Today, #FriendblogFriday welcomes Karen Honnor, a poet, blogger and author with a love for family, baking, drama and dog walking. Karen is a twice published writer and creates content for magazines and blogs on themes such as writing craft, midlife, menopause and mental health. Here, we share two of Karen’s recent pieces. The first, ‘Putting Pen to Paper’ talks about the pressure to create in the void left by lockdown, and how we should give ourselves the creative license to manoeuvre through it.
‘Recognising Rainbows’ takes a deeper look at the multicoloured symbol of hope we have come to expect in the windows of families with small children, and the images that can be unlocked with the power of colour and their associations with locked memories. How can a rainbow be the key to our emotional freedom?
Karen is a beautiful writer, and I hope you enjoy today’s offering.
Putting Pen to Paper
For the past eighteen months, ever since walking away from a long teaching career, I have been wrestling with the concept of introducing myself as a writer. Just when I was beginning to feel reconciled with the idea, with one book published and the embers of a story sparking, along came lockdown to put out all such flames. I found myself unable to put pen to paper for weeks and all thoughts of the characters that I had begun to sketch out, receded to the darkest spaces in my mind.
I kept reading that people were using this enforced time of solitude to create in many different ways, from sewing to sour dough and much more besides. The more I read such claims, the more frustrated I became until after much soul searching I gave myself permission to leave my story writing alone for a while. So I left my main character and her granddaughter in a limbo world for the time being, sipping tea and dunking biscuits as they chat about their view of the garden - much like many of us are doing via Zoom meetings and group chats right now.
As soon as I did that, I found phrases connecting in my head, forming into poetry and slowly I came to realise that my inner voice was still there during lockdown, it just needed to sing a different song. I thought about poems I had already written and how they might contribute to a new project that was gradually taking form. Alongside collating these, new poems were finding their way into my thoughts too. Many of them were born out of my experiences of lockdown - the yearning to be back with friends and family in a more tangible way than through a screen, the need to drink in the blossoming nature around me during my fleeting time outside of the house, and the struggle to get a hold of my emotions as they roller-coastered away over the passing days.
I found myself scribbling away in my notebook on a regular basis, reaching for the pen to note a few scattered phrases before turning off the bedside light, sipping tea in the garden as I set about the task of re-working those phrases into one poem or another. I was connecting with the poet that has always been lurking in the wings and allowing her to stand in her own spotlight for a while. Several more weeks passed and I had managed to pull together enough material to begin forming a poetry chapbook. A truly cathartic experience for me but also one that I felt contained messages of hope for other midlife women or indeed, anyone struggling with their mental health. At this time that was bound to be a lot of people. With that in mind, I determined to release the book to coincide with mental health awareness week and tried to think of how both could be combined to help others in some way. That’s when I decided to contact Just Talk Sutton, a local support group that I had considered reaching out to before.
To cut down on the details and move to the current situation, a short while after publishing I have now been able to make a small donation from book sales to their cause and I hope to meet up with them post lockdown, when a chat over a coffee seems once more like a normal activity. The normal everyday moments of life have taken on so much more significance now and the uncertainty of where our trajectory is taking us seeps into the psyche and makes it even more important for us all to focus on our well-being and to speak up to gain support. I think my poetry has been my support and finding this during lockdown was a positive outcome that I am proud to cling on to.
Several readers have already told me that they have felt able to find a moment of calm, to carve themselves a little ‘me time’ when dipping into the poems in the finished book. That has been the best reward for me, to know that the words that I found forming in my head have stretched beyond my lockdown and helped others in some small way during theirs. Beyond that, the whole process has helped me to re-evaluate myself as a writer and to try again to gain confidence when answering that question "What do you do?"
Writing this blog piece, still in the 2020 world of semi-lockdown, I wonder how much we have all been re-evaluating. There has been so much going on that it is truly hard to hold onto a positive mindset, to keep walking a pathway towards your goals. Yet, giving myself that permission I mentioned to take off the pressure, to stop doing what others were expecting me to do - to be creative on demand, actually gave me some space to discover a whole other direction. A direction that I felt comfortable with.
As time goes on, slowly getting us into some strange new normal, I think it is important to keep pursuing a direction and actions that you feel comfortable with. Others may shout or coerce you to do otherwise but it is important to stay true to yourself. The last few months have helped me to discover a little more of what that looks like for me. I hope it is the same for others.
In these dark and worrying times the growing proliferation of rainbows displayed on windows, chalked on pavements and garden paths, or woven into fences bring a message of hope. Most have been created by those children who are now trying to make sense of the growing insular world that they find themselves in. Other examples, are the work of adults who similarly are at a loss to comprehend what is happening and how any of us are supposed to behave at the moment.
I suppose these rainbows are tangible – an identifiable positive image and therein lies their hope. For those readers unfamiliar with this movement, pictures of rainbows have started appearing in neighbourhoods in the UK so that the children taking their permitted exercise can look out for them, count them, and also see that others are doing the same as they are. Examples I have seen have started to be customised to include greetings or messages of gratitude to the postman, carers and the NHS. They are a slowly spreading expression of community.
