Spider in a Glass

I have caught many spiders with a glass. Usually one of my husband’s pint glasses.  The spiders have meant no harm, they’ve just come from the nowhere of their world and into the somewhere of my world, suddenly appearing and scaring the life out of me. I trap them in a glass, slide a piece of paper underneath, go outside and set each one free.

It’s a great way to have a good look at a spider. Their bodies are covered in tiny hairs and I think they use these hairs to perceive their environment; they have a lot of eyes but I think their vision is blurry and used only to pick up the movements of their prey.

The spider becomes still and is probably wondering what’s happened to it; one minute it is meandering along and the next it can’t progress, it can’t get moving. It seems to just sit and accept its fate, until it gets bored or frustrated with the inability to fulfil its purpose. It starts to use its feelers and gently taps the glass. It tries to get some leverage to climb up the glass but the surface is too smooth and it slides back down again. I wonder if it feels cheated? Disoriented? This barrier has just come down out of nowhere and stopped it in its tracks. It can still see everything that is familiar to it until it finds itself dumped outside in an alien landscape.

I’ve never really given much thought to how it survives once I have “rescued” the poor arachnid, but I have wondered if spiders are introverts. I think they probably are.

I’m an introvert and so is my husband, although I am further up the continuum/spectrum towards extroversion than he is. I can behave like an extrovert when the mood takes me, but I need to spend a lot of time on my own to recharge my batteries and think; I am someone who reflects, and I take a lot of time to reflect, but I have struggled with reflecting during this lockdown, and about this lockdown; trying to think clearly, I’m finding, is a challenge.

The other week my husband pointed out that the lockdown was having a greater impact on me than I realised (he felt). I asked him to explain:

“Well, you gave up your job to do the MLitt and you were anxious but excited about it. You were throwing caution to the wind and taking a leap into the unknown. You said you wanted to immerse yourself in the whole experience. And that is exactly what you were doing. You were going to classes, you were taking part in different projects, you were churning out creative work like I have never seen you do before; you, have never seen you do before. You made new friends, you were meeting them for coffee’s and lunches and chats about each other’s work, you were spending time in the library reading books you didn’t know existed. Your whole world had opened up…”

And all of a sudden it ground to a halt. Everything as I knew it, stopped. Everything as everyone knew it, stopped.

We are unable to immerse ourselves in the experience of university. It’s all still there but we can only access it in certain ways. The world has become virtual; Email, Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Microsoft Teams: faces framed in technology, tinny voices and frozen screens.

I’d give anything to meet friends for a coffee and a chat

volunteer to discuss a poem with a class of art students

spend an hour figuring out what a gerund actually is

participate in an excerpt of a stage play at Livewire

attend a masterclass or the launch of an exhibition

give feedback on a piece of prose or a poem

have a round table discussion

book a room in the library

help out at a book launch

meet my writing buddies

eat a burger

eat chips

 

But I can’t do any of that.

 

All I can do is empathise with a spider in a glass.

 

 

 

 

Learning at Luath – Day One.

I’m not long back from a saunter down the very busy Royal Mile following my first day at Luath Press. What a change from grassy hills, sheep and cows; and the wonderful aromas I had to walk through–coffee, food, waffles! But I managed to resist.

My first day was busy in a way I’m not used to being busy. After a friendly welcome from Laura and a steep climb up the many stairs, I was introduced to Gavin and encouraged to read the Luath website to familiarise myself with the current projects first. I had already had a good scan, but it was good to have a re-cap. I was informed they were waiting for Ella, another intern who would also be learning at Luath this week. The views from the small, stappet fu office are immense

When Laura arrived, Gavin gave us an overview of all things publishing. We were handed a list of all the learning opportunities available and asked to highlight what interested us the most. I sat with my yellow pen highlighting various tasks such as “book blurb” and “assess manuscript” and “interview author”. It was a bit nerve wracking, but I didn’t get the opportunity to worry.

Next it was over to Laura to allocate us work for the day. I spent the day proofreading my first manuscript. Later in the day, Gavin called us over and gave us a run-down of other projects and suggested work that might be beneficial to us in terms of the courses we are doing, as well as personal/writing interests.

I have to say, I was slow to get going and a bit frightened to put red pen marks on the white paper but by 5pm I had tackled my fear. I was also worried that I was reading too slow but a quick chat with Gavin soon fixed that. He explained that there are many aspects that effect how fast a manuscript is read; people read at different speeds, the type of reading that is required i.e. proofreading, editing, as well as the type of manuscript–factual or fiction-are but a few that he mentioned.

So, what have I learned?

