Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

Poetry Blog: Process

I’ve had a burst of activity with poems lately and written three or four that are in varying states, as well as several lots of notes that will serve as drafts for other poems.

I love it when this happens. Primarily because it’s good to be writing and in most cases, these poems provide something to go on the blog! But also, there are times when I haven’t written for a while and start to feel like I might never be able to do so again. So, to al of a sudden be able to produce some ideas, let alone some actual poems, is a bit of a relief.

I had to read this poem back a couple of times before I could work out what it was about. I’d written it a few days ago and, as is regular for me, it was done in the early hours of the morning after I found that I just couldn’t sleep once again. Hence, coming back to it, I was unsure who it was about as well as precisely what. Turns out it wasn’t that complicated because it’s just a poem about me and my state of mind at the moment.

I wouldn’t say that I was particularly low; just not particularly happy. Confused about a few things maybe and while not struggling, definitely not finding things as easy as I’d like. There’s been a lot going on with family issues and health issues and I think it’s reflected a bit at least, in the poem.

Process

Thoughts emerge like a pack of cards being dealt haphazardly,
some spinning and turning over as they drift through the air,
others plummeting directly to the floor
and the time spent on each left interrupted as more and more land to steal away your attention from the last,
and although your gaze may return to some randomly, 
none will be allowed to feel complete,
so you twist and turn, restless for an end that doesn't look like coming.
Similarly, your questions are all frustratingly rhetorical.
There are answers, but they are never a truth,
a rock, a definitive
and as a consequence, you do not know which route to take.
This is a process.
No one else need get involved or share the burden.
All of this, you hope, will pass.

For once, I have reasons behind the title of the poem. And for that reason, I think that for once, I have a decent title. I called this one ‘Process’ because my whole state of mind and the situations that I find myself going through will get worked out. They really are a process. As well as this though, I used ‘Process’ in terms of the fact that I’m just trying to figure things out. In know what’s happening and I know why, but I can’t really figure out how best to get through it. But I know that I will.

The end of the poem is quite important for me. In terms of problems or any kind of mental health issue that I might have, I’m never great at sharing. It’s not that there’s no one to share with and it’s also not that I don’t believe in sharing, talking or unburdening yourself. I totally understand that a problem shared is a problem halved, as they say. It’s just that I’m usually fine just dealing with stuff myself. It might take longer, but at least I don’t have to trouble anyone else. Apart from by writing about it, I suppose!

I hope you enjoyed reading and would love to hear any comments that you might have.

Until next time…

Poetry Blog: ‘About a time when I worried that I hadn’t really fulfilled my potential.’

This is another recently discovered poem. To cut a long story that I’ve told a million times before short, I think it’s one that I’ve written during a night when I’ve been unable to sleep. These are horrendous when you have work the next morning, yet enormously fulfilling when you can sit and write a few things for your blog! Unfortunately, once written down, some of them then tend to get lost in notebooks. This is always temporary though, hence this poem which was one of a ‘crop’ I discovered when flicking through an almost full notebook recently.

I think it must have been written when I was feeling a little bit down. I’ve struggled a little bit – nothing major and nothing that a good bout of telling myself ‘pull yourself together’ doesn’t solve – over probably the last 18 months or so and I think that this poem was written at some point during summer 2021 as I got particularly low at that time.

It’s a bit of a rambling title, but if you read regularly you’ll know that I struggle with titles. When I came to think of this one nothing succinct came to mind and every time I read it through I came back to the feeling that I hadn’t fulfilled my potential. It’s something I mildly beat myself up about on a fairly regular basis. Deep down, I think I’ve done alright though!

'About a time when I worried I really hadn't fulfilled my potential'

A rowing boat with a broken oar.
A home-made go-kart that doesn't quite steer right.
A shy child, hidden behind a parent's legs, clinging to a familiar hem.
A broken compass.
A book, bouncing between charity shops, corners curling more with every journey, pages thumbed smooth, seeking a shelf.
A grey pebble on a beach.
A crab in a rockpool, fighting the relentless pull of the tide.
A dandelion clock.
A partnerless sock.
A derelict building, stripped of its dignity.
A written off car travelling on an unfamiliar motorway on the back of a lorry for all to see.
A bag for life abandoned when the handle snapped.
A festival tent.
A once cherished trophy now confined to a box in the loft of a middle aged man.
An unfashionable toy at Christmas.

