Title?

I’ve been given two jobs, both small, but perfect. The first is to create and administer the website of a local charity, and the second to help a young girl develop her creative writing. Thus I find myself quite busy, with the prospect of a little (semi) regular, if not entirely permanent, money. The first thing I’ll buy is moisturiser for my ageing face; mine ran out about a week ago and I’ve been using a friend’s cast off since. It doesn’t have the same effect.

I’ve never created a website before, so the charity sent me on a two day, free course run by the local enterprise office. And I find it’s not that dissimilar to blogging (it is a Google site), though it’s much more fiddly, and there are such things as searchability to take into consideration. The first twenty five hours of working on it were a bit grim, and I must admit I had to force myself to do it. But I pushed on and now the bones are in place I’ve been having quite some fun creating the look and feel of it. Today I spent a good deal of time just looking at other sites of similar organisations, and browsing Pinterest for inspiration and ideas. It was great. I’ve always liked research, and this is the nicest sort for someone visually minded as me. Once it’s up and running I’ll show you. Meanwhile if anyone has any tips…

I’m spending a lot of time solving problems that have been solved a million times before by others, I’m sure. For example, the header image: what a fandango it was just trying to create something of the right proportions, and now I find the text colour has come out wrong. And I had to do three conversions to get it in place: from Pages (Mac’s Word equivalent) to PDF, to JPEG. This because I had to combine two images into one. Is there an easier way? Also, the font options on Google sites are rather limited, so I’ve been faffing about trying to subvert that, which only sometimes works. Also (this could go on), the charity expressed a preference for an off white rather than stark white background, but that option doesn’t seem to exist. Still, I am learning a good deal, and it may all come in handy again some day.

The second job begins on Friday, and is only for an hour a week, but I met the young writer before the school holidays because we had to make sure she’d be comfortable with me. It seems she was. Maybe because her chosen form is poetry, and when she told me this was because reading Charles Bukowski made her see how poetry can reach depths prose can’t I squealed with delight. It was Bukowski who made me realise ordinary, squalid life can be shown  poems, and that you don’t always have to write about unrequited love or the beauty of nature. Him and Sylvia Plath. So, for the rest of the week I’ll be looking out poets and poems I hope will aid her flourishing.

A trip to the Scottish Poetry Library last week saw me return with volumes by Liz Lochhead (the Scottish Makar); Janet Frame (whose autobiography I’ve just finished reading); Aonghas MacNeacail; Pablo Neruda (for the Mr who’s just finished reading his memoir); Alastair Reid, and UA Fanthorpe.  I also have my own small collection to draw on, and if I’m feeling brave I may even share a poem of my own with her: ‘Self Portrait as Tracey Emin’s Bed’ perhaps.

Apart from work I seem to be in the midst of birthday season. It was the Mr.’s at the start of the month, it’s my best friend’s on Friday, and in between there have been numerous others including a 50th we went up to Aberdeen to celebrate. So to end, here are some phone shots of the trip:

Glenshee ski-centre, before the snow. We took the long route so the Mr could show me a bit of the country I'd not yet seen.

Glenshee ski-centre, before the snow. We took the long route so the Mr could show me a bit of the country I’d not yet seen.

We stopped at Braemar, which is a strange chocolate box kind of town: overly manicured. But it does have this, one of the best commercial galleries I've been in. With luck next time we pass I'll be able to afford one of the wonderful etched pottery bowls I saw.

We stopped at Braemar, which is a strange chocolate box kind of town: overly manicured. But it does have this, one of the best commercial galleries I’ve been in. With luck next time we pass I’ll be able to afford one of the wonderful etched pottery bowls I saw.

The party itself, which was in the Blue Lamp (I think).

The party itself, which was in the Blue Lamp (I think). The birthday boy is a musician so there was lots of great music played.

The next morning we woke horribly early so as not to miss breakfast and checking out, and found this view from our hotel (The Great Wester, to be recommended) window. The clouds were flying across the sky.

The next morning we woke horribly early so as not to miss breakfast and checking out, and found this view from our hotel (The Great Wester, to be recommended) window. The clouds were flying across the sky.

The foyer of Aberdeen Art Gallery, another joyous find. The Mr. once played a gig here.

The foyer of Aberdeen Art Gallery, another joyous find. The Mr. once played a gig here.

