My best friend growing up was a painter. She had long wild hair and enjoyed a command over colors that I never had. I always admired her and, once, when she was abroad at an art college in Rome I sat in the extension of her parent’s house and got lost in her canvases – they were huge and vibrant. She must have used a ladder. I was impressed.
I remembered going to her final art show at University. A few people offered her money for her pieces but she didn’t want to sell them. I guess she had put so much into them that she wanted to keep them close – they were significant, symbolic. At the time, I didn’t really understand this. She was in debt, we both were, and her talents could bring in a small income. She could turn her paintings into a nice meal, a trip out of state, something that she wanted but was just out of reach. At the time I thought it was strange but now I understand.
For weeks I’ve been sitting among my own poems – stacked on top of my desk, peeking out from under the wardrobe, strewn all along the floor. My first collection is done: printed on A4 pages which I keep stepping on every time I need to cross the room. For the past year and a half, since my Dad died of an overdose back in the States, I have not been able to stop writing about him. These poems are my grief, my memories, my solitary moments.I have read a couple pieces out at open mics, the Do Not Go Gentle Festival, and a PUBlic University evening. I even talked about them and the process of writing grief at IGNITE Cardiff in front of 400 people. But reading them out is different, they’re just on loan to the listeners. I’ve held the collection and its contents back, kept them safe from the printers.
My wonderful colleague and friend, clare e. potter, recently asked her fellow poets: ‘Why the fear?’ Why, when we have a warm place with plenty of tea and time to write our words do we become afraid? Why, when we can walk and think and make things beautiful in our lovely writing rooms do we still feel fear? Why, when our collections are done are they not edited, given titles, sent out?
This fear is in all of us I think. But, like Clare, I have been staring at my collection stack for weeks, afraid to move it. It’s not the fear of rejection that worries me. Of course it’s great if people like the poems and better still if they gain something from them, but I don’t think writers should fear rejection.
For me, it’s more personal than that. I fear losing my Dad. I fear sending this collection off in the post will be like sending away my memories of him. I fear that my words won’t completely and wholly do justice to what it’s like to love and lose a father who is also an addict. I fear my family will tell me to be happier. I fear that when this is done I will have nothing left to write about. I fear the emptiness that comes when you can no longer have something or someone you love in your life.
This is the way it goes I think, when you write about grief. Sending it off is like losing a part of yourself. But of course, it’s not really lost. It’s out there, speaking to other people, transforming, doing new things. Someday, when this collection is published I hope I will find a copy in some far away charity shop with an inscription that says something like: Don’t be afraid. You are not alone. I hope it will string together a network of people who know grief or want to understand it.
And, it is with these thoughts that I have done my best not to be afraid today.Today I have edited, written new things, sat with my tea and put together something I hope my Dad would actually be proud of. Soon, I hope, the collection will be out there in the world and others will see that fear is just one small part of the creative process. There is so much more after it if you can just let go.