Friday, November 16, 2018

Owning the bad times

I've been having an increasingly difficult year and November is a difficult time for me.  A couple of people really understand how crap it's been because I've told them everything that's going on AND they understand me but I think most people don't really know. 

This is partly because I don't always say, for a variety of reasons that include:
  • life isn't crap all the time
  • things are ongoing and nothing new to say
  • things are not just my business so I don't feel I should share
and chiefly
  • other people are having a crap time too
but today I've had a bit of an insight.  I've always believed that suppressing things, avoiding talking about them, avoiding acknowledging them and making light of them lead to ill health.  For me, I'd say about 90% of what is wrong with me physically has an emotional root.  It's not lost on me that my plantar fasciitis started up around the time my parents began having problems which caused worry and stress.  Of course, having got a physical problem you're often stuck with it and it may need treating by conventional means.  Bodies and minds are complicated.  My parents' lives are settling down but I've got plantar fasciitis, which notoriously can take months to go.

I digress, slightly.  The insight is this:

Having a crap time will do you harm, whether or not other people are having a crap time.  Own it.  Acknowledge it.  Behave appropriately in response.

You can share this with someone else providing they're going to let you.  You don't need anyone looking on the bright side or saying 'at least ...' or similar.  The point is to feel what you need to feel.  Shout or cry if that's you. 

I'm very fortunate to have a few friends that totally get this.  Possibly they've been wondering when I'll wake up to it myself.

This really is not a call for sympathy though it may seem like it because I haven't been sharing it recently, for all the above reasons. 

I've been having a crap life recently.

If you have too, then own it.  Don't wallow, but don't pretend either.  You'll feel better for it in the end.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Being me - and going with the flow.

Updating my website is no longer an open job. I've been working on it most of the year when I'm not at home and it's been quite time-consuming.  It probably doesn't look much different but it is considerably slimmed down, made more phone-friendly and the galleries and some of the other images have been updated.  Six years is quite long enough for artwork to become out of date.

I'm not good with 'open jobs'.  There's a point at which there are too many of them and I feel stressed and unable to tackle any of them well, so it feels really good that this one is off the list. 

In the mean time I've had plantar fasciitis for several months, which in my case anyway is exacerbated by stress, and means that I am limited in what I can do.  It took me a while to work out, therefore, that once the website was updated, what I really needed to do was be Jane Vernon, Artist.  I've been busy filling time till I was better or till I was at home for longer and all the while a little bit of me has been becoming weaker without my realising; the Tinkerbell effect if you like.  I was being useful, completing several other open jobs; I was going with the flow, riding the uncertainty and all sorts of other very good things, but suddenly I realised I wasn't being me.

It's difficult and subtle.  Balancing being me, the essential me, with helping others close to me, being patient with my foot and keeping on top of domestic chores.  What brought me to my senses was arguing my case with a health practitioner who is working on the plantar fasciitis with me.  She wanted me to do less rather than more and I knew that was all wrong.  Even if the foot gets worse, I have to do the things I do.  I was reining myself in and hadn't realised the damage this was doing.    

So now I am embarked on a new course - being me, but going with the flow as well.  If I'm too tired to do anything I'll go to bed and listen to the radio.  If I want to sit and write something I'll write it.  If I want to cook something I'll cook it but if I want a takeaway I'll have one.  Mostly, though, I'm going to do the work I want to do.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

In the middle

I began writing this post when July had just begun, planning to write about how my various challenges were going.  Then Life took over and now it's almost the middle of August.  Still, a halfway report of sorts.

This was the first 64MillionArtists January Challenge ...

"January 1st: Self-awards. Create the certificate or trophy you'd like to be presented with at the end of 2018."
I can deal with almost anything apart from uncertainty. At the beginning of a very uncertain year, this is the award I'd like to receive

... and that was my post.

Halfway through the year I have to say that I think I'm doing really well,   It's certainly proving to be a year full of uncertainties but so far I seem to be surviving.  It's been stressful, taxing, difficult, life-changing even, but I haven't lost the plot.  I haven't got majorly ill.  I haven't behaved irrationally or unreasonably and I haven't piled more stress on myself.  These are really quite major achievements for me.

At the beginning of the year I knew I'd be working less but never imagined that I would be letting go of the need to work.  As a result, the work I've done so far has been what I wanted to do.  Some of it you've seen (if you've been looking) but some is for later, hopefully next year's Another Beastly Art Exhibition, and some is still in development.

I decided not to grow vegetables.  This is only the second time in forty years that I haven't grown any, so is a really big deal.  The first time was when we moved in, in May 30 years ago, and was because we were preparing the veg garden with a load of manure and dividing up into separate beds.  I decided that it could do with a bit of rejuvenating again and that I wouldn't stress about being late with getting things started and so it's been.  Not much rejuvenating done yet, but there are plans.

There has been more uncertainty, and also some of a different sort, than I was expecting but that's the thing about uncertainty - you never know what's coming next.  I'm well aware that more could be on its way that I've no idea about and that the year isn't over until the fat lady sings, but what I'm reporting on is my ability to ride the uncertainty.  Which is going pretty well so far.  I'll report back at the end of the year .... unless I don't.

