Welcome to what will be the final guest post for my Dreaming of Another World feature, but do stay tuned for news on a brand new guest feature coming soon! This was all inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown forced me to pause, think and dream of another world, one I could just glimpse when we were all forced to stay still. I asked other creatives for their thoughts, feelings and experiences during this strange time and I had a wonderful response. Please welcome Adeola Sheehy to The Glorious Outsiders and enjoy her personal piece on her lockdown experience. You can find out more about Adeola at the end of the post.
When the unknown woke me from sleep in the night, I used to be able to tell the time by the activity from my window. Lying still so not to wake the baby I would listen for the vans and lorries hurrying past to signal the early hours. A few hours later the headlights of the earliest workers would slice through the blinds, sliding down the wall as the cars turned the corner and quietly began their day.
Next the encroaching daylight. How slowly the darkness lifts, as though it wants to hold you in its grasp for as long as possible. On the rare occasion I slept in I would be woken to the marching herds of school children, chattering loudly to hear themselves over the swoosh or the cars and buses, and the stomping of their own feet.
That’s just an echo now, their feet are hemmed in by walls and walk only across the soft carpet of their homes. The car engines are cold as their owners try to remember to leave them running every so often, so their batteries don’t die. How strange this static, stationery waiting. This pause.
As we huddle indoors, the news speaks of a sinister thing lurking outside. It is alive and hunting us, preying on the weakest among us. It has learnt how to travel unseen, invisible as it stalks us. We go out only in the daytime, for short periods and never altogether. The roads are quiet but even though the houses are full, they are quiet too. I hear no children in the gardens, or laughter from an open window. There is a hush, a waiting, a palpable fear.
Then in the night, I wake to darkness. There are no sounds or lights to offer me clues, only the rhythmic breathing of my dreaming family. What is it out there, prowling the streets?
I feel the presence of the fairy tale wolf prowling an isolated village in ever tighter circles. It’s come in from the dark woods, no longer in a distant far away land, it’s come to the doorstep. The village shuts their doors against the threat, but also to each other. Their once united community split into multiple tiny islands. Each fearful, focused on survival, and weakened by being alone. The wolf has the run of the town now, it can walk anywhere it likes, it has taken over a new territory and the villagers must come out sooner or later. It’s an unwinnable siege of their own making.
The shadows and the darkness have melded into one suffocating thing. My body is still and my breathing steady, as only my eyes move, tracking back and forth, searching out the presence that has my arm hair standing on end. I see the curtain twitch.
I left it open just a crack, so we could breathe a little freer. I watch it move, the delicate white lace against the dense dark. Through it a plume of white steam pushes inwards. It dissipates quickly only to be replaced by another warm breath fogging the air.
The wolf is at my door.
A home educating mother of four, Adeola’s writing has adapted and changed over the years to fit the time constraints of a full life.
From short stories, to essays and articles and with various characters nagging in her ears wanting their tales to be told, you can currently find her writing in magazines such as Roots + Wings and Juno, as well as the soon to be published Hear Our Voices collection by Conscious Dreams Publishing, and in the Fireside group at The Kindred Voice.
Lockdown seems to have broken the dam, and her pen is firmly attached to the page, so follow her on Instagram at @adeola_moonsong to see where she’ll be popping up next.
Thank you so much to Adeola and ALL of the creatives who have participated in this feature. We’ve had short stories, poems and personal pieces and they have all been amazing. I am thinking about collating these pieces into a collection at some point (subject to each author’s permission of course) but I would like to make it a really diverse and interesting one. So, for my next guest feature I would like to know how your pets helped you through lockdown, or the pandemic in general. If you are a creative with a furry friend, then please get in touch! Perhaps you even got a pet for the first time during lockdown? I’d like to know about you and your pet, how you got together, what you do together, whether they have a positive impact on your mental health and how they have helped or hindered your creative processes and your everyday life during the pandemic. Please get in touch 🙂
Dreaming Of Another World is a new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote a few weeks back. I wondered if other creatives felt the same as me, that another world could be glimpsed during lockdown and that perhaps we ought to use this unique time to change our ways. I reached out to other writers and bloggers to ask how lockdown affected their vision of the future. Has the experience changed them and if so, how? Are they going to make changes to their lives because of what has happened? This next post is from author LE Hill, a former journalist who used the lockdown isolation to finish and publish her first novel. She also runs a writing based Community Interest Company, like me! Enjoy the post and if you would like to know more about LE Hill and her novel The Girl I Left Behind, the link is at the end.
