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unsolicited advice

Don’t write alone. I was my most prolific as a child, when I read everything I could find and wrote down everything I thought. In gentle competition with my twin sibling, we were often surrounded with pens and pencils and the dot matrix printer paper that came in a miles-long continuous sheet. We learned the trick of tearing off a piece of paper just right, along the perforations, and peeling off the hole-punched strips that went down each of the long sides, one for you and one for me. 

Don’t write alone. I was a teenage scrawler and defended the secrecy of my writing with my life. I would love to have back the poems I burned, the diaries I binned, tore, shredded with my hands. I would love to have back the words I held in my mind like a mouthful of water and never spat out.  If I could, I would read my lost teenage diaries with tenderness, treat with care the words of the young woman whose feelings were too scalding to bear, and promise to her, my young self, that I’d handle the pages like 3000-year-old papyrus—that precious, that delicate. I would tell her that I’d like to keep them for the rest of my life.

Don’t write alone. I made a friend who was a poet, and she and I would talk about poetry. We wrote together a few times, me and her and some friends, sitting together in her attic study. She would invite me to come and read with her around town. I would agonise over writing something, put it off and put it off, bring it to rehearsal barely finished. On the mic, in the company of the other poets, I would hear my voice reverberate in my own ears and notice a slack line, a hollow beat, a forced rhyme. I would take my poem home, adjust, tighten, lay it on the bowstring like an arrow. At the reading, I’d loose it, watch it fly, hear it strike.

Don’t write alone. My brain stopped working for a while and I couldn’t write. I had a lot of time and no concentration, a lot of thoughts and no way to make them into words. I had no attention for reading. I would lie on my side, holding my notebook open to a blank page in front of my heart, and stare at it like I stared at my bedroom walls. My mind felt heavy behind my eyes, cold and inert.

Don’t write alone. I would put something on paper and immediately snap shut on the possibility of sharing it. Write, destroy, write, destroy, write, destroy.

Don’t write alone. I would put something on paper and then promise myself I would never look at it again. Stupid, insignificant. Write, abandon, write, abandon.

Don’t write alone. I would put something on paper and, rereading it, decide to consign it to the dustbin of shameful juvenilia. Write, forget.

Don’t write alone. I made a friend who was a poet, and he and I would talk about poetry. Sometimes he would read his work to me when it was new, as new as it could be, fresh out of his head and still wet. We would try and test the words, one by one. Like a locksmith picking a difficult lock, we would jiggle and rattle each word, change their order, try the line again until the tiny inner machinery of the poem would tumble into place and click. It took me a couple of years to entrust him with my work, but I did, eventually. 

Don’t write alone. A lightning bolt still goes through me when I show someone unfinished work. I still hate everything I write, a little bit, even the good things. The work of writing still feels too hard for me to do—I lose faith every time that things will come together. But I know, now, that there are people I can take into these struggles with me. They can remind me that these feelings are just feelings, that writing isn’t impossible, that my brain is working just fine. The last time I wrote a poem for public consumption, I spent an hour on Skype with a patient friend and read the first draft to her in its naked state, accompanied by a jolt of fear. Frowned, growled, fidgeted with the words, read it again, freaked out. Read it aloud again. Freaked out a bit more. Read it again.

*

Nobody here is the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog who, alone, surveys the world and the future with mastery as mist unfurls below him. Who among us can claim mastery over the future at the moment? The world is a strange and harsh place, and we need each other to survive in it.

Write to fight for your mind, write to fight for your sanity. Write your joy and your struggles. Write to remember. Write to reach for the most playfully, creatively alive moments of your existence, in the spontaneity of your childhood, the intensity of your adolescence, the liberation of your adulthood. Write to reach for each other. Don’t write alone. 

A prompt for you:

Call a friend. Write together in each other’s company for 10 minutes. Take five minutes each to read your writing to each other. What feelings came up? What was good about the time writing together? What was difficult? Post what you wrote.

