Why I Write

A poem I’ve always loved by Stephen Dunn, Happiness, is particularly poignant for me at the moment:

Happiness

A state you must dare not enter

  with hopes of staying,

quicksand in the marshes, and all

the roads leading to a castle

  that doesn’t exist.

But there it is, as promised,

with its perfect bridge above

  the crocodiles,

and its doors forever open.

I am happy. I don’t know how I got to the castle but I did, and the crocodiles are nowhere to be seen! I don’t expect it to last, after all I am a manic depressive and it’s never been in my nature to be purely happy. I think I am contented though, and I think that will last because things lately are so much easier, and I love my family and we are having a lot of fun.

Something I am finding very difficult, however, is how to explain to people what it means to me to write poems, to read poems, to understand poems and to be an author. I don’t know many writers personally, I’m very much cocooned in my own world, my own castle. I find that people most often want to know if you’re making money or expect you to have done and are therefore puzzling to them because you are poor. I try to tell people that there’s no money in writing poetry and that it isn’t the point, but if not for money why would I waste so much time writing poems that aren’t even worth pounds? I never talk about this with anyone, it seems indecent for me to have to explain my art to people who have never even read a poem since highschool. I am feeling the tension about the book for next year with people who have just got the wrong idea. There’ s no wealth, no fame, no success worth having, and it cannot be achieved as a primary goal if you love to write. You write because you love. You write because it connects you to ideas, and readers, and life. You write because you are concerned for life and take interest in the minutae and have a huge heart. You write because you don’t know what else to do. It doesn’t always work, it doesn’t always mean anything at all, but you do it because you are human, and you want to feel human and you want to make an expression of humanity. You make a commitment to humanity when you write it all down, you make a little pledge with the world and with your emotions. You get somewhere, you explain things to yourself you would never have arrived at without poetry and thought. It is deeply pleasurable to write, when it feels right it feels amazing. You hold it all in your mind and in your body and then one day something snaps inside and you say, that’s right, and you put it all down, all that tension, all that language. It’s more often that not disappointing, because most things you want to say are so difficult and basic English doesn’t do them justice. But that spurs you on to try. How can you create poems and want there to be any other reason than you can’t stand it when you don’t write and you love to think that way and describe life and love in that way. This is not naivety, this is what I’m up against. I have the mental health team employment support coming round on Friday. Do you think they’ll be at all interested? They will get me a job at tesco in a flash. Even I, with no self esteem whatsoever, knows that I’m worth more than that.

And you are still wondering if I will make any money. Well it’s hardly vanity publishing but I assure you, the money is not even close to being worth anything to me, if indeed I sell any books, which I’m quite sure is not easy.

I wish I could say how much it means to have my work accepted and published. It is a justification, it is an honour, and it is a happy dream, you have always liked to think that your work would be liked and would be wanted and would be valid. It’s very hard to say what that means. It’s not about vanity, it’s about acceptance and belonging, it’s about being part of something really energetic and new that makes a change from being in your little house with your little notebooks and your little voice. And of course I always wanted to connect with others, I just found it easier to be alone. I feel like I can now call myself a writer, instead of always replying dimly,’ I’m a housewife.’ Screw housewife. I am a writer.

There’s been some setbacks with the schedule for Bite Your Tongue.. so I will announce as soon as it is available. I’ve been reading another Chipmunka writer’s memoir, Victim of Dreams, by Jeremy Gluck, who has a huge amount to say and to offer to anyone wanting to read an expressive account of mental illness. He has a distinctive prose style and is a unique voice on challenging mental health issues. Buy his ebook and help fight the stigma.

M x

Fireworks

We all consume products and produce that aren’t green , environmentally friendly, fair trade or in any way conscientious of workers in other countries being paid only what it takes to keep them alive. People now can’t afford to pay the extra cost and will buy cheap goods, cheap clothes, knowing that often sweat shops and factories abroad produced the goods to be paid very unfair wages in terrible conditions. We know this and yet we still buy. Like I said, some people can’t afford not to.

All that as it is, is one thing. Clothes, food, we need. The workers’ efforts are not entirely in vain. But one thing that really irks me, really makes me mad, is Bonfire Night. Bonfires. Fireworks. Children in poor countries, adults, poverty stricken human beings make these things, which last about 25 seconds on average. People die in these factories.

‘The United States imports of pyrotechnics and explosives from China is approaching $1 billion. Children are working in the fireworks industry. A recent report described an explosion at a fireworks factory in Hebei that killed one child and injured 34 schoolgirls ranging from 11 to 13 years of age. Investigators found that the school children had been forced by their teachers to work for slave wages making firecrackers.’ -Megan Grau

Children die and are injured as a result of fireworks every year, and yet we carry on. There is a shop nearby selling them, and on the list the fireworks go up to around £100 for not even a minute of enjoyment and I cannot believe that in the times we are living in it is drilled into kids at school and nobody ever gives a second thought to where their fireworks have come from.

What I’m saying is what is the fucking point? Yes I’m a killjoy. You’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. There may be many things you use and buy that aren’t ethically valid but nothing possibly as mental and as pointless as fireworks.

I hate my kids being around them, I get anxious. Neither of them has the sense to deal with explosives and my youngest has no fear. On average there are 1000 injuries in Britain from fireworks per year. It might not sound too bad but if it ends up being your kid.. Kids out of school get hold of them, me and my daughter had one thrown at us one year, it missed us. I just don’t know why people celebrate it.

Oh aren’t I the little misery guts today! x

Today, this very minute…

When I was mad I loved walking in the dark. I wouldn’t take a torch or a phone or anything I’d just walk, and I felt some relief, I felt invincible and I felt alive. Now I’m going to take a torch when I go out late, and maybe a phone if I feel as vulnerable as I possibly might be. I have to learn myself to take care of myself, to not tempt danger or let myself go, but to stay, as I tell myself visually, with bold letters: CALM, RELAXED, FOCUSED, and in CONTROL.

Today was a lovely day, I hardly had to tell myself at all. I went to a reading at Manchester Art Gallery by Pascale Petit, reading from her lovely collection ‘What the Water Gave Me,’ poems after Frida Kahlo, published by Seren Books. I have always admired Frida, and her work, and it seems there were lots of fans in the room which was completely full, and there were plenty of questions answered at the end and I got a signed copy of Pascale’s book, which I will read and maybe write some of my thoughts down here… Pascale mentioned a recent review which said the book was ‘a slaughter-house shot through with sunshine.’ I liked that. All the pain and also all of the jubilation of Frida was explored… She was so full of life.. Pascale managed to write, in the first person, Frida’s voice, or rather a mix of halves as she said. She was very convincing, looking at the images on the projector screen and listening to her it was lovely to be carried away with it. Her poems have such beautiful rhythm, my husband is a musician and he said he couldn’t stop himself mentally drumming to them, which I thought was lovely. I like that she said that a great deal of the book was intuitive, I felt a lot of affinity in the way she wrote the book to the way mine has been compiled of intuitive poems of others or an other sort of mediated and invoked by me. I really hope that my book is as provoking, colourful and sublime as Pascale’s. I think she read superbly, seemed in control, and read like she meant everything she said, that there was more than just a little bit of her in the poems, that she was speaking from her own experience as much as Frida’s. I think that it is easy to see how Frida can be so inspiring, her near fatal accident, her recovery, her operations, her agony, her turbulent love affairs and marriage, her learning to paint through the trauma, and her stunning work. I loved ‘Self Portrait with Monkeys:’

‘It’s today, this very minute,

that life offers us its riches.’

I so often think nowadays about time and how moments are taken for granted, that all we have are moments, shifting relentlessly forward. The past is past. So these words are so important, so brimming with importance and fortune and love.

This evening I went walking while it was still light and the air was wet and cold and I was slipping on the fallen leaves. This is what I do to think, to channel things, to let thoughts mature, a bit like the Surrealists. Only I don’t wander so much as follow the beaten path, it’s the repetition I crave, the familiarity. I listen to music sometimes, but it has to have a repetitive beat, I just sort of let the cogs turn and let my breathing come in slow waves and I think my way in and out of different places and emotions in my head. This is how most of my work gets done. Poets can work incredibly hard without actually doing any writing. The thinking takes up half the time, the clasping inspiration, which for me is so often absent right now. I know I will write another collection, but I have no idea whether it will be in the next year or the next twenty years. I can’t not write poetry, but then I can’t always write good poetry. I think I have to imagine a project, something to keep everything in check and pull it all together, I wonder when my next project will take shape, it’s exciting just to think of it, I had so much fun and enjoyed writing the new book so much. I just wish I could find the title. It’ll come. The clocks ticking in the downstairs of my house are just out of sync, just faintly keep pulse-time while I’m writing. They just remind me to keep channelling to the moment and the day and the hour and not years back where there’s just pain. Oh I so wish I kept spider monkeys like Frida! Spider monkeys and parrots. How could anyone be sad in a room filled with spider monkeys.

My daughter turned eleven at the weekend. I feel older suddenly, have just been seeing myself age for the past year. I think to myself, all the stress I’ve been under it’s a wonder I don’t look worse. My daughter had a sleepover party and we went bowling and ate pizza and it all went well for her, except the bit where we woke to the smoke alarm because the girls were making us cheese on toast for breakfast. When she was born, I was a teenage mum with such an age of pain and sadness and hurt. She kept me strong. I often wish I was a better mother but I’ve always done my best for her, and I am so proud of her, she is an amazing creature.