On the subect of challenges, I really enjoyed the whole of the January Challenge and have continued with 64MillionArtists The Weekly Challenge and I'm delighted to say that so far I have completed every single challenge. I've also taken on the Photo A Day challenge.  I did quite well with this too until Life really took over and 26th July was my last photo.  I hope to get back to it but am not setting myself any deadlines and I also won't be attempting to catch up with the missed photos.

I don't know what's next.  What I do know is that I'm adapting better than I thought I could.


Sunday, April 8, 2018


Is it just me?  

This week’s 64MillionArtists WeeklyChallenge was this:

Post a photo, drawing or some text which encapsulates POSITIVITY. You might want to capture something specific which has a positive impact on your life - a friend with a million-dollar smile, perhaps, or a joyful pet. Maybe there's a particular place that brings out the best in you or some inspiring words that lift your spirits. 

This made me feel quite angry when it arrived.  At the point when it dropped into my mailbox I was not feeling happy and for good reasons and I was resentful of the idea that I should try to be positive.  It seemed to me that positivity was something we were being told to strive for.  If you’re down, do something which makes you feel positive.  Why?  I have good reasons for feeling down.  They are real.  My ‘negative’ feelings are real and appropriate. 

I have nothing against feeling positive and nothing against things which promote that feeling.  It was the word ‘positivity’, a concept that we should be striving for, to which I took exception.  I had a piece drafted about these feelings.

Then I spoke to a friend of mine and found that she didn’t really agree with what I was saying.  There are people who do need to try to be positive because otherwise they’d just go under.  Some people have a lot to be negative about and no real choices so every little bit of positivity helps them carry on.  Conversely, I thought of other people I know who perhaps aren’t the most positive people but who don’t seem to have all that much to feel complain about. 

So maybe it’s partly a personality thing.  I suppose I am generally a fairly positive person but when I look at my life I have many things to be positive about.  I seem to have been lucky if you look at it that way, which I suppose I do.  If you look at the negative things, I’ve certainly had my fair share of those too, so maybe something happens in me which stresses the good things in life.

However, when I do feel down it’s important to me that those feelings are validated.  I have a right to feel miserable, or depressed, or even hopeless.  I don’t want someone coming along and saying “Cheer up! Think of …”.  And that’s probably why the word Positivity got right up my nose.  So, for those of you who are not feeling positive right now - if you’ve got a good reason, then I’m sorry.  There’s probably nothing I could say or do which would make you feel better apart from recognition and validation. 

If you want to know what things have a positive effect on my life then I can easily list some of them, in alphabetic order: 


and there are probably a dozen more I could suggest.   However, if you want me to talk about Positivity, then I’m afraid you’ll get a grumpy answer.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2018 Challenges

Tomorrow a new year begins.  Like everyone else, my life has ups and downs and uncertainties and from my current perspective 2018 looks more than usually uncertain and complicated, with several personal challenges on the horizon.  However, I’m going to start two new creative challenges this January.  

I’m giving Photo A Day another go.  Last year I managed until some time in April.  I was happy to find I’d given up and felt I benefited from the space I gained.  However, as the year wore on I found I was taking fewer and fewer photos and that my life was feeling the poorer for it.  I understand why/how this happened; much was to do with getting the balance of the year wrong and needing to work full time to restore my pottery stocks to something approaching normal and I was pleased to achieve this eventually.  But where are the photos? 

The other challenge is the 64million artists January challenge.  This will apparently provide a short task every day during January, designed to kick-start one’s creativity.  I’m not promising to do the task every day if it’s impractical but it struck me that 10 minutes or so each day should be achievable.  This year started quite well with textiles work but my pottery work has been a matter of keeping stock levels and with nothing new.  I also had lots of vague ideas about mixed media work but no time to explore them, though I am hoarding materials that come my way.  This challenge is about creativity generally: drawing, writing, music, I don’t know what because I haven’t done it before, but it starts tomorrow.

Results of both challenges will be posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 29, 2017

One Word Where Ten Will Do

What follows is essentially an article which was recently published in a national magazine.  If you follow this blog, you'll have read the poems before but the text was written specially. 

One word where ten will do
A personal exploration of the value of poetry in grieving

“I wasn’t sure if you would want this”
tentative gift of a book
of poems ‘of grief and healing’.

“I seem to remember you like poetry.”
I do, and I like poems about hard things
so eventually I read the book

and start to write my own poems again.

This was the first poem I wrote after the death of my second husband and marked the start of a burst of poetry writing.  I like to write, both poetry and prose, but don’t do it often.  I’m a bit of a talker as well so perhaps I only write when saying something is not enough and I want more permanence. 

My most notable piece of prose was an article entitled “It’s Your Funeral” after the death of my first husband in 1991.  Back then many people were completely unaware that you can have whatever kind of funeral you like and I wanted to spread the word.  It was satisfying writing it (and even more satisfying having it published!) but still, even with rigorous editing, prose can just take too long and sometimes the things you really want to say get lost.

