Chat

Something unusual happened the other day: my neighbour and I had a chat.  She lives a few doors up from us, and was out in the sun, tidying the front, as I rounded the corner.  I’d just come back from a wonderful writing retreat* and was beaming at everyone.

We said hi, and something prompted me to stop.  She is wry, very funny, friendly and is soppy-silly over the babies and littlies in her family, but we don’t seem to chat beyond the occasional sarcastic remark about boy racers or loud music in the street.  Usually it’s just a friendly wave or a ‘hi’, maybe a ‘nice weather’…

So we chatted about the weather.

‘Let’s hope it stays this way.’

‘Yeah, though it makes fasting hard.’  Ramadan starts in early June and the long days mean long, deprived hours.  ‘Still, Allah will give us patience.’

I wished then I knew the words for ‘Have a good Ramadan’.

*

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this is what electing Sadiq Khan does for us?  Reminded us of who we are, got us talking to each other.  Or maybe this is what Islamaphobia has finally done for us.  With an ‘extremist’ poised to run for US President, with both blatantly and covertly racist political campaigns in this country, maybe London has decided it’s time to make a stand.

Congratulations, Sadiq.  And to those of you that will be starting your fast in early June, I wish you Ramadan Mubarak.**

*It was the SCBWI British Isles Spring Retreat.  It changed my life!

**My thanks to the writers of this site for educating me.

 

Doctor, Doctor!

Picture0126

Look!  It’s real!  I’ve got a PhD!

The certificate came in the post a few days ago.  The Lord of Longitude & I celebrated with a glass of prosecco or three.

I’m proud to have stuck it out and weathered all the doubt and anxiety, but it’s weird.  I don’t feel any different.  I’m not sure what I expected – to suddenly be able to  quote Heidegger with perfect understanding, maybe, or to summarize my thesis in 50 words or less first time?  That definitely hasn’t happened.  Still the same old tangle of questions, still the same old self-consciousness at using words like ‘interiority’ (what my thesis was about, ffs!).

The LoL rolls his eyes when I say this.  ‘All of this has happened before.  All of this will happen again.’  Welcome to the club.

When I was having trouble summing up my research, my supervisor said to me, ‘Imagine what you would say if someone held a loaded gun to your head, and you had to finish the sentence “My thesis is…” or they’d shoot you.’

It didn’t work.  All I could think was – as I wailed to the LoL afterwards, ‘My thesis is… oh just shoot me now!’

But my beloved is wise, and he said ‘Imagine you have a plate of scones in front of you: fresh strawberries, clotted cream, the works.  And you can have them all if you just finish the sentence.’

And off I went.  ‘My thesis is-‘ And I finished the sentence.

If you are also labouring up the PhDface, I wish you fortitude.  It’s a tough climb, but it can be done.  You’ll make it – good luck!

yellowbluepink

It jostled against the lenses of my glasses: colour, a pink flatness which I couldn’t feel, even though it seemed to have solidity.  I couldn’t feel it on my skin; there was no resistance as I inchingly stepped forward into this expanse which both was density and wasn’t.

I was lucky enough to visit Ann Veronica Janssen’s yellowbluepink at the Wellcome Collection recently, with only two other companions, and have been thinking about it ever since; what it does to the senses, what it makes you think about the senses… but mostly just about the experience, the downright disorientating weirdness of it.

After the sci fi billowing of clouds around our feet as we closed the first set of double doors and prepared to open the second, I kept my fingertips on the wall.  It was an arm’s length away: I could feel but not see it.  After a while I stepped out into it, this whatever-it-was (a ghost?  Of what, though? Of an object?  A room?) and – bolder – took strides forward.  The colour graduated, changing to yellow, and I was in fog under sun.  Forward again, and it felt colder, darker, murky, denser as blue pressed against my eyes.  I hit the back wall.

I could see, yes, but I couldn’t.  If I held a hand up to my face, I could make out its dark outline.  The floaters in my eye’s fluid danced, shudderingly numerous and clear.  It was like being suspended in the deep end of a swimming pool, except it wasn’t, because it didn’t feel like that, it only looked a bit like that.  One of my companions said it reminded him of ice-climbing; he kept kicking and digging with his feet as if to get a toe-hold on the surface.  But there was no surface right in front of us, only the floor underneath, the walls, the ceiling.  And this mist.

