Blog 1 – Sept 2014

Summer mulling
Full moon, 7 Sept 2014

This summer I’ve been reflecting a lot on My Work. What is it? What is it that I do? What is this ‘creative life’ I’m trying to live and do I feel like I’m living it? I’ve still not got to the bottom of it.

The Aberystwyth project of course has been the main thing this last couple of years. It’s been such a turning point, but to me it feels largely like it ‘just happened’ – both my creation of it and its successes; I’m not sure what either of those are about… And I’d like to be now. 

In amongst the mulling is another review of the perpetual juggle between the ‘making money’ thing with the ‘doing something creative and meaningful’ thing. For the past seven years or so I’ve been working a very cushty part-time admin job for a lovely company down the road with lots of flexibility I can take the dog to. It’s brilliant – but I realise – starkly at the moment – that it’s not the job I set out to do in life – it’s the rock I cling to for income, but is actually, time-wise, in the way of me doing the creative thing I’d really like to be doing more of; this job doesn’t feature in my vision of the creative professional life I had for myself, the one I dreamed of as a gal, a vision that keeps coming back to me now (‘an ‘orange and purple’ life, like the Sergeant Pepper album cover’)*. I put a lot of energy into my job and it pays the bills, but it is not a profession, not a career; it’s not what I ‘got my degree for’ – I don’t think my Mum would be that chuffed. Not that that should necessarily matter but she’s been on my mind lately.

All my life I’ve thought on and off about teaching adult literacy; I believe in that – helping people to the power of reading and writing… And I think I could do it. And that could be flexible, fit in with the creative life… So, life being short, this year I’ve decided to get on with it. (If I’m going to do anything I need to start doing it now.) I’ve stepped out of my bubble and back into that complicated world of large institutions and direct contact with people with needs greater than my own – a funny old world to be sure, and familiar, even nostalgic, from my past lives as a student and working in the voluntary sector. But I’m enjoying it – getting training, gaining experience and building a new area of work, and a new way I connect with others and make a difference. 

So the creative work then? I haven’t actually made anything new for ages. I keep saying to myself I’m ‘too busy,’ but is there more to it? I’ve barely written any poetry since ‘Aberystwyth’. 

‘Aberystwyth’ has taken me away hugely from the poetry scene these last couple of years. I’ve returned to it a bit this summer, which has been nice. What is my relationship with that now? Am I still A Poet? I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the title ‘poet’, only because I am not sure it is entirely me. My background is theatre, and in truth the only reason I started to go out onto the poetry scene seven or eight years ago was because a theatre friend suggested it; plus it seems to me an excellent arena in which to write and perform short pieces regularly (however you define them), get feedback and build confidence. I prefer the term ‘spoken word’, it feels more accurate and legitimate when applied to me. (‘Writer-performer’ is my favourite but no one knows what that means either.)

But the Aber project has brought me back to theatre, my first love. It’s nice for us to be back on more friendly terms after all these years. I did English and Drama at Aberystwyth University – a crowning glory of the project is getting the gig there at Aberystwyth Arts Centre next month! I can’t believe it! I mean I totally wanted it that way, to have the first tour date there, but really?! The ultimate full circle. I can’t wait. 

I grow fonder and fonder of the show; sometimes I feel ‘very strange’ about it… Like other people say sometimes, how can I go out there and say all that stuff?! But I’ve sat with it for a while now and I think I’m getting the hang of what it is. I realise it works better than I ever knew it would when Dick ** and I first created it a year ago. (I didn’t know what I was doing!) I realised this when I did it again recently in Hebden Bridge after a bit of a gap. ‘This works,’ I thought, ‘I like it.’ I also notice I am further away from it emotionally; it’s still personal and ‘mine’ – my Dad’s death, his secret, my adolescent meltdown – but I am 5 years away from where it started now. I can see it as parts of my life I have thoroughly processed (in no small part through doing this), and I can perform it now, never detached, but not so much ‘in it’ myself. Which is probably good for me and the show.

It’s become part of ‘my portfolio’. So what is that then? ‘Solo autobiographical work,’ it’s been called; ‘confessional;’ ‘life-writing.’ I like the idea of ‘catharsis,’ not the personal therapy notion but the ancient Greek notion of catharsis – theatre as medicine, purifying the thoughts and emotions of the people through bringing them to the surface through drama. I like that! I think – I hope – that is what I do. It also feels somewhere near at the heart of a new development I’m trying this year – teaching creative life-writing; helping others write and tell their stories, a practice I hope will bring ‘medicine’ to them and others. I’m starting to teach my first 10 week course in Todmorden next week and it’s exciting.

Last week I went to see Mum. It was her birthday, she was 84. She’s in residential care, she’s had dementia for the last 14 years. I admit, she hasn’t been so much in my life or thoughts these last few years, it’s been more about Dad since he died. But I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I found a photo of her, her graduation photo – Leeds University, 1952, it says on the back – the year Jackie was born strangely (what different lives my two parents were living then). 

Mum looks so beautiful, so full of joy and promise; on the edge of her life. She was the first one of her Lancashire mill family to go to university; a new kind of possibility for a woman’s life. As she was fond of telling people she believed were patronising her in the early stages of her dementia ‘I’ve got a first class honours degree in English Literature y’know!’ A smart woman. She would want me to be fulfilled in life, fulfilled in a way she wasn’t in the end, that drove her to drink by the time I knew her. Now I can forgive her, no longer the unhappy drinker she was during my growing up. Now – smiling at me as her younger self out of that photo – she feels like a new ally, out there somewhere egging me on. I feel a rush of love for her. I sang ‘the Grand Old Duke of York’ to her on her birthday last week, and she listened attentively and laughed! And then I remembered – vividly as if it was yesterday – how she was the one who taught that to me in Canada, such a funny echo. I still don’t know quite why I write autobiographical stuff, but I feel something about her coming on.

* a quote from Beyond Dreams of Aberystwyth script
** Dick Bonham, Beyond Dreams of Aberystwyth director, dramaturg & producer