And as if by magic, the shadows transformed into light. The sparkle in my eyes was alive again. The golden sun warmed my icy skin. My pulse ignited with fire. My broken soul was mending, healing, I was awakened - EJ ©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
Tired hands, stone feet. Frozen in the cage of time. The minutes escape me. The hours turn to dust. The days wrinkle my skin. Another year of wishing, hoping, searching, for a pause button, a moment, to stop, to breathe - EJ ©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
Two thousand and one, summer roses, full bloom. Locked hands, freckled faces, young hearts in June.
Two thousand and four,
your name touched my lips,
reliving a memory, a passing eclipse.
Two thousand and nine,
I wished for a soul to love forever,
the universe smiled, thought of you,
the plan was always us - together.
Two thousand and ten,
the year my life forever changed.
Our love exploded like stardust,
sixteen, first kisses, exchanged.
Two thousand and twenty,
a decade with you by my side.
Our love blossomed like
summer roses, our hands,
©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
When the world explodes
with hues of rainbows,
roars with fireworks of thunder.
I seek solitude.
When notifications multiply,
bad news seeps through the cracks of my screen,
when the vulnerability of the planet’s future is exposed.
I seek solitude.
When riots commence,
words become weapons,
humans lock horns to
prepare for combat.
I seek solitude.
When sombre shadows
conceal my inner glow,
threaten to tear down
the bridge of hope,
I have bled to build.
I seek solitude.
Solitude is my remedy,
my refuge to find silence,
to be still, in the midst of a hurricane.
©Emma-Jane Barlow, all words are my own.
A few months ago, I was pondering the idea of posting my poetry online. For me, poetry has always been a solitary activity. I would scribble rhymes and metaphors onto paper, close my notebook and I would never read it again, never mind letting other people read and comment on it. Then, I decided that if I ever wanted to publish a poetry book (which has always been a dream of mine), then people would ACTUALLY have to read my poetry, right? Now, social media has its advantages and disadvantages. When you post something online, it is there forever, you lose control of where it can be shared or saved. This scared me a little, when I thought about my vulnerable musings being there for the whole world to read.
I lost my way as a writer for a long time. I have spent the last seven years of my twenties living my life, experiencing the good and the bad, I would write from time to time but never took it seriously enough. I do believe I am finally in a place not only to write again, but I actually have something to write about. Poetry has been the way I have expressed myself from the age of five. I’m not exaggerating here. From the moment I started school, even if I couldn’t articulate and write my thoughts down yet, it was there. I would make up stories in my mind and I had a lot of imaginary friends. Once I knew what rhyming was, I quickly started making little poems up and I loved it. I actually remember my first poem I wrote down on paper, I was seven years old.
In March this year, I created a poetry account on Instagram @EmmaJanePoetry, I wrote a poem on paper, typed it up, placed it on a colourful background and clicked upload. I could feel my heart thudding in my chest as I waited. What have I done? What if people don’t like my poetry? What if people are mean and say hurtful things? What if I’m never taken seriously as a poet or a writer because I have posted these words on an Instagram page? My stream of worries disappeared when I saw what happened next. Slowly but surely, people not only started following me and reading my poetry, they commented on my writing ability, told me that my words spoke to them, made them feel something. I had personal messages from people commending my poetry and asking when I was releasing a collection. I’m no Rupi Kaur, I have 387 followers. But I don’t want to be an Instagram influencer, I don’t want fame and fortune. I just want to write poetry and have someone to share it with. I want people to read my work and Instagram is a good place to start.
I’ve just watched a poetry documentary on YouTube about the ongoing debate between academics and young people who disagree on whether the Instagram effect on poetry is a positive or a negative one. It’s what inspired this blog post. I believe that there is space for everyone in the writing world. Commenting on whether poetry is “good” or “bad” is completely subjective. Poetry is personal for the reader. Yes, there are people on Instagram posting two or three line quote-type musings and calling it poetry. Let them. Poetry has never fit into one box. I have read some classical poetry that academics rave about and I thought it was useless drivel. But hey, that’s my opinion.
I think the real problem here is not about the definition of what a poem is, it’s about technique. As a Creative Writing graduate myself, I had to study poetry, learn about technique, different styles, how to create imagery in a poem. I took the time to learn about my craft. I think some writers are angry that young people, with no writing skills, are stringing a few generic phrases together, posting them online and calling themselves “a poet.” I get it, I really do. But like I said, there is space in the writing world for everyone. Spending time ranting about it just makes you an insufferable snob in my opinion. Compare this idea to art. You have your Mona Lisa portrait, that is considered to be one of the greatest portraits in the world alongside a modern piece of art, a few crisp packets hanging on a piece of string. One person may love classical art, so they deem the crisp packet art as rubbish, unworthy and unoriginal. However, some modern artists may respectfully admire the Mona Lisa but prefer unique and unconventional representations of art such as the crisp packets. Poetry is no different. We all like different things.
