Moving Forward

The rain falls. The leaves fall. Trampled underfoot they turn to mulch. They squelch beneath my trainers. As again I run past the man from across the road with the black Labrador and walking stick he says, “You’re going round in circles”. It’s necessary for a run to be a circle leading from home and back again and it can be made of smaller circles – same place, different time, a little further ahead.

Running’s simpler than writing. You know through sheer perseverance, putting one foot in front of the other, breath by breath, you can achieve that goal of going a little further, a little faster each week. It’s similar with Taekwondo. Turn up, train hard, you’ll progress through the belts. Although, of course, there are limits. As an injury prone thirty-eight year old a half marathon in 2hrs 10mins has proved to be my threshold and I doubt I’ll have the flexibility and bounce to get beyond Second Dan.

Writing’s trickier. Hours put in and perseverance are no guarantee one’s work will be any better. I completed my two best poems in 2012 when I was new to poetry and polytheism and riding a wave of excitement and inspiration. ‘Proud of Preston’ and ‘The Bull of Conflict’ were gifts from my gods.

The awen, the divine breath of inspiration, no matter how much one chants, does not come on command but flows to those who are in the right time and place and ready to do the work. There are no check points, no belts, only that shiver of beauty and truth, which is confirmed by the reactions of others. I believe this sense of awe can be found in the three books I’ve published. It was felt when I read the poems and stories back to my gods and to the land and when I’ve shared them in public.

Since my completion of Gatherer of Souls I’ve been slogging my guts out trying to find a new and original take on the Brythonic myths and failed because in doing so I only made them more inaccessible. My quest to explore Annwn and share my findings resulted in fragmentary obscure visions. I seemed to have hit a limit and the lack of awen signalled I was heading in the wrong direction.

This was made worse because I was trapped in the vicious circle (“you’re going round in circles!”) of working in a supermarket job I could not leave until I’d found a way to make a living from my writing yet being in that trap, and it making me miserable, was depriving me of the inspiration to escape.

I’ve been here in the past, to break that circle, only to enter a wider one circling it. I give up a job in order to put all my best efforts into my writing in the hope this time round I’ll succeed in making a living from it, fail, go back to another job, then in six months to a year’s time I’m quitting again – same place, different time, only a little further ahead.

Greencroft Valley October 2019

This all came to a head when I decided to try writing fantasy because it sells better than poetry and polytheism. Whilst attempting to dream up a fantastical wetland I killed a dragonfly on the way to a real one.

It was a wake-up call on many levels. It showed me I wasn’t listening to the land. This was partly because I was trying to imagine up a fantasy novel rather than focusing on the living beings around me. On a deeper level it was because I was trapped in a vicious circle that had severed my connection.

Shortly afterwards two things happened at once. One bad – I had a horrendous night at work where I was stuck on the tills. They kept breaking down whenever I put potatoes on the scales and I had to move myself and all the customers onto the next one, then onto the next one, leaving a trail of broken tills.

One good – the episode with the dragonfly at Brockholes Nature Reserve prompted me to look at volunteering opportunities with the Lancashire Wildlife Trustand I was struck by the realisation this might be a way into paid work I enjoyed as well as a way of reconnecting with and giving back to the land.

Finally I divined a way of breaking out of both circles. Firstly by starting volunteering as a way into a job I will stick at due to its importance in this time of climate crisis and because it is a way of serving the land and my gods. Secondly by giving up the illusion I will ever make a living from the type of writing my vocation calls for.

So I’ve handed in my notice at work and am starting volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust on the Woodland Oasis and Carbon Landscapes projects. Both fit really well with my values because they involve restoring wild landscapes and connecting people with the land. The latter provides training qualifications in ‘carbon skills’ and it’s looking possible I may be able to contribute some poetry as a way of inspiring others to love and be inspired by the land around them. I’m hoping such work will feed and nourish my creativity and lead to new unexpected avenues to explore.

At last I am moving forward onto a path that will be both materially and spiritually fulfilling.

Avenham Oct 2019

11 thoughts on “Moving Forward

  1. Nimue Brown says:

    I very much recognise this, having been round similar loops myself. I’m currently trying to reshuffle the different kinds of works in the hopes of finding a balance I can live with. I admit I’d long since given up on the idea of making a living from being creative. my aspiration at the moment is to make enough that I can afford to spend some of my time and energy on it and not end up with it being entirely about he paying gigs. It does not help that this is a shit economic environment in which to try and sell anything much.

  2. Sterling McElrath says:

    Having followed your work for a while, I’m incredibly happy to hear that you are finding a way out of the cycle. I have been in the same or a similar cycle, which I believe I’m also being broken. It’s difficult and scary but I think we’ll both get to a better place. If we can put our trust in our gods (something I’m still working on).

  3. Bogatyr says:

    A friend of mine, someone I’ve known since primary school, did something similar a few years ago, when he was about the same age as you are now. He left a job which was secure and well-paid, but where he was completely unhappy, and became a volunteer with an environmental charity. From being behind a desk all the time, he soon became a dab hand with a chainsaw and a tractor (not at the same time). It did absolute wonders for his mental and physical health, and led to paid work in the same sector, in ever-better jobs.

    In your case, it’ll have the extra benefit of putting you in extended contact with the natural world; I’m rather envious.

    By all accounts, very, very, few people are able to make a living from writing, and it takes most of them years to get there. It’s a good idea to put that aside as a goal. Anyway, I doubt it was good for your writing to be wondering “will this sell?” rather than “Is this communicating a truth?”.

    Looking forward to discovering where this new path leads you.

    • Bogatyr says:

      “it’ll have the extra benefit of putting you in extended contact with the natural world” which will feed into your creative work.

      Proofreading: I should do it more.

  4. Heathen Chinese says:

    Congrats on quitting your job (a time honored anti-capitalist ritual) and blessings on the wildlands work! The Circle mysteries, getting trapped and needing to find ways of moving forward, are particularly challenging ones for me as well.

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