In a recent book I wrote a chapter called ‘I can sing a rainbow’ where I examined my coloured memories. Have you ever played that game where you have to say what immediately comes to mind as you are given a colour name? I started playing that really as I wrote my chapter and found each colour sparked off my memories so that I found I could recall a whole myriad of experiences, of places, people and events. Perhaps this is why the rainbow phenomena resonated with me? It brought me back to writing that chapter and thinking of all those coloured memories –
“Times of happiness and of people that mattered to me, who were significant in my life.”
There is that quote often seen on Pinterest boards and gifts bought to uplift the recipient. I will paraphrase it here as
“No rain, no rainbows.”
At the moment, we are all under a whole lot of cloud so it is little wonder that we are searching for rainbows. Each rainbow we find along the way of a permitted daily exercise signals the promise to the end of our collective confinement. It recognises the kindnesses being shown by neighbours, friends, families and complete strangers. When you sift through the scary news on social media, there are examples you can find of such kindnesses. A meal or treat being dropped off at the door of a vulnerable or elderly person. A young lad giving the last bag of pasta that he had taken off the shelf to a stranger in the shop who looked like they needed it more. That friend or relative that hasn’t been in touch for ages, picking up the phone or sending a text message just to see if you are okay.
This strange limbo time has got me thinking about a lot of things – sometimes in the middle of the night, a practice I am trying to stop as I don’t want to add insomnia to the list of items to be concerned about. However, I wanted to focus on the positive in all of this. When you can’t get out to find these rainbows scattered through your neighbourhood, you can turn your attention to what is immediately around you. There are four adults in our house, three of whom have one level or another of identified vulnerability. One is trying to work from home and concentrate upon all that entails, whilst the household, including an attention-seeking dog, goes on around him. It is safe to say that tensions are forming, moods are rising and falling and being able to concentrate on anything is proving difficult as time goes on.
Yet, I am recognising the rainbows amongst these clouds. We are engaging in conversation when, given our previous freedoms, some of us would have been off doing our own things. We are planning, cooking and sharing family meals together – much less of the everyone doing their own thing, eating at different times, passing like ships around the metaphorical harbour of the dining table. None of us are entirely sure of the right measures to take but we are trying to look out for each other, balancing feeling informed by the news and social media posts with getting overwhelmed by them all. We are trying new things – planting vegetable seeds in makeshift pots on the window sill, cooking some items from scratch that we haven’t done before, developing our tech skills because there isn’t someone else to rely on to pop in and do it for us. I am sure there will be much more. I am even being initiated into the world of Marvel and finally getting around to watching the films. That has resulted in another rainbow – family film time is becoming another regular feature. For those who know me, I have a lot of classic film titles to catch up on which is strange for someone married to film industry man!
Yes, there is a lot that is scary – sometimes so much so that to haul yourself out of bed in the morning is a real achievement. I am not trying to paint a rose-tinted picture of life on this limbo lockdown and I am sure it is going to prove more testing the longer that it goes on. But if we keep looking down and focusing on all that is grey and gloomy, the clouds that can easily fill our time, then we miss out on the moments that matter. We don’t recognise the rainbows. I have recently managed to publish a poetry chapbook and I have used the rainbow analogy for one particular poem which I include below.
Remember all those moments that you are missing? I wonder what colours they are - get your paintbrush ready, for there will be lots more to come on the other side of this. Be ready to paint a masterpiece.
Red became my confidence, my shield to face the world,
Stepping out in red shoes and lipstick to reassure,
Unleashing an inner bounce to squash the voice of doubt,
Grabbing that attitude along with my outfit to go out.
Orange is my autumn, my smouldering glow,
Taking comfort in what I have and I know I can do,
The warmth from a sunset, the embers from the coal,
The satsuma sweetness from a fresh fruit bowl.
Yellow is bright, it is light touching my soul just when I need it,
The tenacious dandelion clinging on defiantly,
It is loud, a moment of allowing myself to be proud,
Not being afraid to stand out from the crowd.
Green is refreshing, signalling the hope of warmer times,
The new shoots of spring, a lawn carpet cushioning my toes,
The get set go, fresh salads and cool lime,
Raising a long stemmed glass in a moment of time.
Blue is my calm, my reflection when I just need some space,
Breathing slowly to look at the sky and relax,
Floating away in a mermaid lagoon,
Wishing I could return to that cool pool soon.
Indigo and violet are my conjuring of a nostalgic haze,
‘Purple Rain’ reminiscing, a Cadbury chocolate wrap,
The swirling tie-dye, an amethyst ring,
Lavender and heather on scented air sing.
I’m recognising rainbows amongst my every day,
Finding comfort in the shine that a fleeting moment brings,
For the darkest storms will break and then come to an end,
And amongst the shadows waiting are the tools to heal and mend.