Our eyes met briefly as he lifted the small cardboard box filled with a couple of TV dinners and some cat food, but it was enough for me to see far more than perhaps a lot of people do.
He’d noticed my solitary purchase sitting on the conveyor belt minutes earlier. “Dinner?” he asked, glancing at my lone block of chocolate. “Absolutely,” I laughed.
He’d attracted my curiosity as I approached the line-up. I hadn’t seen an armed officer for a while and the gun on his right hip stood out. I wondered if he was on a break or about to finish his shift and head home. Do police officers take their guns home with them these days? It seems unlikely. Wouldn’t they be locked up safely at the station somewhere?
These thoughts wandered through my head before and after he jokingly questioned my purchasing choice. There was something about him that intrigued me. He seemed awkward while waiting in line, disconnected somehow but also hyper-aware of his surroundings. He wore long black trousers and a blue business shirt. He was overdressed on a Sunday when compared to everyone else. Yet, he had the look of someone who could fade into the background easily. Nondescript. I guess that’s a good quality to have in his line of work – to not be seen.
His purchases marked him as a single shift worker with a cat. Or perhaps a married shift worker with a cat. I didn’t catch sight of a wedding ring but I know many officers don’t wear one – it’s to prevent giving away personal information when they’re working. This seems reasonable when you consider the kinds of people they have to deal with day in, day out.
It also explained that look before he left. It was the look of a man who had seen too much and was left with a repair bill that was rather exorbitant. I considered what the woman who is with him or would be with him in the future would need to navigate. A man like that would be tough sometimes. Closed. Damaged. There was trauma in those eyes. How do you cope with seeing so much pain and ugliness in the world? How do you avoid that seeping insidiously into other parts of your life? Perhaps it occurs without you being conscious of it. It just becomes part of you, something you carry around and never quite release.
Was it his energy that made him so interesting to me? My gaze had returned to him repeatedly. I could also feel his awareness of me the entire time we stood in line. Did he sense me watching him and that’s why he looked up as he gathered his purchases? Or did he simply want to appreciate me one more time before he left?
I don’t know. But he had the eyes of a man who had seen too much. And the soul of a man who had felt love too little.
‘I read your blog. There’s a lot of poetry on there,’ said You Know Who You Are.
I’ve been writing a lot of poetry lately. I can’t honestly tell you why or when I became a poet, but it seems that I am. On my last count I’d written around 150 poems since May and five of those have been written this week! It’s a seemingly never-ending stream of words, rhyme and rhythm that turns up and demands to be written. So I write it.
Like the rest of my writing, my poems are very autobiographical so I need to be a little circumspect in what I publish here on my blog. Social media and the online world is so very open and everyone can know your business (exes and current lovers included) and words can be misinterpreted, too revealing or understood perfectly (horror oh horror). Other times I publish immediately, unable to keep it to myself, but then worry that I have revealed too much (oh the mortification!). Nevertheless, if you read all my poems you would see the outline of my life – its ups and downs, twists and turns and yes, let’s face it, the times when I’ve fallen flat on my face. It’s all there in those poetic words that just won’t leave me alone.
The tone of these works inevitably rise and fall with the happenings in my personal life because they are all connected to love. Love – whether it’s causing a flood or a drought in my life – is always there. And, for those of you who know the tempestuous possibilities of that emotion, I’m sure you would agree with my statement that sometimes love can indeed, drive you to madness.
My poems, when they appear in my psyche and demand to be written, cover all aspects of that madness – the pain, the exhilaration, the gentleness, the devastation, the silence (the most cruel aspect and hateful aspect of all). Not to mention anger, passion and of course, sex (whether you actually have it or just think about having it…all the time!).
Love seems to me to be an inescapable thing. Ever-present and ever-persistent.
The wonderful thing about poetry though, is it helps me to release that madness within. Like many women, I tend to obsess, to cling to that emotional roller-coaster and manipulate every detail in my brain to try and understand just what happened or will happen or might happen. But my poetry perverts the course of this bad habit. It simply grasps all those emotions and forces me to throw them onto the page. The form is not of my design – I firmly believe that is coming from elsewhere. But it is my fingers that fly across the keyboard.
Afterwards I often feel spent, exhausted, sated, like after great sex (okay, incredible sex) or a good cry where your tears fall like torrents. I will wonder if the madness has left me then. I will wonder if there is more to write. How can there be more to say?
Inevitably though, the rhythm will return and I am drawn once again to the black keys on my Mac. Love will haunt me again – love lost, love wished for, love longed for – driving my fingers onwards.
It seems that love holds the soul of poetry for me. So for now, love is all I need, or at least the promise of what I thought it was, or what it could be.
A few years ago, thanks to a redundancy package, I was getting ready to leave my full-time government job and head off into the unexplored lands that lay beyond. It was my plan to spend the following year writing the first draft of my first book.
I’d been discussing this endeavour with my friend and colleague, Matt, and he was very supportive. He also wanted to write a book and was keen to support someone with a similar dream.
As my last day drew near, he would regularly stop by my desk and ask cheekily, ‘When you are going to send me the link to your blog?’
‘Before I go,’ I’d say. And he would nod, smile and move on.
At that stage, only a few close friends knew about my blog and I wrote under a pseudonym. But in a moment of weakness I’d succumbed to Matt’s questions and agreed to send him the details before I left. And he was not going to let me forget it.
My last day drew ever closer and Matt did not let up. He was determined and I was filled with dread. Matt is a journalist and as such, trained to write professionally. He knows his stuff. I on the other hand am a PR chick. I’ve written about lots of serious issues in my career for all types of publications but I’m not a trained journalist and my blog back then was about ‘frivolous’ issues like dating, men and having no clue about either of those things.
‘Who am I to think I can write?’ I thought to myself. ‘Matt is going to think it’s a complete load of rubbish! He’ll never take me seriously again.’
My last day arrived as did Matt, loitering near my desk once again. We exchanged goodbyes and he reminded me of my promise. ‘I won’t forget,’ I said. And he was gone.
Not long before I closed my computer down for the last time, I sent my blog link to him by email along with some words asking that he not judge it too harshly.
As the email departed from my screen, I felt mortified. I wanted to sink through the floor and hide forever. He was going to think I was completely lame. Oh, the embarrassment.
The next day (my first day of freedom), I got up, turned on my computer and logged into my emails. Matt had already sent me his thoughts on my writing.
I took a deep breath and began to read his words which were along the following lines.
‘Lucretia, I don’t know what all the fuss was about. There’s nothing wrong with your writing. You’re a writer, so write.’
He wrote a few other things that day and his words were incredibly supportive. I was so grateful. Those few sentences helped me to believe I could be taken seriously. His words helped me to take myself seriously. His words were a gift.
Later this year, I will be self-publishing my first book. It’s not highbrow and it’s not revolutionary. But it’s my story and the support of people like Matt over the past few years, has helped me believe that it’s worth putting out there.
Sometimes it’s kind words that can make the difference between following your dream or abandoning hope. So when someone says they believe you can do it, believe them.
And if you don’t have someone like a ‘Matt’ in your world right now, then you should know that I believe you can do it. Your dream is yours, so go for it.
I’ve been writing poetry. ‘What?! You, poetry?’ you could be forgiven for exclaiming in shock. It is unexpected and I’m right there with you in the shock department.
The last time I wrote poetry was in high school and I still have some of it in one of my old teenage diaries. That exercise book is filled with the angst and agony of youth. It’s unlikely I would ever show it to anyone because it’s not the quality I’d want to promote now. Nevertheless, it was an honest exploration of where I was at, at the time.
I don’t know if the poetry I am writing these days is any better. It began to appear a little while ago and has, in the last couple of weeks, become a raging torrent determined to be written at every opportunity.
The muse usually arrives in the late night, when I often feel the most creative. Around 10pm the words will begin to arrange themselves in my brain and the rhythm of the language begins. It chugs like the wheels of an old steam train, building momentum and pushing me towards my laptop. I can be in the middle of something else, or desperately tired, but still it demands an expression. And once I give in, and my fingers begin to fly across the keyboard, I have to type and type and type until the poem is done. Some of them are five pages long!? Even when I want them to be done, there is more to come. The rhythm continues until it is spent so on I go until the ending is reached. I cannot pause before; I am not permitted. The muse insists and so I must follow.
Some nights and even during the day (when the muse also makes unexpected appearances), I ask for a moment’s peace. Let me rest, I ask. I’m granted a reprieve for a time but it always returns, demanding more.
The themes are bright and distinct like the colours of a rainbow – passion, love, anger, destruction, madness and redemption, yet they merge at the edges and sometimes all appear within one piece. They wring my emotions from me until I believe there can be none left – I sob, I yell, I smile, I feel anger, joy, love, hope and despair. Yet still there is always more. Like most of my writing it is reflective of my experience. But there is an essence in the work I have not found before. It is another layer of my being unwrapped in rhyme and rhythm. My emotional undoing has undone the strings and poetry has fallen out. How strange.
‘Is there a book in this? Who on earth reads poetry these days anyway?’ I ask myself. Yet the muse does not care for these questions. Instead it (he? she?) demands an opening for its expression and I must heed the call. So the poetry continues sometimes three or four a day, and I must write it.
Is it any good, you might well ask. My answer: I have absolutely no idea. But still it is there to be written and I must write it. It’s a compulsion that keeps me up late and then I sleep late before repeating it all again. I’m writing these very words at 12.43am!
I see the structure of the words and the story they will tell. It’s a brutally honest and confronting one. It’s also a surprise and I worry I’ll lose the trail of thoughts. I worry the muse will disappear and not return, leaving the work unfinished and hanging like a flag at half-mast, never reaching its potential.
