9 September, 2010

It seems hard to believe that only just over a week ago I handed in my dissertation. Since then I’ve packed up the house in Norwich (though all my stuff is still there, in boxes); left the place I’ve called home for just under a year – fifty-one weeks to be precise; seen two good friends get married; gone back to my old job in London (sort of); and am now in Kent, staying at my parents’. I feel like I have the bends, emotionally: I didn’t really have time to celebrate finishing the dissertation (unless you count an early celebration at Greenbelt), or say a proper goodbye to Norwich and all the friends I’ve made there. It was like I traded a single focus for having to think about a few too many things all at once, and get straight back into my old life back in London (though I’m living out of a suitcase for now, so it’s not really the same), and I’m waiting for it all to catch up with me. I can’t believe I was back in the office only five days after handing in.

So how does it feel? Strange, but good, I think. The whole thing really did seem to come together at the end and I was pleased with my submission as a whole, though of course there were weaker moments and the usual uncertainties. But it did feel a fitting end to an incredible year of learning. The actual hand-in was anti-climactic: I suppose that’s normal, even despite administrative annoyances. I haven’t really shown it to many people yet, though I will be doing so over the next few weeks I think.

And I’m still coming to terms with the fact that the year as a whole is over. What  a year. Hard work a lot of the time: in terms of writing, of course, but also emotionally, socially, financially. But no less good for all that. I’ve (hopefully) improved as a writer, but in a strange way that almost seems like a byproduct from where I stand at the beginning of September a year on. The main thing I’m grateful for is the experience itself. From beginning to end I have felt incredibly grateful for so many things: the chance to do it at all; the generosity of friends and family; love and encouragement from so many people (including everyone who’s read and commented on this blog). It’s felt like a gift from beginning to end – massive rupture and massive blessing. I feel I’ve changed so much. I think differently. I feel differently.

So what next? Again, I feel incredibly grateful. My old employer has given me a six-month contract doing the best bits of my old job, three days a week. It pays just about enough to live in London and spend those other two days a week writing. My plan is to carry on writing poetry (of course) and also try to get it out there a bit more – getting it published in magazines and journals if I possibly can; finish my three-quarters-written children’s book, and see if I can’t get that published; and work on my proposal to do a creative-critical PhD next year. That is: try to be a writer, however that looks.

And that, I think, is the biggest gift this year has given me: the confidence to just give it a go. To see what I can do. Who knows how it’ll turn out? But I’m game…

I feel like there’s a lot more I could say in reflection on the year as a whole, but instead I’ll just direct you to the talk I gave at Greenbelt last week. ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant‘ was my title, and I talked about five things that reading and writing poetry, and in particular doing so over the last year, has taught me. Despite never having done anything like it before, and being genuinely terrified, I ended up quite enjoying it and it seemed to go well – I got some brilliantly engaged questions at the end. I hope you enjoy it too.

I’m so glad I’ve written this blog as a diary of the year: it’s been good to reflect as I’ve gone along, and to talk with people about what I’ve been doing. I’m reluctant to let it go, but without a focus to write around I’m not sure I’ll manage to keep it up, and I fear it might become (even more) self-indulgent. So does anyone have any good ideas for where I can take it next? The online journal of a wannabe writer doesn’t seem quite so interesting…

I’ll end with the poem that closed my dissertation, which is hopefully not just a description of how I was feeling in the run-up to September (after all, a poem is not a story…)


You’re used to slowness, how most things take their time to shift
from one thing to the next: the way leaves emerge like mist
round trees, unfold into magnificence, then fade and fall,
and gently drift against the mossed garden wall;

the way life gathers shades and textures to itself,
the slow accretions, like dust settling quietly on a bookshelf,
or water collecting, after each soft rain, in a waterbutt;
the way things drip and pool, spread slowly, silt up;

but sometimes things are different. It’s as if an ocean liner
had sailed right down your street and brassily come to harbour
outside your front door, and holds there waiting, the sound of faint
music spilling from its deck, your face all astonishment

that life can sometimes take you beyond what you thought you knew,
delivering the horizon, a gift, to you.

This post brought to you by red wine and leather sofas. Thank you and good night.