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race me

content warning: some discussion of racism, death, violence 

I’m at my desk in my bedroom, feeling the creep of a headache at the back of my skull. The yellow cast from the ceiling light has always given me a headache, ever since I was a child. I remember arriving off the bus home from school in the evening after it’d limped like a wounded animal from Dover to Capel to Folkestone to Seabrook. By then, the afternoon had aged from grey into black. I would come into the kitchen through the back door, queasy over the crunch of snail shells beneath my shoes on the dark garden path, and turn the light on. The sallow brightness of the bulb would illuminate the room in a bizarre facsimile of daylight, casting pale, awkward shadows, rendering the outside flat black, obsolete, desolate, null.

This month, October, is always the month where something profound changes in my body as it resigns itself to winter. I want comfort, too much food and a warm place to sleep. Sometimes I fantasise about being put in a cardboard box filled with hay and newspaper and sealed up until March, like you’re supposed to do with tortoises. However, I’m an adult human being with things to do, and so I make it through the winter by shining a very bright light on my face in the mornings, taking vitamin D supplements, forcing myself to move my body (very effective, alas) and crying to friends down the phone about how terrible everything is often enough that it takes the sting away, so I can notice that life is still good, still beautiful. For example, how the trees are festooned with sloes, rosehips, haws and crab apples. How far and how clearly you can see out to sea on the coldest days. How the air is as refreshing as a sip of ice-water when I’m cycling, its flavours distilled on the palate—salt, car exhaust, canal mud. 

October is also Black History Month, and I feel a responsibility to be awake for that, too. This year has been a vintage year for unrest, due to the waves of protest reignited by the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US. Even as COVID ravaged our societies, its toll disproportionately heavy on people of colour, many went out into the streets, braved the risk of infection and police repression, marched, toppled statues. There were a few times this summer when it felt like the whole edifice—rapacious capitalism buttressed by state violence—might come crashing down. It definitely wobbled. 

So this evening, in the spirit of being awake and staying woke, I ate nearly a whole box of baklava and attended the online premiere of a film, Voices for Freedom, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of the 5th Pan-African Congress. The film stitched together performances and readings by the sons and daughters of delegates who attended the Congress in Manchester in 1945. This is a piece of British black history, and global black history, that feels submerged. Almost all of it was new to me. Among the delegates to the Congress were political leaders who would eventually lead their countries to independence from their colonial governments, radical students, intellectuals, trade unionists and socialists—in short, people from all over the African diaspora who were making huge, structural changes to their world in the name of liberation from racist colonial domination by Britain, the US, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and others.

I joined the stream as the performance poet SAF-S2E was delivering the Marcus Garvey speech ‘African Fundamentalism’ in his ringing, dark brown voice. I was swept up and tumbled in the unflinchingness of Garvey’s words, the fearlessness and fanaticism, the language of the Bible, of epic, of metaphysics, of myth. Later, I looked up the text and found it littered with capitals: “NATURE first made us what we are and then out of our own creative genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that GREAT LAW. Let the SKY be your limit, and Eternity our Measurement.”

Garvey was in some ways a far-from-heroic man, with a legacy laced with reactionary antisemitism, a race-sciencey disdain for mixed-heritage people, and ambitions of an imperial, authoritarian, quasi-fascist kind for the creation a black homeland in Africa. Problematic at the very least. The impact, though, of Garvey’s ideas and rhetoric—his florid speeches on pan-Africanism, the slogan Black is Beautiful—can’t be denied. ‘African Fundamentalism’ causes a rush of blood to the head when you hear it read aloud, because it doesn’t compromise. I crunched the brittle pastry of the baklava between my back teeth, feeling the sugar-rush and head-rush come over me simultaneously. 

I thought back to this summer, to the rhetoric that has defined the popular anti-racist movements of my lifetime. ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be the bare minimum, and yet it’s an obsessively contested statement, fiddled with and fucked with and undermined. And it’s what people take to the streets to proclaim—if only because every day, the societies we’ve built fail to clear that low, low bar, a bar that is almost on the ground. Only recently have the demands to defund the police and the abolish the prison system gained mainstream popularity, which have brought about a resurgence of people calling themselves ‘abolitionists’—a title that’s a little grand, a little silly and puts me in mind of powdered wigs and William Wilberforce, yet, in spite of this, grasps the level of change that’s needed. 

