The week before last I went to Hay-on-Wye, dropping in for an afternoon interlude at the literary festival. It was much too short an immersion, time only for a coffee, some book browsing, a single event, and a smattering of aimless wandering. The town was a-buzz; pavements crowded and queues everywhere. There’s something intriguing in observing a place you know well - briefly transformed, quiet streets suddenly full of racket.
I also had chance to meet the completely wonderful Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours (see my review here). We sat down for a quick talk, ranging over areas from Instagram to books to beauty standards. We both commented on how we already felt like we knew each other – Twitter providing a platform for conversation long before any face-to-face chats. She’s about the fifth amazing woman I’ve met through social media within the last month. The modern world is wonderful, isn’t it? Weird and odd and great, all at the same time.
I left Hay that evening feeling so utterly content. It did what so many exciting things do, whether it’s an event, a lecture, a two-way conversation, or a collection of poems. I relish anything that heightens my enthusiasm – reinvigorating and stimulating an idea, perhaps, or an ongoing piece of work, or a thought still buzzing with potential. There’s a sense that one could go and do anything: write something, create/make/ work and craft, or think and learn. We need those touchstone moments. They’re not so much grounding as elevating, a necessary form of uplift occasionally required when things are feeling bogged down. Hay also felt like a temporary shrugging off of responsibility, real life ebbing for half a day.
When have I had similar feelings since? At a barbecue in the park where we waited to watch the sun set over the buttercups. While drinking cold white wine in the burning heat, sitting on a sofa in a friend’s garden. During the weekend just gone, full of books, conversation, and bouts of slipping in and out of the river in my bikini - stretching and kicking and breathing (and avoiding the odd boat). Each morning as I make breakfast, brew coffee and spend half an hour reading Women in Clothes. An equal mix of social encounters and solitude.
Various things have been a struggle recently, requiring me to acknowledge my own vulnerabilities and limitations. But when anything feels less manageable, I always try to bring myself back into these small, significant experiences and ways of treating myself well. They are what remain important.
So much of the time we focus on work and achievement, forgetting the necessity of all the good stuff - of friends, family, lovers, food, long phone calls, whisky, a coffee in a café, reading a book because it’s enriching, writing something for oneself because it’s stimulating and full of possibility, listening to someone who needs an open ear.
Of going for a day trip, taking a walk, dancing until knees ache, listening to fantastic music, having fizzy conversations that make you dizzily content, sleeping in when the sun is reaching through the curtains, getting up early and cycling through near-empty streets, beginning a new project just because you can.
Of wearing a damn good outfit and several layers of red lipstick, buying things you don’t need at car boot sales because they’re simply too pretty, trawling charity shops all afternoon, talking to strangers on occasion, or enjoying your lonesomeness at others.
Then there’s the pursuing of thrilling opportunities and new quests and intellectual challenges – perhaps pursuing in the knowledge that it will not necessarily be easy, but will certainly be satisfying in the end. You just have to recognize that as you work through things from hour to hour, day to day, some of those hours and days will be glorious and glittering, while others may prove really quite tough. I guess it has to be a specific kind of pursuing too, one tempered by the recognition that you are not solely the worth of your GCSE grades, your A-level results, your university degree, your inbox, your income, your work-life, your online image, your looks, your desirability, your status.
You can absolutely and utterly be bloody proud of any of those things, if you so wish. I am, with various things on that list. But for years some of those achievements were the only way I defined my worth – becoming a singular measure, rather than a set of contributing factors to an overall sense of self. Hopefully the equilibrium is a little more balanced now.
I spent this evening cooking a curry for myself, drinking red wine, and working out what I needed to complete before the end of the week. I took it moment by moment. Now I’m off to dig my nose into a book before bed. It’s taking time, but I’m getting there with each little anchor back in the present, each instance that lifts the day.
While in Hay I wore the most fabulous vintage tartan shorts I'd picked up the previous day in a charity shop for £4 - here combined with a second hand polo neck, a cardigan that belonged to my great grandma, and shoes from a charity shop. The notebook was bought on the day, and has now become the place for all my poetry scribblings and general notes.