Writing poetry can be a funny business. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, and often a few lines will come to me when I am in the middle of doing something entirely unconnected to writing. This is why I am never more than a few feet from a notebook, and if one cannot be reached then the voice recorder on my phone comes in useful. At night I make sure my notebook is on the bedside table open on a blank page so if inspiration strikes in the night I can jot it down without turning on the light, (and just hope I can interpret the scrawl in the morning!) When it comes to actually sitting down and writing one of my favourite places to do this is in a coffee shop. With a sweet treat and a hot drink I can sit and write to my hearts content. And when the words are not flowing I can people watch and let my imagination tell me the stories of those around me. At times I will write something from scratch, but often I will use one of my notebooks or voice notes as a starting point. But just because I originally wrote a few lines or phrases inspired by X or Y, that does not mean the poem I actually write has anything to do with X or Y. It is not at all uncommon for the poem I end up with to have very little to do with what I was inspired by in the first place, and for the poem I write to comes as a bit of a surprise. Often something innocuous and unextraordinary can lead to a deeply personal poem. Poetry can sometimes feel a bit like opening myself up and letting my bare soul fall on the page, which is why not everything I write gets shared!
Everyone needs at least one true friend who can always speak the truth to them, good or bad. Who can tell them they’re making a mistake, either by doing something they shouldn’t or not doing something they really should. Of course it is entirely up to us whether we actually listen to our true friends! The “them” in this poem are definitely not friends!
They told me once to try again, I asked Them why I should
I liked what I had done this time, They said it was not good
I asked Them what was wrong with it I loved it done my way
But this was met with tutting and yet They wouldn’t say
So I refused to try again, proud of my first attempt
It came from a true, honest place - I questioned Their intent
But They would not accept my choice, They would not let it lie
They wailed and cried and pestered me to have another try.
Yet I feared if I gave in, that if I let Them win
A lifetime of enslavement and servitude would begin
For once they had the best of me would They then let it go?
Or tighten hence their grip on me? I really didn’t know
But something told me to beware, to not let Them dictate
Even the least of my designs I should myself create.
So I stood firm, dug in my heels, They turned away from me
No more acknowledging my work, pretending not to see.
And I, no more so self assured began to wonder now
Was the beauty in mine eye real or feigned somehow
As I began to doubt myself a true friend came along
And questioned why my tongue was stilled, he no more heard my song.
I am no good I told him, my confidence curtailed.
But he would speak the truth to me - my ego did avail
And so I paid Them no more heed, I ceased to play along
I showed the world what I had done, once more sang my own song
Now free once more to be myself, to plan and to create
I rose above Their tired attacks their nebulous dictates
And stronger now I found the wings I’d never known before
And from that true friends confidence up to the stars I soar
I remember when buses and trains were noisy places. In the days before everyone had phones and devices to remove them from the present. I remember having conversations with whoever was sat near me and no-one thought it was odd or perceived ulterior motives, where there were none. I was always very shy and it was never me that started these conversations, but I was always happy to respond and to be surrounded by the chatter. Now when I get on the bus to work everyone is quiet. Some people will be reading books, some will be listening to headphones, lots will be on their phones, a few will be gazing out of the window or glassy eyed. One or two may actually be talking, but in hushed tones, as if the sound of conversation on a bus full of commuters is somehow unnatural and something to be kept to a minimum. This used to bother me, but now I find I have conformed. I get on the bus and within the first minute my phone is in my hand and I am ignoring what is around me. On the occasions when I do have a conversation on the bus I always have the uneasy feeling I am addressing an audience and not just the “conversee”.
This week though, I had a rather wonderful interaction with a fellow passenger. As usual I was ignoring my commute companions when I had to move to allow the person next to me to get off at their stop. As I sat back down I caught the eye of another passenger who smiled and said “I was just admiring your hair.” “Oh…thanks” I mumbled, surprised by the unexpected complement, and a little embarrassed. Then after a slight pause “thank you” and I smiled and turned away, back to my phone.
But I wasn’t really looking at my phone then. That one sentence had lifted me. Just a few small words, but when I got off the bus I was walking a little taller, and holding my head a little higher. I had had a “Bad Hair” morning that day, and it had taken several attempts (and a couple of deep breaths) to achieve the roll I tend to wear at the front of my hair, and I had left the house feeling less prepared to face the world than usual.
The truth is I have long struggled with my self image. During my teens I was something of a chameleon, dressing differently according to which group of friends I would be seeing, doing my hair and make up differently. I remember shopping and buying things not because I liked them, but because friend A would like them, or because they were the kind of thing Friend B would notice and comment on. I spent too long trying to be different things to different people and lost sight of myself. In my 20s and beyond I was always after the latest fashion, wearing clothes that were “in” regardless of whether they actually suited me or not. It was only as my 40th birthday approached that I started asking myself who I really was and wondering how I had somehow lost “Me”. I decided that from then on I was going to be myself, whoever that turned out to be. I would start by wearing what I liked regardless. If I liked something that was all that mattered. I did a lot of self assessment that year and concluded that I was far too worried about what others’ opinion of me was. I had a bit of an epiphany when I realised 2 things. 1) that what I think people think of me, and what they actually think of me are not necessarily the same thing. In fact they can be very different. And 2) the people whose opinions really mattered just wanted me to be me, and to be happy being me.
From that time I have dressed in vintage style clothing – particularly 40s and 50s styles. I feel great wearing these clothes, and dressing differently can certainly be a conversation starter. Plenty of people ask me where I have bought something, or how I manage to get my hair “in those rolls”, or get my eyeliner so symmetrical (it rarely actually is!). At one time I may have stammered out a reply, with an embarrassed smile and turned away, but now I will usually try and make more of a conversation. I appreciate the time and effort taken by the person who has commented, when they could have stayed silent. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have the occasional wobble, I was not feeling so confident that morning, but that comment from a stranger made a big difference to my day
What made it even better was when I looked at my Facebook feed that evening. I am a member of various vintage clothing groups, and this was a post in one of them.
How fabulous that with our words we have the power to build up someone we have never net before. Never underestimate the power of the words you say to a stranger. So pay the complement, give someone a smile, you never know you could just be a sunbeam in their otherwise grey day.