In the same shadow

All day I’ve been in the shadow of a dream. The more I think about it, and especially the feeling of it, the more I wonder whether it wasn’t actually some kind of afterlife scenario. It was almost Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire; that same sense of expansive vista, all sea and sky and barely any land to counterbalance it, but there was something of the uncanny, too. Like Prospero’s island, maybe. All the while I was aware of the unbroken sound of the waves and seabirds.

Several years ago, I learnt to sail and bought a scruffy little tub of a boat, a Gull. I loved it. For a time, it frightened the living daylights out of me most weekends. In the dream, my nerves were thrumming with life, the way I recall Pip’s centre-board would begin singing and, oh, the unexpected joy of it! It didn’t cross my mind once that this was perhaps not our world, that I was not, in fact, in my living body because, heaven help me, I was where I belonged and I was happy. If happiness is a feeling of calm expansion about the heart and that experience of buoyancy I am constantly on the scent of (and which is a good half of the reason why I swim).

You know you’re in trouble when Thom Yorke provides the soundtrack for your internal life. Change the direction the wind is blowing from and that dream is distinctly unsettling. As it is, I sigh over it (we, who still have the breath in our bodies, and think nothing of squandering the miracle so).

I’ve been considering (i.e. worrying at) the question of what I truly desire in this life. When I had my boat, what I loved best was sailing close-hauled: as near to head-to-wind as I could get and still be moving forwards.

Something came to me recently about how I will not be at peace with myself unless, each day, I go six inches out of my depth.

I’ve been thinking about the fortnight last Autumn when I returned to Weymouth. I’ve been daydreaming about Pembrokeshire, too. And I’ve been taking part in Art2Life’s “stripped down” challenge – the idea being to focus on something essential in your art-making and to jettison all the rest, for the moment. Take a look at my Instagram, if you like. I’m sketching brush-pen drawings from photos I took of the Pembrokeshire coast: monochromatic, until blue wouldn’t be resisted any longer. But, for the most part, a matter of brights and darks, light and shadow.

To reside within the neighbourhood of that which is beloved: is that what I seek? The Persian word for “neighbour” (which may be transliterated “hamsayeh”) translates as “same shadow”. To live within the same shadow? To cast the same shadow? I don’t know. But something resonates here, just beyond the frequency my daylit eye perceives.


“Just imagine how much worse you’ll feel if you don’t… .” Thus, my all-purpose metaphorical cattle-prod. It gets the job done but, as motivational strategies go, it doesn’t exactly have me aglow with inspiration. It’s been a difficult couple of months; the amount of effort needed to do the things I know make me feel better increases by the week. I am relying on staggering amounts of willpower, spiked with potent doses of shame and fear.

We finally got away for a week in a rented cottage in my beloved Pembrokeshire, a fifteen minute walk from a tiny cove. It was wonderful, but a week is not nearly enough: I was still should-ing myself throughout (not helped by a tight writing deadline to meet midweek). One morning after breakfast I sat alone on the beach and realised what I want right now is four weeks of solitude, a complete cycle of moon-soaked tide-watching. Books, good bread, tea. A logfire in the hearth. The sea. Sufficient respite from the usual human clamour.

Writing is barely happening. This is more than tiredness, or lack of inspiration: it feels like a refutation-tight veto issued from the depths of the depths. I skirt round it as best I can. (I am currently doing two courses with The Poetry School). To do so is exhausting! I cheated it last week by tuning into Joelle Taylor’s Zoom workshop, for Arvon and the Working Class Writers’ festival, on the body in poetry. She gave a fantastic performance and shared several timed exercises, which I could pretend were ‘just playing, really’. The two hours flew by!

As for my poetry pamphlet… I don’t want to think about it. Possibly because I have a bad conscience in its regard. I feel deflated, defeated, vaguely embarrassed. Perpetually simmering. I’m accumulating rejections of batches of poems, which is disappointing but by no means devastating. What I cannot endure at this time is the required jumping through social media hoops etc. apparently necessary for ‘profile-raising’ in order to make a success of the work. I love doing the work of writing poems, and the more it challenges me, the more I want to give to it. But the business of ‘being a poet’, what does that actually mean anymore? Is it something I’ll grit my teeth and do, for the sake of the writing? Dare I ask myself, at this point, how I really feel about the prospect of being published? Is it even something I truly want? Or is it something I am afraid to let go of after the years of effort and intention I have given to it?