Somehow it’s already the beginning of October and I’m honestly not sure how that happened. The weather seems to have turned very quickly, to the point where seeing the word “summer” in my blog header feels like it cannot possibly be right.
This has to have been the strangest summer of my lifetime, probably because it didn’t feel like summer to me at all. I spent almost the entire summer indoors alone and I missed the joy of airing my summer wardrobe, eating ice cream by the river or having drinks in gardens and on roof terraces, even having to wash my feet almost constantly from traipsing all over London in sandles. I ended up envious of my former self, watching memories pop up in Google Photos of past holidays across Europe, trips across the UK and constantly clasping iced lattes in my hand.
Even so, I tried my best to find ways to give the summer months a sense of purpose and enjoyment despite all of the many ways I wished my summer had looked instead. Here’s my round up of the shift from summer to autumn.
One of the most important ways I’ve been giving myself focus and a sense of forward motion this year has been through writing. Between working on my novel and starting a poetry course with Write Like a Grrrl, in July I was able to feel a sense of progress even though my daily setting never changed.
Reinstating my writing sticker chart and having a weekly workshop to look forward to helped me to feel proud of myself, which is a feeling that can be in short supply right now.
July was also a month where I was able to feel a little more in control of my health. In addition to returning to seeing my osteopath after four months without access to treatment, I started getting out for occasional walks in the sunshine when I felt well (and brave) enough, and when it felt more likely to be quiet outside. I’ve still not been out much – it just all feels so risky, especially when witnessing others’ lack of caution – but on a few occasions I was able to enjoy being in nature and moving my body for a while which was a welcome relief.
In a running theme of my restricted year, I continued to use art to manage my wellbeing in July too. Drawing is one of the only times I’m able to quiet my mind, which is so important in times where I’ve been experiencing more stress and anxiety than ever.
July was also a brilliant month for me at work, with my project really taking off. It was such a pleasure to support young people to share their lived experience of mental health problems in print, on the radio and on TV. Watching young people flourish and make a difference, using their training and support so confidently, made me so proud.
Art continued to be a strong theme in August, starting with participating in Charly Clements’ “Fun with Faces” challenge on Instagram. Each day for a week, there was a fresh set of prompts for you to interpret in your own way. As someone who loves drawing portraits, and is looking to develop digital art skills, it felt like a great focus for me.
I also spent one long weekend in August playing with collage, a medium I’ve rarely used outside of some classes at House of Illustration and the vision board I made earlier in the year. It’s an art form I want to experiment with more in the future for sure, as it require a different eye and skillset to the sorts of art I usually create. Similarly to drawing, it takes you outside of yourself and can be a great distraction, figuring out which images to use, whether to use words – and, if so, how – and trying out different compositions on the page. If nothing else, cutting up old magazines is very cathartic too.
The most momentous moment of August, however, had nothing to do with art. Instead, it came towards the end of the month in the form of a writing milestone, when I finally finished the second draft of my novel. I still can’t entirely believe how much I’ve achieved with this book, and also how long this new draft is. I feel so proud of myself for remaining committed to this project and for finding a way back into it this summer after struggling so much with writing at the beginning of the year. It is now in the hands of some trusted writer friends, who can offer me outside perspective on what to do to improve it next.
The final highlights of August were finally managing to see some friends for the first time since March. From an afternoon in the park at Alexandra Palace to a weekend staying with friends (who isolated in advance and drove me to and fro to keep me safe), I feel so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. There is something about seeing people that makes the immediate experience of being alone again harder, but it’s worth it for the joy and connection of those moments. Living through this year almost entirely alone, I really needed those experiences to help me to keep going the rest of the time.
The best thing that happened to me across all of the last three months was being accepted as one of 14 D/deaf and disabled writers for a week long digital writing retreat, run by Spread the Word and curated by poet Jamie Hale.
There was so much about the experience that was incredibly powerful for me: being selected out of a large number of writers gave me such a sense of validation and confidence that the hard work I put into my writing is paying off; having the opportunity to learn from and discover a wide array of incredible disabled writers; the chance to learn from industry about how to stand out and get published; but more than anything else, a full week spent in a purely disabled space that was accepting and affirming in a way I’ve never experienced before. I honestly can’t praise it enough.
Something I’ve struggled with across the pandemic – and in the first two days of the retreat as well – is feeling confident to speak up and put myself out there in digital spaces. Where, in real life, I am often in my element in workshop settings, when those experiences are taken online somehow my childhood classroom persona of shyness and anxiety reappears. So, imagine my surprise when by day three I was contributing to discussions actively, by day four I was reading work I’d just written to the whole group for feedback, and by the final day I had the confidence to read a whole essay – I was even excited to do it.
I could not be more grateful for the experience and I know that the time spent in that group will have a profound impact on my confidence and writing career moving forward. I even got the affirmation I needed to commit to beginning writing my second novel soon, after resounding support when I shared the main character to the group. It was truly one of the best experiences I have had as a writer.
Beyond the retreat, I was inspired to book onto more writing development opportunities where I could, using what I had learned and my awareness of the gaps in my work in progress after reading the second draft back. As a result, last weekend I took part in several workshops of WriteMentor’s WOWCon – a conference for writers of children’s and young adult fiction. It was a brilliant event that gave me even more fire and food for thought with my first novel. Now I just need to figure out what to do first – the third draft of book one or the first of book two!
Outside of writing, September was relatively quiet – a mix of work, digital plans with friends and health admin broken up briefly for a weekend of dog sitting with one of my favourite local pups, Finch.
As we move into the final quarter of this year, with difficult times undoubtedly ahead, I’m hoping I can continue the positive and creative focus I’ve been cultivating over the summer to make the darker days ahead of me feel at least a little brighter.
Until next time.