What I have noticed since I became a part of the Instagram poetry community is there are some extremely talented poetic voices out there, that would have never had their work read without social media. They may not have the confidence to go marching up to a publishing house and say, “publish my poetry please.” By sharing their work, they are receiving a positive response from their readers and this increases their confidence in their writing ability, what’s so wrong with that? Artists and writers want the same thing, to get their work “seen.” We live in a world with social media at the centre, we can choose to embrace it or ignore it, the choice is ours.
Poetry is changing. I know that by posting my poetry online, I am accepting that this is the 21st century and culture is adapting to be part of the digital world. We now have many platforms to share our words with millions of people. Why not utilise and use it to share our art, whatever that may be? We live in a society that likes to put labels on things. It makes us uncomfortable if we don’t categorise or explain something. If someone ever branded me as an InstagramPoet or an InstaPoet, I would politely correct them. Not because I would be ashamed of that label. I would tell them that yes I publish my poetry on Instagram, a social media platform. I also post it on Facebook, my blog and Twitter. But I think of that little girl, with her notebook and pen, writing poems about her imaginary friends and I smile. I always have been and always will be, no matter where I share my poems, simply… a poet.
Another year has passed. It has become a tradition for me to reflect on my life for the past year, the night before my birthday. Tomorrow I turn 27. It’s a strange world that we are living in right now. With a global pandemic, lockdowns across the world and an unpredictable virus taking people’s lives, this birthday I am filled with gratitude that I have a home, I have people who love me and I have my health. So this birthday is a little different, I have to stay indoors and celebrate it on a smaller scale, but I’m okay with that. You see, in the post I wrote the day before my 26th birthday, I talked about already feeling fulfilled, about learning to let go of things I can’t control and focusing on the present moment and the small things in life I am grateful for. I am happy to say that I continued on this journey of gratitude and light this year.
In September, I decided to go back into the classroom. I took a role as a teaching assistant, believing that even though teaching was not the job for me, the classroom was still an environment I thrived in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were many reasons I left my most recent job, I won’t go into the details. But something inside me was telling me to move on. I didn’t belong. I don’t know how I knew. I just did. I had to walk away. Now I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as a lucky escape. From a life that wasn’t meant for me. Since I left teaching, I often find myself repeating this phrase to myself “I can do anything but not everything.” It keeps me grounded and reminds me that it is okay if something is not for you, it’s not a failure but a lesson. Then I ask myself, what can I learn from this experience?
Well, what I have learned is that I am a free spirit. I am someone who becomes restless in one place for too long, I crave change, I need to be stimulated, I always want to try new things. I may have changed my mind a lot on what I want to do and what I think my purpose is during my twenties so far, but isn’t that what this time is for? Everything I have done is part of my journey. Since my last birthday, I have been focusing on my wellbeing and working on myself. My energy has shifted from what career or job I want to have, to what truly makes me happy. I started going to therapy and I worked through a lot of issues that have held me back for years. I made the crucial steps towards battling my anxiety and depression once and for all. There many other factors alongside therapy, but I can say for certain, I haven’t been this mentally strong in a long time. I am calm, centred, more creative and overall I worry less about what direction my life is going to take. What will meant to be will always find a way. I’m not saying I won’t ever experience mental illness again. But I now have full confidence in myself that I have the right tools to recognise the signs before I end up in that place again.
Also, in the last year, I have started my own small craft business called Positive Stitch. I started stitching as a hobby. In January, I started selling cross-stitch and embroidery gifts and I love it. Stitching is therapeutic for me and I have always loved creating things, whether that be a piece of writing, art or a music. During the last few months, I have found my creativity again. I am writing poetry every day and working on editing my first collection. I am practising my skills on the guitar and ukulele and singing a few times a week. Life is good right now.
So on the eve before my 27th birthday. I want to just take a moment to look back at how far I have come. Remember the mountains I have climbed to get here. It may have taken years of struggle but I have found my strength. I am happy, I am thankful for the present moment and hopeful for the future (whatever it may hold for me.) Now I can’t predict what will happen in the next 365 days of my life. But as long as I believe in myself, follow my intuition and appreciate the love and happiness that surrounds me, I’ll be okay. Happy Birthday to me, here is to many more to come!
Tomorrow is my 26th Birthday.
