Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Matthew Sweeney, hedgehogs and agoraphobia

Last night, Matthew Sweeney came to the university to read from his new book and some of his old ones. In preparation, I read a few of his poems and a bit about him. I loved his stuff, largely because he writes in such a soft, prose poem sort of way. His lines end on soft words, the story or theme is more important than rhymes or structure, and his stresses produce a lovely rhythm when read (especially in his Galway accent). He was also very funny and his intelligence spilled over (hopefully) in the group. Well, into my work, anyway. I've had a free write on Greenham I've been working on, trying to turn it into a poem, but it wants to be fiction, but the language is so poetical. So, I'm going to have a good look at his work and let my Greenham piece have a go at working itself into a prose poem. That's how it feels, as if it has a  form it's aiming for, and me (the stupid secretary) keeps getting it wrong. 

He also talked about inspiration striking just as he was going to catch a plane and the compulsion to write it down. That's a magical moment, for me anyway, trying to scribble it down while words are coming, overlapping and the pen can't write fast enough and the pen splutters. He also talked about a single line grabbing him and forcing him to finish it as a poem. I've got a line like that at the moment, I had to get out of bed, find a pen that worked and write it on the back of a card. The reading was brilliant, even though I was really anxious about going into a new building. Sounds daft, I know. 
I've been agoraphobic since I was ten. I first had a panic attack outside the Co-op in Portsmouth, where we were living. It's not an issue 90% of the time, and I've has enough help with it, but the last few weeks have ramped up the tension and with Christmas/solstice coming (no joke for a woman with a large family) I'm struggling a bit now. I didn't tell the university, though I could get support there, because it's usually a small flutter in the back of my mind. But, just recently, it's appeared again and last night I had a small (very small) panic in class, probably brought on by the reading. Now I feel a twit because I can't just go and say how hard it is to, say, ask for a tutorial. Perhaps I should write about it, that sometimes helps. Because otherwise, I will lie awake worrying about the next high stress moment (like having to buy milk or Advanced Fiction tonight) and then I won't get enough sleep and that makes things worse...

Talking about fiction, we workshop fellow student's work each week and this week the work is by a student from a different culture (cool) and with a different approach to English (interesting) but it's difficult to actually go from the kind of critiquing we give each other straight to a different type of writing. I know this is my problem, not the writer's, but it's hard to work with just the same. I'm ahead with the reading (thank whoever-may-be-listening-and-helped-me-get-ahead) so am starting to do some background reading on Kafka for the theory assignment. I'm also working my way through A Very Short Introduction to Poststructuralism. I like to start with a book that will give me a fighting chance of getting the basic ideas before they let me loose on the big ideas. Derrida left me baffled. Even Foucault (not the most readable of fellows) found his writing dense and confusing. He keeps using new words, ones he made up, and then he drifts away from his original meaning...very poststructuralist of him. We are reading Cixous as well, a feminist writer and her stuff is so easy, so interesting. I think this course will ring with echoes for years to come.

The other day, my husband looked out the window and saw a hedgehog. I rushed to weigh it (it's a compulsion, I'm working on it) and the poor little thing was starving to death. It was too small to hibernate, and probably only a baby, born too late in the year. It's now being nursed back to health in a plastic box in the lounge, where it's eating its own body weight in cat food a day and inflating like a balloon. I've seen a lot of babies around this year, probably born in the autumn and they don't have time to put on weight. So if you see a hedgehog out in the day or under 650g, corner it and pass it to an animal charity (list here). Hedgehogs have had a very bad year and numbers are down. Adult hedgehogs are helped by leaving cat food out. Lecture over.


  1. That's a thought, leaving cat food for hedgehogs, must do something about that. So sorry to hear about your agoraphobia.
    Know what you mean about your visiting poet, wonderful experience.

  2. It was lovely to hear his words in his very distinctive accent. I shall read all his poetry like that!

  3. Thinking of you. Take care. Love Bear x

  4. The poetry reading sounds wonderful. Inspiration from it was an added bonus, how lovely.

    For your panic attacks: When I had my two breakdowns, my panic attacks were an issue. I was taught a fantastic method that has now left me medication and panic attack free,(8th year now).
    I was told to pinch my middle fingers and thumb together, and push the nails in so hard I feel pain. Then take a deep, deep breath, exhale. Do this three times, and any time the panic is present. When I could not go out of the house, I had to do the above, then take one step outside, then two etc. It was a long process, but worked.
    My brain focused on the pain in my thumb and not whatever trigged the attack.
    The same method was used to get me to sleep, but while breathing out, I had to say the word sleep. It works for me even now. If I wake in the night, I just do the above, say sleep over and over, the next thing is I am waking up. :)

    I hope if you have not already tried this, you might give it a go. It can be done in a classroom situation with no one knowing. It might help you. Take care, I know how you feel. ♥

  5. Thank you Glynis, I'll try that. I usually focus on mmy breathing and slow my heart rate down - but it's a bit conspicuous in a classroom setting and very long winded. I'll try it for insomnia too, they go together for a lot of us! I haven't had many problems for most of the last 19 years but it's always there in times of stress. I think I underestimated the stress of being away from my husband and home for so long. Thank you for your support, I appreciate it. Creative people are a bit inclined to have these problems, I think. On the plus side, so much to write about.