Mavis's Shoe

Author of two novels and a creative memoir.

Friday 5 August 2022

Affirmative Action: the AA for life's travels

A healthy bank account, lots of woollies, a resurgence of my youth’s social anxiety, and not much writing: the end result of my lockdown. 

 I knitted a lot. And worked loads – as a counsellor specialising in trauma. I lived alone, my house paired with someone 75 miles away (though this turned out to be a godsend). To be fair, I finished writing an almost-finished novel then wrote a short sequel/extension, but it was like pushing a car through a swamp, mostly. A huge part of me resisted any kind of expansive thought or creative activity. 

This is not unhealthy. We were in emergency mode, so physiologically we were primed for fight, flight or freeze. When our bodies talk survival and fill up with adrenalin, we don’t have the wherewithal for the subtleties of ‘The Zone’ or ‘Flow’, a state partly defined by being so engrossed in something you are unaware of your surroundings. So the 2 year hiatus in this blog seems natural and right. 

As soon as regulations allowed, I saw counselling clients face-to-face in a designated room in my home. After lockdown, there were other reasons for not finding a new workspace, so my isolation continued and, in a sense, my lockdown, and my social anxiety. 

Anxiety is bad for creativity and acts as an inner censor. Likewise, encountering your singular writing voice, your essence in its most naked experience and expression, is the perfect anxiety prevention strategy. Similar to coming home, there is a sense of safety in submersion in something uniquely yourself but simultaneously universal. It’s like tapping into the common all pervasive life force, yours and the rest of the world’s, and in so doing losing awareness of immediate danger. We allow ourselves more easily into deep sleep when another person sleeps with us and instinctively we are each other’s guardians. Journeys inwards, forgetful of the world outside our bodies, requires security. 

So until recently, much of my anxiety was channelled into the meditative safety of knitting. This is essentially acting out someone else’s creative moment. It also satisfies the human need to sort, another healthy response to the chaos that is covid, Brexit and climate catastrophe. Knitting is fine, especially if you like watching variable colour yarns make interesting tone combinations in your fingers, as I do. Plus you get something squishy to wear or give. 

But when the world is in a dangerous uproar and people find themselves writing tortured poems like THIS ONE, or are being actually tortured by other humans, surviving flash fires or floods, or with bombs raining down, art feels a little more pressing than simple craft. Yes, people in war zones (and those suffering most under the current vicious UK regime) need blankets and jumpers, not to mention actual safety and homes. Political art is vital, difficult, inspiring and necessary, but so is the art that moves us every day in large and small ways: colours that dance in our gaze, shapes that send our eyes round eddies on the canvas, audible textures that appeal in ways we can’t quite grasp or form words to express, words which make pictures in our heads and sensations in our bodies. These bring various kinds of pleasure in themselves. As well as also moving us to action in all sorts of subtle ways we may not even be aware of and thereby segueing towards art as therapy and eventually potentially merging with political art, art is deeply reassuringly human.

So in a grand act of throwing the table over, I have sold my house and moved to a little cabin in a remote spot near 2 small conurbations. I remake a kind of vow here, though I’m not sure exactly what mien it will take, to re-find, feel, sense, touch and foster the connection to the unspeakable wonders between words, the visceral response to colour, light and sound, and to the vital common relatedness of all life. 

Big talk. In practical terms, so far this means getting up early so I can listen to the burn at the back of the cabin, watch the thrush family pick breakfast bugs out of the grass, and glimpse the feral cats’ kittens play in the undergrowth. And going to bed early so I don’t waste my eyes with electric light and can see the blue night sky through my window. Recent research* tells us three days of no electric light returns us to our natural circadian rhythm. It feels like washing out my brain ready to notice what else is in there, or ‘out there’ and what’s happening in the world around me, and gets those beautiful cognitive cogs whirring again. 


 *University of Colorado Boulder


  1. Hi Sue, hope you are well. I’m doing some mindfulness for a reading group in Bridgeton, Glasgow. This afternoon I came along to find your Mavis’s Shoe is that group’s book for the month. They just received it today and am sure they’ll love it.
    Kind regards
    Martin Stepek

  2. Heh Sue, hope you are feeling better and more inspired after some time in your cabin? Hope you are well. I’ve been meaning to write for some time to say how much I enjoyed your ‘Writing on the Road’ book! Although somewhat different, I am a historic building surveyor and spend a lot of time working from home writing reports after site visits (usually by abseil). After 15 years of trying to make it happen, I’m finally able to move into a motorhome at the end of May and work as a digital nomad, as all the young folk call it these days. Your book certainly inspired me to push forward with my plans so thank you. I hope to be writing reports loch-side this autumn after gently winding my way along the Welsh coast and the lakes! If you have any more tips and free camp site suggestions they would be most appreciated! All the best. John