Image from Arvon Foundation.org, mid slide-show.
In two weeks, I will be in Inverness. At my Arvon course! I am quite tiddly with excitement.
But before last Thursday night, I was kind of shitting myself about it. Wondering what on earth I'd signed up for. I get this feeling every time I reach for something I think is a bit beyond me - moving to London, half marathons, triathlons, etc! - so you would think with all the high drama and big changes over the last four years I would take things like this in my stride by now. Mostly I do. I know what I want in life, and I'm mostly ok with going about getting it.
It's just when doubt hits me, it comes out of nowhere, like a sudden rainstorm in the summer. Without warning, the clear sky is dark, there is thunder in the distance, the rain is forceful and pouring in sheets. I'm trying to shield myself with my hands, a newspaper, anything, but I'm just getting soaking wet. It seeps through into everything. It runs my makeup, it ruins my hair, it saturates my clothes so that you can see the outline and colour of my underwear. Every drop is a memory. I remember every nasty thing anyone has ever said about me, every criticism, every moment in my life where I just didn't feel good enough. It is crippling. When you're soaked to the skin like that, you wonder if you'll ever get dry again.
But, of course, you get dry again! Going to last week's Arvon Experience evening was the equivalent of being handed a warm towel and a hot buttered rum after being caught in a storm :)
The Arvon Experience evening was held at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon. Any fears I had about feeling out of place were allayed immediately - everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and were willing to answer all my questions, even the silly ones about soy milk. There was excellent red wine, cheese from Devon, Shropshire and Yorkshire (where they have Arvon centres!), oatcakes from Inverness (!), and quite possibly the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. Natalie Goldberg once wrote that she used the promise of chocolate chip cookies to help her write - I do too!
I met some lovely people who had done courses before, all of whom had only good things to say about them, and a few people who assumed I had done one before but when I told them I hadn't we bonded over our mutual reservations about it being a bit beyond us. It was reassuring.
I met a gorgeous young woman who had done two graphic novel courses and I marvelled over her beautiful drawings, and heartfelt stories. She was set up in a little makeshift Garden Shed, by which was standing a large branch not unlike the sort of thing my grandmother used to (and possibly still does) make her Christmas tree out of. She would march out into the bush, get a large gum branch off the ground and bring it back to the house and occasionally spray paint it silver). This little tree held tags with words on them, in lieu of baubles and tinsel. Arvon have centred their print and website design around the theme of the Six Word Story, made popular by Hemingway with his unforgettable "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." If you want short stories, they don't come much shorter. Guests were invited to write their own on tags provided and tie them to the tree.
Several tutors came along to the evening to read their work, which was mesmerising. I still remember an image from Colette Bryce's poem about a dancing bear in chains. They had set up a cosy and atmospheric little "living room" for the readings - you half expected there to be a crackling fire in the corner of the room. It got very crowded, but luckily I had wrangled myself a comfy armchair early in the piece, so was happily settled there, listening to poetry, lulled by good wine and cookies. I thought to myself, I'm so glad I'm here.
All in all it was an evening filled with delicious and delightful things, and left me feeling ready. Less uncertain, a bit more confident. My tickets are in my purse. I'm collecting novels to read on the train. I'm scribbling down thoughts and ideas as they come to me. Every day I am one day closer.
It's like waiting for Christmas and my birthday and my wedding all at once.