‘Get your arse on that office chair and do some work!’ This was me talking myself into getting back to work yesterday. I started the week with the best intentions, but my body let me down. While we were away last weekend, Hilary had given me some of her codeine tablets: yes, I know, you shouldn’t share medication. But the pain in my arms was so bad at night that it was waking me up, and desperate times call for desperate measures. The codeine helped, so on Monday I made an emergency appointment with my GP to ask for codeine of my own. At last I got the results of the shoulder scan I had at the end of October. Bursitis, fluid and calcification in the space between the joint, and a small tear in the bicipital tendon. Did I just imagine the doctor taking a sadistic pleasure in asking me to move my arm in a way he knew would hurt, to prove to himself the scan diagnosis? Anyway, he agreed that codeine was necessary and prescribed copious amounts. I have a physiotherapy appointment on Thursday this week, but he thinks it’s possible the physio won’t want to work with the shoulder because of the tear; in which case I’ve to go back to GP for cortisone injections into the joint. Right now, I’d let an elephant walk over it if it would stop hurting. On Tuesday I was all geared up to work, but the pain was so bad I felt ill with it; I snuggled under a blanket, watched escapist rubbish on the telly and let Bill cook tea. Yes, it really was that bad!
So, that has been the backdrop to everything I’ve done this week, throbbing upper arms, weak and painful hands and the inability to ask for the help I need, even with dressing myself. It actually makes me laugh that I have to put my vest on from the feet upwards because it gets stuck under my arms otherwise and there is nothing I can do about it. I feel like a beetle caught on its back and desperately trying to right itself against all the odds. But my independence is important to me; although I do give in and ask for help getting into my coat: my arms just won’t go behind my back. I took another day off on Wednesday when Amie and I went to Peterborough to meet up with a friend who’s struggling a bit at the moment. We met with Richard and went into the City centre for a meal. It was good to have nothing else to do but sit and be looked after and spend time with family and friends.
On Sunday, our last day in the South Lakes, Hilary and I had visited Rebecca, the editor at Beautiful Dragons Press, to collect some more copies of our lovely book, Some Mothers Do…On Thursday we met over lunch to discuss incomings and outgoings and to make sure all our readings are in the diary. We settled our accounts with each other too. Hilary has booked tickets for the Verve Festival in Birmingham in February and I booked the train tickets, so we needed to make sure neither of us was out of pocket. Actually, the cost was very similar: a return train fare for eighty miles or three wonderful days of poetry readings, workshops, talks. So which is the better value, do you think? Get yourselves to Verve: we know it’s good because we were there last year. Details here: http://vervepoetryfestival.com
After a full-on week, it was Saturday before I got down to work. I’d done some reading of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry to prepare for a short section I’m adding to the thesis, but reading one of your favourite poets hardly classifies as work, does it? I know students are supposed to prevaricate, but this week was prevarication on a monumental scale, and most of it out of my control; and when you’ve taken nearly three weeks out of work it takes some serious discipline to get back to it. It’s a daunting prospect. For one thing, my brain had forgotten what the work was that I needed to do: obviously I knew it was about redrafting and editing the thesis, but I was sure it was all beyond me and I wouldn’t know where to start. Work had become the elephant in the room: I knew it needed doing; and I knew I was the one to do it. But I felt afraid of it, as if it was a rogue elephant preparing to charge. It wasn’t. I bit the bullet and got my arse in that chair and picked up where I left off. By the end of the day I’d addressed all the advice from my Director of Studies and made notes in red of places I’d skipped over, needing more thought. I also prepared a paragraph or two on Carol Ann Duffy’s poems about the mother-daughter relationship. Mostly my work is about how daughter’s relate to their mothers, as addressed in the poetry of Pascale Petit, Selima Hill and me, daughters writing about their mothers. Carol Ann Duffy reminds us that mothers are also daughters, and daughters often become mothers: she writes from both perspectives so that’s an interesting take. All mothers have been daughters, after all. I chose her poems about the cold and snow as metaphors for being on the outside of that relationship. Her new collection, Sincerity (Picador 2018), has some wonderful examples. In my opinion it’s her best work since she became Laureate. She signed my copy during the interval of Carol Ann Duffy and Friends at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester last week. If you haven’t got a copy yet, you’d better put it in your letter to Santa. You won’t be disappointed. There’s something in there for everyone: satire, humour, sadness, joy.
So, by the end of Saturday I was feeling very good about myself. I feel back on track; I’ve kicked that work into submission and I can see that the work I still have to do is doable: I’m looking forward to it. It’s all about writing an intro and a summative conclusion; and reflecting on how my reading of the three poets I discuss has influenced my own poetry. I’ve done this in several places, but I need to develop that reflection some more. So, I’ll have a good week at it this week and gradually mould it into shape. I’m confident that it’ll be ready to send back to the team in the New Year. Hilary has promised to read it before I send it off too, which will be really useful, to get a new set of eyes to assess it, to see if it makes sense to someone who’s not involved in it. Bless her heart.
On Wednesday this week I’m meeting Jean Sprackland to discuss the collection of poetry I’ve written for the creative element. It is the first time we’ve discussed it as a complete collection; normally I’ve sent a set of poems off to her for feedback, so I feel it’s a way-marker of how close I am to completion that we are discussing the full collection. We’re meeting in the Eighth Day Café on Oxford Road, so It’ll probably involve cake. In preparation for that meeting, I’m going to include a poem I wrote some time ago, early on in my PhD journey. It’s a poem that explores that feeling we all have, don’t we, as children growing up: that we’re out of step with the family. Like many children, I used to fantasise that I was adopted, that my real self was out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. Silly really: why would anyone with a large brood want to think about adopting another one? I reflected on that and wrote this as an exploration of why I felt at odds. I was really an alien, a Midwich Cuckoo finding my way in a strange world.
She’s looking at me as if she hasn’t a clue who I am.
Her real daughter was stolen from the maternity ward.
I’m telling you, aliens lifted her from her crib, left me,
a mysterious doppelganger that she can’t know.
Remember that school photo, the one
where I’m sitting bolt upright, smiling at the camera
but my eyes are staring at the lens like lasers?
I tell people I’m her love child with Ming the Merciless.