Women’s Things Writing from Mid-Life and Menopause
Edited by Leanne Moden and Anna Cotton
Writing © individual authors 2021 Selection © Leanne Moden and Anna Cotton 2021 Cover design © Pippa Hennessy 2021 ISBN: 978-1-5272-8744-0 The right of Leanne Moden and Anna Cotton to be identified as editors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Project administered by the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester in partnership with Writing East Midlands, with funding and support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
All rights reserved. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Printed and bound in the UK by The University of Leicester, Leicester. Typeset by Pippa Hennessy Published by the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester
Women’s Things Edited by Leanne Moden and Anna Cotton
Written by Donna Canale, Jude Casson, Anna Cotton, Sarah Dale, Mary Gibson, Dawn Hartley, Janey Harvey, Pippa Hennessy, Katie Holmes, Carolyn Howard, Sarah Johnson, Fiona Linday, Myszka Matthews, Cathy Meadows, Gail Marie Mitchell, Leanne Moden, Abigail Elizabeth Ottley, Cindy Rossiter, Teika Marija Smits, Nicky Tullett
Editors’ Note The following poems, prose and stories are published largely unedited. We have, however, made some soft edits to clarify meaning where required for the benefit of the reader. We have not sought to alter the voices represented in this anthology, and we have taken measures to preserve the powerful, thoughtful, humorous and moving voices of the women whose writing is featured within these pages. This anthology reflects the creative writing and views of the individual authors. Readers may not agree with all of the opinions expressed in this collection, but the East Midlands Oral History Archive has a commitment to freedom of expression in creating this work. www.le.ac.uk/emoha
Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7
The Usual . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 The River . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Gran in her Bed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
Twelve Words on the Final Cut of the Cord . . . .11 After the Ghost Babies have Gone . . . . . . . . . . . .12
Growing Out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 I am the Jam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
The Opposite of Good . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 Dear Sarah 1984 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
The Lost Girl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20 The Lost Woman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
‘Women’s Things’ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22 Menopause & Me . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23 In a Haze . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
Transition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
Today I Am... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 Menopause Is... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 Growing Old . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
M is for Mountain, M is for Menopause . . . . . . .30 The Bicycle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Rewilding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32 A Charm for Those Desiring Both Vim and Vigour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33
The Menopause Is... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34
The Pleasures of Puberty, Not! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35 Horses for Courses – A Letter to my Younger Self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37
Middle-pause . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39 Immovable Barriers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 Hormones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .41
Angry? ... Me? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42 Pride of Place . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44
Gail Marie Mitchell
Charm for Menopause . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45 Recycling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46
Bonfires . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48 Ageing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49
Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Menopause is Liver and Onions . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50 Waiting for My Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Bloodworm in Winter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52 Cindy Rossiter
Wild Thing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .53 Defiantly Woman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .54 The Answer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55
Teika Marija Smits
Pomegranate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .56
Menopausal Metaphors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57 Velcro . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58
Writers’ Biographies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59 Workshop Facilitators and Editors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .62 Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63
Introduction Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process, and one which touches all our lives. It is also a topic that provokes unease, silence and selfcensorship, perhaps as a result of society’s ongoing discomfort with the opinions and experiences of older women. The Silent Archive Project was conceived to facilitate open and honest conversations around menopause and middle age, and to document women’s experiences through discussions and interviews supported by the East Midlands Oral History Archive. This collection of poems and prose emerged from a series of creative writing workshops, which gave participants the chance to explore their thoughts and feelings through metaphor and memoir writing. The pieces in this anthology reflect our complicated relationships with ageing, change, health and our bodies. Many of the writers describe feelings of loss and hardship, while others speak of liberation and empowerment. In these pages you will find beauty, empathy, humour and understanding – but most of all, you will find stories of incredible resilience and hope. This collection is an act of solidarity, defiance and support. If you are going through similar struggles, we hope these pieces of writing help you to realise that you are not alone. Leanne Moden and Anna Cotton December 2020
This anthology comes out of The Silent Archive project which was set up by the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester, with a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to bring women together from across the region to record oral testimonies about menopause. There is limited oral testimony in the archives documenting women's lives during this life stage. This project aims to address this 'silence' by establishing a collection of interviews, conversations and audio diaries about menopause, offering a resource for future researchers to consider menopause within a wider historical context. Helen Foster, EMOHA January 2021
The Usual I’m tired. ‘What’s for dinner?’ He says it every day I say, ‘I don’t feel very well, could do with a lie down.’ Why don’t I just say, ‘I’m going for a lie down, just get your own dinner.’ Why not be straight? I don’t help myself. He says, ‘We could all do with a lie down I’ve been at it since 8am, not like you part-timers!’ I begin to crack. Can feel the bubbles of rage engage, popping inside, beginning to rise. Yet, I begin to make dinner. I seethe over the stove. ‘Push it down, push it down.’ He puts his arms around me from behind, locking me in place, looking over my shoulder, ‘What have we got then?’ Takes all my strength not to elbow him in the face. Instead, I swallow and say, ‘The usual.’