Night is setting in….

xx

Hits-Misses…

Going Up…

old notebooks

stroong coffee

double duvets

soup

sleepy dogs

Led Zep

Tom Vowler

keeping warm like nana told you

Kalagora

shoes that fit

Tommy Tiernan

ituneschoiceparalysis

home haircuts

being left alone

cheap Bailey’s

lingering sunshine

being awkward

no rain while my shoes still have a hole in

Going Down…

Answering the phone

cheese for breakfast

shop bought cake

drowsiness

planning (anything)

driving (anywhere)

new neighbours that stand in the bay window with the curtains half closed watching

hot chocolate

torn worn shoes

walking in the dark without a torch

not getting a book in the post

pineapples

sharing germs

not being able to give blood

cold feet

getting roped into things (anything)

moulting dogs

scented candles

people skills

The Essential Handbook…

I was in the library the other day and I picked up a book on display, something like The Essential Guide to Bipolar Disorder. It was white with rainbow coloured text and was quite thick. It looked like some light reading, like a cookery book. I had a look, of course all the usual details were there, symptoms for depression and mania and advice and medication etc. and I felt quite annoyed by it. This is something I feel a lot of the time, so bear with me. It looked sterile. It was a handbook, like you can buy a handbook to go to Rome but the experience far outweighs the facts a handbook can offer. I thought that people reading the book could have no sense of what it is like. Of course, having these kinds of books may help some people to get a better perspective but I also think that if someone can’t empathise, then they never will. Some people just don’t have it in them, and no book will bring them round. There is a new glossy magazine out now called Uncovered. It deals with issues around mental health. I think it’s a good thing to raise awareness but then I also hear from people working within social services that they are overrun with people trying to feign mental illness for benefits. I think that things like Uncovered can work for example with Post-Natal illness and Anxiety and Depression because it often takes a bit of a wake up to realise that you do need some help. But frankly, if you have bipolar or schizophrenia, you certainly won’t need a magazine or a book to tell you there’s anything wrong, or tell anyone around you, it will engulf you. 

Books don’t help me. They would however help younger people being diagnosed, struggling in school and needing psychiatric care. That’s when children can’t understand, and feel abnormal. I don’t believe mental illness should be normalised, how can you normalise something which clearly isn’t normal…but kids need it putting out there so they know they’re not alone. A book helped me when I was fifteen and had been given a diagnosis, nobody in the family bothered to read it.

What really gets to me is all the stuff that people don’t see. What it’s like on a psychiatric ward, the noise, the aggression, the sadness, the tears, the threats, the apathy, the suicidal, the self-harm, the drugs, the degradation, the humiliation, the bullying, the relationships, the madness, the psychosis, the dirt, the pain. And all the many millions of pills and injections. That’s why I back chipmunka, people should read about these experiences, these real experiences, not handbooks. We should encourage kids to write about their experiences, to put them into words, to shout out loud.

Nobody can write about despair in any way which other people can imagine. Despair goes along in silence, it atrophies, it corrodes. There is no language for it. When people talk about the 1 in 4, normalising mental health problems sometimes I wonder what kind of an image that creates. Is it really one in which people can be more tolerant. At the clinic I go to for my depot there is a big board with posters up of famous people and successful people and there are quotes…and they all look so well, and are we to believe then that everyone should be able to for example be a boss of a company or a celebrity and also suffer from severe enduring mental health problems. It is not possible for everyone to find a level where they can continue to work or find gainful employment and still manage their symptoms. Some people are not ever well, through no fault of their own. Some people find the answers and the strength and the insight after many years of suffering and can make good of it. I am well for the first time since I was about ten years old and I’m getting to a place where I can achieve and I can go out and I can speak out. When I see the patients waiting in the depot clinic reading the posters, then staring at their feet and shuffling their legs and wringing their hands and trying hard to stay awake, I think, there’s nothing pretty about this, and I think that these are the people they should be putting on posters. I think, what must it be like to have these people that haven’t been slashing their arms all their lives and haven’t been sectioned and haven’t been on smack and crack and drinking their livers to mush and failing at relationships, friendships, life, love…what must it be like when you’re that down you don’t know what the next day will bring and you live with a severe enduring mental health disorder and you have these people shoved in front of you, Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry. I know that the majority of people reading this will think I’m wrong, and cruel and not appreciating the huge awareness campaign there’s been over the past few years. I just want it to be real. Not glossy magazines, not handbooks. Not posters, not glaring out at misery.

If anyone reading this is suffering, write it down, someone one day will want to read it. Be real. Be loud. Don’t be sterile.