So this poem was written at a time when I felt a little bit broken. It’s a tough thing to admit, so usually I just stay quiet. I try to leave other people unburdened by my troubles and having been brought up in a family where how you felt wasn’t really discussed, I suppose it feels naturally. But at this point in time, I clearly needed to talk.

Although I can’t specify an actual day, I can pinpoint the time period of writing this poem. Without the routine of work, summer can sometimes get a bit dull and if we don’t get the weather – which we often don’t in England – it can become difficult to stop the routine of just doing not a great deal. And that kind of thing makes me suffer a bit. I don’t enjoy just sitting round, but if there’s little to do, I feel like I’m wasting the day. At the time of writing the poem, I was thinking about my age, my career and even my choices going as far back as going to high school. None of it made me feel very good. Lots of it made me think that I could have just been so much better at life, so the poem is just a list of what I felt I was like.

I have to say, I’m a lot calmer at the moment, a lot happier. But I still feel like some of the metaphors are apt. They’re probably apt for a lot of us.

I chose the dandelion clock because it’s just waiting to get destroyed and it doesn’t take a lot to do just that. A gust of wind can scatter them everywhere, such is their fragility. I think when I’m at a low ebb, perhaps that’s how it is. I’m OK to a point and then someone might say something, completely innocently and it’ll be the kind that I dwell on and probably devote far too much time to. Confidence, like self-esteem is a funny thing, I suppose.

The image of the shy child felt like it resonated too. I’ve never really been a confident person, just someone who can put on a front or come up with good ways of avoiding certain situations. Even at my age there are times when I could do with someone’s legs to hide behind.

I hope you enjoyed reading the poem and if it resonated with you, well I hope it helps a little bit. I think we all probably have times when we feel like we could just be that little bit better. The important thing is to realise how good you already have it. There’s almost always a positive if you look hard enough.

Winter Running – 5 Tips to make those chilly miles that little bit better.

It’s that time of year again. The weather is invariably freezing cold, the days aren’t as long and the nights are closing in, so that it’s getting dark by around 4pm. Add in the potential for rain, snow and high winds and this can be a challenging time in anyone’s calendar.

It’s also the time of year where all sorts of people make all sorts of vows about being better people in the future. Those resolutions, however, are never particularly binding and as we all probably know only too well, they’ll fall by the wayside with the least bit of encouragement.

Exercise at this time of year can be difficult. But unfortunately it’s also one of the things that people see as a good way of changing their lives. An easy win that, in Winter, can turn out not so easy after all. So, for runners and would be runners alike, I’ve written up what I think are some handy some tips for running at this time of year.

  1. Run early. Although Winter mornings can be ridiculously cold and utterly miserable, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast. Every once in a while you’ll get an amazingly beautiful day; still, bright blue skies and a tolerable, bracing chill in the air. If you find one, set the alarm, roll out of bed, warm up and then get out and run. I think this type of morning is my favourite for running, especially in Winter. I’ll put on a base layer – maybe some running tights as well, if I think they’re needed – and after some warming up, sneak out of the house while everyone else sleeps and just run. It’ll be dark to start off with and as a result it can be quite an unnerving experience; the sight of anyone at all will put you on edge when it’s so dark. But the peace and quiet is just fantastic. Well worth the early start. It allows me just to focus on breathing, pace and whatever might be on my mind at the time. You’ll see the occasional dog walker or shift worker, but other than that, the world is your own. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll catch the sun rising. I can’t recommend an early morning Winter run enough!
  2. Hi Viz. If you’re running in Winter, chances are that it’ll be dark at some point. Even the middle of the afternoon can get dark at this time of year. So, be sensible. A high viz top or windproof jacket is well worth investing in. A neon yellow works well, particularly in late afternoon and if you can find something with reflective patches or stripes, then all the better to be seen in! Failing that, you can buy anything from trainers to socks that are reflective enough to make sure you’re seen at night. Not everybody can pull off the neon look. In actual fact, I’m not entirely sure anyone can, but safety must took presidence over fashion at this time of year! So even if you might be going out on a run looking like a road worker or a throwback to mid 90s rave culture, at least you improve your chances of getting round your route safely this way.
  3. Join a running club or get a running buddy. Now I’m afraid this is a classic case of the person giving the advice but flagrantly ignoring it at the same time. That doesn’t make it bad advice though. Personally, I prefer to run alone. In company I know I’d either feel guilty for being too slow or grumpy for the company being too slow. But, amongst other things, running is supposed to be fun. And in Winter, it’s just safer to run as part of a group. Another added plus here is that company can be encouraging and even give you a bit of a boost. I’m a far better runner in a race situation, where there are lots of other people to focus on and aim for, so to speak. But I can guarantee that in a race, if I’m flagging, someone will offer encouragement and support. Running clubs or groups are easy to find these days, as they’re only a Google search away and they’re ideal for beginners. I know that there are a few groups around my area where it’s all very informal, friendly and the emphasis is on gaining fitness with a bit of fun and friendship. So, if you made that resolution, joining a club with like minded and friendly people might well be the decision that helps to stick to your vow!
  4. Make sure to warm up and warm down properly. Whether it’s Winter or not, this is a good tip to follow. However, if you’re planning on going out running in freezing temperatures, then making sure that those muscles are fully stretched and warmed up is essential. The temperature alone should be the only shock that you get; you don’t want to have gone 100 metres and find that your body just doesn’t feel right. It’s Winter; you’ve got every excuse you need for turning round and heading back to that warm bed or front room with the fire on! At least if you’re fully warmed up, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting into a rhythm nice and quickly and after that, it’s all about just running! Warming up will help prevent those little niggling injuries that could mean you’re back on the sofa before you know it. Similarly, by warming down once you’ve finished, you’ll feel much, much better. I sometimes finish my run within a half mile of my house and then get home with a combination of light jogging and walking, just to make sure nothing seizes up. I always stretch again once I get back to the house and make sure that I take on plenty of water to rehydrate. It’s no fun when all you want to do is flop down on the bed, but it’s a lot better to have warmed down for ten minutes or so.
  5. Never underestimate the importance of rest. Winter running can be difficult. Motivating yourself to actually go out is tough when you already know how cold and miserable it is out there! So don’t put yourself under too much pressure. If you’ve scheduled a run, but you know your body’s just not right, then don’t go. Rest up instead. There’s always another day. And the same applies for days when it might just seem too cold or too windy. If you don’t feel like it, but know you’ll go another day; do that! Or the other alternative is to go out and maybe run a shorter distance than you’d had planned. I’ve done that a few times recently and spared myself a little bit, but have also been able to say I’d been out and kept my fitness up!

So there you have it. Hopefully a few handy tips that might just help you out a bit when running this Winter. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know if they’re of any use in the comments!

Poetry Blog: Lost

This is the latest in a long list of poems that I’ve written and then forgotten about. It was one of about half a dozen that I discovered in a notebook a couple of weeks ago.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to place these type of poems simply because firstly they’d been forgotten and secondly because often I write a poem and don’t give it a title. In the case of this poem the title was just a question mark, which didn’t seem very helpful at first!

Once I’d read through the poem the subject matter became a little clearer. For the record this is a poem about my state of mind at a certain time. I still feel this way at times now and it’s been a feeling I’ve had throughout my life. I think it affects lots of us though. Having read this poem through a few times and had a bit of a think I think it’s about just everyday life and the sense that this might be all there is. Certainly, I look at what I’ve achieved in life and often wonder if it’s enough. I suppose it’s a sense of slight dissatisfaction at how things are. There are lots of reasons for it as well. It might just be wanting to impress people, like your parents or it might be linked to the dreams you had as a kid. There are definitely references to self esteem in there too.

Whatever the reasoning this is a poem about a moment in time. It’s about looking back and regretting decisions, but it’s also about simply wondering whether you’re satisfied with your lot. I guess that in my case, it’s about getting to the verge of a milestone birthday and just reflecting back or having a good old think about things. I think when I wrote the poem I felt quite down about a lot of things, but mainly about me and my worth as a person.

Lost

Imagine not knowing how you got here.
The feeling of a half life, 
the wondering behind a thousand what ifs
and the nagging feeling that it all somehow won't matter.

Imagine the lack of identity.
The uncertainty of what you are
and who you are and whether you matter
tugging at your sleeves, like restless children.

Imagine the sense of loss.
The statelessness, the weightlessness,
the sense that however hard you swim, the tide has 
other ideas, a plan for you more powerful than dreams.

Imagine that this is all there is
and not understanding how that feels.
That the child lost among a crowd of unfriendly faces
is you, for the rest of whatever this is.