Go, if you get the chance.

Fifteen Ways of Looking at Nine Worlds 2015

  1. My second con ever (the first was LonCon last year).
  2. An inclusive geektopia where everyone is welcome.
  3. Scene of some awesome cosplay that made me want to try it (never been tempted before).
  4. Provider of Quiet Rooms for people like me with very low thresholds for stimuli and with a tendency towards introversion.
  5. Scene of huge cringe as I mistake a Spectra costume for a Thundercat. Great kindness and grace from cosplayer who accepted my token and compliments and put me right – and absolutely no fandom-ier-than-thou gatekeeping from anyone. Lovely, lovely people go to this con.
  6. Scene of more huge cringe as I ask if ‘this lady’ can go to the head of the toilet queue because she’s on a panel in ten minutes. ‘This lady’ identified as a woman but THAT’S NOT THE POINT.  Ever since I read Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time at the age of 16, I’ve been in favour of and tried to use gender-neutral language.  In my 16 year-old’s idealism, I firmly believed that in the future there would be no Mrs and Misses, only Ms.s, no poetesses or policemen, only poets and police officers and that ‘per’ or their/them would replace he, she, his, hers and so on.  Of course, the future turned out to be more complicated than that.  And also a bit less beautiful.  But at Nine Worlds, you can pick what pronoun you want to use, stick it on a badge and everyone will respect it.  So what antideluvian part of my consciousness dredged up such an antiquated phrase?  It’s a mystery.  Suffice to say, I’m practising using ‘this person’ and they/their/them a lot at the moment and with renewed vigour.  And eagerly awaiting Nine Worlds’ gender-neutral, gender-inclusive, non-binary heaven next year. Marge Piercy’s utopia is real (if only for one weekend a year, and in Heathrow) and more plural and beautiful than that, even, and it’s wonderful.
  7. Just over the road from the hotel (and through a fence, past some buildings) is a runway where planes take off in all their whooshing, noisy glory. I like planes. (Don’t know why, just do. They’re like magic.)
  8. Kind, kind people who – when I was exhaustedly and constantly getting lost and couldn’t even remember my room number – would give me directions and refrained from rolling eyes or going ‘It’s RIGHT THERE’.
  9. The Spoiler Alerters; two young fans who reminded the fabulous Eve Bennett that not everyone has seen every episode of everything Joss Whedon has made.  This is a very family-friendly con and the kids really make it excellent and special.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a mini-Groot knocking around the place?  Or a toddling dragon?  Come ON! (I speak as someone who chose not to have children, too – I don’t say these things lightly.)
  10. Eve Bennett’s talk: Female Weapons in the Whedonverse’. Really intelligent, really interesting, really illuminating and made me want to watch all the Whedons all over again.
  11. Ditto Vanessa Thompsett’s talk on ‘Dystopian London in Fiction – The Unreal City’. And as with Eve Bennett, another super-engaging speaker with a bright future ahead. I shall be acquainting myself properly with ‘V for Vendetta’ – in fact, the first thing the Lord of Longitude said to me as we left the talk was ‘I’ve GOTTA get V for Vendetta’
  12. Geek Feminism.  We rock.
  13. Lots of talks and thinking about Utopias, Dystopias and Apocalypse.  I’m really interested in all three, but particularly Utopias, which border on my research interest in the pastoral, relations between country and city (Raymond Williams is a god), ecotopias, ecowriting, psychogeography, sub/urban spaces blah blah blah you get the picture.
  14. Naomi Alderman.  Her talk on addressing our inner, personal biases (particularly when writing character) was illuminating, funny, perceptive and bang on the nose.
  15. Films and bean bags.  There were lots of both, in a darkened room where you could stretch out with lots of other film-lovers and just shut up and watch films.  Bliss.   Which were impressive – I saw quite a few shorts.  I fervently wished for better representation in the sci-fi shorts (3 women characters, 2 victims, 1 mother; all protagonists white cis males; no people of colour), but at least they were very well made, quite gripping.  I think several are going to be made into features.