By L E Hill
Five months ago, I was sitting in the café at John Lewis in Glasgow drinking coffee and catching up with one of my close friends who I see only once or twice a year. It was almost deserted and as we chatted we realised it may be the last time we caught up for a while.
Earlier that morning, when I arrived on the early train to Glasgow, I met my brother briefly and we hugged albeit wondering if we should. I’m so glad we did – who would have thought hugging or showing affection would become so taboo. We talked about our kids and the prospect of the schools closing at Easter. Little did we know what lay ahead.
Later, I met another dear friend who by coincidence was also in town. She had flown up from London for the weekend to visit her mum and had packed a bag as her employers had advised her to work from home for the next few weeks. She ended up being back for almost four months.
I stayed with my parents that night and as I said goodbye the next day before getting the train, I wondered when I would see them again – especially as my dad has ongoing health conditions. We were all waiting the imminent announcement that we were going into lockdown.
That morning I willed the train to go faster to take me home to my own family. As I looked out of the window and watched fields flash by, I could feel the creep of anxiety begin. I felt as though I was on borrowed time and wanted to get into what would soon become my bubble.
My biggest concern was how it would affect my children – particularly the abrupt end to their academic year; cancelled exams; cancelled activities; having their freedom curtailed and having to think about things that didn’t event enter my head when I was their age. Yet I watched in amazement and with pride as they and their friends adjusted and adapted and showed great resilience despite everything in their world being turned upside down.
For the first couple of months of the pandemic I didn’t have much time to dream. My mind was hectic – too busy making sure my kids were okay, worrying about my parents and trying to juggle work. All of my freelance community work dried up overnight – as meeting places shut down and everyone stayed at home. Perhaps that lull did in some way fuel my thoughts and trigger something which had been at the back of my mind for a while. I did indeed start to dream.
I have always wanted to write books. I have written – since I was a child –. yet up until lockdown I hadn’t written very much at all for about a year. I had completely lost all confidence in my ability to write. I just didn’t feel good enough.
I know the joy that creative writing can bring – I teach it to community groups in a bid to help people share their stories and build confidence. I work with older people, those living with dementia and their carers and survivors of domestic abuse. I love watching people smile as they discover the joy of writing, sharing their story and realising that they can do it. Yet I could not.
Over the years I have written four books. Two will probably stay in a drawer forever, but over the past couple of years I have been tirelessly trying to get two novels published. I naively thought that if I signed to an agent and publishers showed interest then I was on the home straight. Not so. Despite strong interest and requested and detailed rewrites for two, the interest then faded away. I soon learned all about the term ‘being ghosted’. I lost my confidence, forgot about how much I used to enjoy writing and decided that my dreams of having my work published were pointless.
But during lockdown I thought a lot about the fragility of life. I read the devastating stories of loss and anguish and how much Covid-19 had affected so many people. I also regularly reminded myself how lucky I was that my family were well and safe.
So – I gave myself a shake. I’m not getting any younger and who knows what is around the corner. I finally accepted that I didn’t need anyone else’s approval to get my book out there. Just my own.
A friend designed the cover, I planned a launch date and on July 11 published my debut novel, The Girl I Left Behind.
It’s not perfect, I have loads to learn but isn’t that what life is about? I have no expectations either. I just want to write. And I have been. I have started to enjoy journaling, writing Haikus and have managed to rewrite another book which I had put away in a drawer.
I bumped into someone locally who had bought The Girl I Left Behind and she told me that my book had got her back into reading again; a friend from university – that I hadn’t spoken to for years – contacted me to tell me how much she enjoyed it.