There’s also a sense of not really feeling like an adult here. When I was a kid and I’d hear adults saying how they still felt like they were 18 in their heads, I’d roll my eyes and think the worst of them. Now I’m very much an adult, well I often don’t feel like one! When I’m joining in training with the team that I coach, I still feel like a kid. My body is quick to remind me that I’m not, but I still feel that way. It can be the same in my job, teaching in a high school. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get off topic and just resort to making jokes, which was all too often my problem as a pupil in school!

Finally, the poem is about growing old. Lately I’ve been thinking about the future and I guess what we’d call the next stage of my life. I’m tentatively planning for retirement or possibly a change in work or working hours and I think all of these thoughts and ideas are in the poem too.

I hope this is a poem that people can relate to. It feels like a much broader topic than just me worrying about me, that’s for sure. As ever, feel free to leave any comments about the poem as I always enjoy a bi of feedback.

Thanks for reading.

Poetry Blog: Pursued

This is a poem that I actually wrote and then briefly forgot about. It was only when reading through a notebook and finding a folded up piece of A4 paper that I discovered it again. I think it was written some time in the last two weeks, but somehow I’d just tucked it away and forgot that I’d written it.

It’s poem that has a couple of different influences. Partly I think it’s about mental health. Not just my mental health, but peoples’ in general. It’s about not being able to get rid of the darker moments, the lower moods, which is something I’ve had to put up with for a short while now, but something that lots of other people have probably struggled with for many years. So, I’m not moaning or feeling sorry for myself; I know others have things much, much worse.

I think the other influence or meaning behind this one is that I’ve been suffering with an injury – it’s been about 7 weeks now – and it just feels like it’s never getting better. So again, something I can’t seem to shake off. (Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong; less shaking, more relaxing?)

Pursued

I feel like you defy description. I don't know how to cope with you 
and words almost fail me.
Every label seems not to stick,
neither adequate nor accurate.
You're definitely not a friend,
but not a stranger all the same
and a cloud hanging over me can actually pass on the wind
before returning, whatever the forecast.
This is a nagging doubt, a feral dog trailing too close at my heels,
craving trust, but up to no good.
An excrutiating headache, pressing down,
a torchlight shone in my eyes or maybe a spotlight exposing me
when I feel the need to hide.
A flare in a clear night sky, marking me out, just as I find sanctuary for the night.
A light that offers no illumination, but lets me know that there's to be no rest,
no safety, nowhere to serve as an escape,
just an uncomfortable reminder that tells me to keep moving,
because at times like these, slowly, tentatively,
like an old man shuffling around the room to find the candles in a power cut,
that's all that I can do.

I don’t know if feeling this way is a legacy of lockdown and all things Covid or simply just another stage in my life; an age thing perhaps. But where before any sense of feeling low was fairly easy to shake off, lately I’ve not been able to. So ‘Pursued’ seemed the perfect title for the poem as it’s absolutely how I’ve felt both mentally and physically and how I imagine lots of people who are struggling feel too.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment below.

The Uselessness of the Long Distance Runner (with apologies to Alan Sillitoe)

The date is Friday August 13th 2021 and it’s 7.12am. A ridiculous hour of the day, really. Our protagonist (me) is out running and over the course of the next 46 minutes he will run for 5.36 miles before feeling tired, getting confused and heading home. His confusion will haunt him moments after he drinks a chilled bottle of water in his kitchen. Why did he not run the extra 0.85 of a mile which would have led him to a distance of 6.21 miles, otherwise known as 10km? What an absolute knobhead! Never mind, in a few days he’ll go back out and run the full 10km.

Fast forward 22 days. It is Saturday 4th September and our protagonist hasn’t been on a run since the aforementioned Friday 13th August. He’s feeling frustrated. He’s feeling quite angry. He’s not enjoying this period of inactivity. He’s still a knobhead. And he feels useless.

On Friday 13th August, by about 7.15am I was regretting going out on my run. I had a sore shoulder brought on by a ridiculous combination of decorating my kitchen and a brainwave while coaching my Under 13 football team that told me, ‘Yes, Graham, go in goal for the shooting practice! Throw yourself around like a man possessed! Ignore your age and show these young whippersnappers how it’s done!’ Now, with every step taken, pain shudders right up my arm and through my sore shoulder. By the time I’ve registered a couple of miles I have pins and needles in my hand and my index finger has gone very cold. Ignoring the signs that this could be a stroke or the beginnings of a heart attack, I run on. I really am a knobh…well, you know the rest.

