So this piece of writing will be looking back at work about looking back. Does that sound confusing already? Apologies. As if the times weren’t confusing enough.
My first Fun A Day project was last year in January 2020 (pre-pandemic). For that project I wrote a poem that was 31 words long and illustrated a word a day in 7” single sort of squares for the month of January. Visual art is not an area I usually work in (at all!) so it was a challenge of a kind and I really enjoyed it. Each illustration used links between the day’s word and all kinds of song lyrics. Those pictures are still online (on Instagram, the first one’s here, and on my own blog).
Towards the end of 2020 I found myself looking forward to the next Fun A Day in January ’21. Things to look forward to were pretty thin on the ground last year after all and I found myself pleasantly distracted by planning and considering what to tackle for my second contribution. Most of 2020 had been a challenge in so many ways that I wondered what would be the best way to work this time – should I pick something relaxing to soothe the soul, try drawing again or should I try something more word-based (for me, less like fun and more like work)? I decided pretty early on that I wanted to write poems this time – they have been the main focus of my creative endeavours for the past 25 years or so and whilst writing them can be a love/hate experience at times it’s a relationship I’m still wrapped up in, whether I like it or not. So, a series of poems it would be – but what about? I had written a few poems since lockdown (some about current events, some for FADD Creatives prompts) but I wanted this to be a project on its own. First, I considered using travel as a source for ideas – we had been at home so much in 2020 that I felt like focusing on other places might be a way of escaping the regular routine. I have mountains of stuff (souvenirs, postcards, photos) that we collected on a 6-month trip back in 2011 and I considered doing something with all that, for example. I still might use it (maybe next year…) but as it was I had a nagging voice in my head reminding me of a coincidence I had come across in one of my notebooks at some point in 2020. I have quite a lot of notebooks (I’m sure many of you do too) and one of them is something I started a few years ago when I gave myself the memory task of trying to remember details of all the places I’ve lived. I took a page of the A4 book for each address I had lived at and on it listed any kind of memory details associated with that place/home/stop. I tried to work all the senses to make as much of a memory picture as possible of each slot in my life. Of course, the organisation might not have been 100% right (the memory plays tricks) but it was a bit like emptying out messy drawers onto the pages and it was interesting and stimulating, a bit of a neverending game. I had seen, flicking through this notebook last year, that I had lived at 31 addresses and that number shouted ‘January’, ’31 days’ and ‘Fun A Day’ at me pretty loudly (and repeatedly). This meant that, instead of writing about being away from home in 2021, I realised that what I was going to write about was exactly the opposite – I was going to write about home. Most of us have had so much time at home in this past year that it seemed a good time to think about what that can mean.
Home has always been an odd concept for me. Born in 1967, I grew up in the north of England but we had very few family ties in that part of the world. Both of my parents had grown up elsewhere (my Dad in the south of England, my Mum in Edinburgh) and so I am from the north of England but in quite a shallow way (no roots to speak of). Once my Dad died in 1973 we moved regularly and I’ve lived in the south of England, in Spain for a year, back in the north of England for a spell and then in Scotland (mainly Angus) since 2002. I feel slightly English but very glad not to live there just now. I still don’t feel Scottish (though I suppose I could by now, our daughter has lived here for 19 of her 21 years). It is home, as much as anywhere ever is, if another largely rootless one.
I decided to write a poem a day for each of my 31 addresses and called the project 31 Postcodes. I knew that writing a poem from scratch every day in January might be frustrating/impossible/disastrous so I started on draft versions in November 2020. I have a writing blog anyway so I thought I would post the poems on there every day in January along with some background information for each address/situation for anyone who was interested (and for my own record, to be honest). I listened to the audiobook of Still Alice by Lisa Genova early in the first lockdown in 2020 (via Dundee City Library and the Libby app) and ever since I have been thinking about memories and how they can work (or not). I thought that this record might help me at some point, or be interesting for our daughter, and I started a few of the blog posts (in draft form) in about December. I also decided to read the poems aloud as videos for Instagram every day, using visuals from Google Maps Street View. I liked the idea of floating around my old homes, like a vocal ghost, and I like the sound of poems easily as much as their look on a page (if not more). There were a couple of places that were hard to see on Street View so I used an old photo for one, the map view for another, the satellite view for a couple (just for variety) and a video from my university’s website for one of my years there (a place behind walls). I pretty much made up the ‘rules’ as I went along, which I think is often the way I do things.
When January arrived (quietly, lockdown Hogmanay and all) I started my ‘post a day’ routine. Mostly I finished the poem and background and published the blog post first thing every day (before other work or activities), linked to that on Facebook (for the benefit of old friends and family who are mostly still hanging around on there), and then made and posted the Instagram video a little later in the day. It was a bit of admin but I got into a groove with it as the month went on. I ended up with a stiff back (too much writing on the laptop in bed early in the morning…) but, you know, the work comes first and all that. I ended up writing more in the blog posts than I really meant to (I suppose because I knew people were reading them). I’ve been a diary keeper since I was about 12 and this is just another grander, more longwinded version of that in many ways. You can find my FADD 2021 project 31 Postcodes on my Instagram (start here) or on my blog (start here).
I had some lovely reactions throughout January. I had people saying the poems and posts were the first thing they read every day for all of that month, that they looked forward to them and couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Some of these people were friends, some were people I hadn’t been in touch with for years (friends of friends, for example), some were online readers that I’ve never met, some were Fun A Day folks. No one said any of the things I was half expecting (‘who cares about your sad little life?’, ‘god, what a self-centred piece of work, you arsehole’) and I suppose some people might have thought these things but just not typed them into a comment box (it’s OK, I think them enough myself…). Instead I got reactions like ‘this has really made me look back at my own life’ and lots of lovely positive comments (well, lots by my standards), some about the poems, some about the whole thing. All round it was a tiring but very rewarding experience. I hadn’t felt much like a writer for most of 2020 (that feeling comes and goes at the best of times as I mainly earn money from other activities) but for January of this year I felt something like a working writer (and it felt good).
I was pretty spent by the end of the month. Writing the last poem and post was the toughest because we still live at this address (in Dundee) and it’s harder to look back on somewhere you still are, if you know what I mean. That piece did pretty much go down to the wire and I rewrote most of poem the morning of 31st January before I posted it (some of the others came together fairly easily but that one put up more of a fight). After that, February was a quiet month and I did very little writing. When not working, I listened to audiobooks, stared out of windows, sometimes at snow.
Now I feel like I’m ready for another writing challenge (and next January is so far away). Should we maybe think about doing Fun A Day twice a year? Just a suggestion…
Thanks for reading, till next time.
Playlist of songs along with Rachel’s project: