce you to do otherwise but it is important to stay true to yourself. The last few months have helped me to discover a little more of what that looks like for me. I hope it is the same for others.