For the last six years I have been posting on this blog, the day before my birthday, reflecting on the year that has passed. In the 365 days that have flown by since my last post, a lot in my life has changed.
In my post ’25’, I was nearly at the end of my teacher training and I was celebrating that I had secured a permanent teaching job in a primary school. I claimed in that post, that training to become a primary school teacher was the best decision I have ever made. A year later, I think leaving the profession was the best decision I have ever made.
In the year that has passed, there have been highs and lows. Life lessons and life-changing moments. In the eight months of my short teaching career, I learned an important life lesson about what I value most in my life. I spent a long time focusing on the wrong things, I allowed stress to consume my life, it reached a point where I didn’t recognise myself any more. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was neglecting my health, physically and mentally and as a result, I experienced a mental breakdown. It’s only when I hit rock bottom that I gained the perspective I really needed.
Losing family members this year has also made me come to terms with the fact that nothing in life is permanent. I was under the illusion that many young people are, that we have nothing but time. But the inevitable reality is, we don’t know how much time we actually have to live this life. This realisation woke me up. It dawned on me that for the last few years of my life I have been asleep. Going through the motions of my life, a victim of ‘destination happiness’, I was lost and uncertain about where I was going and what I was searching to find. Something had to change.
I gave myself the time to make this change. When I left my job, I knew that I needed to give myself some time to heal, some time to get back to my old self again. I needed to do things that I enjoyed doing, time to be still, to be in the present moment. During this time for myself, I have found a healthy life balance again. I started taking care of myself by eating healthier, practising yoga and meditation, being creative and expressing gratitude for the wonderful things in my life.
Now, as I enter the twenty-sixth year of my life, I feel fulfilled. I have realised that everything I need is already within me. I am learning to let go of my need to control the future by embracing the present moment with gratitude. I am learning to be still and listen to what I need rather than chase what I think I want. I am learning to take each day as it comes and enjoy every new chapter I am blessed with in my life.
Two months ago, I decided to start doing a craft. I’ve always wanted to cross-stitching, so I bought myself a sewing box, a selection of threads and material, I was ready to get started. For someone who hasn’t done cross-stitching before, I found it a little overwhelming. The patterns I found were too complicated and I didn’t know the difference between a cross stitch and a back stitch.
That was when I found a brilliant book for beginners. Cross-stitch to Calm by Leah Lintz. The simple designs and easy instructions allowed me to start stitching straight away. It took me a few weeks, and I completed my first cross-stitch picture of a sun. Something I had discovered from the experience of cross-stitching was not only the sense of achievement I had when I completed a picture, but the calm that rushed over me when I was doing it.
There were two reasons that I wanted to start cross-stitching, one because my Nanna was a seamstress and made clothes. It inspired me to learn how to sew and cross-stitching was a good first step towards this. The second reason I took up cross-stitching was due to an article I read about the positive benefits of doing a craft. The article explored the link between spending some time doing an activity such as cross-stitching improved mental health. The repetitive action of stitching decreases stress levels and can have a positive effect on those suffering with anxiety and depression.
After starting the craft myself, I found myself agreeing with everything I read. Not only did I find myself sitting for hours, concentrating on each stitch and losing myself in creating a picture, personally, I felt a similar transcendence doing cross-stitching that I do whilst meditating, it’s that powerful. We live in a fast-paced world and sometimes, we think that we are resting when we’re watching TV with our feet up after a long, hard day, the honest truth is… we are not switching off. Doing any type of craft, a few times a week can have some amazing advantages on our overall health and wellbeing. Give it a try!
Tomorrow I turn 25.
I like to reflect on my life when it’s my birthday. It’s the perfect time to see how my life has changed in one year and it also gives me a chance to express my gratitude for the amazing things in my life.
When I wrote my last birthday post, I was just about to start my journey to becoming a teacher. It’s 365 days later and I am now coming to the end of my training, I will be qualified in just two short months. I have secured my first teaching job, a permanent position in year five and I am over the moon about it. Just as I predicted, it wasn’t easy but I can say for certain that training to be a teacher was the best decision of my life.
This year I have learned to find balance in every part of my life. I have learned to accept and let go of certain feelings and thoughts that were holding me back. I still have a long way to to before I am free from my anxiety but as time passes by, I am conquering it with confidence and learning different ways to reduce stress and manage my emotions.
The thought of the next year scares me a little but I am excited for the changes that I know are going to come and the little moments in life that will surprise me. I am ready for me and the people I love the most to move forward, to succeed, to love and to live a happy and fulfilling life. I am ready for the challenges that await me in the next 365 days, and I hope to share some happy memories and new life lessons with you all in my birthday post next year.