Over the years of writing, albeit sporadic at times, I’ve learned that feedback is an essential part of the journey. To say I was out of practice at putting personal work out there would be an understatement. In school and college days critiques were common and part of the my writing make up, I didn’t really think too much about it. Perhaps because I was just doing a lot of those exercises and essays to tick a box. I like ticking things off lists and if I was to really be honest I think the project I am working on now is possibly another item I want to tick off the list,
I’ve been working on a collection of poems which I am hoping to publish later this year. I thought the hard part would be writing the poems but now that I am at editing and revision stage I know that there is a great deal of work ahead of me. This has evoked everything from impatience and annoyance in me because it means I will take longer to tick that box. Ultimately, this is a good thing but for now I just find it irritating.
As I know the context for every poem, every image and emotion it makes it difficult to accept another persons honest perspective. I’ve had good and bad feedback, some which I was expecting and more which I wasn’t. Nonetheless, even the harshest criticism has something to teach you. You don’t always have to agree with it but you do have to accept that your readers don’t have the same knowledge on these poems as you do and these suggestions and notes are beneficial. They make you look at your own work in another light.
I knew it would be one of the trickier aspects of writing a poetry collection, or any work being published. I attended a course in the Irish Writers Centre last year on self publishing and was warned. Yes, this is your book and you think it’s magical and perfect in every way… but it’s not. Edits are vital. Do not skip them. I thought about it though but just for a second I promise. I am now facing going back through each word that I have written and dissecting it. It’s a bit daunting but it must be done. Today I started that and all I could get through was step 1 – reading the feedback and trying to find the key points I want to take from it. The task of tackling any more than that today is a bit too much so instead I am going to let it marinade for another week and perhaps do some pen to paper work on new ideas instead,
I’ll tick that box though…. sooner or later.
In just under a month I enter my thirties. While I am a little sad to acknowledge that my twenties are soon to be a thing of the past I do welcome some of the things that come with entering a new decade. I marked the occasion by visiting New York with my oldest friend. The trip didn’t disappoint.
My twenties, and most people’s twenties, are a time to explore and figure out what it is you want to do, where you want to be, what you like and dislike in life and so on. I have had many jobs, visited many places, met and lost touch with many people, lived at home and abroad, figured out what my passions are, what my personal strengths and weaknesses are and worked on myself in many ways in the hope of being more a “together” person for my thirties. In recent weeks I had a particularly tough time with my anxiety for many reasons and hit a point that left me feeling like a bit of a failure. I had this notion that I should be passed that now that I am thirty, that I’ve done enough work now to be “perfect”. That has always been the aim. One I now know is not only unreachable but unnecessary.
Something I have to reiterate to myself sometimes is that many things in life are ongoing. I used to think that when I was twenty I’d have all the answers, then when I reached that age I convinced myself… no it’ll be about twenty five. Then I’ll have the house, the husband, the career and all the knowledge in the world. Much to my surprise by twenty five this wasn’t the case either. The secret is when you’re younger you think adults know everything. They’re these wise creatures to which no issue is too complex. Eventually, and I mean eventually, you begin to realise that no one ever really knows exactly what they’re doing. To some extent everyone is guessing as they go along what the next thing to do is. It’s that light bulb moment that makes you feel a bit more at ease.
I still think that a lot of old school social standards and expectations dominate day to day life in terms of timelines and hitting certain milestones at particular points. It’s unfortunate but ultimately I think it is up to us as individuals to change that. One of my aims at the moment is to try not to make any judgements on others even if I completely disagree with their thoughts, actions or decisions they make. I am not saying this is always easy but the least we can do is respect each other even if there are vast differences of opinion. If everyone did this even a few times a day I think society could evolve to be a much more harmonious place.
When I look back on my twenties I am fairly proud of everything I have achieved. I am not exactly where I would like to be in some aspects but that’s ok. Someone in work said this week that he believes age is just a number and he knows people in their twenties who act like they are in their fifties and vice versa. With that in mind I think moving onward is key and allowing yourself to fall every now and then isn’t any kind of negative reflection on where you are. Often we are our own harshest critics so less judgement on ourselves is no harm either.
That time I left the restaurant for fear of what would start.
That time I text to cancel even though it broke my heart.
That time you looked straight through me and I knew you thought I’d lied.
That time I hid the truth from you to save my foolish pride.
It’s not that I don’t want to be there.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s just I have this other thing I simply cannot mute.
It hovers all around me and sometimes calls my name.
Reminds me of just how quickly a situation can change.
I know it won’t make sense to you. That’s ok and not the point.
I just need you to know those times were not my fault…
I sit in my writing room to see a motivational quote on almost everything. “Dream Big”, “Believe in your Dreams”, “You Got this”. I could go on but you get the idea! I look to another part of my writing room and see a map of the world with countries I’ve visited scratched out but more notably I’m looking at all the places I still want to see. I think about my personal life and am happy with some aspects but then there are parts that I want to change but in order to do that I need to do a number of other things. Those things happen to take time and patience, something I’m lacking!
At some point over the last two or so weeks I’ve had a few of those moments where you have realisations. You know the kind.. the wow, when did I become an adult and actually have to make decisions that could really influence my future, or hmmm, I’m turning thirty in a few months I should probably think about X, Y & Z. Now please don’t think this is the first time in my life when I realise I’m making important decisions and that I am only now able to calculate my age because it’s not. However, it is one of those moments when things really hit home, properly sink in and leave you feeling a bit more cautious in your decision making.
I would say I’ve always been an ambitious person. If I set myself a goal more often than not I will get there sooner or later but I think about all the things I want to do across the various parts of my life and think how am I going to do all that. I want to travel the world, have a great profession, get married and have a family, be a published author, buy my own home, be fit and healthy both mentally and physically, be financially secure, I want my down time and my social life. I suppose ultimately It’s about managing my time the right way making sure I set aside time for each area that is important to me but nonetheless I can’t help but think how do people do it all. I won’t overthink it because that could be disheartening but so far I think I’m not doing too bad a job at chipping away at that list. A lot of the areas are a work in progress so I suppose it’s just baby steps on each front. Every hour I spend writing is a step closer, every plane I board is a step further and every decision will hopefully bring me in the right direction.
No, I haven’t completely forgotten about my blog but the poor thing does get neglected from time to time. It’s a crime I am definitely guilty of. I vowed at the beginning of the year that I would write something for my website at least once a week and typical to any new years resolution it fell apart somewhat quickly. Despite that however, I am still writing various bits and pieces even if life gets in the way.
Working a full time job while trying to write on the side can be tiring. Don’t get me wrong, I know nothing worth having ever comes easy and I am old enough and bold enough to know that I respect my writing enough that I will always have it be a constant in my life. That’s partially the reason the tattoo is there after all. A not so subtle reminder to remember what I always fall back on, to acknowledge the times it has got me through and to strive to keep connecting with people through words. Trying to convey similarities in experiences and finding common ground and understanding with people is one of the reasons I love writing. I think if we all spoke honestly we’d probably find a lot more common ground with others but that’s another post entirely. So while I enjoy writing, and it’s definitely a massive part of who I am, you still have to go to the desk and write, even though there are times when you would rather not. Discipline with this has been an issue for me in the past with writing. I think that’s why it took me until age 27 to have the light bulb moment where I realised how influential writing has been to me since the age of about 8.
Aside from work I had been away for a break to Kos, Greece in June. It was a fantastic holiday! I hope to have that piece in the Evening Echo shortly so I won’t speak too much about it here. I think the main reason the website is always pushed to the back burner and particularly in the last few months is because I am working on a book. I started “Growing Pains” in March of this year and although still very much a work in progress it’s something I am excited and terrified about all at the same time. The book is going to be a collection of poems. That’s all I will say for the moment because it is still an infant in my eyes and is no where near ready to face the big bad world! Writing a book isn’t something I had ever thought I could do until a year or so ago and particularly when I completed a writing course on memoir. Something else planned for that too but I think it will be a much bigger animal or at least a very different one!
With that in mind I am going to end this post and get back to the infant!
Something I have been hearing a lot about lately is how as humans we latch on to certain aspects of ourselves to form an identity and create a storyline for ourselves. I think the point of creating the storyline is to then help us to make sense of our lives, the path we are on and to bring some kind of knowledge and understanding into what is otherwise a confusing time on earth. We think we need these storylines to get through life because without them… who are we? Not having that sense of identity can be very unsettling and off putting so we continue to create and weave this tale so we can feel more comfortable in knowing who we are.
Taking myself as an example, I was once in a counselling session and was explaining how I felt about grief. I felt like I was stuck and that I wanted to get to the next part but something just wouldn’t let me. I had no idea what that thing was. If I tried to pinpoint or visualise it there was nothing there. That next step was a part of grief I hadn’t reached before, acceptance. I knew I was ready to accept it and move on. It didn’t mean I was forgetting, it just meant being a bit more at peace and allowing myself to live without always being dragged back to the loss. It transpired that the reason I was subconsciously not allowing myself to move forward was because I didn’t know who I would be if I didn’t have the burden of grief to carry with me. The loss had been a huge part of my identity from the age of twelve so here I was in my late twenties wanting to move on but not knowing why I couldn’t. It made perfect sense to me and I had never had that realisation before, they were right. I had no idea who I was without that loss as it had formed such a huge part of my life and there was something about that that was a little unsettling. I think we like to think that we all know ourselves inside out and that we always know exactly why we are the way we are but the reality is sometimes you don’t, and what’s more is, that’s ok.
