Choices

I find choices really difficult. I always think, when the current government harps on about giving people choice (e.g. in what hospital or school to use), that they’ve got it all wrong. I don’t want choice; I just want all of them to be good, so I don’t need to make choices. Nasty, stressful things, choices, if you ask me.

Like last night, in the slam. I definitely made the wrong choice for my semi-final poem – the first round poem, a new one, had gone down really well, and I tried something different in the semi; but I should have stuck to the same sort of thing. Never mind, it was only a slam, and I wouldn’t have won. The place was full of supporters for the local woman (a very good poet) who did win. The reactions to my first poem, though, have changed my mind about giving up slamming. Just one more… as every addict always says.

This week I had another difficult choice. For Poetry on Loan, I give away Arts Council money to West Midlands libraries, in support of contemporary poetry. Four of them had asked to host an afternoon event with a fairly well-known poet, when to be honest I had thought that none of them would have been able to take up the opportunity. So I had to choose the lucky one. I thought and thought about this; all had points in their favour. In the end I drew lots. I felt that in a way I had ducked the responsibility, but really when there’s nothing to choose between alternatives, how do you do it? I’ve been ok with really big decisions, but give me a menu and I’m hopeless.

The rest of the week has been strangely unaffected by the snow. Apart from a scary skid on Monday evening, and a late arrival at the prison on Thursday, it really hasn’t been a problem. I think the Highways people have done a great job in keeping the roads cleared, and the media have been wonderful in convincing people that road travel means instant death, so the roads have been almost empty for people like me who just go anyway.

I’ve said no to some work! I have enough – for now, anyway – and there are other people who don’t, so it seemed only right. I have taken on one little thing, though – training for art students who are going to work in hospitals. I did this last year, and it was fascinating to see how they portrayed concepts visually.

I did some training this week, too, for library staff; helping them to talk about and promote contemporary poetry. Most of them arrived expecting to be bored rigid, but I try to make it fun, and the evaluations seemed to show that everyone enjoyed it and learned a lot. Result!

Mixed days at the prison. Issue 2 of the newsletter has been okayed by the Governor, and can be printed – except that the print shop has nearly run out of paper. One of the pieces from the first issue has been accepted for publication by a West Midlands periodical called Barbershop – hooray! But one of my best writers has been released. Honestly! They didn’t even ask me if it was ok. But seriously, I would have liked to say goodbye to him. On the other hand, another good writer who was expecting to be released wasn’t; his parole hearing has been put off until May. How the prisoners cope with these repeated disappoinments, seemingly at the caprice of the powers-that-be, amazes me.

And the week was rounded up with another inspirational session at the hospital. “That made the trip worthwhile,” said one. Hmm. I can’t help thinking that actually the treatment was rather more important – but that’s routine to them; being involved in writing a poem is not what you expect when you go for your radiotherapy.

I’ve caught up with quite a bit of work this week. I was daunted for a while by the sheer number of emails but I’ve whittled them down, and done the minutes of the long, rambling TADS meeting; and submitted the application for a venue for my play, Once this was a poet, at the Edinburgh Fringe. And in just an hour I’ll be off for our first rehearsal for the Cheltenham One Act Play Festival performance, in (of course) an icy rehearsal room.

When I come back I’ll start putting together a book of pieces by one of my prison writing groups. They were adamant that all the pieces should go in; nobody must feel left out; so at least I don’t have to make any really difficult choices about that. I just have to decide what order they go in… It’s a bit menu-ish, this. It will take me hours.

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