…the good news or the bad news?

PhD work has been squeezed out by life and other irritations this week, but I’ve kept up with reading, finding every five minutes I could to read The Interpretation of Dreams. One thing that is good about reading Freud is, he repeats his theories in so many different ways, so many times in his books that to keep reading is to keep revising; eventually you just have to become familiar with his train of thought. I actually can’t wait to take up the writing again; but this week I haven’t been able to fit it in. PhD, you must be more assertive! Don’t let life get in the way of a good workload.

So what in my life has stalled my good intentions, what has managed to get through the defences?

The PhD: my planned meeting with Jean Sprackland on Tuesday scaled the barbed wire, for a start. We met to discuss some PhD portfolio poems I sent her a couple of weeks back. The good news is, on the whole, she liked them. Her favourites were what she called ‘the thing-y poems’; i.e. the poems that were rich with things and facts, were multi sensory, were ‘real’. Her number one was ‘Churning’. Did I post that one on my blog some weeks ago? She was less impressed with ‘Demeter’s Lament’: liked the retelling of the story but felt that was all it was, thought I should do more with it, ‘rough it up a bit’, perhaps modernise it. I know exactly what she means; I’ll give it a go. She was generous with her feedback and advice, and I feel as if the creative side of the portfolio has started to earn it’s bread. However, life has got in the way to such an extent, I just realised I haven’t even written and submitted the RD9 record of the meeting yet. A job for later, then.

On Friday I attended an Endnote introduction at MMU. This is one of a series of mini-courses in research skills the university puts on for research students. Actually, I attended the same mini-course in October last year, knew it would be useful but didn’t know how useful until I started to write my Freud chapter; by which time I had forgotten most of what I learned. I remembered how to save books to my library; but not how to use those book titles to add references to my writing. Of course, I have a MacBook and the university uses PC, so the details are slightly different and Mac, I was told, could be a bit more complicated. But I managed to download the ‘plug-in’ for ‘cite as you write’, and later today I’ll be testing it out with my chapter. Fingers crossed for me, because, if it works as it should, it really does save an awful lot of work and worry.

So, what in my life has barred the way to further progress in the study? Well Life Barrier no.1: the major event this week has been the botheration of white goods. On Monday the washing machine packed in. It refused point blank to finish its wash cycle and went into a major sulk. I tried other cycles to tempt it, but nothing would make it pump out its water and let me retrieve my clothes. So, we called in the washing machine doctor. The bad news is, its programme ‘mother-board’ was shot; can’t be replaced. As there is no good news, we had to fork out £370 for a new machine. This was fitted on Friday and the old one taken away. The new one is a Bosch; it has a fantastic red light display for temperature, time left in cycle, spin speed etc. Pretty, but excessive: at the end of the day, all I want it to do is wash my smalls.

Life Barrier no. 2: I visited my post-op friend on Sunday last. He was looking a bit peaky, but on the path to recovery, thank goodness. I took him the Maurice Riordan book I bought  at the Anna Freud Centre as a get-well soon card. Of course, as I suspected, he has it already, so I have told him to exchange it for any (unsigned) book on my poetry bookshelves when he comes to visit next. I arranged with Penny to meet for coffee in Uppermill on Tuesday to give her a bit of a break from nursing. So, jump to Tuesday: we met up with Hilary, our other friend. All of us are doing post-grad studies at the moment and we got round to discussing something I included in my blog a couple of weeks ago: what does a student actually look like? We were saying how, when we go to uni, young students who are on leaflet-handing-out duties never consider handing us ‘oldies-but-goodies’ a leaflet. Don’t get me wrong, we probably don’t want to attend the ‘how to make friends in your first year’ support group, but we all wanted to tap the leafleteers on the shoulder and say “excuse me, I’m a student as well”; we want to be visible. Penny took a selfie of us all and posted it on FB with the caption: ‘Breaking news, this is what a student looks like’. By the end of the coffee break Penny was feeling a bit more relaxed. I told her to give Keith my mobile number when she went to Uni on Wednesday in case he needed anything: she was a bit concerned about leaving him on his own. The good news is, she went to uni and I didn’t get a call. The bad news is, on Thursday Keith was readmitted to Wythenshawe hospital with suspected gall bladder infection, so his recovery has been a bit impeded. One step forward, two steps back…

Poetry Barrier no. 1: I delivered the competition poems to Jackie Kay. We had word from her she would be home on Monday evening so I drove them over to her home address to drop them off. Her light was on but she wasn’t home. Luckily, just as I knocked her door, her lovely neighbour, Mohammed, walked up his drive. He thought she wasn’t home because her car wasn’t there; could he take in the parcel for her? Now, these poems have become like children to me over the weeks and I was reluctant to leave them with a stranger; but I knew that the chances were pretty slim of Jackie being home the next time I tried to deliver; so I handed over my babies to the care of strangers. Of course, later in the week the wonderful news broke that Jackie Kay is the new Makar for Scotland, a well deserved accolade; and this is, presumably, what had kept her from home longer than she expected. I had an email from her to say she had the poems and would be in touch when she had had time to read them. So the results of the competition, all that hard work, will be known shortly. The competition reading is on April 16th, with a reading by the Makar. You can find details here:http://poetsandplayers.co/competition/competition-2016/  Why not come along to the reading, it will be fantastic. Jackie Kay is always fantastic.