For anyone feeling worried, don’t. I didn’t have a stroke or a heart attack. But I did end my run in a lot of pain. But don’t worry, twenty days later I got some help. Between that time and the end of my run I googled the problem and settled on the fact that I’d managed to damage a nerve somewhere between my shoulder and my chest. Despite the intense pain, a bit of self diagnosis told me that it would heal itself and that in the meantime I should just take Ibuprofen. I also decided that continuing to decorate would help.

I realise now that I am still a good 8 years short of qualifying to be a doctor and that as a healer I make a good knobhead.

It has hurt me to have to avoid running and my reluctance to seek medical help – coupled with the amount of time it takes to actually get medical help post Covid and using our surgery’s new phone system – will subsequently cost me more time. I will lose fitness and my burgeoning belly will continue to burge. Or grow.

By the time I got medical help – two days ago at the time of writing – it turned out my diagnosis was right, but that I can’t get a physio appointment for another four days. And that will also be over the phone, so the physio’s healing hands will have to be very special indeed. In the meantime, I feel horrible.

I think I’ve made myself worse with comfort eating too. We went away to Scarborough for a few days and then Newcastle after that meaning five whole days of eating out and I didn’t even attempt to hold back and think healthily. ‘Are you having a pudding?’ quickly became not only a rhetorical question, but a stupid one too.

At home, what with it being the summer holidays, I’ve succumbed to a policy of ‘a beer a night’, which although that’s not heavy drinking, is a lot more than my usual. I’ve also relapsed in my dangerous crisps and chocolate addiction, making any trip to Home Bargains or B&Ms into an actual expedition. While I haven’t exactly piled the weight on – no surprise if you know me – this has still left me out of shape.

Having sought medical help and got my hands on some prescription pain killers and a telephone conversation with a physio, this morning brought another setback. Look away now if you’re young, fit and healthy. The ease with which this type of thing can happen in middle age might be a bit of a shock.

I was out in the supermarket, doing our weekly shop and had crouched down to scrutinise the very bottom row of school shirts. You’d be surprised at the rarity of sized 12-13 short sleeved white shirts in the George at Asda uniform section. Thus, I really had to peer deep and low to find what I wanted. But just before I located it I had an almighty spasm of pain through my lower back. I couldn’t move, was worried I might cry in front of some mums and toddlers – again – and it took my about 10 seconds to realise that I was holding my breath. When I straightened up to a standing position, the pain increased.

This will undoubtedly cost me more time away from running as I’ve struggled with my back for years. It once went completely as I arrived at work and put the handbrake on in the car! However, since getting fitter and stronger with the amount of exercise I got through in lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, it hadn’t been much of a problem at all.

Running has been an excellent help to my somewhat surprisingly fragile mental health over the last year or so. I’ve found this last year tough for a number of reasons, but whenever I’ve been able to go out running I’ve felt focused and free of any number of problems. I’ve also felt fitter and stronger and the distances run and the times achieved have been a real boost, mentally. Like I say, it has hurt not being able to run.

While I’m running I am almost forced to think things through. At my age, this is a good thing as it also allows me to take focus away from how much my body hurts! But it’s also an opportunity that I’m really pleased to be able to take. Other than traffic or people on pavements, I have little else to occupy my mind and I know that I can make decisions during this hour or so; I can solve problems.

Going out for a run means that I can think. I have time to think ‘things’ through, whatever they might be, and often by the time I’m back home I just feel a great deal lighter, so to speak. I head out, fresh faced and often feeling a bit weighed down by what life happens to be throwing at me and by the time I return I’m red-faced and sweaty, but visibly happier, even if I look like I might just be about to collapse.

Three weeks into my enforced rest, and only just back at work for a new academic year, and I’m really feeling tired and more than a little bit troubled by it all. Not being able to run is just horrible. Sometimes, I might allow myself to think that a rest might be nice, but 99% of the time I’ll force myself to get out and go for a run, setting a minimum target and then pushing really hard to eclipse it. I always feel better afterwards. Being injured like this has taken that away and it’s really not pleasant.

I’m hoping that within a fortnight at most I’ll be able to get back out again and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run far enough and for long enough to have a good old think! In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my telephone physio appointment, which promises to be a whole new experience and hopefully the thing that starts putting stuff right!

The uselessness of the long distance runner is not a feeling I’m enjoying.