Muses 

​My muses are two women who never allowed “the pram in the hall” to stop them from creating. Here’s a picture of the double aperture ampersand frame on what I laughing call my “writing desk” – my two muses, pride of place, reminding me that I ought to stop procrastinating and start writing. Cause, you know, there’s no excuse. That’s why I chose two quotations by them as the descriptions for this blog.

Sylvia Plath, obviously. Enshrined by some in popular cultural discourse as shorthand for some kind of overwrought hysterical wronged woman, the poetry gets glossed over too often for the story behind the headlines. And I’m as susceptible to that as anyone, I think I’ve read all the main biographies, the journals, and then there’s Birthday Letters… At the painful quick, Ted Hughes was a serially unfaithful husband and Sylvia Plath was mentally ill (BPD? Bi-Polar? We’ll never know). Two flawed people, their failed marriage and their children. It’s the poetry that makes their story so unique, the power of the words left behind, speaking through the years. I’ve never really understood why some fans chiselled the “Hughes” off her gravestone. I get that it was in protest at the patriarchal oppression her husband inflicted upon her in death (rearranging the order of her last collection of poems) as in life, but that for me implies a level of public ownership of the poet that just isn’t actually real.  
Sylvia Plath is, for me, sixth form, finally getting poetry, grief, love, and aspiration. She’s in a little part of me, my writing… there is enough of her work assimilated within my own voice me for me to feel the burst of pleasure you get when you recognise an old friend when I read her work.

But as I grew older I put Plath aside as a childish thing, as if I was beyond that intensity, that passion, that longing. Then I came back to her, and developed a new found appreciation. There’s fresh realisation, and another layer of recognition. Re-reading the Wintering poems with renewed interest as bees are one of my own personal symbols of happiness. After years of struggling to improve my own writing, appreciating how she clearly was an immensely talented and accomplished poet. But I admire Plath most now because she wrote her Ariel poems when she was a single mother of two young children.

The world was different back in 1960 and you could live in North London in lodgings for nothing in comparison to today etc and even then Sylvia Plath was part of a creative liberal elite and would have probably had the money for household help but… She did it. She wrote. She wrote, I suppose, because it was her calling, because of the flames of pain and rage that licked inside of her that made her burn so brightly, so briefly, fuelled her. I admire her so because she did it despite being a mum. Despite having to do the baths the teas the park the bedtimes the face-wiping spill-clearing monotonous drudgery of motherhood. Because if there’s one thing guaranteed to get in the way of creativity it’s the inspiration crushing relentless exhaustion of caring for young children.
And so to JK, national treasure. Queen of the Twitter put-down. She’s a bit marmite, you know. Some people don’t appreciate her (yeah, you know who you are). I know she’s one of those lefty liberal rich types and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but she gave so much of her fortune to charity she slipped off the rich list. Above all, there’s something about her that reminds me of a form teacher who’d give a Year 9 girl really good advice, probably because that’s kind of what she is.

The pictures of JK Rowling when she was first published show a woman with long red hair who really could have been Harry Potter’s mum from the description in the book, posing in the cafe where she used to write. I secretly love how glamorous she’s got as she’s got older, blonder, more polished. Yeah, it’s to do with being rich, but also, she’s clearly so confident, she found herself. And she deserves to feel proud of what she achieved. JK did it too. Wrote because there was no option for her but to write. Coffee shop, baby in the pram, she has described so many times how she hit rock bottom, felt like a terrible failure, and… out of it came something magical. She’s not the best writer in the world, but what she’s achieved is amazing.

So since this is *write more* live more, I thought it was important to check in with the writing bit. I haven’t written enough. I haven’t written nearly enough. All the stories, in my head, unwritten. All the ideas in my own personal cloud. This blog. The unfinished novel. Got to crack on and do it. What if I die and no one ever has read my writing? Maybe that’s what the whole of my 35-year-old midlife crisis has been about. Maybe I need to learn a bit from my muses, make the most of my inner fire, and go for it.

On Sighing

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey, nonny, nonny.

(Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing)

I have a sighing habit. And it has been noticed. My first day in a new role, many years ago, I remember Aussie Nicole saying that I hadn’t stopped sighing, and it was driving her crazy. Recently Colleague 1 told Colleague 2 that she’d just have to get used to my sighing, and it didn’t necessarily indicate I was pissed off but did potentially have a myriad of meanings, including the sometimes correctly identified “sigh of disappointment”. Then the other day the woman I sit next to at work said “I’m going to start a tally chart of your sighing today! I reckon we’re up to at least ten already!”

So to save my colleagues and my papers from gusts of air and huffy sounding interjections, I did a bit of research into sighing and why we do it. Obviously, since a sigh is just a really deep breath with an audible exhale, it’s not surprising that sighing is really all about breathing. It originates from a life-saving reflex. We all sigh without realising we do it, just to open up our lungs and get enough oxygen in. There are theories that sighing acts as ‘a mental and physical reset’ – who hasn’t done a bit of deep breathing before something they’re nervous about? A sigh acts in the same way. For example, I know that when I’m tense my breathing gets more shallow, and as a result, I sigh more, in an attempt to get myself on an even keel.

Unfortunately, people perceive sighing as, in the main, an expression of negative emotions. Hence the “sigh of disappointment”. We think of sighs as being associated with frustration and difficulty. But actually I find that when I’m concentrating I sigh. And that’s a good thing for me. And what about sighs of satisfaction, or pleasure? How does a happy out-breath really differ from a negative one? Can you hear tone in breathing?

Anyway, I’m sure that despite my new-found self-awareness, sighing will continue – I don’t want my lungs to collapse, thanks very much. But as ever Shakespeare’s advice holds true today. In the spirit of “act the way you want to feel”, I won’t be sighing, but will instead continue to listen to my Happiness playlist, which is surely the modern version of singing “Hey nonny nonny”.