A collective voice for literature and languages in Scotland

Hannah Lavery – How Are You Sleeping?

I don’t have a room of my own.

I have a room which is sometimes my own. It is a nice room. When the kids are at school. When I have done the day job. When I can find an hour or even two hours for my real work – that under the day, under the night, that under everything work. When I have done all those things and when the kids are at school. I have a room of my own (a corner of a room). I have my work.

Why am I so anxious?

I have stopped sleeping. He has too. Our days start with – Did you sleep? When one of us answers yes, we are surprised. Yes, I did. I think I did. Did you? Did you sleep? I wake up anxious. Anxiety is not new to me. Is it new to anyone at this point?

I have bills to pay. We have bills to pay.

We have three children. We are both in permanent work. I have this writing too – the squeeze to the margins work. We are both lucky to be able to work from home. We are lucky to have each other. Our children have been so lucky to have us and our home school timetable (my years of teaching finding new purpose). We are lucky to have enough food and books in the house. A garden. My daughter has planted potatoes. A garden with a trampoline. My son likes to do back flips and high kicks. To live in a small town with neighbours we like. To live by a wood with birds and deer. Trees they can climb. To live by the sea and all that means. We are so lucky. I have started making endless lists. We are so lucky we tell each other and we are. We really are so lucky. We know this. I have not slept a whole night through in months. I spend all night lying in the dark making lists.

Tuesday: limit their screen time, establish a routine, a bike ride? Anti-bac any post, all the door handles…Eat well. Do the times tables with them – over breakfast? Check on Gran. Staff Meeting at 10am. Book a Tesco slot (see if you can keep that under budget this week). Remember her teacher Zoom at 11am. Draw a rainbow. Answer that email. He has to make spaghetti for home economics. Call Mum. Don’t forget that thing on Friday. Get spaghetti. Organise family quiz. Work out what doing a plank is…

I am a writer. I am this. I have things that say I am. People who will tell you I am.  I even have a website. I have commissions. Got work to do.  I have invoices and tax to pay.

 

Have you met Hannah?

Hello Hannah.

She is one of my mummy friends- she’s a writer?

Oh! Really? How lovely. A blog is it?

I am a serious person. I can be taken seriously. I have things to say. I can say them well. I have a desk. I have ideas. I am sure there are folk that want to or would be open to hearing them. I have an idea to…Sorry, I missed that – my kids were shouting for me? Sorry, I might not meet that deadline – you see my kids are at home. No, I can do that. No worries. I can do that. Yup. Yes. Aye. I can do all that…Actually, I am not sure I can do that right now. I am really sorry but if you give me a few months. If you can just hang on – a week? No that’s fine, you get back to me.

I shout at my kids more than I used to. Mummy needs you to be quiet – okay? I have a call. Please can you just find something quiet to do? Have you done your google classroom thing? No! I have work to do. In a minute. Give us a minute. I am sorry. I am really sorry but would you give me a bloody minute to get this done!

I am sorry. I am. I am sorry.

I ask my friends to tell me I am okay. Was I okay? Was that okay? Did you see that thing I did – was it okay? I am not sure it was. I am not sure I want to leave the house anymore. The pandemic. It’s just the pandemic. Yes it is. Yes, it’s that.

Are you sleeping?

I am a writer. I am a writer of colour. I have been asked my opinion a lot this year.

What do you think?

I am still trying to…

What should we do?

What? I…

Did you see it?

I couldn’t…I mean I saw but…

What do you feel about it?

Feel? I am not sure how…

What should we do?

I don’t…Sorry?

We should do something.

Yes.

So?

What?

What should we do?

I…

So we hoped you would have something to say?

I am not really sure what you are asking.

Are you free to come on and talk about this?

And say?

Could you write an article about…

Can I have a moment?…Right, so I thought-

-it’s okay we got someone.

 

I am a writer. I am a writer of colour. You’re all having a moment. We are? Good for you.

Are you sleeping?

I wake up anxious. I am not new to anxiety and really? Who now is new to anxiety?

Who at this point is not anxious?

I am a writer. I am a mother.

