So last week I wrote about poetry and the risk it felt in writing it. I wrote nobly about how failure would be good for me as it wasn’t all about grades. Which was alright to say when I hadn’t had a grade back. But now I have. And I don’t like it.
It isn’t exactly a fail, but nor is it what I usually get even though I worked just as hard.
Boy am I pissed off and upset.
The mark pinged me right back to Mr Reed’s physics O’ level and my 4%, the shame I felt as well as the overwhelm of what I just didn’t understand.
Or the crushing primary, or was it nursery, nativity event, where, along with the rest of the class I was meant to get up on the stage and sing Away in a Manger, but instead I hid behind my mother, clinging to her skirt and refusing to let go while it felt like everyone laughed at me.
Then the times where I didn’t make the first netball team, where I was reserve for the high jump, where my best friend, small and blond, got all the boys and I was the girls who they courted only to see if they could get in with her.
Failure hurts and I had forgotten that when I glibly wrote last week’s post, especially when something matters. I once baked a cake so flat and dry that even the farm dog wouldn’t eat it. But I can laugh at that because I know I’m not a cook, I don’t enjoy it, it is something I do to feed people and nothing more, it isn’t part of my sense of self.
But writing is. Not least because it has lived in the shadows for so long. There are piles of diaries and notebooks, poems and letters all stowed in sealed trunks in the cellar for me to read in my dotage or, in more probability, for mice bedding or kindling.
I studied English for my first degree and loved the fact that I had three years to read and read. It never occurred to me then that I might write anything more than essays which I did for years as dissertations and eventually a PhD, where the feedback I remember most was that it was written beautifully.
It was only when I did my coaching course that I started to play tentatively with the idea of writing, and not long after that I started the blogs, then the books and articles and now poetry.
Poetry is new and still tender, but I unreasonably want it to immediately be as good as its big sister prose. When I write prose, if someone reads it and doesn’t like it I just shrug, and let it slip away, I don’t mind, I feel confident enough for it not to permeate.
But poetry is porous and this mark stung.
Still does. Can you tell I haven’t made peace with it yet?
I’m still puzzling over why. No one cares. My life doesn’t depend on it, nor my work. Most of what I write for the course is only read by other students, I haven’t put it out in the world yet, it feels too personal.
So maybe there’s the rub. The poems matter, I care about them and feel protective. They feel intimate, so a poor mark for them, feels like a poor mark for me because we are umbilically connected. The mark feels like I’m not being seen or understood, which as I write that, is silly, because that isn’t the marker’s job, nor the reader’s. It is mine; my job to see and understand me. I gather fragments from my life and shape them into something more, something which for me, feels coherent and transcendent, giving me insight and clarity. Which is a gift in itself.
And the mark still smarts.
And yes I know all the cognitive tricks, I’m a life coach don’t you know. I can rationalise, put into perspective, de-catastrophise, look for alternative perspectives, narratives to counter the story of failure. But actually I want to feel this, much as I wanted to feel the sadness at the end of my relationship. I don’t want to rush on and find something new and spangly, or distract myself, or explain the soreness away. I want to feel it, because I care about the poems, and I care about him, and the caring hasn’t gone away, and the imperfection, the dreams that didn’t come true, and those that did, for both those are beautiful and tender and need care rather than explaining away.
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