A Barbara Hepworth, of which there were an impressive number, also in the foyer.

A Barbara Hepworth, of which there were an impressive number, also in the foyer.

Can't remember who this was by (I must get into the habit of writing things down!), but it was with lots of Peploes so I'm going to assume it's a Scot, for now.

Can’t remember who this was by (I must get into the habit of writing things down!), but it was with lots of Peploes so I’m going to assume it’s a Scot, for now.

This is a building by Frank Gehry on the ground of Ninewells hospital in Dundee. I've wanted to see it ever since I read it had been commissioned by Charles Jenks (at least ten years ago), so I was overjoyed to find we were passing within spitting distance, and that the Mr. was happy to make that diversion even though it was late and we were tired.

This is a building by Frank Gehry on the grounds of Ninewells hospital in Dundee. I’ve wanted to see it ever since I read it had been commissioned (by Charles Jenks, at least ten years ago), so I was overjoyed to find we were passing within spitting distance, and that the Mr. was happy to make that diversion even though it was late and we were tired.

You’ll have noticed that I went a bit Snapseed filter crazy with some of these images, do forgive. I have proper, camera, shots of the trip too, I just haven’t processed them yet.

 

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Culture Rustler

A couple of weeks ago the Mr and I went to Glasgow to a Next Generation Poets event at the beautiful Mitchell Library. We saw Don Paterson, Jen Hadfield, Sam Willetts, and a young performance poet read work, old and new. I have several of Don Paterson’s books and love his work and Jen Hadfield’s TS Elliot prizewinning Nigh-No-Place is a book I regularly turn to. The other two were new to me which was nice, I enjoyed them and would have bought a Sam Willetts if I’d had some cash. As a special treat here’s the poem from Nigh-No-Place Hadfield read – I hope she doesn’t mind me reproducing it, but surely anyone who reads it will want to rush out and buy the book (or her latest which is published by Picador):

Glid

I turn the camera on my dissolving self,
pale-tongued and rabbit-eyed –

I turn the camera on dazzled
Everything –

plain rain – the loch –
the incandescent horses

forged black against the broch –
me, my brimming head,

precarious as a dandelion clock –
and dimpling the loch,

black button on bright
a dingy row-rowed,

skewered with light.

Before the poetry thing, which was in the evening, we did some practical things: haircut for me guitar fondling for he, and then we went to the Gallery of Modern Art and saw this:

MiróesqueI virtually had to lie on the floor to get this shot.

That's the Mr ghosting the window.

That’s the Mr ghosting the window.

Sadly I can’t remember the artist’s name.

Two weeks is a long time without a city fix for me, but books are keeping me going (currently reading Janet Frame’s autobiography and it’s a joy), and the postman is keeping me very happy. Yesterday he brought this:

IMG_2786

from my best friend who’d been in Verona to celebrate her 40th birthday.

And today this:

Southlight literary magazine.

Southlight literary magazine.

in which, on the very last page (before the contributor’s bios) are three poems by me. I realise I’m being extremely uncool, but it’s taken me five years to work up the courage to submit my work to the literary world, so to have my first poems accepted is like actually getting a new bike for Christmas.

On Friday we head up to Aberdeen to attend the birthday party of someone called Spider, more excitement – I’ve never met anyone called Spider before.

 

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Green Party

Today I had to flip out of my poet self and slide into my sometime farmer/earth mother self. With all the time the referendum took up during the summer I rather neglected our allotment. Luckily the Mr was excited as a puppy in a wood full of sticks about the potatoes, so when the time came he ensured they were harvested, and we managed one day to sneak off and pick all the broad beans. But the tomatoes and cucumbers in the (shared) polytunnel were a different matter. I should have removed branches, pinched out growing tips, and been a bit more regular with the feeding and watering. But I wasn’t. This doesn’t seem to have affected the cucumbers, but the tomatoes often cracked, rotted, and provided food for slugs. They did keep on coming, though, so today, as it seemed unlikely they’d ripen now the sun has gone, we harvested about four kilos of green ones.

The yellow ones are the few that managed to ripen and not rot or get eaten. The greens are like little nuggets of jade.

The yellow ones are the few that managed to ripen and not rot or get eaten. The greens are like little nuggets of jade.

I plan to pickle the tiny ones whole, at least if they taste grim they’ll look gorgeous in glass jars, and with the rest I made chutney.

