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I was guest poet at Poets’ Corner Monday evening, a bi-monthly event held at the Effective Living Centre in Wayville, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Having been recommended by Jules Leigh Koch, fellow poet, friend and a member of the group, Mary Taylor who runs the event invited me to read, which I managed to do for an hour! The centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and the evening drew a small, but attentive audience.

Preparing for it, a few themes emerged – family, health and travel – so I structured my reading around them. I started by talking about my background, how I got into poetry, shared my first published poem (a whole nine lines!), and then my thoughts on the purpose of poetry and my creative process. I read 22 poems in all; some from my chapbooks and a few from the collection I’m currently working on. Questions followed.

Louise Nicholas, another fellow poet and friend, wanted to know how I can be so disciplined with my writing routine. Being fortunate enough to work part time, Fridays are my writing day, plus I love to do lists and so make one for what I want to achieve that week. And if I do something not on the list, I add it on and strike it through! (does wonders for the sense of achievement). I was also asked how I find out about submission opportunities. I’ve signed up to a weekly email, Submishmash, which lists upcoming deadlines for both national and overseas publications seeking work, and also hear about them through my poetry groups, with Facebook being a valuable source too. However, I plan to cut back on the number of submissions I make this year to focus on my next (and first full length!) collection.

It was a wonderful evening and I was surprised how quickly the time went. There was a short break followed by an open mic session in which others shared their own work. I sold a few chapbooks and had some interesting, and insightful, conversations. And that’s one of the many beautiful things about poetry – its power to bring people together, which sometimes, in itself, is enough.

I went to a workshop yesterday facilitated by Jane Turner Goldsmith at Adelaide University called ‘Write Yourself’.

Jane is a psychologist as well as a talented writer, who I first heard speak at Salisbury Writer’s Festival a few years ago. Having had a synopsis accepted by the Australian Psychological Society, Jane was keen to try out her workshop before rolling it out to a wider audience. I was one of six who volunteered and very happy I did.

Writing as therapy is a hot topic, with research by Pennebaker showing the therapeutic benefits associated with this particular form of self-expression, both mental and physical. In six hours, we completed 10 exercises, ranging from writing about something we were proud of and the significant object we were asked to bring along, through to eating chocolate mindfully and introducing narrative to a traumatic event. One of my favourites, and the most emotive for me, was writing a letter to our younger selves. When time was called, I couldn’t stop.

Parameters were given from the start. No one had to share what they’d written, only if they felt comfortable doing so. Some did, others chose not to. Jane was also interested in how we felt about completing each exercise – anxious, scared, enthused – to gauge how they’d be received. And this is the important bit.

As said, Jane is a registered psychologist with extensive experience in this area and so was very adept at managing the emotional consequences of such self-exploration. I’ve recently assisted a fellow writer in the UK, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, to publish an article in the latest issue of Mslexia about the safeguards in place when writing about mental health, and how alarmingly many running such workshops are not adequately equipped to deal with the fallout. Fortunately, I was able to provide examples of good practice here.

For me, the workshop was emotionally exhausting. I revisited traumas and even went places I’d never been. But then I didn’t expect anything less. Being a poet who draws on experience to produce work, this was safe ground. And completing the exercises has given me the foundations for five pieces I intend to develop further. So thanks again Jane for letting me be one of your guinea pigs. I’ve found new squeaks 😊

No, not quite, as this all took place in the latter half of last year, but the new one prompted me to look back on the changes I’d made, the impact they’ve had and thought I’d share them with you.

It actually all started the year before, so 2016, when I went to the doctors to discuss the side-effects of the medication I was on for my endometriosis (I believed they were making me short-tempered, moody, etc.), however, she explained that due to the low dosage of each of them, it was unlikely they were the cause.

She then asked me if anything had changed in my life recently, to which I replied I now work part time and use Fridays to focus on my writing, had joined three poetry groups, started an online course and was finalising my second collection. She pointed out that in actual fact I work full time and had taken on additional commitments, and I thought, well yes, if you put it like that (isn’t it funny how it takes someone else to point out these things and the different perceptions of writing as work?)

Anyway, it got me thinking, and I concluded that I only get stressed, ratty, etc. when I try to do too much, and the only person putting pressure on me, was me. For example, I like to exercise three times a week and if I didn’t achieve this, I’d feel guilty. One of the days I exercised was a Friday followed by the whole beauty regime (you know what I mean), doing some washing, tidying, making appointments, responding to emails, etc. so that before I knew it, it was nearly lunchtime. What was I doing…this is my writing day!

Still on the topic of exercise, I used to drive into work on the days I did it because I thought it quicker, so typically Mondays and Wednesdays to complement the Friday. Driving into the city from where we live at peak time is extremely frustrating (yes, even here). A 16km trip can take over an hour. And so I’d rush in, struggle to find a park, work, rush home, exercise, cook dinner, eat and then have little energy to do anything else before bed.

So, over the months that followed, I gradually made changes. I now exercise on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday, freeing up the latter to do what I should be doing, poetry.

I no longer drive into work. I cycle to the train station some ten minutes from our house (so exercise in itself albeit small), store my bike in the locker I rent and take the train in, where I can read, write, check messages, listen to music, even nap if it’s quiet enough.

We’ve started using Hello Fresh, a meal service which delivers the ingredients to make three meals a week to our door, which in turn avoids that age-old question “what are we having for dinner tonight?!” and eating the same thing.

I’ve also negotiated to work from home every Wednesday because with access to systems, I can do my job anywhere. This, I feel, has been the biggest change and is helping me to manage my endometriosis (i.e. less travel, less rush, less stress), which appears to be flaring up again annoyingly.

Small changes have made a significant impact. Coupled with taking things easier and not trying to do everything at once (because who is chasing me for it – no one!) has made me a happier, less stressed, more balanced person (cue sigh of relief from husband). So, my message to you? It’s your life, make of it the best you can.

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