I didn’t go to any protests, not even the one outside Folkestone Town Hall that was led by my late friend Arike with the words ‘Black Men Are Good’ emblazoned on his chest. I felt too scared, too helpless, too self-pitying. I couldn’t tell what difference it would make. What I did do was lie in bed and cry and talk and cry and jitter with the restlessness of guilt and rage. I hoped for the downfall of civilisation, hoped that I would get to just watch. A text I wrote to a friend on 1st June: “[…]It all feels very strange and scary… US race stuff is really in-your-face terrifying but it feels so distant to me, even though I know it’s not.”

This is part of the fight for me. The internalised racism that is lodged in my psyche tells me all the time that I don’t matter—as a black person of mixed heritage, as a queer woman, as a young adult, as a discouraged writer, as a person with mental health struggles. This is the bit of my mind that tells me I’m a child, I’m pretending, I can’t do anything, I’m a speck, an iota, a mote of dust. I have to do the inner work of realising that I must stand up and be counted, and that act in itself gives a tiny bit of juice to the movement for a more just world. I need to fight to notice that there’s something to fight for. Underneath the debris of my privilege and the myriad ways I can afford to comfort and distract myself, I can sometimes catch sight of the fact that my life is as it is in part because of racism. Even though I’m unlikely to be killed by the police for merely existing, I am subjected by racism at every moment. We all are, actually.

These ideas are easier to access the more I read, think and write, and the more I realise that black history is my history, and this world, structured by capital, exploitation and racism, is my world, too. Learning about the recent history of police brutality in this country has helped, in a painful way. Racism, police brutality and sexism resulted in the degrading violence towards black feminist heroine Olive Morris. Racism, privatisation, and the hatred of immigrants that saturates political discourse in this country resulted in the death of Jimmy Mubenga. Racism and the particular violence that is acted out on black men’s bodies and in black men’s lives resulted in the deaths of Stephen Lawrence, Mark Duggan, Edson da Costa

On a bike ride with my family in June I nearly cycled into a polite but assertive Black Lives Matter march along the Hythe canal. Surprised and a little chastened, I dragged my bike over to the grass on the side of the path and smiled at the marchers, who smiled back as they chanted. Seized by the moment, feeling a little giddy, I raised a fist, curling my fingers and flexing my arm at the elbow—mentally I was picturing Angela Davis raising a chic, casual salute at her trial in 1971—and felt the power of the gesture in my own body as I saw fists raised in return as the march streamed by me.

Last weekend, for Black History Month, I organised an evening of poetry, storytelling and interviews by local black artists, addressing and honouring black men. I also read some of my own poems, which was wonderful and difficult, as the writing itself didn’t come easily. I had to push myself hard to commit words to paper, convinced as I was of their uselessness. But I have had these huge thoughts about racism roiling in my head for a few months now, and I knew I had to decide to use them in the writing, pushed up as they were against my struggle for my own significance. I had to decide to tell people what I wanted them to know, to smooth and shape the raw material of my ideas under the grit of my critical eye, until I had something I could share. I had to decide that sharing on the level of the personal, oblique and metaphorical could be a contradiction to my feelings of political helplessness and fear, that a symbol wouldn’t just be a symbol if another person could see it and understand what I meant. And I had to decide that words, the words I chose, could themselves inform reality and create possibility; that they, too, would matter. 

A prompt for you, then, gentle Antidiarists, as thanks for bearing witness to this long and meandering entry. 

Take a wander into your personal history — where has racism touched your life? What did the Black Lives Matter protests of this summer bring up for you? Go straight to the feelings. Antidiarists of white heritage especially, I’d ask you to be considerate of your community, but also to be honest. The option to post anonymously is open to everyone, as always. Breathe deeply. Post. 

Yours, 

Josie

P.S.: Black History Month celebrations are going on throughout October… check out the full schedule here.

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under-cover takeover

The nights are cold. My feet are cold. I’m sitting up in bed as I write this, pinioned between my laptop and a thick stack of cushions, swathed so comprehensively in duvet that only my head and hands emerge, to read and to type. It’s 11.08pm. Sleepily, unassumingly, under cover of darkness, I’m taking over. 