The River She let the river run dry Sat by its banks and waited and watched. Didn’t try to help like before. Didn’t wade back in to clear the rubbish and mess that slowly strangled all hope. Nope! Not this time. She waited and watched. Did not interfere. Knew the time had come for endings. Even when she could see the water drying up and felt the old familiar pulling at her heart she sat. Even when she could hear the death rattles as the last drops dried on the parched bed she sat and looked at the horizon. Waiting for dawn and a new river rising.
Gran in her Bed My grandson calls me ‘Gran in her bed.’ It worried me at first, images of old grannies like Little Red Riding Hood’s came to mind. I hoped he knew it wasn’t because I was sick, or old, not that at all. His mother, my daughter, would Facetime, before she left for work. I was never prepared. One of the delights of letting go of show, letting go of routine, letting go of jobs and tasks, meant I could get up slow, go and get a cuppa or two, return to bed in the morning. Taking my time suited me fine. ‘Gran in her bed’
Twelve Words on the Final Cut of the Cord Hormone clash ascendant teen flies away Patched tigress helicopters home weeping pearls
After the Ghost Babies have Gone To disappear, a magic cloak is not required Try ovary shrinking Free from gaze to subvert From rose to cactus Space inside and out, out, OUT Iron to spare at last No longer wasted on lunar beds for ghost babies Still the pull of tides Still flow Still deep Enough for spines and love
Growing Out Ageing sucks It’s just as well I don’t rely on my looks Eyebrows thinning Waistline fattening Jawline slacking Brain wracking asking who is this woman in the mirror? Not my mother She’s never had my streak She tells me that even before I was born she never danced with abandon or partied till dawn Never so much as drank till she's drunk Not even once Upon the wall I’m joining the dots between snapshots Filling in the gaps If I could turn back time to 1999 I’d say hey, you’ll make mistakes along the way Wake up face down in an ashtray But trust me, things will turn out okay I picture my past self Me, but not me Cheekbones, hipbones, fragility Some days blinded by insecurity Others weightless and free These days I’m solid I’ve anchored my identity I’m bloated with happiness I’m burdened by responsibility
Ageing sucks the youth from my lips Yet plumps me with substance and boosts my resistance Wisdom brackets my sparking eyes My wrinkles parenthesis reframing, with emphasis that ageing needn’t be an encumbrance Why not embrace its expanding circumference of experience? Ageing sucks the doubt from my core I feel whole, I feel bold I feel strong, I feel more
I Am the Jam 1992. I hit puberty – Mum hit the menopause. I came of age – we came to blows. I remember her clenched fist striking my upper arm, fracturing my freshly-formed TB jab scab. I recall the pain in my tricep and my throbbing indignation. I don’t remember my crime. It wasn’t the half-smoked roll-up stashed in my school bag, nor the shoplifted Sonic Youth cassettes stowed beneath my bed. It might have been a butter-coated knife spoiling a pot of raspberry jam, liquid eyeliner on a white towel, something resembling a last straw. ‘Why don’t you leave home?’ Mum’s face was livid beetroot. ‘Because I’m thirteen.’ She crumpled in a pool of remorse and sweat. I shivered, staring at the kitchen window, flung open despite the February frost. What’s happened to her? It’s like an intruder’s snuck through the window and switched her for an alien. ‘Why are you acting weird, Mum?’ ‘I’m not going on HRT. It gives you breast cancer.’ ‘Have you been to the GP?’ ‘No, his wife’s in my aerobics class. I couldn’t look her in the eye knowing he’s seen me stripped off.’ ‘You haven’t done aerobics for months – you get all hot and knackered.’ ‘Fat chance I have the time.’ I listened, but only now I’m older do I truly hear. Only now I am the jam, spread too thinly. I am generation sandwich, mother, daughter, holding everything together… and sometimes, everything is too much. Three decades on, Mum has retreated into dementia’s fog. It’s pointless explaining what I’ve come to know – that her fears arose from wisps of half-truths and myths, that it could have been a different story. We never spoke of that day she crossed a line. It never happened again. We’ve rubbed along ever since – not always seeing eye to eye, but, like bread and jam, a time-tested pairing.
The Opposite of Good Here comes the great upheaval, with a red-hot capital M, insisting that I put my house in order. Old age is not for sissies, and I want to live my life in colour to the end of my days. I was always good at being good. My grandmother and mother were before me. School, church, professional bodies, mother, daughter, wife (twice). Good means compliant, reliable, polite. Good means colossal striving to do everything right. I am knackered. Lately, I discover that the opposite of good is not bad. It does not mean a helter-skelter middle-aged descent into drugs, affairs, law-breaking recklessness and going on the run. The appeal of bad blows out like a match in high winds. The opposite of good is real. A crampon-steep learning curve to fight my corner. Say no. Yes. I want. I don’t want. I need. To stand still with difficult truths in hurricane force unknowns. Real is love and death and anger and joy. Sadness, regret and delight. All the colours.
SARAH DALE Dear Sarah 1984, I can see you standing in your room in your student flat. You love it. Your posters and cassette player, sharing meals and laughs with the others. You are making lifelong friends. Yet I know that you are wholly convinced that there is something vitally wrong with you. The conviction has been developing for years and today it reaches a new inner certainty. