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  • Shanley McConnell

This Week In Recap: September to October

Updated: Oct 13, 2019



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Anxiety Attack To Begin The Week


I am finding it hard to breathe. If I sit quietly and close my eyes, I can still feel my lungs-pulsing; the little hummingbird that hovers just above my heart is back.


This is what it means to me; an anxiety with nowhere to land.


I have dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember back to year two of high-school. Back then I had nothing to compare anxiousness to, and I struggled with it in secret. Now, I know the symptoms by name.


It had been a while since my last anxiety-attack, but this semester they return often. I cannot help but panic when they come, curling up against the wall and waiting for the anxiousness to subside. Praying.


There is no singular experience, just as there is no singular way to cope. Anxiety is as universal as it is intimate. And lately, when I feel symptoms arrive, I remind myself that everyone feels this way at one time or another. To be afraid at times is natural.


However, this doesn't detract from the fact that so many people encounter real, de-habilitating panic. Perhaps manifested internally, sometimes physically, this kind of anxiety is one without grounds. The reason for it unknown, often hidden in the subconscious.


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My friend once described anxiety as a room lined with washing machines; loud, and loudening. Until the noise becomes blinding. Another friend referred to the experience as an attack without warning.


Mine come in the form of a little bird, wind-flapping and lunged, and leave me breathless. I cannot move, feeling restless. Shaken and alone. I feel a piercing pain in place between my stomach and chest.


In a recent article published in 2018, anxiety disorders affect over 40 million people in the US. And to think of this in a global-sense is overwhelming. Anxious. Panic. Attack. These are words I hear as everyday jargon. In cinema, these words are often used to create images of high-stress.


However, anxiety-disorders are more severe than this. Anyone who has endured a panic attack knows that the symptoms are sudden, chaotic and difficult to explain.


One of the most difficult parts of a panic attack is that it can occur without warning. People can have a panic attack anywhere, even when they appear perfectly calm just before moments before.


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Yesterday, my dear friend from the US came to visit a couple days before our Creative Writing Residence begins. To avoid the down-pouring rain, we huddled on the couch and ordered take-away, laughing as we swapped stories back and forth. In retelling, we remembered summer in adventures, and hers were wonderful to hear.


When I went upstairs to dress for an evening black-tie dinner at my college (having been invited as a current employee of the Alumni & Development Office), I was overcome with an anxiousness.


It was as if my whole body began to shut down with fatigue; my chest was in pain, and my throat felt chocked. I was trembling and unable to see properly for the dizziness. It was an eternity in that space, narrowing, and yet, I know it must've only been about thirty minutes. Downstairs, I knew my friend was waiting and this thought filled me with even more panic. 'How could I overcome this quickly' was a question that made me feel as if I never would.


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Last year, whenever I had a panic attack, I would immediately react and cancel all plans. Now I do my best to wait. To wait, and give myself an hour to calm down. Sometimes it's impossible to do so. Sometimes I just need to climb in bed and sleep. On other days, I'm ok after a bit of time. Yesterday was like this. I knelt on the carpet for twenty minutes, took a shower, and dressed for the day again, as if it was beginning afresh.


I still felt afraid. But this was simply aftermath, and I knew if I walked through this I would be alright. The panic would subside, and I would be able to enjoy the evening. I messaged a colleague, and asked if she would meet me at the reception following the lecture so that I could still walk to the college with the team.


I am blessed; the people around me are considerate and thoughtful. Either they have walked through the same, or have watched those they love experience something similar.


I still told my work that it had been food-poisoning; perhaps it is because I am foolishly worried----aware-----that mental-health disorders bring with them a stigma. I wish to break this someday. So that I can be transparent and open about this. Until then I pray that the white-lies do not return to me blind.


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But I'm ok. I'm happy and content; with a strange kind of confidence that comes with knowing that things are not always ok, but still moving. Hopeful.


I suppose the reason I wanted to begin with this episode was to be honest.


~


DormSpaceYoga


There's an hour-break between shifts at work. Thirty minutes are given to dinner in the hall, and the other? Spent however one would like! My coworkers and I shuffled into a dorm-room about two flights up the back building of Keble College when one of them had the great idea that the five of us should attempt yoga. Ok, but, like, despite the fact that the room was incredibly cramped and one of them kept hitting the ceiling with his height, the 20-minutes of stretch-laugh-knee-crack was a calming thing. And if ever I'm stressed again, I'm taking time to re-engage this again.


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Alumni Dinner


My fellow colleagues and I were invited to an Alumni Dinner at Keble College: salmon-appetizer, champagne-reception, after which we were served a gorgeous meal with white wine and port in glass decanters. Although the early-day had made me a little weary, the evening turned out to be quite relaxing. The buzz of conversation and excitement alight in everyone's eyes made it easy to swap stories from past to present Keble-life.


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Creative Writing Week : Residence Four


I'll write the next sections in four consecutive sections after each day has drawn to a close and I'm home curled up with in bed ready to sleep. The entries might be chaotic because of this, so sorry!


Day One


I woke up this morning about an hour past my alarm. I'd only returned home hours before; I'd been working late, and my colleagues and I had spent a little extra time together that evening.


After dressing for the day, I organized my books for an afternoon of workshops/lectures and arrived at Rewley House with a couple minutes to spare while all of my friends filtered in. Some I hadn't seen the last Residence because they had flown from distances stretching Cali to Capetown.


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They are beautiful people.


We workshopped four pieces over the course of the morning. Mystery, literary, historical and dystopian.


A lecture about publishing (engaging with the industry) preceded a meeting with the course director before leading into an evening reception with Alumni readers. And later, the supper-buffet found us all in conversation between the garden and Acland Room.


On the second-floor there's a bedroom that overlooks the park and Wellington Square. A lovely two-double-sized bed and desk as decoration. I left some luggage and books by the doorway, and still walked the six-odd minutes home.


Every day this week has been full of five-hour nights, and I knew that I would sleep better surrounded by familiarity. Pillow. Duvet. Kettle. Bath.


My stomach is still a little unsettled from the panic attack earlier this week (and the lack of sleep), and so I returned home without feeling too guilty. I can sleep at Rewley another time this week; it's perfect for a little afternoon rest mid-day as well.


I sat on my bed listening to Peter Gabriel as the blue of my face-mask dried. Now, as I finish my evening routine, I try to reflect on the day. What have I learned? What will I bring with me to the discussions tomorrow? Was there a word for this day?


I think so. I will choose: why. Because I always wish that this word was spoken in two-syllables. It would be much prettier that way. I'd rename the word as something like whyoh (why-oh). Like saying hiya instead of hi. That's what my friend said when I told him, and I think that is the perfect response.


Day Two


Today was primarily focused on workshopping, with an hour talk about publishing and the editorial industry in the Mawby Pavilion midway through the afternoon.


There's so much information/interest given throughout the seminars that I thought I would share a two highlights sequentially:


1. What do good publishers want? (A broad-overview):


a. voice, integrity, for a work to be fully itself

b. multiplicity in viewpoint (as in the narration and narrator)

c. the heart, vision and life of the author. Q: what will she/he bring to their story? the marketing behind it?


2. The Greek translation of the word 'drama' correlates with 'doing.' It is an action word, and yet, most "dramas" in a broad, script-like sense of the term, are composed in dialogue. Is this a paradox? No. Because dialogue in drama is not solely conversational. Because plays and films (prose-form as well) focus on the want of a character (this is not necessarily self-centered), the narratives impose a sense of action upon the protagonists. There is an intentional movement to their words.


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Author of The West Country Trilogy Tim Pears read from The Wanderers after dinner. It sounded like a fascinating premise, and I greatly enjoyed hearing the sequence of a scene in the voice of the novelist himself.


Day Three


"Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous I don't know."

-----Winslawa Szymborska


I write a lot of poetry. It is my chosen genre-form. Still, I often find it difficult to begin a new piece after finishing the last. People tell me: write whatever comes into your head.


It doesn't always work like that. I think I've finally come to understand why.


Poetry is about creating from a place of where everything & nothing exist simultaneously. About setting up a premise and then unravelling (explaining) it in the best way you can. It is about building a world, and knowing that you know everything about this world, figuring it out as you write, but knowing it all nonetheless.


For a poem "speaks against an essential backdrop of silence knowing it can never truly voice that which is at the heart of its intention."

-----James Tate


There is a freedom to knowing this; writing into the mystery and arriving at an unexpectedness found only by those who have gotten lost.


Exercises:


1. Try using a random line as your premise (for example, I was given the sentence the funeral was held in a bouncy castle). How do you take something so unfamiliar, and write into it a sense of you----the sense of a secret. As long as the reader believes the writer knows the structure (the secret) of his or her poem, that is enough to carry them in all curiosity from beginning to the end.


2. Personify an anxiety, and write about what he or she is doing in the space around you. I found this task difficult, as I generally think about anxieties/insecurities in terms of abstracts, creatures and/or natural images. Perhaps, however, it is the exercise itself that reveals how you view/word the wordlessness of feeling.


3. Write a poem using 'Give Me' or 'I Want' in no abstract nouns. What is that you most want? See where this leads you?


4. Remember that facts are not always truths.


5. Write your whole childhood in a one-poem-setting.


And remember, the second-draft of your poem may be longer. Re-drafting is not about neatening, but a becoming.


After a seminar with her in the morning, all attendees at the residence got to listen to Caroline Bird read from her latest collection. It was the greatest surprise for me because I'd been reading her poetry for over a year now, after discovering Looking Through Letterboxes at the beginning of two-terms-ago. She reads her work in a powerful, thoughtful way.


Day Four


Today I didn't write a lot of notes, and now that it's nearly finished, I have a single page to look back on, but I'll share this with you.


It was written around 2 in the afternoon during a session titled: What An Agent Wants.


Q: What do agents do? Well, agents are advocates for authors. They


1. talent-scout

2. read + edit

3. help authors get the best publishing deal + strengthen their relationship with publishing houses

4. submits work for the author, in terms of competition + bidding deals

5. beyond negotiations, agents look after their authors in marketing + creative-space; they make sure the author has enough time to rest & refresh between press and new work


Q: How to submit to an agent?


1. carefully consider the package of your submission

including of


a) a professional covering letter with a synopsis and introduction

b) the first three chapters of your book


The synopsis should include reference to comparison works, pitch the novel in terms of genre and title. Think: what would the marketer write on the back? The comparison works themselves should be contemporary, and when you compare, remember to be both humble and invested in your work, aware of where it might fit in the grand scheme of literary fiction, non-fiction, genre, etc.


In the cover letter, add a pitch about YOU as the author. Talk about your education, hobbies relating to your work. Answer the question of why you wanted to read and/or write this book?


ALSO, consider the agent him/herself. Q: Why did you submit to them specifically?


IMPORTANT: write the entire work before submitting. That way, if an agent requests the manuscript, you will be able to follow-through immediately.


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When you choose an agent, remember that you are embarking on a long-term relationship. Prioritize openness, comfort and trust.


~


Deliveroo


I had never ordered takeaway before. Not on my own. I'd eaten deliveries once or twice with family and friends, but that was all.


My friends in college used to order food to their rooms all the time. I'd smell the take-aways in the hall, watch the motorcyclists drive back and forth outside the window. Once upon a time I thought it would be a fun job; to cycle around a city with a GPS. Now I'm not so sure I could manage the drives.


