Day Five, Six and Seven Featured Artist @ Animal Heart Press

Soooo, I got entirely behind on publishing the second half of my week over at Animal Heart Press, so I’m going to do the last few days here together in a catch up blog.

Day Five saw me have a Fast Five Interview with Managing Editor, the wonderful Amanda McLeod, where we spoke about poetry as catharsis, literacy magic, and the art of the spoken word performance – check out the interview here.

Day Six over there saw two of my recent poems published, On Still Nights and Heat – you can read them here.

Day Seven, my final day there, was finished with a bang with the release of my newest spoken word poem, Ode To The F*ck Boys Who Taught Me How To Love Myself – have a watch of it here, and if you haven’t already subscribed to my YouTube channel, do so while you’re over there!
HUGE thank you to the beautiful people at Animal Heart Press, take some time to look at their website and the stunning array of writing on there, and follow them on social media too, their heart and passion for what they do is extraordinary <3

Day One Featured Artist @ Animal Heart Press

Guys! I am absolutely honoured to be this month’s featured artist over at the incredible Animal Heart Press. I’ll be over there for the next 7 days with various stuff, but to start with, they’ve shared my newest poem, This Dead Bird Belongs To Me – about the legacy of addiction – head over to the link below and take a read, it’s brutally raw and one of the hardest I’ve written x

Animal Heart Press – Featured Artist Kathy Parker – Day One

On Poetry Slam Heats, Cheese and Scarcity

A few of you have asked how the Australian Poetry Slam competition is going, so I thought I’d just post an update here.

First, for those who aren’t familiar with how a poetry slam works, here’s the low down. Twenty contestants per heat, five random judges are chosen from the audience to give scores out of ten, and poets are drawn out of a hat to determine the order of which they’ll compete. That’s the basic gist anyway. In this particular competition, there are five heats — the two highest scorers from each heat go through to the state finals — the two winners from there go on to compete at the national final in Sydney.

The thing I need to point out about random audience judging is firstly, the judges may never have been to a poetry slam in their life — like, they could have literally walked in off the street looking for a Friday night drink and the slam just happened to be at their favourite bar and they know nothing about poetry. Flawed, but consistent across all slams.

Secondly, it’s a well-known fact among slammers that the judging always begins conservatively and gets progressively better throughout the heat; either because judges are saving their best scores in anticipation of what the slam might bring, or because by the end of the slam they’ve had a few more drinks and OMG THIS POEM IS ABOUT CHEESE AND I LOVE CHEESE SO TENS ALL ROUND! So, everyone knows if you’re unlucky enough to be drawn first or second (and probably even third), it’s instant death. You’re not going to get through. You’re just not. At least, I know of not a single person who has been drawn first or second and made it through, ever.

So, with that in mind.

The first slam I ever competed in a couple of years ago now, I was drawn first. I’d never even been to a slam, let alone competed in one. I had no idea how they even worked or what was really expected of me, and yet, there I was. First on stage trying not to toss my cookies. Initiation at its finest. Also, apparently, the foretelling of my destiny.

Because I kid you not when I say EVERY. SINGLE. SLAM I have competed in since, I have been drawn first or second. Like, to the point it’s actually become a running joke. Like, to the point where I think there is actually no fucking way I could be drawn first again — only to sure enough, be drawn first again.

So you can imagine the devastation when having competed in two heats in the last two weeks, this exact thing has happened. It happened at the first heat. Disappointed, I turned up to the second heat this weekend thinking I just couldn’t be drawn at the start again — like, surely there are just no odds that atrocious. And yet. AND YET.

I was drawn first.

It would almost be laughable, if it weren’t so absolutely heartbreaking.

I have to say, it nearly crushed me this time, to the point I could have easily just walked out and not bothered with my performance. I can’t even explain how it feels to drive 800km to compete in a heat you know is over before it’s even begun. There was a moment of having to dig exceptionally deep and get on stage in spite of how I was feeling; where I literally had to remind myself of these words as I walked on stage:

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ~ Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

So I saw it through and performed the best I could (although I struggled this time, I’ll admit), then sat back in my seat and wondered whether I would even bother staying for the rest of the heat. It would have been easy to justify leaving at that point, knowing I was already out of the competition. No-one else has driven 800km to be here. No-one else has a four hour drive home. No-one else won’t get home until 9pm to see their kids for the first time this weekend. No-one else here was drawn first.

And sure, all that was probably true. But I also knew every other person there had worked just as hard as me to be there. Every other person had poured all they had into their poem and performance; they had all shown just as much courage and vulnerability and determination. They were all sitting there, hearts thumping in their chest, nerves on edge, holding their breath with fear and anticipation waiting for their name to be drawn. They were all there, with a hope and a dream, just as I was.

And to me, that’s what it’s about.

It’s a competition, yes. But more than that, it’s a community. It’s a room full of like-minded people coming together to share an experience. And I can either be threatened, jealous and competitive of others, or I can show encouragement, support, and the willingness to uphold those around me knowing we’re all striving toward the same destination. We won’t all make it there together. But what a community we build when we can put aside our own pride and ego and cheer for those who get there before us.

In saying that, I can’t say I wasn’t completely gutted to have been drawn first again; I was. And I’m not for one second saying if I wasn’t drawn first then I’d have received one of the highest scores or made it through or whatever. There’s no predictability or guarantee of outcome at all with these events; the entire thing is subjective to so many different factors. But there is a devastation in being drawn first (or second) every time and never knowing if you could’ve made it through, given a fairer chance. It’s hard not to grapple with the what-if’s and if-only’s and would-it-have-made-any-difference-if’s.

There are still three more heats to go, but I’m not sure if I’ll continue at this point. Whilst I have put everything aside for the last six weeks and worked exceptionally hard on my pieces, there’s a point where I have to be realistic about what time, energy and money I can pour into what is essentially just a competition. 800km is a long way to drive each week just to get drawn first each time. Which you’d think would be unlikely. I walk in every time thinking there’s no way it could happen again. But it turns out it can, and does. At least, for me. Maybe the universe just knows best on this one.

There’s some grief in considering not going back for another heat; already today I feel lost not knowing what to do with myself after investing so much into this to now walk away from it. But I know it’s not over, as such. There’s always next year. There’s always another slam. There’s always another open mic and festival and competition. We get so caught in fomo thinking these days — that feeling of HAVING TO BE DOING THE THING HERE AND NOW OR WE WILL MISS OUT AND DISAPPEAR INTO AN OBLIVION OF INVISIBILITY FOREVER.

It’s a scarcity thing; the fear there isn’t enough room for us all and we have to fight for our position and hustle to be seen and prove we are worthy of the space we inhabit. Like, feeling if I don’t get through to the state finals this year, I’ve failed. I’m insignificant. There won’t be another chance. I’ll get left behind. If I don’t make it through now I never will. Etc etc.

But sometimes our best laid plans don’t work out as we hope. Surrendering to that is a quiet rebellion against that mindset of scarcity; not forcing things to happen in our time and having to strive and hustle for fear of being left behind, but just embracing the surrender and letting our ideals go and accepting things will unfold as they do. Our season may not be now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come at all.

So, I’m taking some days to regroup and refocus and decide if I’ll continue competing this year, or not. It isn’t defeat if I don’t. It’s surrender and acceptance of an outcome; it’s knowing the world hasn’t seen the best of me yet but by god, it sure as hell will. Sometime. Maybe. One elusive day when I don’t get drawn first.

There’s still plenty of time ahead for me yet.

An Apology Without Change Is Just Manipulation

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An apology without change is just manipulation.

For many of us, it has taken years to learn how to place healthy boundaries in our lives. Growing up, our boundaries were consistently violated; from this we learned our needs were not important, that our no’s did not mean no. We have spent the majority of our lives unheard, unseen, and believing our fundamental right to feel safe is unimportant.

Therefore boundaries, for us, become even more critical. Yet we often still struggle to stand firm in our boundaries. We will often be the ones who bend easily; who allow people closer than we feel comfortable, who shift the lines to accommodate the needs of others over our own needs, who give too many chances and accept too many apologies. We are still learning to trust the sound of our no, and the power contained within it.

But when we put a boundary in place, then allow another to cross that boundary, we dishonour ourselves. Often, we allow it out of good intention; genuine love and care of another. Regardless, we allow it because we have chosen to believe our need to feel safe is not as important as their need to be seen. To believe our needs are not valid or important. That WE are not valid and important.

We feel this dishonour in ourselves; the violation deep in our core. And often we will work hard to reaffirm the boundary, only to be disarmed with an apology. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. You’re seen and heard. I’ll respect and honour your needs. You’re safe here.

But an apology without change is just manipulation.

Honouring ourselves means honouring the boundaries we have put in place. It means standing firm in our truth, demanding respect and refusing to accept less than this. No matter how nice or caring or well-intentioned a person may be, if they consistently choose to disregard our boundaries in a way that leaves us feeling unheard, unseen, unsafe or disrespected, then the relationship is not a healthy one.