Poetry Barrier no. 2: I decided to send some of my poems out into the world to try to earn their bread. I submitted to the Cinnamon Pamphlet competition on Tuesday, after our coffee meeting. I’d meant to write a further 1000 words to the Freud chapter but the coffee took longer to drink than I planned for so I only had time left for a submission. The closing date for the Cinnamon competition isn’t until March 31st, so there’s  still time if you fancy it. Details here: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/index.php/competitions/poetry-pamphlet-prize  Anyway, after I had spoken to Jean on Tuesday I decided to revisit some of those portfolio poems (they weren’t included in the first submission).  When I was happy with them I substituted some of them for some of the poems in my Cinnamon submission and made a second submission to the competition. Now the long waiting game. Good luck to any of you who are awaiting competition results; or responses to magazine submissions.

Poetry Barrier no. 3: Poets and Players. Yesterday morning it was the Carrie Etter workshop at the Whitworth Art Gallery. It was wonderful, so relaxed and full of creative energy. After a lovely lunch in the gallery cafe, ‘the cafe in the trees’ as Carrie called it, we had our Saturday afternoon reading in the vast room upstairs. Sarah Lowes was the ‘player’; she had her electric piano and she sang; wonderful. Then terrific readings by Mark Pajak, William Letford and Carrie Etter. What a lovely afternoon. As one evaluation sheet filler-in wrote, ‘Bloody marvellous’; and it was. The next event is the competition event mentioned above, plus a ‘Thursday Late’ session on 28th April with Ira Lightman and Andrew McMillan; details here: http://poetsandplayers.co/future-events/

Poetry Barrier no. 4: Make an Aria. I had a meeting at Royal Northern College of Music with my composer, Laura, and representatives from the college and from Music Theatre Wales about our work to date. I took along printouts of our three act scenario to share with the meeting. Unfortunately  I had some cut-up melon in a lunch box in the same bag and the juice leaked so I was a bit embarrassed by the wet stains along the bottom edge of the documents; but I explained it was nothing sinister and they found it quite amusing. They liked our scenario. “Lilith” tells the story of a young Aleppo refugee, separated from her family and trafficked into sexual slavery. We, Laura and I, came away knowing where to go next. We have a deadline of May 26th, the next consultation, to have the text of our aria prepared and the music in the planning stages.

A last delightful distraction this week, which can’t really be called a barrier, is that my lovely daughter gave me £60 worth of shopping vouchers she received as loyalty rewards from a brewery she deals with in her gastro-pub business. The vouchers had to be used by March 31st, and she isn’t big on shopping so she asked if I would like them. I noticed ‘Waterstones’ in the list of qualifying traders so I said I would love them. I took them into Waterstones on Deansgate after the RNCM meeting and spent them on two books I probably wouldn’t have allowed myself to afford without them: Elizabeth Bishop’s complete correspondence with Robert Lowell and Colm Toibin’s ‘On Elizabeth Bishop’. I am a lucky girl, (smiley emoticon, little jiggy dance).

So you see, although I haven’t done a great deal to my opening chapter, as planned, I haven’t let the grass grow either. My life is manic as ever; and because of that I know I will get this thing done. If you want something done, ask a busy person, isn’t that what ‘they’ say?

My poem: this is a light-hearted sonnet I wrote for the lovely Linda Chase when she was running a weekly writing workshop at MMU when I first began my MA. I had been to meet my grand-daughter at the airport and I was having a coffee while I waited for her plane to land. People-watching is a favourite sport, and I was listening to the conversation among a group of forty-something women at the next table. This poem is an embellished summary of that conversation. I dedicate it here to Keith: may your recovery continue apace and may you not need to refer to this poem for advice in the future (smiley face with blushing cheeks emoticon)!

 

Owed to Viagra

I met this gorgeous feller in Las Vegas who

takes Viagra; but it makes his heart go flip-

no, really, when he takes off on a V trip

a tidal surge goes through his arteries, so

he has to dissolve a heart pill on his tongue

and wait for his pulse to slow; and all the time

I’m gagging for it, I’ve x-marked my G-spot, I’m

ready to roll and I can’t do with waiting too long!

So, I’m on the bed, I’m pouting from the pillow

wishing his racing heart would take a rest,

(but not so much his other bits lie fallow

if you hear what I’m saying) when I lose my zest,

go completely off the boil; it just feels wrong

to join the queue to melt over his tongue.

 

Rachel Davies

circa 2007

 

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