xxv

Ironically, this exercise had started to feel like a barrier to writing. In order to resume the poem I’d have to come up with a topic, make sure it was large enough that I could write sufficient words on it, and then sit here and compose it, all the while doing my damnedest to retain the sense of style I was, really, only using here.

Today I simply sat down and started the poem, feeling like I didn’t really want to write this, and that if I forced myself to do so I’d be much more likely to just not bother with any writing at all. So I’ve written for the last few hours, and tweaked and tinkered, and now I’m sat here writing this diary as my heart attempts to piston its way from my ribcage.

Writing out the whole poem was a little cathartic before, but now it’s stressful. W2B had some fantastic comments on what I had written, ensuring my eye was drawn to the expressions and images and words that – though it was just me throwing out whatever came to mind – really stuck with her and seemed perfect for the poem.

I’ve just tried to repeat the process and have bailed. My head is thudding and my breath is short. I’ve rewritten the same verse I’ve been working on five times, and each time I start the next it’s in a different way. I’m flicking from my skeletal version, to her comments, to all the work we did before I started, and I’ve no idea where to turn.

The tension is trying to get it right, and each time I type out a line I’m trying so hard not to get it wrong. Which is idiotic, not to mention going backwards, and so here I am in an attempt to exorcise these demons and give myself a bit of respite from the hammering I’m giving myself for being so repressed.

At the heart of it is the frustrating knowing that creating this poem is not beyond me, that I will draw it out in its entirety. And seeing it all written out in a basic form really brought home how small this is, how graspable the whole project is, how completable. A novel might run to three or four hundred pages, a short story a few thousand words, but this poem is fewer than 50 lines. And I’ve already finished easily a fifth of that.

Perhaps my worry is less about repeating failure than a lack of confidence in repeating success. This is a broken, stuck, repeating record, but the fact is that now I’ve laid down some ground work which I can be at least happy to see as early stages and which W2B is happy with, now I have something I must replicate, must develop, must… live up to.

And there you go, writ large, as large as the six month successes I’ve had in jobs where for this limited time I am on top of the world, running the agenda, before pulling up hamstrung at my attempt to follow the success with further achievements. It’s even in this blog, where self-awareness that something is going right seems destined to prevent me reaching that connection with my natural voice once more.

And, of course, it’s all idiocy, a symptom of my inner-voice, my self-check, my constant watcher who calls out perceived errors and rubs in actual mistakes. I can cook a meal for the first time as if I’ve been forever familiar with the recipe, and then almost reach panic stations when repeating the feat as I stress and strain to repeat it just as good as it was before.

There’s a thread of sense in here somewhere, but though I can’t quite pin it down there’s a lot this fear of success explains. To be more accurate it’s a fear of natural success. Because I am, when natural and at ease, a force to be reckoned with, a confident cook, speaker, writer, lover, worker, whatever. But with that success comes the question – HOW?

How did I do that? How did I achieve that? Where was my mind, what was in my thoughts, how did my imagination conjure that without me directing it, and how do I learn to direct it so that future success isn’t a matter of firing into the dark and hoping I hit the target, so that my future itself is controlled, not out of my hands.

Pathetically, for all the years I thought my dread was unique, I here am prisoner of that cliché of clichés – the control obsession. Can I control myself? Often I simply don’t know. Except, to reign in drama and prevent too much howling-at-the-moon angst, it isn’t so much about control as it is trust. To which, I am sure, my better half will no doubt roll her eyes thinking, “Well, Jesus Christ, DUH!”.

This, then, is option c). My journal has been successful so long as I’ve been natural, at which point I’ve tried so hard to be natural that doing so is fundamentally impossible, hurling me from my otherwise positive train of thought and into a downward spiral. This familiar pattern, however, is finally too recognisable to ignore.

I trust myself to get it right. I trust in my ability to return to the poem, to write it out again and again but to always be heading in the right direction. I trust my capacity to take criticism, to have perspective and see another point of view. I trust in others not to need handholding or spoon-feeding.

Most importantly I trust in you, my better half, not to chastise me in failure or overstate success, to only tell me what you see is there and what I should see. To give me always what I never even need to ask for because you know already and have given it, and to respect that there are places I must go along, but from which to you I will always return.

I make mistakes. I fuck up. I hurt people and say stupid things, do worse and burrow in self-pity. I hide in questions. I doubt and offend with doubt. But I will trust that I will break this cycle. I will trust because you deserve no less. And neither do I.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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