I’ve been trying for the last two days to collect my thoughts into something coherent, cool and polished enough to publish here, in public, but I’m aware that that’s against the spirit of this project. So instead, dear Antidiarists, I’ll write to you as if I’m writing in my diary, or in an email draft, or Notes app note, or blank google doc – I have many of these, filled with broken links, shorn off sentences, inscrutable scribbles, drafts of poems that’ll never be written. Some samples, real ones, from my private stash: 

14.10.2020 looking smaller and smaller and more beautiful as

07.10.2020 i just needed something to enslipperify my gross little brain

28.08.2020 […] entrance blisters a hole in the film like a hot poker, blaring filth and rage

15.08.2020 identity related to suffering

02.08.2020 […]reorganising my life!!! 

07.07.2020 desperation as I watch, the unsatisfiable needs of the[…]

05.06.2020 get on the zoom. then

13.05.2020 Part of what feels difficult is that I feel desperate to leave

It feels weird and vulnerable to share this stuff that I write down in private moments — in bed, in the bathroom, on the bus, in meetings when I’m supposed to be concentrating on something else. My phone or notebook might be balanced on or nestled into an unlikely part of my body; my body might be in a state that I wouldn’t choose to show to anyone. This is the intimate stuff of my life. And simultaneously, showing you these words in this context is no risk at all. You’re on the other end of an internet connection, and there’s very little you can do to me from there. What we’re left with is the compelling contradiction that I think is the genius of Antidiary: intimacy and remoteness. Profoundly safe, yet a bit terrifying, a bit thrilling. I’m looking forward to inhabiting this space, in this year of social distancing, atomisation, isolation, in these viral times. We’ll be in each other’s company — not too close and not too far away, sharing things we wouldn’t usually share. 

I’m so filled with gratitude and mild overwhelm to be the eponymous Writer of this Writer Takeover of the Antidiary project for the Festival of Looking – which, if you don’t know, is 15th-18th October 2020. I’ll be reflecting on the near-ness and far-ness of racism and what it’s like to share writing about race in public. I’ll share my manifesto on shattering the twin solitudes of writing and recovering from mental illness. I’ll explore what we see when we look into the internet and what happens when the internet looks back at us. And I’ll share some writing prompts along the way — hopefully things that will nudge you, dear Antidiarists, in an interesting direction. 

One last thing before I retreat under the covers completely —  a low-effort late night prompt for you. 

Find a morsel of writing you’ve tucked away in your email drafts, Notes app or other liminal space. Treat it as found poetry. Add the date. Post it. 

Yours, 

Josie

Josephine Carter was born and raised in Folkestone. Starting out as a passionate teenage poet in Folkestone’s arts scene, she was a recipient of the Foyles Young Poet Award in 2015, and remains a dedicated (although usually secretive) diarist, essayist and amateur person of letters. This year she was an organiser of Black Men are Good, a celebration of Black History Month in Folkestone. She is a bit intense about the Canadian poetess Anne Carson, dancing, her bike, and trying to become an artist-activist as a very shy person. 

Notes

1 Oct 2020
Just really grieving for the world
What if it doesn’t get better
I’m struggling
Feeling overwhelmed
Empathy hard – can’t live in the world like this but how do you stay alive
Is it self centred to want to die

11 Oct 2020
Wired from the emotions of the poetry event
Anxious about ell tomorrow
Feeling on edge and scared
Very strung out about the state of the world
Feeling powerless and vaguely aware and hurting about the bad stuff out there
Sensitive to noises
Feeling stressed and pressure because of work
Worried about department change
Just feeling stretched thin and hard to get attention or looking after
Can’t reach out to anyone now
Feel sick
Anxious about not sleeping and being tired for work
Feel abandoned and can’t breathe
I need help

5.20am
Heart heavy beating hard
Feel sick
Anxious still
Ell was pretty ok about talking tomorrow, seems like it will actually be fine
Had some revelations about how I feel about myself

5.50 am still sleepy tired feel sick too sick to sleep
I haven’t felt like this in ages

