I have always loved poetry, not that I can write it, not like those who can distill waffly thoughts into 3 words that say it all, enough to gasp me. As a child I remember my mum making up ditties and rhymes, fun poems, poems that rhymed and made my feet want to jig along with her words. My dad, a wordsmith for sure, would entertain us around the Sunday lunch table with limericks that had us in stitches. He could think ahead as his mouth spoke out the line so that the follower came just like that in perfect rhythm and rhyme. He loved the iambic pentameter too and was a big fan of Shakespeare. Words were everything in our home. Words of remonstrance, of encouragement; jokes at our expense and jokes we could share. One game was that someone began a poem, oftentimes a limerick, There Once was a Bandit from Neath, for example, whereupon all eyes turned to the unfortunate required to come up with line two. It always ended in laughter.
But my favourite poems are those about life and loss, pain and rising, hope and despair. Short lines, no punctuation, thus allowing me to drift down the page all the way to the end. Some poems rise instead, beg to be read again and again so that I undulate the page and find that it doesn’t matter where I land for the lines themselves are each an ending, or a step to the next line, but not necessarily. It thinks me for I have noticed something about me in these times. I want to play my piano but I don’t. I want to paint but all I do is cast a wistful glance at the stack of canvas, the brushes still in their plastic wrapper, the paints quiet inside the dark interior of the kist. I want to write my second book but I find endless reasons. and excuses not to even begin. Why is that? I have found an answer. There is something, some part of me, deep within who does not see the point. If there is nowhere for this new song to go, this painting to go, then why would I bother to begin? If I start this book, how do I know I can still cut the mustard, or is it custard? I forget.
Although I know, and preach, that it is the process that matters not an end result, perceived and imagined, I find my own self stultified and frozen at the starting block. It is indeed a block. So what to do? If I believe that anyone can write, paint, write a song or form a poem, which I absolutely do, and if I maintain that the only difference between a successful writer, painter, poet and the rest of us is practice and the refusal to stop trying, then what the heck am I doing sitting on my lardy arse being wistful? It ridiculouses me. But the block is still there no matter the logic I employ for what I am facing is the fear of failure. I am basically saying it is better, safer, for me to say I cannot do this than it is to peel off my armour, to be vulnerable, to risk. After all, my armour, despite being heavy and restraining, is comfortable. I have grown used to it clanking about me, learned how to move with it. It is my concealment, my hiding, my protection. From what? Failure, that’s what.
Back to everyone else. Someone said yesterday I Can’t Paint. I Wish I Could. The feeling part of me rose like Venus from the waves. I asked her this. Have you tried? yes, she said, but I just made a mess. So did I, I said, at first, but with determined hard work and the refusal to give up I suddenly (!) found my paintings in galleries all across the country. Really? she said. You must have a gift. No gift, I said, not me. It was pure determination and the refusal to give up. Oh, she said, then tidied herself up. I don’t have time anyway, she smiled, but I had heard the timbre of her longing. Wisdoms tell us that we can do anything we set out to do whilst Life says Sshhhhh to that nonsense. Look at you! You are so busy, so old, so compromised, so restricted, so disabled, so poor at grammar etc etc. And we listen and we concur. After all, isn’t it true that only young people can start something new, learn the language, play the instrument, write the song, or other people who have time, space, the perfect environment, the supportive partner, and the right level of self belief? No, it is not. When I wrote Island Wife I sat in this room whilst my husband padded around me. I was freezing cold and had small spaces of peace and a lot of interruptions. My drive was simple. I am sick and tired of not doing what I want to do, of waiting for the right light, the perfect environment, the ideal room temperature, the permission from a partner. Lunch was late if served at all, the phone disconnected, the doors shut and visitors shunned. I won’t pretend it was a comfortable time, not least because I had shucked off my armour and it was February and most of February was inside the house. And I had absolutely no idea of this book’s success. All I knew was that I was going to show up every single day, take the flack and the crap and focus on what I wanted to do. My achievement was not in the end game, but in the process, the work, the grit of determination against real and imagined odds.
So, clever clogs, why are you not sitting at that piano and working new songs? Why are you not throwing colour at that canvas with no end result in mind? Why are you not writing your next book? Because I am afraid of failure. What is failure to you? Is it not being published, not having a body of astonishing artwork to display to the public, not producing the song that will go viral on Youtube? Seriously? Well, yes. So, continues my feeling self, what shall we do about all of that? Shall we sit here wistfully till life folds into death or shall we pull up our long johns and begin something, risk something and then fail and fall, get up and try again, over and over and over till we create a momentum that takes us who knows where? Is life a daring bold adventure, even now, or is it nothing at all but a clean house, a silent piano, an unused voice, an unwritten book and an empty canvas?
My Hobson’s choice indeed and not just mine. If there is something anyone wants to do but who lets the naysaying voices win over, I’m with you. However, this woman is not listening any more. This woman is about to begin something in the face of fear, of imagined failure, and of being armour-less, vulnerable and scared. Risk is everything. Take one.