Publishing is a multifaceted process that requires patience, skill, a keen eye as well as bucket loads of creativity. The manuscript I was reading was dense with factual information and not the type of thing I would normally read. I was aware that I was trying to rush and had to actively slow myself down. I had to check names, dates, and place names to ensure they were correct which slows the process.

Before I knew it, it was 5pm and time to come back to the hotel. I packed up and descended to street level and into the throng that is Edinburgh. I can tell that this week will fly past!

When Creativity Runs Dry

I’ve long known that artistic inspiration comes in waves. One day you are being swept along on a tsunami of creativity, riding high, euphorically smug about the abundance of ideas crashing onto the shore (or, erm, blank page) before you; the next day you are parched dry, shrivelled up and flaking on a vast sandy beach, the tide is miles out and pathetically spitting its way back to meet you, in no hurry whatsoever, with complete disregard for your deadlines.

Today is a dry day.

I woke up with a humungous ‘to do’ list including finishing a piece for my Studying Writing class, generating inspired ideas for a very exciting V& A Dundee project and putting together an article to pitch to a magazine. The only thing required of me today was to be creative. Get the creative juices flowing. Pour out my creative genius on the page. Unfortunately, I’m still working on the genius part (fake it til you make it) but today I can assure you that nothing, not even a teeny-weeny bit of writing brilliance, or even competency, has made its way from my brain to paper.

Aah the writer’s life! Writing to demand is a tricky task. I did scramble together a piece of sorts for my homework and tentatively sent it to my tutor (I’m hoping my 748 words aren’t edited down to 30- it really was a dry nib day) but the V&A project will have to wait until that creative tsunami gathers momentum. I’m wondering what advice established writers would give to wannabes who are a bit stuck. I hear the best thing to do is write regardless. As a ridiculously busy person (aren’t we all) it is so frustrating to be at the mercy of when a notion or thought or idea might grace me with its presence. When inspiration doesn’t strike it just feels like wasted time.

But write regardless they say and write is what I did! Sadly, reading back what I wrote today made me question my right to be on the MLitt course as imposter syndrome reared its confidence crushing head. Sitting at my desk I drummed my fingers repeatedly so much that at the end of the day they needed a lie down. As did I.

But something happened as I wrote, no scribbled, actually more like scrawled my way from dawn until dusk. Through pages of dross and embarrassingly amateur similes and metaphors, shameful attempts at poetry and a severe absence of big words, there on my pages were a few, just a few, little ideas that might, might, just lead to something. Not the tsunami I was banking on but rather a sporadic trickle, that will perhaps be enough to get tomorrow’s ink flowing. When creativity runs dry, write regardless.

Lothian’s Adventures at Luath (Day 3)

A view to inspire travel writing…

Having had a break from Luath to attend a creative writing workshop at Dundee’s V&A, I felt refreshed and eager to get back to the world of publishing. The creative energy that was flowing at the museum was incredibly inspiring and put a real fire in my belly for all that is to come my way in the next few months, including more placement adventures. Day three at Luath did not disappoint. My morning was spent tidying up pieces of work from my first two days (Advanced Information Sheet, the Book Blurb and Press documents- writing is rewriting, and rewriting is writing) and drafting a list of errors I’d found whilst proofreading a manuscript. I then spent a bit of time writing a summary of the activities I had undertaken at Luath which was really satisfying to see on screen- I’d been a busy bee and learned enough to be suitably chuffed with myself. Throughout these activities I had a sense of anticipation as I waited for Ralph Storer, renowned and respected mountaineering/hillwalking author extraordinaire, to arrive for the author interview I’d been invited to sit in on. I felt like a gushy school girl waiting outside a concert to catch a glimpse of some teeny bopping heart throb, but, erm, it wasn’t exactly a crush I felt for the not so teeny bopping Storer, but rather huge admiration for his vast hill climbing experience and knowledge of the Scottish mountains that I love so much. And let’s not forget, he is brilliantly precise and charming on the pages of his many books. What a pleasant surprise to be asked by Gavin if I’d like some time with Ralph after they went over a few book issues. While they discussed typesetting, justification of text, photographs and had an almost uncomfortably animated exchange over two imperceptibly different fonts, I sat super thrilled thinking of questions I would ask Storer once I had him all to myself. And then it happened. I conducted a completely impromptu interview with a skilled and revered author, flying by the seat of my pants, proper winging it, living the dream. I was not expecting to enjoy this process as much as I did. But Ralph was gracious, charming and thankfully very accommodating as we shared stories of Scotland’s finest hills and the writing life. I managed to keep the conversation flowing and buoyant and got a lot of useful information and advice to keep to myself and perhaps share with those I like. Maybe. Perhaps his greatest gift to me was his response to the question, ‘What advice do you have for aspiring writers?’. He glared at me, incredulous, and simply said, ‘Write’.