I think of the delivery people who circle the street below my second-story. They must have strong stamina.


If I wanted take-away, I would walk to the location, carry it to and from the destination. These were usually after-work occasions or exhaustion-days.


I want to do silly things. Quiet, unassuming things that make me happy. Sometimes these will be things that I don't always know I want to do until I've done them. For the first-time, right-then. Like last week when I tried nougat. Or the week before, when I tried a real apple-juice, elderflower cocktail after sips of Bloody Mary, Mai Tai sweets. Or this week, when I met a robot and ordered deliveroo.


I'm a little worried I'll become routine in this, but I can't say how grateful I was for it the other night after returning home from Res. I hadn't eaten since early afternoon (a carton of raspberries from the market), and it was already late, late evening. I know some people can go hours without food, but after walking back & forth from town and sitting through two lectures and a workshop, I was a knackered-hungry. I didn't have the energy to go back out, but felt too hungry to sleep. The scene felt like a Murakami Story: The Second Bakery Attack.


I've used deliveroo twice since: breakfast + dinner (the second-one very nearly free thanks to a new-user discount). Tomorrow will be grocery store day.


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The Duke of Cambridge, BAM BAM & the grand opening of HBAC


Keble is my college. For those of who you might be a little unfamiliar with the collegiate system, the University of Oxford is divided between a central administration and a number of constituent colleges.


Keble is a beautiful, brick college. With more than 800 students (split between post & undergraduates), Keble is one of the biggest colleges at the University. It was established in 1870, and is already in celebration of its 150th Anniversary in 2020.


At the moment, a portrait portfolio hangs above the dinning hall in celebration of Keble's success and history of co-education.


The college recently finished building the post-graduate site HBAC (The H B Allen Centre). Located 300 meters north of the main-site, The H B Allen Centre hosts accommodation, a lecture theatre seating up to 120 people, seminar rooms and a large exhibition/performance space. There is a level for robotics in the basement below as well.


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An invitation to attend the event was sent out to a small number of students a few weeks before the beginning of term. A non-political VIP would attend to celebrate the building's opening. This guest was later announced to be HRH, The Duke of Cambridge.


The Duke toured the Centre, accompanied by Sir Jonathan and Oxford University Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson, meeting with staff, students, major donors and key members of project teams responsible for the construction of the site.


A couple friends and I were invited to attend the private opening, perhaps because we were engaged with the MCR as members of the committee. The five of us lined up along the quad-corridor beside men and women of Alum-prestige, heels to the edge of the grass, anxiously-patient, waiting for HRH to arrive. The whole garden was dressed for royalty.


Above, on Clara's Terrace, my friends were bundled in snow coats, sipping champagne and waving to all below. Every now and again I would receive a message from one with a bird's-eye view.


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Here was the schedule for the day:

. meet at the crossroads and walk to the main entrance at 10.15

. meet members & fellow invited guests in the reception-room for tea & coffee

. wait outside in the garden and watch as Prince William arrives

. *everything in spontaneous applause*

. champagne + official opening of the H B Allen (HRH presented the building with a plaque)

. buffet lunch

. followed by a tour of the centre: the robotics lab + innovation basement


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At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the thrill of the occasion. How could you not feel a nervous knowing that you would be standing eight-feet from HRH? And yet, as soon as the Duke of Cambridge entered the site a calm came over the entire quad. His own collectedness settling; everyone feeling as though it was the most normal thing in the world to be simultaneously energetic and exhausted.


Ok, and Bam Bam? Bam Bam was the little robot that Prince William met down in the basement of HBAC. I had the chance to meet Bam Bam a few hours later. How can something so machine be so adorable?


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I think this is enough for this week. Thank you, thank you to all of you who've read all the way down to the end. It means so much to me that you're here, and I hope that you feel comfortable to share! Please comment below, or message/email me: shanleymcconnell@gmail.com. I'm always curious to hear from you. Kindest regards!

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