Even my dad, who never reads anything other than the sports results, has been reading it. For me, that is what it is all about.
I keep reminding myself that I am where I am supposed to be today and things generally work out for a reason. My years of dreaming about having my work in print have finally come true.
LE Hill has always loved reading and writing and her short stories and poetry have been published in various anthologies. She has been shortlisted in national writing competitions and been a writer in residence with Women’s Aid East and Midlothian. A former journalist, she spent much of her working life in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. She has also worked in marketing and communications and has an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University and a PhD from Stirling University.
She is particularly interested in creative writing for health and well-being and runs a small social enterprise in East Lothian, Sharing A Story CIC, using shared reading and creative writing sessions to reduce social isolation and build confidence.
Thank you so much to LE Hill for writing this piece for my blog! I still have spaces to fill for this feature so please get in touch if you have a story, poem or non-fiction piece on the theme of dreaming of another world…
I don’t know about you, but I am experiencing such a mixture of emotions right now that it’s genuinely overwhelming. I’ve got fear and anxiety dipping and rising. I’ve got humour coming and going. I’ve got excitement about the challenges ahead and the thought that maybe, just maybe, this situation will somehow bring some good and make us change the way that we live. I’ve got determination and a kind of let’s just get on with it atttitude popping up from time to time. Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry. I am so grateful for so many things and at the same time unable to really absorb all this, let alone plan. The uncertainty is definitely the most stressful element of it all.
For me, the answer lies in writing. Always. Ever since I was a kid I have written to help me make sense of the world around me and the emotions I am feeling. I don’t often really know what I think or feel until I write it down. So, here I am, soaking up the latest news that UK schools are to close indefinitely this Friday due to the Corona virus outbreak.
A few weeks ago I barely gave the virus a second thought. I think a lot of us ignored it. It was like all the other things we were supposed to be afraid of right? SARS and Bird Flu, Swine Flue, Ebola and Zika virus to name but a few. The biggest things worrying me were climate change and the turmoil that would possibly arise from Brexit.
It was something happening in another country to other people, and that attitude shames me now. Because now we realise, don’t we? How bad things can happen to us too. To any of us, anywhere, at any time. We realise now how scarily fragile everything truly is.
Last week, as the virus started to dominate the news, as other countries started to go into lockdown, it still did not feel real. Until I went into my local Home Bargains and could not buy loo roll. I had enough at home but was mildly surprised and amused to view the stark, empty shelves. I wrote about it on Facebook and I think most people were feeling the same. Well, isn’t that a bit annoying and strange?
A few days after that I went to Tesco late at night, figuring that was the best way to get what we needed. My husband works in a frozen foods supermarket and he was reporting empty shelves and panic buying there. That night at Tesco I started to realise how strange everything had become. The shop was busier than it should have been at 10.45pm. There was no loo roll, no medicines, no soap or handwash, no pasta or rice, barely any tins or packets. I still got most of what we needed so I wasn’t too worried, but it did start to sink in. This is not going away. This is just going to get worse. We are heading towards lockdown, school closures and job losses. Oh shit.
Still, Monday morning rolled around as usual. No change there. School run and work. Busy, busy. No sign that anything was going to change too much in our day to day lives. That day I did make the decision to stop my fortnightly adult writing group until further notice. It’s my least frequent group and I make the least money doing it. Enought people had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to the situation, so I decided to pull the plug. I thought that would be it. But by Tuesday afternoon I had recevied an email from one of the schools I run an after-school writing club at informing me that all after-school clubs were cancelled until further notice. My other school followed suit and I then found out the museum I hold two writing groups at was closing, so those had to be cancelled too.
I wouldn’t say I panicked exactly, but I started to stress about the financial side of it all. Would I have to refund people for the sessions they had paid in advance for and so on. The more I thought about it, the more sad I felt. I’ve spent so long building up this little business and it’s really only been in the last year that things have started to take off for me and make some real money. However, I didn’t feel too sorry for myself for long. I started to think about all the time I would now have to read, write, learn to play the guitar and garden.
And then today, the news we had all been expecting. All schools, colleges, nurseries and so on are to close doors this Friday until further notice. I’m not exactly stressed about it. I am actually quite looking forward to spending more time with my children and I am determined that my 5 year old, in particular, sticks to the same school day he is used to. I am determined that he will have fun. It’s going to be a challenge for us all, but the schools have been absolutely amazing, with the constant updates and reassurances and I am sure they will be sending lots of resources our way. So now I won’t exactly have much free time, but it’s okay. We have a new challenge to adjust to and humans are nothing if not adaptable. We also have a remarkable ability to look on the bright side and make light of things. I think we will see alot of that.
I am of course anxious about food and medicine supplies. I stocked up on our asthma inhalers and hayfever meds this week, just in case. Paractemol is like bloody gold dust now! But we are in a luckier position than some. As long as he does not fall ill, my husband’s supermarket job should be secure. He is utterly exhausted though. They are run off their feet and dealing with very abusive customers at times. We live in a semi-rural location, with only one neighbour. We have a large enough house and a very large garden. I am extremely grateful for my hens and ducks who are all laying very well at the moment and I am putting the extra effort into the vegetable garden. I fully intend to put the kids to work out there too most days, as I feel like now more than ever they need to learn these skills, in case anything like this happens again.
It could be worse. We are lucky. The government is talking about help for the self-employed and for renters, so there is hope there too. I am going to be sending out weekly writing prompts to the children who normally attend my clubs and I am going to post daily ones on my business page for the writing company. I hope to figure out how to put online classes/workshops together at some point, but I am now rather stretched for time with the home schooling to get my head around.
My main worry is my 74 year old mother who has a heart condition. Her operation has been cancelled and she is in the vulnerable group. She doesn’t seem to see it that way though and so far has not been too good at isolating herself. This worries me greatly and I have tried very hard to impress the importance of it on her.
Anyway, the way I see it now, our job is to stay calm, stay positive, stay kind. Help each other whenever and however we can and be there for our loved ones. Keep busy, keep active, embrace the arts more than ever, and in my case, write my way through it. If you see more blog posts than normal (I’ve been quiet lately on the blogging front due to the business of life) it’s just my way of working through it and making sense of it. I can’t recommend writing strongly enough for easing stress and anxiety.
My main thought right now is how fragile everything is. How quickly things can change. How suddenly the ground can fall away from under you. It should give us all pause to think, especially if we have ever looked down on those less fortunate than us. Now we are all in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, what colour your skin, or how much power you have. This is affecting us all. Because truly, we are all one, we are all connected. It’s just that we have forgotten that and lost sight of it. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned in all of this. That’s also the best we can do, I think. Learn from it. Admit where we might have been wrong. Aspire to change.
That’s all I’ve got to say on it for now, but I think I will be back regularly with my thoughts on this and with news on how my drastically changed life is going! Wish me luck with the home schooling, that’s all I can say!
Christmas usually finds me in a mess of contradicting emotions. It’s such a strange time. I have always found it to be emotional. I love it and I always have, but it gets me right in the feels, right in the guts. Even when I was a little child I had a real thing about Christmas. I can remember sitting next to the tree and staring at the fairy lights with tears in my eyes, just thinking how beautiful was. I couldn’t really articulate it then, but I was tearful because although I was happy and excited, I also knew none of it could last. That the beautiful tree would have to be taken down, the lights wrapped up and placed in a box, the paper-chains removed. I think I knew then, it’s both a happy and sad time of year. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and I guess in this mid-life I now find myself in, I’m in a position where I can look back on Christmases of the past, think about the present and also envision what my future Christmases could look like. So I decided to blog about it. I decided to imagine myself as a ghost, like the ones that visit Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, revisiting sad and happy Christmases of the past, taking stock of the present and imagining the future…
I obviously don’t remember my very first Christmas but I do have photos that document it. I was exactly six months old on Christmas Day 1978. There is a photo of me being picked up by my father’s mother. It was only the other day that my mum told me something about that photo that I never knew. Apparently, my father’s parents decided to visit us that year from Kent and they did not even know that I existed. That’s right, my father had not even told them my mum was pregnant with me, let alone that he had a third daughter. Because they turned up unexpectedly, he was forced to get me from my cot, bring me down and hand me over. ‘Here’s another one,’ was apparently what he said. According to my mum, they were fine about it. The photo shows that my grandmother looks quite delighted. My mum reckons my grandad would have told my dad off later. But there you go. I think it just about sums up my relationship with my father since that day… I don’t know why he didn’t tell them. I don’t know how long he thought he could keep me a secret for, or why he would even want to. I know I was an accident, not planned, so maybe that has something to do with it. But there it is. Fucking weird if you ask me. I’m probably lucky that I don’t remember my first Christmas.
The rest of my childhood Christmases were better. In fact, looking back, they were always pretty magical. I remember thinking that the pile of presents was ginormous and I remember that pit in the belly excitement that just keeps you brimming over all day as the countdown runs on. I remember there being far more food than usual, things we were not usually allowed, like coke and lemonade, lollies and sweets. I remember we always had visitors and that even though I was shy, I loved this. I’d hide from them and stick my head in a book, but I loved it. My dad was always cheerful with a drink or two in him. I remember being surrounded by a sea of wrapping paper. The tin of Quality Street that seemed bottomless. The heavy stocking I could hardly lift up. The big, much wanted toy. A Charmkins house one year, a My Little Pony Parlour another, a beautiful baby girl doll another. I remember never wanting it to end and sitting on the landing after we’d been sent to bed, so I could eavesdrop on the adults downstairs, so that I could make it last longer. It was always a happy time.
There are two Christmases that stick in my head for being sad ones. When I was twelve, my parents crumbling relationship finally ended. It was messy and confusing as my dad continued living at our house some of the time, although they were divorced. Then he chose Christmas day to leave for good, to be with someone else. I think I was twelve or thirteen. I remember I got a Walkman that year and probably spent most of the time with headphones on to avoid the rows. After he left, my mum fell apart and hit the bottle. I tried to stay out of it. I looked after my sister’s dying guinea pig for her, while she looked after our mum. I think I knew then that it marked childhood being over.
The other one marked by tragedy was the Christmas of 2003 when I was pregnant with my second daughter. Just six days before Christmas my sister went into labour and her beautiful baby boy Harry was born asleep. I don’t think I’ve ever heard news as shocking as I did that day. One minute we were all excited that my sister was in labour with her third child and wondering if it would be a boy or a girl and the next… I don’t think I will ever know how she got through that Christmas without her baby boy. But my sister is one of the strongest most stoical people I know. She has looked out for me my entire life, worried about me when she didn’t need to, fought my battles and stood up for me when no one else has. I love her fiercely and the thought I had most during that christmas, was this should just not be happening to her. Not her. Not the nicest, kindest, sweetest person I know. At the funeral, she was stronger than anyone. I was a mess but she took my hand and didn’t let go. There has not been a Christmas since that I have not shed tears for Harry and wondered what he would look like now, what he would be like. We have always been determined never to forget him.
As a new parent, Christmas started to change. It had meaning again, I guess. We had our home, our little growing family. Those first few years I suppose we were finding our own way, picking traditions we’d enjoyed from our own childhood’s and creating new ones for our own family. Looking back, we tried too hard to please everyone and as a result there were a lot of years back then when I was glad when it was all over. It never felt quite right. It got too stressful, probably because I was asking too much of myself. Something had to change.