My first husband was a writer (and teacher) who wrote wonderful poetry and during the eighteen months he was ill with leukaemia we both wrote poems about our experience.  After he died I tried getting the collection published but was unsuccessful, so I printed some out and had them spiral bound.  I sent a copy to each of the hospital departments who had treated him and without exception they were pleased to receive them.  The haematology consultant said she was going to encourage all new staff on the ward to read them before they started working there.  I felt I had done something worthwhile.

Then just over twenty years since that first major bereavement I suffered three in a row: two of my closest friends and finally my second husband.  I learned that all bereavements are both different and the same and after a period of not writing very much, I began to write poems again.  This time there were plenty of opportunities to publish on social media and the immediacy meant that I received instant feedback too.  One friend in particular, whose husband had died a few years earlier, commented that she wished she had felt able to speak out as I did and that she was very grateful for the chance to read my work.  I’m not trying to force people into reading, but it’s my experience that they’re often glad of the opportunity being put in front of them rather than somewhere they can avoid.  You can do that quite easily with a poem.

Poetry doesn’t take long to read.  It either moves you or it doesn’t but if it’s any good, it contains everything it needs to, condensed into a few words.  How many of you would pick up a book on bereavement?  You’re reading this article, though, and the poems it contains, although some people may find the poems painful. 

Poetry is also good for the writer, certainly in the case of bereavement.  It helps to clarify things and because it’s short, you need to get to the point.  A number of times I thought “I can’t write that, it’s too awful” but I carried on because bereavement is awful.  If you’re going to write about it, you may as well say so.   

Poetry doesn’t take grief away, nor would it be valuable if it did.  Its contribution to the grieving process is more by way of a focus.  I often start writing when I have a bunch of feelings I don’t understand and through the writing the meaning soon becomes apparent.  If it’s a good poem someone else may read it and think “That’s what I feel!”

I write for me but I also write for others to read and choosing the poems to include here was difficult.  The selection that follows briefly charts three years’ progress.  In spite of the last poem, I know the process isn’t complete because I’m not sure it ever is.  If you have got something out of reading these poems and would like to read more, or if you would like to comment, I would be pleased to hear from you.

nothing is enough

nothing is enough
any more
with no more

I sit here
and carry on, though,
doing things
that are enough
in themselves
for themselves
just not enough
for me

one day
there will be things
that are enough
I know that

the knowing means
I can survive
this time when
nothing is enough


So often I’ve talked of my specialism
in husbands:

Mikes, born late summer 1942.
Red beards, ex-teachers because of stress
Divorced, two children:
an older daughter with red hair,
a dark-haired son born in ‘77.

And now another thing they share:
Dead, leaving me behind.

a different grief

and now unexpectedly
different grief
I didn’t know
I hadn’t done

two years
has been about the ending
bad memories
of your suffering
I couldn’t have done more
but always wondering

now suddenly
here you are
being Mike-ish
loving me
reminding me
of all the good times

two years
after your funeral
now I am suddenly
reconnected with the real you
able to miss you
at your best
and not the worst
of those final months

Coming out the other side

I notice
I feel different
and at first can’t say how

then I realise
the place I’ve been
sometimes indefinable
sometimes indistinguishable
from the outside world
yet when you’re in it
so clearly existing
behind a force field
through which you cannot break

not where I am

no anniversary
or event
no clue
nothing sudden

each of us makes our own journey
through where it is
not the past but not the future
accused once
(behind my back) of
doing it unnaturally fast
yet here I am again
a relatively short time on
coming out the other side
and knowing

this is right.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Celebrating forty years

Once there was a time when forty seemed old and then of course when I was forty it seemed quite young.  With increasing life expectancies, it's a long time since I heard the saying that life begins at forty; these days it probably starts at fifty or even sixty.  But forty years ago - well, that is something else if one can look back that far and still be an adult.

Two very important things happened to me forty years ago.  In July I went on my first pottery summer school.  In August I came to live in Stroud (having at last secured a teaching job).  I was truly rubbish at pottery and I hated Stroud.

Stroud has become the home I never want to leave and perseverence has turned me into a potter.  I've learned that rather than being good with my hands but not very bright, which I believed back then, I actually have quite poor hand-eye co-ordination, but am intelligent.  I now understand why it took so long to learn to throw a cereal bowl (many years) and I no longer brush aside my ability to do accounts and write websites as just things I'm interested in.

In forty years I've done a variety of work, none of which I regret and all of which I probably still draw on from time to time, both in my working life and in relating to others.  I've had therapy, two marriages, two widowhoods, two dogs, gained some wonderful friends and lost two of them - all of which experiences have contributed to my becoming the person I currently am.

An emotionally healthy person will be constantly changing, albeit often in small and subtle ways, so I'm pleased to recognise that I'm a work in progress.  I didn't get forty years of marriage to celebrate, nor children who turned forty (though I have some wonderful stepchildren doing that) but I'm really happy to be celebrating a forty-year relationship with clay and forty years living in the place which will always be home.