In between the published works –
the novel that did OK
a story in that collection put together by MA students,
a poem here, a poem there
the joy of a short-listing
the folder of ‘no longer on submission’ scribblings
there is the ‘other’ stuff.
I couldn’t fit it all into the bookshelf:
hours spent tinkering with broken friends, instead of broken sentences;
days spent with Netflix, instead of cutting, instead of copy-pasting;
weeks spent holding the cat, instead of the pen
piggy-bank empty and smashed. All spent.
Tears leaking from the hot water tank
shredded text messages used for mouse nests
reams of progress stacked, dormant
still in their polythene. Sterile blank pages.
Where is all the work I could have done
if other people had been
kind? accepting? loyal?
had trusted my life had to be lived this way?
‘You manage your mental health so well!’
I suppose, if I did, I wouldn’t dwell on what was meant as a compliment,
and twist it into an accusation –
a positive equals a negative
a negative of the photograph
that other people see,
my perfect, tinylife.
My calm exterior, my social media cut and pastings: insta-wonderful.
She can’t possibly have mental health problems,
look at her – she’s onstage! Smiling!
Perhaps I tell people I’m a special snowflake
as a way to get attention or
Or I hold onto a former diagnosis
as something that makes me interesting,
marks me out,
gives me an intersectional identity.
I don’t ask to feel this way –
performing one day, then tears all the next –
I don’t ask for meditation and counselling and prescription after prescription.
I manage it well.
Sometimes I’ll be watching a film or listening to a song or singing to myself. I’ll see something on the news or the newsfeed. Or I’ll be at a kitchen table talking with some friends about something difficult, really being honest for once.
Maybe the preceding day has been painful.
It doesn’t open just because the children have been constant all day, or if I’ve had another writing rejection. If I’ve been the source of a social faux pas – and I’ve had many! it stays resolutely shut.
Sometimes I’ll know it’s going to be a day when it opens up, but sometimes I don’t.
The last time I could almost feel the crack, the hinges swinging. Like an internal door, the echoing space, empty but so, so full.
I’m talking about the place inside me where all the tears live.