I suppose there is a balanced way of looking at it, that there is awareness (even though I don’t believe awareness ever affects the people who need to be more aware but helps those who want to try and understand) and that being 1 in 4 sounds less lonely than you being the only person you know. There are conditions that people need to feel confident about approaching their doctor about, like anxiety disorders and depression, which are common and which can be treated either with medication or other support. I think it’s especially prevalent in men not to seek help and suffering needlessly. I believe that if there is something wrong and you can take something for it then you’d be stupid to go on suffering when it’s available to you. Awareness is helpful. Awareness probably saves lives, people who are so alone they commit suicide, awareness and support does save lives. I think I just wish that people knew. I mean really knew. How I’ve survived this long I’ll never know. I hope Uncovered is a success and that handbooks continue to explain all the things that they are capable of explaining for family and friends. But I still feel that the stigma hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just getting shoved around the room.

Wig-Witch

I was in the local shop today when some women burst in saying ‘wig-witch, you know that wigwitch, that woman with the long straggly blonde hair who sits at the bus stop all day, you know that weird one. She just walked down Queen Street in her pyjamas and nothing on her feet with a kitchen knife in her hand.’

I found this distressing. I found it primarily distressing that the woman had a particularly nasty nickname that other people were aware of and used. Wig witch. I was hoping that nothing bad happened, I was hoping she was safe and being cared for. One reason that a vulnerable person might take a knife outside with them is because they are scared. Another is because they are vulnerable.

It might seem that I’m being a little bit daft in my thinking, but I’ve been in mental health services most of my life and I have met so many people. There have been virtually none that I felt afraid of or that I believed would harm someone, and I have met far more ‘sane’ non-service users that have given me reason to be afraid of them. Mostly, you hear about mental illness in the papers when someone gets killed or commits a crime but that gives a misleading representation of people with severe enduring mental health problems because I am sure that there are as many if not more people commiting crimes without having mental health problems.

I see the lady the women were talking about, all the time. She sits in a bench near the bus stop in the centre of town, she talks to people, she has a bag of chips, she smokes her roll-ups and she wears bright clothes. I know her as someone with mental health problems. She brings something to the town, she is colourful and eccentric and must be going through it to have gone out in her pyjamas this morning. I feel protective of her. We’re all in this together. That’s how I see it. It’s sad that she will have been gossiped about all over town today and that the name wig-witch will stick.

Poem: Engulf

A poem I am working on: 

Engulf

I was watching a tv show about sharks.

When I was little I would tell everyone I wanted to be a marine

     biologist,

mostly because no-one else had thought of it and it had a fancy

     name,

but also because I loved tv shows about sharks.

I want to see the whales in the sea, because big things can’t be

     easily comprehended. I want

to be next to a whale and so I can see how small I am, how

     measurable.

You went to the top of the Empire State Building years ago,

and listened to Goddess on a Hiway by Mercury Rev looking out.

That always impressed me.

The biggest thing I’ve ever known was a tourist cruise liner in my

    early twenties

when I had a bit of money to spend.

The only problem was that every time I was on deck I wanted to

     throw myself

violently into the swells,

and so I had to stay away and try to breathe properly.

It’s impossible to write.

I’ve been thinking things over too much,

I have been weighing things up and nothing’s on my side. Did

     you know that sharks

can stop swimming, it’s just a myth that they can’t. Inertia

will kill them eventually, but it takes time.

All my actions prior to March of this year have been dangerous,

subtle, but taken with the unsteady mind of a madwoman.

I have a shaky reputation.

One woman fed a great White Shark a fish off the edge of her

     boat, stood with the water lapping her

 feet. She said if the shark had wanted to

it could’ve pulled her straight into the sea and eaten her, but it

     had a decent personality,

as all sharks have their own personality.

Many sharks have their tails and fins sliced off for soup

and their bodies just fall

to the bottom of the ocean bed and lie there,

taking several days to die.

I am sorry for being so fallible.

The feeling engulfs me, inside my skin.

The white-tipped reef shark is the most dangerous, it is

     responsible

for the majority of shark-related human deaths;

people need statistics for things like this, even if they’ll only ever

     make it to Torquay.

We’re not really afraid of sharks, we’re not even afraid

of cars or the ordinary killers, like age and heart attacks.

Do you often think about death? I don’t believe you.

The mega mouth shark was only spotted in the seventies.

It is so beautiful no-one could bear to see it alive.

We have to kill those beautiful things to keep them alive.

When I look at you, I see nothing of me.

When I look at you. The sea is older than love;

there are so many skeletons at the very bottom with

fishes swimming in and out and sharks gliding in the darkness.

You are older than me, but when I look at you I see

my youth, what little there was of it, climbing into your arms

     curled up

and hanging on your every breath

with an ear pressed to your heart.