Autumn

It was like spring out in the garden this afternoon and an old plane even did an obliging fly past or two. It made me think summer is not far away but of course it is and there is a winter to be got through first. I like the idea of winter – warm fires and hot chocolate – but not the reality of cold winds and grey days or perpetual rain showers when you can’t even enjoy a walk along the coast. I have found pleasure in foraging for walnuts this week. I feel guilty that I might have deprived others of the pleasure of funding a walnut but then I didn’t want to just leave them for the traffic to run over like the shattered remnants of the others in the road. But last year there were none to find and this year started with two or three and ended up with a nice haul for Christmas. The worry is that the abundance of nuts and berries at the moment means it is going to be a long winter, compounded by daily new regulations to ward off the Covid. I’m hoping for some nice warm sunny autumn and winter days to fend off the gloom and take a brisk walk along the beach, which always revives my spirits.

Mornings

Every morning if an alternate reality of the one before. The same room, same bed, same pillows, same alarm, same wife. My feet hit hard carpet, ice woven into its seventies threads. Clothes are pulled off door handles and radiators. I yawn as I lock the door and I don’t wake up until my feet feel the crunch of pebbles. I think I take the same route every day. I probably see the same people every day; on a loop depending on how slowly my muscles respond to the stairs and to the cobbles. I hear myself walk towards the crashing tide. I feel the wind, the salt, the fresh, crisp, biting air prick my bare skin. And finally the smile on my face extends. My eyes crinkle and I can feel my freckles fold in on themselves. The salted sea takes me into its arms. I am at one with the water, ducking, diving, swimming, splashing, paddling, laughing. Always laughing. I stay in as long as the blood in my fingers will let me – and then a little longer.

Outside the Dentist

A woman in a purple ski jacket smoking a fag:
“Don’t let them make you feel bad in there. They tried to do it to me but I told them what for. Why do they think I didn’t bloody look after my teeth? I could hardly look after myself. And then I had the babies well they got all the looking after I could do. And then well, you just don’t think about yourself when you’re a mum do ya? So when me teeth started going all wobbly I came here and him in there he gave me into trouble and it was like I was five again. And he was me old man.
“I told him I said: it’s what you’re doing right now, making me feel bad that stops people coming to the bloody dentist. He told me to stop shouting. I wasn’t even shouting. If I had shouted them bodies over in that graveyard there would’ve heard me. But what can I do? Can’t go nowhere else. This government, they’ve run the NHS into the ground. He said I’m going to have dentures or I can get implants. Three grand an implant. And all because of me not thinking I’m worth nothing. I didn’t look after meself because I didn’t think i was worth it.
“But it’s changed now. Hell yes. I put myself first now. And it’s all right you know. I think I’m all right now. So I won’t let someone like him in there make me feel small. He knows now. He knows to keep his mouth shut. And I said, I said to him in there, you ought not to do that. Cos there will be others who won’t come back. They won’t want told off. They’ve had enough of that in their lives. So don’t do it. And he looked all…he looked shame-faced he did. I don’t want that. But I just want him to stop making people feel shit about themselves. Cos loads of us do already.”

Where does the time go?

Last night I cleared out my son’s book shelves. I piled all the books he’s too big to read in two boxes. So many books and so many memories! Some I was glad to see the back of: Goodnight Moon–how creepy is that book? Especially creepy when you’ve not slept for 12 months and the walls are melting because you’re out of your mind with tiredness. Goodbye Goodnight Moon! But so many of those books represent so many lovely moments with my little boy tucked up in bed. All of those Julia Donaldson books–some better than others. Goodbye The Highway Rat–you were awful and your rhymes were awful too! But A Squash and a Squeeze was one of the first books we got him and we loved reading it. Again and again and again. I used to be able to recite the whole of The Gruffalo from start to finish. Each book in those two big boxes has been read at least a dozen times if not hundreds and hundreds and in the case of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom watched on TV too.
There are some books I can’t part with. Guess How Much I Love You? which my brother used to read to his children and is a very important book to both of us because we grew up in a house without much love and certainly no one telling us how much we were loved. So repeating again and again to our children when they are tucked up in bed at night safe and warm and clean that they are loved THIS MUCH is especially important to us. I also kept my son’s very first book: Goodnight Wibbly Pig when he was still breastfed and used a Gro-bag. Because these books remind me now of early days when all I could think of was making it to bed time and getting past suicide hour. Bath done, teeth done, day done and no one traumatised (much), we would hug and read. Now he is eight and his bookshelves are heaving with science and Minecraft and Asterix and Harry Potter, and every David Walliams book ever published. He’s a free reader now but we still read at nighttime and no matter how much I have to do or how full my in box is, I read to him. Soon enough his books will change again to 1984 or Lord of the Rings or whatever and he won’t want his mum cuddling him to sleep. So I savour it while I can. Though I really wish Harry Potter would stop being so stroppy.