Ready to boil.

Ready to boil.

I used a basic recipe as a template (2 kilos of green tomatoes; 1 large onion; 1 litre white vinegar; 440g sugar; 1/2 teaspoon salt; pickling spices) but cut the sugar down to 400g, added two fresh and three dried chillies, replaced the onion with our shallots (and added a couple of garlic cloves), and used cider vinegar instead of the white stuff which I always find too harsh. I’ll let you know in three months time what it tastes like.

I will pickle most of the cucumbers,

These are Crystal Lemon cucumbers. I chose them because the blurb said their skins are more digestible than those of the long dark green variety. And they're prettier.

These are Crystal Lemon cucumbers. I chose them because the blurb said their skins are more digestible than those of the long dark green variety. And they’re prettier.

but they have to be covered in salt for 24 hours before hand, and tomorrow we’re off to Glasgow to a poetry event so they’ll have to wait a day.

 

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Bring out the Poet

This week is ‘turn myself into a poet’ week. Which means not just writing, revising, and reading poems every day, but getting on with the whole business of becoming a poet. Yesterday I began by clearing out my workspace. I put away all the campaign materials from my now defunct role as lead volunteer of Yes Moffat, rehomed all the art and photography stuff that was cluttering the place up, and created spots for work in progress, finished work, submitted work, journals, and poetry books (which were mostly lying by the bed before). I rescued an old, half filled Moleskine notebook from a pile to use for poem births, pinned a submission deadline to the wall, reorganised my desk to make it more conducive to the production of poetry, dusted, vacuumed, and polished every surface till it shone.

As all the rooms in the house are taken I've eked a workspace on the upstairs landing. It's not perfect, but it will have to do until I can afford to rent a garret of my own.

As all the rooms in the house are taken I’ve eked a workspace on the upstairs landing. It’s not perfect, but it will have to do until I can afford to rent a garret of my own.

After that, slightly heady from inhaling furniture polish, I wrote a poem, and began to research lit mags that take unsolicited new work. Jeez there’s a lot of them! I’ll need to go and spend a day at the Scottish Poetry Library to read some so I can get a flavour of the type of work they publish.

What I’m hoping to do is create a routine of making poems, and sending them out. I’ve heard of people who dedicate one morning/afternoon a week to just putting work in envelopes and posting it to journals, marking off in a note books the who, what, whens. I think I’ll aim for that and put a checklist on the wall to keep me straight, and make a computer spreadsheet for the details. My current idea for the routine then, is to make new work in the morning, when I’m still a bit fuggy from sleep, take a break to run for an hour (on my mini trampoline), shower and dress, do a bit of redrafting in the afternoon, and read a little after that. I won’t log on to the internet until all poetry work is done for the day. And once I know the lit mags a bit better I’ll chose an afternoon to send stuff to them. I wonder if I should just go to the SPL tomorrow?

So, the world is quite a different place this week: no more Yes stalls, no more canvassing, no more worrying about the referendum, it’s all over. Sort of. It looks like the UK is about to self destruct even though more than half the Scottish electorate didn’t have the courage to take our autonomy back. And the fight goes on. For me, though, it’s time to focus on myself for a bit. I’ve neglected my own needs long enough, and if I don’t try to make it as a poet now I feel I’ll never do it. I absolutely have to find a way to earn a little money, my comfy boots are broken, and all I have to wear is sandals or a pair of big heavy boots that make my feet ache. I’ve run out of shampoo and deodorant, and while I can replace them this time I’m unlikely to be able to do so next. And who wants to be a stinking campaigner?

On a trip to Edinburgh a week or so ago our companions took us to this little wild west village in the heart of Morningside.

On a trip to Edinburgh a week or so ago our companions took us to this little wild west village in the heart of Morningside.

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On Perseverance

I know I’m already not the world’s most regular blogger, but I’m likely to go dead silent for the next two weeks as we make the final push to engage the people of Moffat in the referendum conversation. Last week we had a stall at the local agricultural show,

L to R: Math Campbell of English Scots for Yes, and Me, Eric, Margaret, and Chris of Yes Moffat.

L to R: Math Campbell of English Scots for Yes, and Me, Eric, Margaret, and Chris of Yes Moffat.

yesterday we had a street stall

and in between I’ve been working like a thing possessed to get some poems ready for submission for the big deal (to be revealed in January).

Worn paint is one of my favourite things.

Worn paint is one of my favourite things, and how tempting is the word ‘danger.’

I’ve been working on my writing for nine years, but, as my recent foray into photography shows, I’ve not been quite as persistent as I might. For a while there I gave up on writing altogether, probably because I’m not so good at ignoring the world around me, especially the people I love, and everything went very weird for a few years. Anyway, back on track now I’ve been working hard on polishing poems I began before the weirdness descended, but also on brand new ones, and I’m quite pleased with some of my new work. Not because it’s brilliant, but because it feels consistent, and right.

It's fair to say that my overarching theme/subject is breakdown.

It’s fair to say that my overarching theme/subject is breakdown.

And now I have a little recognition. I sent three poems to Southlight  a lit mag produced in Dumfries and Galloway, and which attracts and publishes writers from all over the world (though mostly Scotland and the UK), and they accepted all of them for their 16th edition, due out at the end of the month. I can’t tell you how encouraging this is, it feels like someone who knows has told me that, yes, I am a poet. Of course I do know one of the editors (there are three), and the executive editor, so I guess the real test will be when I send work out to magazines further afield, but I’m pretty sure if the poems were not poems at all they wouldn’t have accepted them, no matter how kind they are. Payment will be a free copy of the magazine (standard stuff in this game), so there’s no fortune to be made, but hey.

Another of my themes is the liminal.

Another of my themes is the liminal.

Now I have to take a short break from the poems because of the campaign for independence. It’s getting beyond exciting to be here, it’s beginning to feel like one of those great epochs that tend to fuel great art. The latest polls show Yes in the lead (51%), and it looks like we could actually win. There are all sorts of scare stories being peddled (e.g that our economy is too reliant on oil; we’ll be chucked out of Europe; we’ll need to invent our own currency), and no doubt taking control of our own country won’t be easy, but it’s been done by hundreds of others.  And as individuals we’ve all done it. We’ve all set out from positions of little responsibility to having to learn to feed ourselves, keep a home, and pay our own bills, and most of us survived. I don’t see why Scotland can’t. The union has done its job, but it’s time for it to make way for a more equal relationship between the countries of these islands.

This nail, strong as it is, couldn't protect the wood from the ravages of the sea.

Everything has a lifespan.

Tomorrow we’ll run another street stall in the morning, and go out canvassing in the afternoon. That will be the story of my days until September 18, after which I plan to party.

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One Down

I wonder if becoming an adult means learning to deal with dashed hopes gracefully. I won’t be going to the Highlands to commune with poets and learn my craft. Moniack Mhor offered me a grant to cover just under half the course cost, but it wasn’t enough to enable me to go. So I’ll just need to work it out for myself. At times like this I really wished I lived in a city where I could mingle with my own sort for the cost of a pint (and there’s work to be had in cities so I might actually afford a pint). The country’s lovely, and fine for those who have already made their lives, and, perhaps have the money to travel, but none of that applies to me.

Green on Grey.

Green on Grey.

I have three more hopes pinned; two are related to my poetry, the other is to Scotland’s forthcoming referendum. I can’t help thinking it would be the worst thing in the world if the country denied itself its own autonomy. Imagine doing that. Imagine being given the opportunity to control your own day to day existence, and saying, “nah, you just keep on telling me what to do and I’ll continue to doze through life, occasionally complaining about the broadband speed, and laughing at Boris Johnston.” I can’t believe enough of us are that weak, that beaten, not yet.

Lochbuie, possibly my favourite place on Mull.

Lochbuie, possibly my favourite place on Mull, so many textures.

The first poetry thing is just some poems I sent to a magazine, and if I’m honest I don’t expect them to be accepted. They’re old work, but I just wanted to sling them out into the world and see what happened. If they’re rejected I won’t weep long. It’s more a test of me than the poems, one has to learn to have one’s work rejected and not take it personally. Or so I’m told.

Lochbuie rocks. They do so remind me of Aboriginal art with their little barnacles.

Lochbuie rocks. They do so remind me of Aboriginal art with their little barnacles.

The second poetry thing contains the last of my hopes. I suppose if it fails we’ll find out what happens when one’s last hopes are dashed.

The heart of a Medusa victim?

The heart of a Medusa victim?

The deadline is September 5, but I won’t find out the truth until December.

This makes me think of a creature rising from the depths.

This makes me think of a creature rising from the depths.

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(Out of) Control Freak

I’ve had the most wonderfully enlightening, and really rather exciting week (as in week’s worth of days, not calendar). And things could become more so. As I sit here I could almost vomit over my keyboard, I’m that skittish with the maybes, mights, and coulds. Not to mention the and then whats? I am, on the whole, fairly cautious. I tend to think things through to the nth degree, and have missed the odd once in a lifetime because of this. So when I act impulsively I scare myself, and yesterday I acted impulsively.

Wrecks Nuzzling.

Wrecks Nuzzling.

Up near inverness there’s a writing centre called Moniack Mhor. It used to be linked to the Arvon Foundation, but thanks to Scottish arts funding is now independent. I have friends who have been on courses there, and they come back invigorated and singing of its inspirational surroundings, tutors, and atmosphere. And I have long since yearned to go. But I am cautious. And broke. So I don’t even notice when they have courses running, or with whom; in the same way I don’t notice the football results, or the price of theatre tickets.

This is the kind of thing I do notice: what strength and will this little wild-flower must have to grow here.

This is the kind of thing I do notice: what strength and will this little wild-flower must have to grow here.

However, yesterday a friend posted on Facebook that due to a couple of cancellations there are places on the inaugural course, and there was something in that link that made me click. Once on the course page (or maybe it was evident in the link) I found it’s to be a poetry retreat that involves workshops, one to ones, and hunners of time to wander in the hills, and sit quietly and write. The tutors are: Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, and poet Michael Woods. And half way through the (not quite) week a guest, John Sampson, who is a composer, musician, and actor will arrive. The thing I also discovered when I landed on the page is that they offer grants if you’re a bit strapped. Email and ask, it said. So I did.

In my fantasy life this is my back yard.

In my fantasy life this is my back yard.

After some faffing about today with the scanner I sent them the required past three bank statements so they can see if I’m grant worthy. Meanwhile, they have blocked off a space, so someone else can’t usurp me while they make their assessment. I could be going to Inverness next week to have my poetic potential looked over by the Poet Laureate.

These boats remind me of whales rubbing noses. And I love the  mutual peeling of their paints.

These boats remind me of whales rubbing noses. And I love the mutual peeling of their paints.

I checked the trains this evening: I can get to inverness and back for £68. I could mange that at a pinch, but it would mean no anything else for a while, so I wonder if I could hitch? The Mr came in from a trip to town last Thursday, and called up the stairs: “I’ve got four French hitch-hikers with me…”  If four French kids can do it why can’t I? I’ve done it before, in fact, not that long ago either. It could be a real adventure.

I can carry everything I need for a day's rock staring in this pack.

I can carry everything I need for a day’s rock staring in this pack.

The enlightening thing was this: I’ve been working on processing my holiday shots on and off since arriving home. It must be a month by now, and it’s beginning to curtail. I have other images to process, some of them are for other people, but until I finish the holiday ones I can’t bring myself to move on. It’s got so that I deliberately leave my camera at home when I go out. However, I get emails from Digital Photography School at least twice a week, though I mostly just delete them these days (like so many of the emails I get) because I don’t feel I have the time to get distracted. But feeling a little idle on Sunday morning I opened one, clicked on a link about creative something or other tips, and read. It was pretty much the usual stuff about giving yourself time, but toward the end I read an approximation of the words: ‘Don’t let seriousness about your photography spoil your enjoyment of taking snaps. Not every shot has to be a work of art, some can just be holiday snaps, or snaps of your kids.’

Who could resist taking a photo of Highland coos?

Who could resist taking a photo of Highland coos?

I knew that, but I didn’t know that. I needed someone to tell me that my holiday snaps could be ordinary. They could be nothing more than documents, or memory joggers. And, voila! yesterday and this evening I managed to whizz through quite a large batch, some of which I show here. I’ve still got quite a few to do, but I’ll try and finish them tomorrow, and that will be it, I’ll be able to move on.

Rock family at leisure.

Rock family at leisure.

One more thing: I popped into the Scottish Poetry Library last Wednesday to load up with tomes, and picked up a copy of the lit mag Northwords Now. Inside I discovered Aonghas MacNeacail: holy fucking cow. Read him.

Obviously if I go to the Highlands next week I’ll take my camera with me. And a notebook.

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