“Creativity is the residue of time wasted”
– Albert Einstein
Yeah Einstein, that’s all well and good, but how do you find the time to play when you’re busy trying to pay the bills and put food on the table? Some of the most incredibly talented people I know do not have the luxury of time to ‘play’. They have families, health conditions, they’re carers, or they work 40+ hr weeks on minimum wage just to exist. I see the question ‘Where are all the working class Artists?’ pop up quite often in Guardian articles written by middle-class white men, and I want to scream at the screen ‘THEY’RE WORKING YOU PRIVILEGED IDIOT.’ And I wonder how many incredible Artists the world has beaten into submission, how many minds we have missed solely because of money.
Writing was not something I really did until my very late 20’s, a couple of poems exist somewhere from my angsty teen days, but as a teenage mum I had other priorities. And those priorities were existing. We were a young, un-educated, un-employed family living in one of the most deprived areas of the country. With mental health issues thrown in for good measure. The last thing on my mind was an Arvon retreat 😛 We lived day to day. Food was sparse, the house was falling to pieces, the bills were never paid, and we were forever trying to scrape enough change together for some value toilet roll and a value pizza. We were not special. This was, and still is, an all to regular existence for many.
A decade later and I returned to college, determined to finally get a qualification (I left school at 13). I enrolled in catering college at 26, and tried to apply myself. But my home life was falling apart. By 27 I was separated from my husband, and our two children were living with him most of the week so that I could work. It was not sustainable. Nothing seemed to be sustainable. I quit my job and we tried to make the relationship work again. And again. The marriage was dead. We had grown apart. We had been together since we were 15, and known each other longer. Not coming from very close families ourselves we had become each other’s family. Suddenly that was all gone and I fell into depression. And that, of course, is when I started writing poetry. I did not know how to cope with my emotions, I didn’t even know what I felt. Writing freely helped me to process things that my thoughts alone could not. I started reading, picking up a copy of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’. It changed my life. She put so many things into words that I could not. I felt that I related to this stranger more than anyone I’d related to in my entire life.
I started sharing bits of writing on instagram through a pseudonym. Thoughts and emotions that I would never have the courage to say out loud or show anyone I knew. Things I just had to get out. Releasing them in to the digital void was cathartic. The likes were like little lights in the dark. People felt the same. I was not alone. And in sharing my experience, they too felt that they were not alone. This has been the basis of my work ever since. This is, for me, why poetry (and art in general) exists. To connect, to relate, to understand. Without that light in the dark I can safely say that I would not be alive today. I know how much it helped me, and I know how much it has, and can, help others.
I was fortunate. I was self-employed at the time (though not earning any money) and was entitled to Working and Child Tax Credit, along with Housing and Council Tax Benefit. It was not much of an existence, but it was enough to keep us going. At the time I had moved in to a caravan on a farm in the Herefordshire countryside. I had time. And I wrote constantly. I consumed books, books that made me stop, put them down, that changed my whole outlook on life, and somehow aligned the universe. But there came a time when the self-imposed isolation (an hours walk across cow fields to the nearest shop) became damaging. After a year I had reached my absolute lowest point, and knew something needed to change. I wanted to return to Cleethorpes, to go home, but I had worked just outside of Lincoln during my cheffing stint and something about it pulled me. After a 24hr visit there with the kids we weighed up our options and took the plunge. It was a decision that changed my life.
Financially I was still in the same predicament, but I began to find people. Writers. Poets. Musicians. The city was rife with creative people, kind, and encouraging people. The city nudged me forward, and I reluctantly stood up and began to read my work on a mic. Unbeknownst to me, a couple of pretty traumatic setbacks were to be in store, but I had the city, and I had my writing, two things that would eventually pull me through.
I wrote my 1st, and 2nd book of poetry. I started getting paid gigs. I started forming and running Poetry nights, some of which were paid. I remember getting my first royalty payment from Amazon, just over £9, and being completely over-joyed and amazed. ‘I CAN GET PAID FOR POETRY, WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?!’ It has not all been that straight-forward. In my early days I spent far more than I ever earned. Travelling to poetry nights around the country, buying bits for events, and the booze, oh the booze. Poetry seemed to exist only where there was a bar, and in my attempt to deal with the overwhelming anxiety and adrenaline of performing I drank. A lot. Like, seriously. But my, was it all fun. I experienced things I could never have dreamed of, and some experiences that will never see the light of a page 😛
I loved my life, and was determined to pursue poetry, and the arts, full time. I quit my then minimum wage shitty job, and put everything I had in to making art work for me. I knew I would have to sacrifice everything to do that, and I did. I couldn’t afford my rent, or bills, I could barely afford to exist, but I knew that if I hung on in there it would come. And I think that’s a big issue, that for most, they do not love it enough to sacrifice everything. And that’s fine, it’s not for everyone, but you have to have absolutely zero doubt in your mind that this is what you are here to do. You have to be willing, to quite literally be the stereotypical ‘starving artist’.
In my drive to help others create, opportunities have naturally popped up. Some perhaps in retrospect that I should not have taken (part of being a successful freelance artist is (ironically) learning to actually turn work away). Money is sporadic. And I never know how much will be coming in and when. But I am lucky enough to have the safety net of Working Tax credits to keep me (almost) going. Most of my work is still voluntary. And I could not walk away from that work if I tried. The city itself has provided me with so much. A home, a family of creatives, and a career. But it reached a point that was not sustainable. And a point that no longer provided the growth I constantly crave.
So here I am. Back in a caravan, in the middle of nowhere. But with so much more behind me, encouraging me on. In reducing my outgoings (both financially and in terms of responsibilities) I am in a position to create. Something that has fallen to the wayside, particularly over the last year. Something inside me has been building. It’s time to explore that. And I have time.
If you’d like to help me on my journey, you can pledge a monthly donation via Patreon.
Or you can see more pics on my insta.
But for now; here’s another picture of the river path, the horizon of which cannot yet be discerned…
(bloody poets 😛 )