I seem to have lost the ability to think

I’m trying to very gently trick myself back into writing. It’s not because I don’t want to write–I do, very much–but more that there are so many other feelings swoop in when I sit down to write, that I need to trick myself into getting something, anything, done.

Earlier in lockdown I was very good at doing my morning pages, as advised by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. She says you should write three pages or thereabouts as the first thing you do when you wake up. It’s about letting off steam, so she says – letting yourself get all the other things out on the page, the daily frustrations, the self-flagellation, the to-do lists. I think it’s meant to be a written version of that grandiose film trope of dramatically sweeping everything off your desk, so that you have space for a new idea. Julia Cameron says morning pages are a good way to get to know yourself better.

As I mentioned earlier, I was very good at doing the morning pages; the operative word being ‘was’. When I did them, I did get to know myself better. But now I know myself better, I actually think I’m boring. I used to write every day and produce variations on the same theme every day, the same day in, day out. Every day I would wake up and say that I was tired and couldn’t think. It was true. I still am tired every day. And I still can’t think.

When I say ‘I can’t think’, I am not being negative, and stopping myself before I get started. In fact, I spent–and still spend–a lot of time encouraging myself. I tell myself it’s ok to be a bit tired, and that I don’t need to wait for a blinding flash of inspiration to write, and that it’s ok not to be good on the first try, and that it’s ok to feel a bit rusty at first. All of these things are true! I only need to write one sentence! That’s all! But truly, I couldn’t think. Whenever I would try to do so, I would circle back to the same point: what is the point of all this, anyway? What am I doing trying to be creative when the world’s on fire? If I did write anything at all, I’d manage a creaking sentence that had no joy in it whatsoever. And afterwards, I’d think, ‘Thank god, I don’t have to do another one of those until tomorrow.’ I’m sure I don’t need to explain how this is not how I want to feel about writing.

For some time now, my imagination hasn’t been filling in the gaps like it used to. My brain remembers what it needs to do; complete this task at work, remember to set off on time if I need to meet someone, put my laundry in the washing machine and take it out again when it’s done. That bit I have down pat. I can think strategically about what I need to do and in what order. What my brain isn’t doing is coming up with anything on its own. Conversations are hard, because I haven’t had any thoughts apart from ‘I recently did the washing up,’ or ‘I folded my clothes neatly,’ in a while. I don’t know what to say to people when they ask me what I’ve been up to recently. The only answer I have is: living. Which is, yes, fine – an admirable thing to do. It’s something that many people struggle with, and it’s something I have struggled with, before. I really must commend myself for managing to take care of myself despite not really caring at all.

Worse than not having anything interesting to report, I can’t even think of a way to describe being bored in an entertaining way. Most people don’t live wildly exciting lives, but they usually have something to say for themselves. I try to encourage myself by pointing out that everyone else is also living boring lives now, because of lockdown. But I think other people still have imagination. What has happened to mine?

I thought about people who might be doing even more banal or repetitive jobs than me. I thought about parents having to entertain young children, or cleaners who mop the same floors in the same order. I wouldn’t say they were boring – people still have interests, and thoughts about life, no matter what they spend their days doing.
People still have vivacious personalities without wild adventures: one need not have exciting source material to make wry observations, dramatic sagas or imaginative retellings.