I would say though, that the last few Christmases have been exactly as I’ve wanted them. I would even go so far as to say perfect. The Christmas I was pregnant with my fourth child (2013) pissed me off and I spent a long time afterwards working out why. Since then, I’ve made changes and the last five or six have been very close to perfect. What did I change? I just decided what I wanted to do that Christmas and stuck to it. That means they have all been different, depending on how I feel. It might sound selfish but I needed to be. I’m the one that ‘does’ Christmas. My husband doesn’t really get into it. He enjoys the day but he doesn’t do any of the work or preparation it takes to get there. I don’t mind this. I love Christmas and I love planning it all year, starting present buying in January and spreading it out over the year. I love adding new little traditions all the time, such as Christmas Eve boxes about seven or eight years ago, and Secret Santa within our family about five years ago, then celebrating Winter Solstice about three years ago. The kids get so excited and it’s one special day where they can get spoiled. They don’t get a lot the rest of the year so I do go a bit crazy at Christmas. But it’s me that buys all the presents, plans the stockings and Christmas eve boxes, plans the menus and buys the food, cooks the food, puts up the tree and other decorations. Everything. I do the whole thing so I now feel like if it’s me that’s done all the hard work, I should have the day how I want it. Last year, that meant inviting various relatives to dinner and cooking for nine people. This year it means seeing relatives on Christmas Eve and having Christmas Day just for us. Next year I might feel differently. I think you have to be careful not to fall into a rut where people expect you to do the same thing every year. That gets tedious and it allows resentment to grow. So my advice for a happy christmas would be; do whatever the hell makes you happy. See who you want to see, avoid who you don’t. Eat what you want to eat. Cook and bake if it makes you happy. Buy it all frozen or packaged if it doesn’t. Just do what makes you happy, especially if you are the one doing all the hard work!
A few weeks ago I was walking with my twelve year old son and talking about Christmas and I said to him; ‘do you know, one day I will wake up on Christmas Day and none of you will be there.’
I think it was the first time it had really hit me. They are all growing up so fast. 17, 15, 12 and 5. In another ten years my youngest will a teenager and the others may well have left home… It just hit me that one day Christmas morning will be very, very different. Now, it’s relatively similar to past years. They all still wake up ridiculously early and sneak into each other’s rooms to kill a bit more time and poke at their full stockings until they know it’s okay to come into us. We open stockings on our bed then traipse down to eat breakfast. No one is allowed into the lounge until breakfast is done and the animals are all fed. And then, the chaos commences and I love every minute of it.
Thinking about future Christmases got me feeling a bit teary for a moment or two but then as I talked it out with my son, I realised that it is what it is and everything has this natural cycle to it. It will go back to how it was before we had children. After our own childhood’s ended, we didn’t believe in Father Christmas anymore and we didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn to open stockings, and we didn’t hang about with our parents either. But we still had fun. When we left home, in that gap between moving out and starting our own family, we still put up a tree and decorated the house and cooked a dinner and it was great. I’m going to look forward to that when it comes around. I want my kids and their kids to know that our door is always open and that they may turn up at any unexpected moment and will get fed and welcomed and looked after, but if they don’t, we will be just fine. We will have the animals, and each other, and we will light a fire and start the morning off with a glass of something bubbly followed by Irish coffee! We won’t have the same responsibilities or demands on us. Our day will be our own. I will still get the food in and put up the tree and bake a Chritstmas cake and gingerbread house and all the rest of it. And we will probably have a long walk and then spend the rest of it in front of the TV or playing games before we nod off! It will be different. But it won’t be bad.
It’s emotional, I think, Christmas. If you’re religious it has emotion attached to it and if you’re not, you have to find meaning in it, because you can’t very easily ignore or avoid it. I think the key is to decide what makes you happy and just stick to it. Mix it up, change it around, keep it fresh. Don’t try to please everyone. Aim to please yourself because it’s your time too, your day too. There is so much emotion attached because we reflect back on another year gone by, whether it was good or bad, whether we lost anyone or made any dreams come true. We think about Christmas when we were young and we imagine Christmas when we are old, and we miss those who are gone, and we love those who are still with us and want them to know how we feel. So we do it with love and presents and food and drink, and that makes it a really special, magical time of year. It should be anyway.
I’ve enjoyed my journeys into the past, present and future.
What about you? What were your childhood Christmases like compared to your present ones? What do you look forward to or fear about future ones?