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‘Iron tablets. Black poo that looks like I’ve been eating railings.’
For the last few months, I have been undertaking an endless refurbishment of my home office, which mainly seems to involve shifting books between boxes and creating clouds of dust. Last week, during one of my many (many, many) rounds of rearrangement, I opened an old notebook, and found in it a diary I don’t remember keeping.
Sporadically, and mostly illegibly, I documented my pregnancy. I didn’t set aside a special book for this. I wrote pages here and there between the work I was still trying to do. It begins on 11th September 2011, when one of the million pregnancy tests I’d taken finally showed a pale, positive line. I told H that he was going to be a father while he was watching a 9/11 commemoration on the TV.
I’m not sure I know the woman who wrote those pages anymore. I thought I was the same, continuous person, but I can now see I am not. Even my handwriting has changed: it’s become untidier, less groomed. That, in itself, is telling. If the diary records anything, it’s the collapse of my sense of control.
Ultimately, I came to welcome the erosion of my tight grasp around life’s throat. At the time, it was not. It’s hard to witness my own bewilderment at the way my gestating body refused to bloom, and instead succumbed to anaemia and asthma, raging blood pressure and nausea that took me right up to the moment my waters broke. The iron tablets were the least of my worries. My diary records my affront at the whole system in which I am suddenly a passive ‘mum-to-be’, invisible behind my own bodily drama. There is a moment when I am in A&E with a suspected amniotic embolism, and I am scolded by the nurse for finding out the sex of my foetus because, apparently, ‘Mums who don’t know push harder.’ I am livid. ‘How apathetic would you have to be,’ I write, ‘to not bother to birth your child because you’ve already painted the nursery blue?’
On other pages, I am mainly obsessing about pineapple: how to acquire it fresh, how much I have left in stock, how on earth I keep managing to run out. But, honestly, it’s not the details of the pregnancy that are the most telling. It’s the pages in between: lists and lists and lists, each one with a slightly more desperate tone. There are places I could send my CV, ideas for books, articles I could pitch, workshops I could run. None of them ever amount to much. I can’t get anything done. Soon, there are doom-laden calculations about the cost of childcare, musings on whether I should take out a loan to cover the costs until I can earn enough money to pay for it. It’s a grim read, knowing how much debt that left me in.
All the while, I knew I was failing. I was trying absolutely everything, and I was failing still. I was throwing my restless creativity at the problem, and nothing was coming good. The shame of it hits me like a wave as I read, so wild and deep that I can’t breathe. Even when I was trying everything, I was absolutely nothing. I had fallen so completely through the cracks that I couldn’t see myself anymore.
My son turned ten last week. A whole decade old. I never understand why people say children grow so fast: I feel like I’ve lived five lifetimes since he arrived on the planet. I often wonder what the lesson of those times might be, what one, right action I finally took to get me here. But I honestly don’t think there is one. I scrambled. I responded. I crisis-managed, and sometimes crisis-didn’t-manage. I took a string of terrible freelance jobs that didn’t nearly cover the costs of that childcare (ever written an entire book anonymously for £300? I have! And then I went back and did it a second time). I wrote at 4am, and in soft play centres. Quite often, I didn’t write at all, and wondered if I ever would again. Put together, none of it makes a story. That’s not how any of this works.
Is it significant that I’ve burned down my old newsletter and started again, just as that tenth anniversary lands? I don’t know. Maybe. I think it struck me, reading all those lists, that ideas of mine that have ever truly landed are the simple ones: the ones where I just share what I’m thinking at the time, without trying to catch any trends or court any particular audience. So that’s what I’m doing here: telling you what’s on my mind. I hope that, over time, it might build into something slantingly truthful like the lists I made, as interstitial as the diary I didn’t know I was keeping.
I've been working on a very exciting project for a while now, and I'm excited to launch it this week. Fanfares please: my first summer retreat!
Wild Rest will take place in western Cornwall at the very end of August this year, and will offer five days of glorious peace. It will combine reflective workshops, swimming and walking adventures in the incredible local landscape, intimate evening gatherings, and plenty of time and space all to yourself. Best of all, it will be a truly small group affair. I’m delighted to announce that the wonderful Raynor Winn will be joining us!
Feel free to message us with questions. Booking will open very soon and Patreon supporters will get the chance to book 24 hours in advance.
Find me elsewhere
I’m guesting on Jen Pastiloff’s Shame Loss programme this weekend - if you’d like to join us, there’s more information here.
I was interviewed about money and shame for Keris Stainton’s brilliant newsletter, The Ladybird Purse - another great one to follow:
This month’s livestream on the theme of ‘living a creative life’ takes place today - 19th May at 3pm UK time! I’ll be responding to questions submitted by my lovely Patreon supporters.
Membership is £3.50/$5 a month. Supporters get extended episodes of The Wintering Sessions a day early (and a chance to submit questions for me to ask guests), monthly bonus episodes, special discounts and priority booking on my courses and events, and an exclusive audio feed of my Divergent Conversations series. I’d love for you to join us.
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All artwork by Iveta Vaicule
“Quite often, I didn’t write at all, and wondered if I ever would again. Put together, none of it makes a story. That’s not how any of this works.”
These words. I have all 3 children under 3.5 years right now and I feel like I have slowly been eroded away into a sort of nothingness. I keep thinking, I will never ever be creative again. (And then I’m reminded, I have created 3 human beings). And I know this but it’s not the same. One day, when I am not so depleted and in my own deep winter, I’ll start to emerge again. Until then, I love your newsletter - it brings me hope.
Lovely to have your newsletter in my inbox again!
I recognise that sort of experience because I'm going through it in another form - opportunistically throwing lots of things at the wall in between managing emerging problems, and nothing quite sticking - or else, what does stick has to be tried three different ways and slithers quite far down the wall before finally adhering a little way above the skirting board.