What makes all of this even more dire is that I used to have funny thoughts. I used to have an entertaining time in my head, telling myself stories about things as I was doing them, or thinking about things I’d been reading or songs to which I’d been listening. I’d try different outfits on and feel like I was becoming a different character depending on whether I put on a checked tea dress, or black jeans and Doc Martens. That feeling of ‘inner life’ isn’t there anymore. I do what I need to and there is no director’s commentary.

I know I used to have imagination – I used to write a lot. I’d be struck by poignant thoughts all the time and have to write them in my Notes app. Writing used to come easily to me. I used to arrive at the proverbial page and they’d just come forth like a… See what I mean? I used to be able to just produce a metaphor, whenever I wanted! I will be trying to write a sentence and get to a point where a metaphor is meant to go, but it doesn’t come. It’s like I’m turning a tap on and waiting expectantly for the gushing flow I’m used to, but instead there’s nothing. Not even a rumbling in the pipes. Oh, that’s a metaphor. Why couldn’t it come when I wanted it to?

I have to wonder whether I’m actually doing this to myself. What if somehow I killed my imagination? What if I’m preventing it from coming back? This is simultaneously alarming and comforting. Alarming, because I’m doing harm to myself. Comforting, because (theoretically) I should be able to stop. I ask myself what the purpose of not imagining might be. Does not imagining actually have some benefits?
While in an imagination-free state, I do get what I need to do done. I’m still functional. Highly functional! It occurred to me think I may have subconsciously switched off my own imagination to cope with life last year. There’s no time or energy for imagination when you have to spend so much of it continuing to exist. I don’t think I noticed my imagination had gone until the volume of everything else had reduced. I may have been living without imagination for longer than I had previously thought. What if it doesn’t come back? It will come back, it has to. Right?

So what can you do to let imagination come back again? Clear away some of the dead wood that might be stifling its green shoots? While it always grew so easily before, without need for special attention, maybe it would be wise to just keep turning up to do it, and soon I’ll just find myself doing it.
What I came to realise through doing the morning pages is that this hasn’t worked for me. I may have all the intention to write, and I may remove as many barriers to entry as possible (by encouraging myself, actually sitting down at the table to do it, creating a reward system and trying to keep a run streak) but these aren’t much help when your brain won’t play ball.
Writing feels like having I have lost my keys, and keep re-checking the pockets I’ve already looked in, even though I know they aren’t there. I feel like I have been doing that days upon days, weeks upon weeks, looking for my inspiration in the place where it used to be and where it isn’t any more.

So at the moment, I’m trying to trick myself into writing. My gut feeling is that trying to force an idea out through rigorous discipline is like trying to herd cats (another metaphor; not particularly original, but it will do). Imagination doesn’t work like a machine. And neither do words.

I’m trying to trick myself by finding the delicate balance between trying to let my mind be free enough to write, but not too free, or it might decide not to write. I know that setting myself to write for anything longer than ten minutes is likely to see ‘instant gratification’ me give up (even if ‘strategic’ me doesn’t want to), so I make any writing tasks as easy and low-commitment as possible. I’m doing some radical noticing: it hasn’t helped yet but I’m prepared to keep going anyway.

It’s a delicate balance, because with each initiative I take for coaxing my brain into writing, its antithesis appears to scare the tiny hope back into its inertia. I know that if I just do a little bit of writing every day, then it will add up, and soon I’ll have something. But as soon as I remember that, I feel like the creative vivacity has been snuffed out, and writing becomes another chore, like laundry or exercise or turning up to work.

I try to let my mind be free and go where it needs to, but then I watch it toddle determinedly down the path marked ‘self-loathing’. I try to head it off at the pass, with gentle encouragement, but my brain isn’t sure how to take that encouragement either: one part wants to luxuriate in the comfort so that it never has to do anything hard again, the other path is deeply suspicious of this kindness and thinks it’s being patronised. Then I need to tell my brain to just accept the compliments I give it, and move on. And after all of this, I’m tired, and I can’t think.

I marvel at my brain’s ability to be non-compliant. I wish I could shake it into submission, but that doesn’t feel like a very kind thing to do. My brain is testing my patience. This is the most I have written in weeks, and it feels like one long complaint. I don’t particularly want to have produced this, but I have, so I suppose that’s something! That’s something, right?