Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

As Others See Me

1) Physical

On holiday recently I reunioned with people I hadn't seen for a long time. When some of them asked solicitously, 'How are you coping?' I naturally assumed they were referring to my journey through widowhood. At least, that seemed natural to me; it's the biggest thing I've had to cope with in the last year and a bit.

Gradually it became clear that instead they were concerned whether I could walk for 10 minutes without becoming fatigued, if I might lose my footing on uneven ground, or my poor old legs might give out from under me without warning. I had mentioned 'a touch of arthritis' and some recent shortness of breath coming up hills, so I guess it was my fault. I had not thought to mention my daily walks and fitness exercises, the regular chiropractic treatments to keep the (very slight) arthritis at bay, and the friends who envy my ease of movement. In one case I gave in and let the concerned person give me her arm at every opportunity, for her peace of mind; she obviously felt such a sense of responsibility for looking after me. 

And it was good of her, of course, to want to look after me, which she did beautifully in all sorts of ways while I was with her. But I'm not used to walking in tandem, clutching someone's arm, and found it awkward. No doubt that reinforced her belief that I needed support!

It was a relief to come home, ask a friend who sees me often, 'Do I look frail and decrepit?' and have her roar with laughter and say, 'Not to me! That's the last thing I'd think about you.' Then she asked, of the people who'd acted that way, 'Were they younger than you?' and I realised they were, by 10 to 20 years. With that, their not having seen me in years, and my ill-advised remarks about my health, I guess I can understand their concerns. It was disconcerting all the same.

As for the shortness of breath, I've now had tests my doctor ordered just in case, and I'm perfectly fine. I may have been a bit too ambitious when resuming exercise after a bit of a lapse. More likely it was emotional; it's mentioned as one of the symptoms that can follow a bereavement. It was good timing for me to have a holiday!

2) Occupational

Even people I regard as close friends, and whom I see quite often, are inclined to ask, 'Are you still writing poetry?'

Though I should be used to it, the question always startles me. How could they think otherwise? Writing poetry is what I do. I've been doing it since I was a little kid. If I don't actually write every day — though for the most part I do — I'm at least thinking about it: working in my head on a particular poem, deciding which ones belong together in a chapbook, reading other people's poetry, offering other poets feedback when requested, revising old poems....

It's an invisible occupation, I suppose. If someone doesn't live in my house or read my blogs, how would they know? I don't do performance any more, unless it's really easy for me to get to venues, and I haven't yet published any of the chapbooks I've been toying with lately. Haven't had a book out since 2005. I do get into various magazines and anthologies, and occasionally get mentioned in awards; however there is little awareness of these among the general public. Most people would be quite oblivious of them.

But I think it's more than that. I think people see it as some kind of hobby rather than an all-consuming vocation. I told one very dear friend about getting together with a couple of other poets at the end of December and mapping out our writing projects for the whole of the coming year, both individual and collaborative — after which she asked me if I had any special plans for this year!

It's comforting to recall a recent visit from my Firstborn (who lives in a different State). On his first night here, when he announced it was his bedtime, I said, 'I'll probably stay up quite late and do some writing.'

'Try to keep the surprises to a minimum,' he said, straight-faced. I stared at him blankly. 

'Mum,' he explained, 'As long as I've known you, you've always done that.'

He's known me 48 years.