100 Haiku Days: Three-Quarter Pause

I honestly can’t believe that I’m three-quarters of the way through. I suppose I should feel a sense of achievement. It’ll probably hit me in a minute. But it seems about five minutes since I sat down to do the “I’m halfway” post, and like I picked up a pen to write the first one about an hour ago.

This is possibly because I have a stinking cold, and it’s remarkably hard to wring consistent sense from my brain today. My perception of time is always the second thing to go when I’m tired or unwell. (The first is depth perception, which is one of the many reasons I’m not one of life’s waitresses.)

75 haiku. I mean – I find finishing any creative project difficult, and I find talking about it even harder. I’ve made so many crochet things that I haven’t documented, and have half-written posts on the matter lying around in my Drafts folder.

In the “Writing” folder on my computer at home (backed up to the cloud and also stored on my external hard drive, naturally), I have over 1000 documents, a history of story-thoughts and notetaking started back when I was 13, ranging in size from two-sentence snippets to half-written books hundreds of pages long. My mentor, the incomparable Beth Webb, taught me to write and taught me to teach. If you come on a course run by Beth, or any of my fabulously talented friends and colleagues who were trained by her, you will, with absolute certainty, hear entire groups of people chorusing “Have an idea? WRITE IT DOWN!”

(Seriously. It’s so all-pervasive that my workday productivity as a copywriter / digital marketing bod relies entirely on the mantra of writing everything down. I even have a system of notebooks to make sure I write things down in an organised manner, in the right place. That’s a content management system.)

But outside work, and in life in general, I struggle to control my creativity. Like a feral cat, it does its business wherever the hell it wants, sleeps when I want it to be awake and sometimes goes out for days at a time. And when it’s there, it’ll attack everything in sight.

Some days I wake up and plan entire novels before breakfast. I’m not kidding – I have outlines for twelve or so. But, to date, aside from a few scenes here and there, I haven’t written any of them. The dreaming, the ideas, they come a lot more easily to me than the ability to cope with the mental and emotional burden of sitting down to write a book that may or may not work.

There’s one that I finally found a plot for last week that, I kid you not, I wrote the first draft in 2009. Then abandoned it because I had no idea where it was going. My boyfriend picked me up from choir a couple of weeks ago and I announced as I climbed into the car, “I had an idea halfway through a song about making it a murder mystery!”. This is an enormous change from the sprawling fantasy story of revolution and coming-of-age that it was before, but it’s the only idea I’ve had, in five years, that actually works as a first book.

So that’s one reason I wanted to write haiku. You don’t have much to play with, so you don’t have much to agonise over.

One of the ways of dealing with anxiety is to set achievable goals, and then achieve them. Writing one haiku a day for a hundred days ticks a number of boxes all at once, for me.

Way back in my first post, I wrote that I decided to write a hundred haiku after my first therapy session (this year: not my first therapy session ever. For various reasons, I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was fourteen). The first session is always terrible, because you have to run through all the reasons you need therapy, open up all the wounds you’ve spent years hiding or dealing with or not dealing with (or all three), and then at the end you don’t have any answers and you feel all the things, all at once. It’s like you’re a chest of drawers that gets pushed over, and even though by the end of the session you’re technically upright again, the contents are still an absolute mess.

I started writing haiku after my first session because I needed a way to cope with what I was feeling. Sonnets are too complicated for someone in that much emotional distress, and prose was far too daunting. Haiku had enough structure to focus my thoughts, but were short enough to feel friendly, rather than frightening. They’re also short enough that anything you say feels like it means something.

I don’t know why that’s true. I’m working on it. All I can tell you is that it is.

Many of my therapy sessions have felt like the chest of drawers falling over. But one thing that my therapist keeps saying is that I have to express myself. If you’ve met me, that’ll sound strange. I have no problems talking about what’s on my mind. If I’m not talking about how I feel, I can go for hours. But feelings, well. I get overwhelmed by them when I’m not talking about them, let alone when I am.

So putting how I feel into haiku is hard, and it’s frightening. Which isn’t to say that my haiku are autobiographical. Sure, they’re informed by my lived experience, but very few of them are “about” specific things.

The ones that are have been tricky to write and torture to publish. I panicked so much every time I did. Honestly, I had visions of being inundated with messages from people saying “Is this true? When did it happen? Why didn’t you tell me?” and me having to hide in a hole to get over the anxiety crises that would result. (Especially from my family. Sorry, family. There are some things it’s hard to talk about.)

But they’ve mostly passed without comment. People, unconnected people, have said that they like them. The kind comments I’ve had on my work has been uplifting.. I can’t even tell you how much that means to me, that people think I’m producing poetry of quality and stuff that they want to read, during a project that started in therapy, as a way for me to build on my creative productivity, so I had a positive goal for each day that would also help me work therapy guidance into my everyday life.

Basically: these haiku aren’t just a vanity project, or a creative process. This is me giving myself the space to do several things that I find difficult to do, and having to do it again, once a day, for a long time, until things become normal..

The fact that I’m now 75% of the way through is… astounding. A relief at how relatively painless it’s been. I’ve only had one bad moment based on the fact that I’ve been writing these, and I was expecting so many more.

It was a pretty awful moment for a number of reasons, I’ll grant you, but this isn’t the time or place to discuss it.

I’ve written 75 poems this year. That’s enough on its own. But I’ve also managed to talk about things that are extremely hard to talk about, and do it in such a way that I don’t have to explain myself to people or confront the issues head-on. They’re far too tangled to confront head-on. But at least I know that, for myself, I’m getting my feelings about them out there.

For now, I think, that’s enough. I’ve written 75 poems, and every one was unplanned (which I find hard to do) and shared with the world (which I find even harder). I’m happy to have achieved what I have as I move forward into the final quarter.  I wonder what I’ll write. I think I even look forward to finding out.

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