A sparkly young friend of mine often invites me to events that are going down in Nottingham. Nottingham is an extremely busy and active city – one of those ‘small’ big cities where everyone seems to know everyone else despite a population of 311,000 or so (730,000 if you add in the suburbs). It constantly amazes me how many people come up to say ‘hello’ when I am going about my business in the city centre, and who I bump into whilst on my travels.
Now my sparkly young friend’s invites are multiple and various, but occasionally one really takes my fancy and I have time to tag along. Recently I joined her for one of the poetry nights at the brilliant Jam Café in Hockley. When I first arrived in Nottingham 36 years ago, Hockley was a run-down, grimy, afterthought; shooting off Market Square into the dark and squalid shadows of an undeveloped Lace Market. It still had that alternative sub-culture vibe, but now that it’s hit the mainstream you wouldn’t recognize the place. There are arts centres and cinemas, shops and pavement cafes, massive ‘out on the street’ nightlife, Nottingham Writers’ Studio, and the adjoining Creative Quarter that is an exciting work-in-progress.
So there I was, loving the buzz and bustle, sat with a cool beer in this achingly cool café, listening to amazing poets read their work – and probably the only person over 32 in the room! (I am 54)
It is a sad fact of life that time moves on, but mentally we do not. I am a 28 year old trapped in a 54 year old’s body, complete with hearing loss and osteoarthritis (see Mad and Marvel moments below…). I felt old. I felt REALLY old. My friend, at 32, was probably the next oldest in the room by quite a few years, but she has the advantage of looking 25. Ironically I also felt at home there, in that wonderful atmosphere surrounded by positive vibes, but I also felt acutely aware of being the odd one out. I wondered how the ‘young ones’ perceived me.
But worse was to come. I not only felt old, but I began to get down on my writing. Was it too old-fashioned? Was it relevant for today’s market? Here were street poets, and rappers, and yes, some traditional poets too. They had energy and self-belief. They were happy to share their work on all the multiple electronic and social media platforms that I have been so wary of. They videoed and Instagrammed and texted. The do not have a 17 year history of rejections from agents and publishers, bundled together in an old-fashioned paper file. They do not care if their poetry has never been published in Mslexia (apologies in advance to those who do…).
My negative feelings were not helped by the fact that not long before this I had been to a ‘Work in Progress’ evening at the Writers’ Studio where we read out pieces we were working on. A young girl in her twenties stood up – a new writer working on her first book – and she opened her mouth and out came the most brilliant, brilliant words. She had it. She just had it. I thought of my own novel and felt like giving up.
It’s taken a while to begin to get out of the negative introspection that these events triggered. A lovely writer and editor friend complemented my work alongside that of the genius girl and this cheered me up a little. Another rejection letter from an agent took me down again. Someone on the Writers’ Studio Facebook group asked if other people had trouble with self-doubt, and a deluge of sorry tales and sympathy showed that I was not alone. A spell where the writing for my novel flowed gave me my buzz back.
This is what it is to write. Up and down and all the emotions in-between. But I don’t want to stop enjoying the wonders of hearing other people’s work. If that means a bit of mingling with the ‘bright young things’ they’ll just have to learn to cope with me. And it keeps me young, I’m now feeling all of 22…
Going on a 10 mile walk up onto the moors at Black Hill in the Dark Peak with arthritic toes.
Not having any pain after going on a 10 mile walk up onto the moors at Black Hill in the Dark Peak with arthritic toes! I think the answer is drinking a tablespoon of cider vinegar (unpasteurized, ‘with the mother’) every day. I’m trying it on advice for my arthritis, and – so far – it appears to be working!!!
© Anne de Gruchy