There are parts of ourselves that we think we have to be all the time because without that feeling, activity or experience who are we? I can see it happening a little now to myself with migraine because they have become more prevalent in recent years. My mom said to me the other day when I was thinking out loud about something and I worried how it might impact on my migraine and my mom responded with but you don’t even know if you are going to still be getting them then, they may stop. My response was dismissive in a yeah… sure kind of manner because migraine has become part of my identity now but that doesn’t mean it will be this dominant forever. Things shape and mould us but don’t have to define us. Instead of sticking to my old storylines I am going to try and create some new ones, or better yet, not write any and see what happens. Not knowing everything about ourselves and where we are going can’t be that frightening.. can it?
Images – Bing Images (2009 Lisa Slavid)
It’s funny when you stop and listen to silence jus how comforting it can be. When you stop flooding your mind with music, noise, advertisements, radio, thinking and other people’s opinions. Just at that moment before you fall asleep at night try not to pick up the phone and just be. Be with your thoughts, your ideas, your realisations, your lessons, your interpretations. Those few minutes before you fall asleep, at least for me, is one of the nicest moments of the day. You can relax, feel safe from any of life’s challenges, rest and then take them on again the next day. The momentary breather from the pressure, social and professional. The limbo between today and tomorrow.
There’s no rule book or instructions.
No safety kit or guide.
No step by step approach to “win” at this thing they call life.
You screw each part together.
Hoping it will fit,
And when it falls to pieces.
You promise yourself you won’t quit.
And finally you think you’ve built it.
It looks and seems just right.
Until you place a book upon that shelf,
And realise again, it’s too much to one side.
In today’s society we are all constantly bombarded with images, messages and communication from every angle. It becomes normality to the point where we feel as though we can’t function without it when in actuality generations of people survived just fine. With work pressures, families, friends, relationships and social pressure it can be difficult to just remember to take ten or fifteen minutes to stop. Stop working, stop thinking, stop worrying. Eventhough we should naturally be able to switch off these days of course we may need the help of an app! And the one that I love is called Headspace.
I have downloaded and deleted Headspace about three or four times in the last few years but this time I made a pact with myself that I would keep it. I have a tendency to get caught up in thought. They start as a fleeting image and once you engage with that thought it very quickly becomes real in your head and that is difficult to reign back in whereas if you never let it get that far it’s much easier to manage. The concept of headspace is simple. There are a series of meditations that are aimed to help you become more aware and mindful and the range of topics covered is vast. They vary from stress, depression, anxiety, sleep, relationships, balance, motivation and focus to body scans, restoration, pain management, sports, everyday tasks like commuting, cooking, the list is endless. Each package varies in length but is usually for 30 days on the basis that you listen to one a day. Each session is ten minutes long with an option to reduce to five minutes or extend to 30. I try to do it three times a day, first thing in the morning before getting up, after work and before sleeping. This time round what made me do it was trying to manage migraine. I found myself more anxious after getting one which loops back into triggering it from time to time so I am making a conscious effort to try and be aware of my mind and body and how they are interacting with each other.
The app itself is very user friendly. It’s not overly serious as the topic of well being, particularly mental well being, can be daunting for some people so it’s a very approachable app (if an app had personal traits!). The concepts and imagery are simple but incredibly effective and slowly build a series of tips that you can incorporate into your daily life and over time helps you to build a greater sense of self confidence and assurance to help you manage whatever difficulty you find yourself having. As well as the meditations themselves there are also a collection of animations which help to visualise the tips that are being taught. As well as the packages within the app there are also daily minis which change everyday and discuss a new area or look at mindfulness through another scope.
The biggest lesson I have taken from both counselling and apps like Headspace is to always observe thoughts and don’t engage with them. That’s not to say that you ignore anything which needs to be addressed but is a massively useful tip for those who manange anxiety on a daily basis. Be warned though it takes practice and maintenance. I tend to dip in and out of these routines when I feel better only to find 6 months later that I have fallen off the wagon for lack of a better phrase. Our natural instinct is to engage with thoughts and either argue them off or feed into them but this app has definitely had a positive impact on me and I can only encourage others to use it too. The app has a free section which gives you a taster of what it’s like and costs about 12 euro a month if you pay monthly but is cheaper if you purchase the annual subscription. For me it is an investment and so far it is the nudge for me to just take ten minutes to sit down, stop thinking about what needs to get done next, stop focusing on what could happen, stop rushing and racing and just be… just for a few minutes a day. You never know you might love it! For more info see https://www.headspace.com/
Image – Bing images and Headspace
She traced her steps back to where it had all started. That night when she met him for the first time. She had no idea that the man she would meet that evening would have such an impact on her and for the better. They had sat in a wine bar drinking a bottle of red laughing at anecdotes, sharing stories and learning about each others’ lives. She was so cross with Lily for setting her up on a blind date and it was only after two days of not speaking to her that she gave in and reluctantly went. She felt silly now at how annoyed she had been.
Six years later and she sat in that same wine bar except this time she was by herself. She ordered a glass of red and contemplated if he would take her back. She would have given anything to hit a restart button and make different choices. All she could do now was wait and every second was agonising…