But although it may rest for a day or two, the muse always returns with fresh demands. Its rhythm coursing through me as it commands my fingers deep into the night, and the marauding possums romp through the trees outside my window exploring their mysterious dark world, just as I explore the darkest recesses of my mind.
My editor rang yesterday and I cringed when I saw her number appear on my iPhone.
It wasn’t because Kristy is a horrible person – she is in fact, completely awesome. But I knew she’d ask about my editing and I would have to tell the truth…that I had barely started.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’ve been working on a memoir for a few years now. I’m currently in the home stretch – I just need to finish editing and then publish it. All the words are there. They just need (as Kristy puts it) ‘a little tweaking’.
But I’ve been stuck for a couple of months.
I could give you a few reasonably valid reasons for my inertia during this time. For example, there’s my recovery from a break-up and another writing project I started just before New Years that now sits at 43,000 words and counting. I could tell you that my spiritual work has been increasing every day. Or I could say that a myriad of other ‘life’ things and work commitments have just got in the way and kept me busy.
All of these things would be true. But they don’t touch on the three real reasons on why I haven’t finished my first book.
I’ve been hiding from the editing because, being a memoir, some of the content is still a little sensitive and I have to be brave and look at myself honestly when I revisit it. I have to be willing to truly face and accept my demons when I re-read my words.
Secondly, I worry that my words will never be good enough and it will be criticised as self-indulgent claptrap. I know this fear is not unique to me, every author has it at some point. Nevertheless, it sits between me and the finish line.
Thirdly (and this is the big one), I’m not great at self-accountability. I can meet deadlines brilliantly for other people but my personal ones often go swishing past with no actual delivery. Is it about putting other people first? Partly. Is it about not having enough faith in myself to actually finish? Most definitely.
Sometimes I’m just brilliant at getting in my own way.
Yesterday I decided to try a different approach and get some support to get things done!
As Kristy, by her own confession, suffers from similar personal roadblocks, we decided to make an Accountability Pact. We each decided on two goals we were going to reach this month and committed to achieving them. We will meet at the end of March, in person, and if we haven’t achieved our goals we’ll have to explain why. I’ve even suggested that if this doesn’t work, we could implement consequences for failing to deliver in future months.
It’s only day two but so far we’re both off to a great start and have been sharing our achievements. And, if all goes well, I will have my book edited by the end of the month.
The Accountability Pact isn’t only about achieving goals. It’s about having someone out there who will cheer you on and help you celebrate when you reach a milestone. Even more importantly, it’s about someone helping you to get out of your own way.
My lovely friend Mandi* recently said she wanted to know herself better but didn’t know where to start. Sometimes she reacted to events in ways she didn’t understand, and didn’t always feel proud of.
‘How can I get in touch with myself?’ she asked. ‘How can I understand myself better?’
Mandi is in her 20s but her questions can arise at any age. She has reached a tipping point in her life where she wants to know more about who she is. She feels brave enough to begin the tentative walk on the path to self-discovery.
So how can she start?
Years ago, a wise woman (my acupuncturist, who I still see today) gifted me a wonderful technique to help me gain clarity about what I really wanted. I was twisted up inside myself, unable to make decisions and move forward. I was a mess.
‘Go somewhere quiet where you feel safe and won’t be interrupted,’ she said. ‘Then simply write at the top of a page, Dear Lucy, What do you want?’ Then write until you cannot write any more, read it aloud to yourself, then destroy it. But don’t edit as you go – you must just write everything that comes to you, without judgement.
What I wrote that day was a revelation. In fact there were many revelations that I didn’t realise (or want to admit) were in my heart. The process helped me connect into me without my brain overlaying its rationalising and judgement. I have used the technique multiple times over the years and it always, always helps me to gain clarity and cut through the murkiness of my thoughts to the truth.
I know I’ve touched on this process before in my blog but I haven’t necessarily focused on the next step, acceptance. Because some (not all) of the things written in your letter will be things you don’t want to deal with. It will be the truth and so often we don’t want to hear that. We don’t want to face that we are miserable living a certain life and need to make changes. We don’t want to face that our perfect relationship (as viewed by others) is hollow. We don’t want to acknowledge that our definition of success and happiness no longer aligns with the expectations of our parents or how we were raised.
We won’t feel comfortable with the knowledge we must make the difficult choices required to transform our lives into what we want them to be.
I judged myself terribly on the contents of that first letter. It made me face so many things about myself that I had been avoiding for years. If I followed my heart, I would have to upset other people and change my life significantly.
Self-judgement was a regular visitor at my door. But eventually (many months later), I realised I could choose to move forward and follow my heart or stay miserable. And that realisation came in a single moment after a lot of torment and telling myself how awful I was to even consider hurting other people, letting them down, and so on.
But once I accepted I could hide from myself no longer, action came to me swiftly. Although it was still painful, I knew I was taking the steps that were right for me.
Opening up to the truth of my heart was the first step.