Well, ok, 16.

LORD OF LONGITUDE:  So the question is, do we take advantage of Nine Worlds’ super-early rate and –

ME:  YES.  Book it.  Book it now.  Book it.  We’re going.

Maybe I’ll see you next year?

Missing Tara

Sometimes it seems as if I’ve been missing her for such a long time.   Time stretches out and I can’t remember what it was like to talk to her, or what we talked about, or even how she moved, where she was sitting.  The last time I saw Tara seems so long ago.  It seems so long ago that sometimes, I can’t really believe she existed.

Other times, I can’t really believe it’s been two years since she died.  The shock of her absolute gone-ness just ups and smacks me in the face.  Preposterous.  Outrageous.  No, surely not.  Not Tara.

The last time I saw her it was very early Spring up in Norwich.  I was recovering from a very nasty virus and was still feeling odd, sounding hoarse: our conversation swam in and out of the other conversations in the caff and I had trouble holding onto it.  Rachel was there as well – my other sister-friend from Uni – and we ate veggie food and cackled at each other’s jokes and I whinged about feeling isolated and anxious and Rachel and Tara were kind and funny and supportive.  My memories of that day are so bound up in how I felt, what a dick I was being, going on and on…. if I’d known how little time we three had left together, I might not have wasted it on all the self-flagellation.

But I have a strong image of saying goodbye to Rache on a street corner; grey pavement and iron-hard, East Anglian cold, busses, all of us hugging and wishing we had more time, promising to get together more often.  And Tara joking, as she and I ducked back into a bar for a quick drink, that the staff would think she was speed-dating or something – she’d been in there with Rachel before our meal.  She seemed happy: still in love, and with her daughter doing well, and working freelance so that she could scale the business up and down as needed.  She was frustrated too: child-care is hard work and so is running a business, and so is juggling, and she had so much she wanted to do.  But life seemed good.

Then it was time to leave, knocking back the last of the wine, swapping the bar’s wooden benches and fairy lights for the opaque sky, the raw air.  More hugs.  I bounced away, feeling a little more substantial, a bit more capable.  She had that effect on me, Tara.

It’s a good memory to have.  I miss her.

Tara Few, 22.03.68 – 11.08.13

Public Poetry

I’m lucky enough to have two poems on public display at the moment.  Both of them were developed during workshops run by Pascale Petit.  If you get the chance to work with her, DSCF0581do: as a poet, artist and teacher, she’s adept at unlocking the imagination, using stimuli and research from a wide range of sources and – as you might expect of someone who makes art as well as poems, developing sensory awareness.  Here I am, standing delightedly next to Dorothea Tanning’s ‘Some Roses and Their Phantoms’ at Tate Modern.

And here’s the poem, which can also be found in my first pamphlet, Relinquish(2007), from Arrowhead Press.DSCF0583  That pamphlet, and the way I wrote then, seems a long time ago – what is it with that oracular tone?!

The poem has a sister, carved into a paving slab at Walthamstow Central Station.  That’s Pascale’s doing again: she was commissioned to work with residents of Waltham Forest to develop creative work that was rooted in the environment around their homes and the local area.  You might think the poems are all suburban sprawl and nail bars – but Walthamstow also has a surprising amount of green, not least the marshes.

Looking at ‘Sleeper’ now, I think it could do with being broken up into couplets.  Why didn’t I think of it at the time, since it’s about train tracks?  And it feels crammed, too: some paringDSCF0244 back, and letting a bit of space into the text would’ve been good.  But I’m pleased that ‘The Rose to Her Phantoms’ on the South Bank has her sister in north east London.  I tried to echo the earlier poem by using similar constructions and vocabulary, so that, like sisters, both are at once their own selves and recognizably similar.  I love the fact that I can visit them any time I want.  There they are; tangible records of my earlier work.

If I had the chance to write a poem for a paving slab now, I’m not sure what it would look like, but I know it wouldn’t look like this.  It wouldn’t use the ‘I’ so emphatically for a start. So there it is – there they are, the sisters – irrefutable reminders that I am making progress, I am developing as a writer.   And on that note, back to the PhD.  September looms….