I have stopped saying I am a writer. I say – I am a mum of three. I have started opening conversations with – Christ! I am exhausted. But I’ve not stopped writing. I am writing at 6am and 9pm. I am writing with my laptop balanced on washing to be folded and put away. I am writing to the sounds of Minecraft, sibling squabbles and doors slamming. Mum! I need you! Mum! I am writing in this sleeping house, in this wide-awake house, in this full to brim house. I am writing. I am. But when they ask I say – I am a mother.

I am a mother who writes (for a moment this feels powerful). How lovely. Good for you.

And then the kids go back to school. I clear their home school projects from my desk. Ready my corner for a whole day ( almost a whole day). I wave them off and then – I sleep. I am putting myself back together. All that toilet roll is being used to wrap myself tight – I feel myself seeping out into a mess on the floor. Only five months – is it? How quickly I have lost that hold on myself. How quickly all that work of getting myself out of the house, after those long baby years, all that work of getting myself out there in the world, all that patching up and building up, all that work to pick up a career again is – undone? Oh! To say I am a writer. To say it with confidence. To say it with something unshakeable. To take up that room.

Are you sleeping?

Those interactions with the outside world – made in the corner (that corner) of your own home. The endless zooming – that privacy lost. That invitation was not really understood but still it was given. But it’s okay. I am recording everything now. My everyday. Not sure why? Look! A picture of me on a beach. Look! My happy kids. Am I okay? Is this what I should be doing? Is this what you mean Virginia – about facts?

Did you sleep last night?

The paranoia that comes with sharing work you made to be a live connection. Work that is now consumed through laptops and phone screens. The connection is delayed and the response remote. I am not sure I have had time to think about what any of this means to me. Is it good? More accessible. Is it awful? Is Twitter now applause? Is that where I am supposed to look for the world?

I am asking my friends more and more for reassurance. Am I okay? I fear I am turning into a narcissist – is this a sign of Coronavirus? I will google that later along with….

I don’t have a room of my own. I don’t have room for myself. There is no room here.

Is this – all of this – nonsense?

Because after three days of naps I am doing fine. Och you’re fine, I say to myself. I am lucky. I am writing. I am doing things that I have dreamt of doing my whole life. I worked hard for it. The high school dropout done good (or is that – did well?). I was lucky. I am lucky.

I have not slept a whole night for months. I wake up anxious. It is the slow hum behind everything. I am not new to anxiety. Who is?

Sorry, that was my mum on the phone and I think I need to fill the freezer again. She says, did you hear about this second wave? Climate change – anyone? My pal posts – did you forget about Brexit? I don’t know about you, he says, but I think Trump will win. I see a video from Britain First, showing an angry young woman banging on the doors of hotel rooms housing refugees. A poet whispers, this is fascism. Another poet drowns in the Med. And I say like an echo, I think it will be a long time before the theatres open. I say it like an echo.

How did you sleep last night?

How could you sleep last night?

 

Literature Talks is a series of pieces commissioned by Literature Alliance Scotland, asking Scotland’s leading writers and literature producers to reflect on an aspect of Scotland’s literary landscape.

Hannah joined Janice Forsyth on The Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Scotland on Mon 16 Nov 2020 to talk about writing the piece. It was featured as a show highlight and you can listen again here. (10mins)

Hannah Lavery is an award-winning poet, playwright, performer and experienced workshop facilitator. Her first pamphlet of short fiction, ‘Rocket Girls’, was published by Postbox Press (Oct 2018) and her poetry pamphlet, ‘Finding Seaglass: Poems from The Drift’ was published by Stewed Rhubarb Press (May 2019). ‘The Drift’, her autobiographical play, was part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s 2019 season and Scotland’s Black History Month 2018 and 2019. Her recent play, ‘The Lament for Sheku Bayoh’, commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre was performed as part of the Edinburgh International Festival 2019. In November 2020 it will be directed by Hannah and streamed live from the Lyceum Stage. Hannah was awarded a New Playwright Award from Playwrights Studio Scotland and was named as one of BBC Writers Room Scottish Voices of 2020. She was recently selected as one of Owen Sheer’s ten writers asking questions that will shape our future for the International Literature showcase, a project from the National Writing Centre and the British Council. In October 2020, Hannah became an Associate Artist with the National Theatre of Scotland.