When we choose to respect and honour our needs we are no longer powerless. We send a message to the world that says, this is what I will accept, and nothing less. We choose to take back everything that has been taken from us. We choose to believe we are worthy of being heard and seen.

We choose ourselves.

Why I’ve Learned To Trust My Nervous System Over My Heart

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One thing I’ve learned in the last while is the most accurate reflection of our truth is not found within our mind, or heart, but in our autonomic nervous system; the system of our body which rests outside voluntary control.

Meaning, it cannot lie.

It is our nervous system which communicates emotions to our entire body. Ongoing suppressed emotions like anger, stress, fear, frustration etc cause overload to our nervous system, creating imbalance and chaos which, if left unchecked, leaves us in a state of fight-or-flight mode where we remain until we choose to deal with these emotions.

For me, the suppression of emotions has always manifested as fibromyalgia. Studies show women who suffer trauma or abuse in their childhood are 65 times more likely to develop fibromyalgia, citing abuse as the leading cause. It’s often classed as a mystery illness; as in, doctors cannot find an actual cause, nor a cure. Which makes perfect sense, if you look at fibro not as a physical disease, but the physical response of the nervous system to negative emotion.

It doesn’t matter that I am now no longer in a situation of abuse or trauma, my body’s response to ongoing stress or negative emotion is still the same.

It doesn’t matter how clean I eat, whether I exercise, get enough sunshine or sleep or how much self-care I allow myself in a physical sense; if my life is unbalanced in an emotional sense – whether that’s too much stress, a situation that is causing a negative emotional response, a relationship in my life that is no longer healthy, whatever – my nervous system will always respond with chronic pain because it cannot differentiate the different types of stress, only that the negative emotions in my life today mirror the same negative emotions in my childhood, therefore the response of the nervous system is the same even if the circumstances are not.

It doesn’t matter what I tell my heart and mind – that I’ve got this under control, that I can manage, that I’m not that stressed, that a relationship in my life is healthy even though I know it compromises my values or boundaries or the person I choose to be. My nervous system knows better. And whenever I have a fibromyalgia flare-up, I know I need to examine what it is in my life that does not belong there or does not align with my authentic self.

It’s easy to want to resent our nervous system when we suffer these flare-ups. Instead, we need to learn to listen to what our body is trying to tell us. We need to learn to identify the stress, or the suppressed emotion, or what it is in our life that is causing misalignment. And once identified, work through those emotions, or take action to change the things in our lives we know have no place there.

The nervous system is a gift, if we can learn to surrender to its wisdom and honour its place in our journey to healing and wholeness.

So Yesterday, I Had My Last Therapy Appointment

So yesterday, after many, many months, I had my last appointment with my therapist. As in, I don’t need to see him anymore unless I want to or feel it necessary. As in, we’re both pretty happy with where I’ve arrived. As in, thank fuck for that.

I told him my biggest fear at this point was feeling too regulated; like maybe I was missing something. A blind spot I don’t even know exists until the collision happens. Like, maybe I’ve just become so good at compartmentalising I’ve managed to fool even myself into thinking I’m doing okay.

Healing is a funny thing like that.

But the girl who sat in his office yesterday is not the same girl who walked in a year ago.

It’s not to say I’m fully healed; I don’t think those of us who have lived through trauma and abuse of any kind can ever declare the work of our healing finished, as such. Complex-PTSD isn’t that straightforward.

But I’m so damn thankful for the work I’ve done and who I’ve become. I’m so damn thankful for everything I’ve achieved and the life I’ve fought for; the refusal to be a victim of my circumstances and determination to overcome them.

I’m so damn thankful for the little girl inside me; the born fighter who made it through what many wouldn’t have. I’ve learned to offer her the love and grace she was never given; to forgive her for the ways she chose to survive when she knew no better. To gently pry those ways from her fingers and say, “here, we don’t need these anymore,” and teach her new ways.

I’m so damn thankful I didn’t give up when it got hard. That I walked through the anger, rage, grief, loss, shame, mourning. That no matter how hard it felt, I made myself feel it. That it would have been easier to remain where I was, but that I chose not to.

I’m so damn thankful for the boundaries I’ve learned to put in place; more so, for believing I am worthy of these boundaries. For knowing my worth. For knowing I am deserving of nothing less than what I am worth. For knowing the value and worth in everything I am and all that I do.

This isn’t to say it’ll all be all rainbows and unicorns from here. There will still be dark days. There will still be moments of pain and heartbreak and brokenness. But it’s not our place to fear or judge these feelings, they just are; such is what it means to be human. And such is what it means to be a poet; to observe, to feel – everything – and lay it down upon the page.

But for now, I’m just so damn thankful for all that I have let go, and all that’s left ahead for these empty and open hands to take hold of.

On Burnout, Self-Care, Social Media And What I’ve Been Up To Lately

So, I realised it’s been aaaages since I’ve written a blog about where I’m at and what I’m up to, so thought I’d grab a few minutes now and do just that.

If I had to sum up my entire life in the last while, it would be with this one word: burnout.

Which is essentially why I’ve not written much, or been here much, or been on social media much of late – have needed to step back and catch my breath and get some perspective.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last while, is this: we are no less seasonal than nature.

It is imperative for us to surrender to our need for rest, stillness, non-productivity, recuperation, dormancy; essentially, we must allow ourselves a season of winter in order to grow and produce fruit in the spring.

I had a wonderfully busy six month period of poetry and performances and travelling and harvesting the many hours of unseen work that comes with being a spoken word performer; all the while continuing to write articles for 10 Daily, SA Life Magazine and other various platforms, writing flat out in February for #poemadayfeb, and trying to keep up with other life stuff, including the full-time job of raising four children.

Immediately after that busy period had finished, I wrote down my next set of goals and went about achieving them with barely a breath in between. Only to find I was struggling: with motivation, with enthusiasm, with creative energy, with feeling blocked and frustrated. I pushed through. Kept pushing. Got nowhere. Pushed harder. Struggled even more. Spent too much time on social media seeing everyone else kicking goals which spiralled me into a mindset of inadequacy and failure; eventually defeat. I was totally, totally ready to quit the writing thing and get a mindless 9-5’er where I would never have to look at a blank page again as long as I lived.

But then I read a couple of perfectly-timed articles, A New Way To Recover From Creative Burnout and You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything, both validating the importance of rest and recovery as a creative artist.

With that validation came permission to first accept I was suffering burnout, and secondly, surrender to it. For me, that has looked like much self-care: less writing and more reading, putting boundaries in place to protect my time and energy levels, early nights, staying off social media, good food and fresh air and sunshine and exercise , which is easy to do when you live in a place like this:

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I feel like social media especially places a huge amount of expectation for us to be seen to be achieving; to prove ourselves worthy occupants of our online place in the world. The pressure to produce regular content to grow our platforms is, I feel, one of the greatest blockers of creative energy. For writers especially, so much of our work is unseen and unmeasurable; the hours we spend planning and thinking and researching and dreaming and the fact that it literally took me ninety minutes to come up with one metaphor this week.

We are always achieving, we just don’t often have anything to show for that. So we find ourselves freaking out that we haven’t posted anything on Instagram for a few weeks and how many readers will lose interest and how many publishers will feel we aren’t engaged enough and HOW CAN I CALL MYSELF A WRITER WHEN I HAVE NOTHING TO SHOW FOR BEING A WRITER??!!

Anyway. Rant for another day. The point of this was to talk about what I’m currently up to.

So, my one major goal this year was to compete in the Australian Poetry Slam competition (preferably without woefully bombing out in the heats like I did last year), which I knew was going to be tough to write new material given my current state of burnout. In previous years, competitors have been able to use the one same poem throughout the entire competition – heats, state final, national final. So despite having such little creative energy, I knew I’d probably be able to pull off one good piece.

BUT THEN THEY CHANGED THE GODDAMN RULES.

Three poems are now required; a new one for each level of the competition. I don’t know how many of you have written slam poetry, but it’s hard. It’s fucking hard. So I read this, and cried. Literally sobbed. And threw some dramatics around just because that’s what we creative temperaments do. Sometimes. Often. Most days.

I seriously could not see for the life of me how on earth I could get three pieces written. Three winning pieces, at that, knowing how fierce the competition is. Again, I gave up. And then fell into the most depressed funk ever. Because sure, I might not get past the first heat anyway. I might mess it up like I did last year. I might never know what it feels like to win. But I sure as hell know what it feels like to give up. And the only thing worse than not winning, is not trying.

So, for the next couple of months, I’ll be around less. I’ll be writing more than ever, but will have little to show for that. I’ll be self-caring the hell out of myself to recover from burnout while I work hard to achieve the one goal that matters most to me. And I’ll be here as much as possible, soaking up winter sun and salty air.

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Much love,
K.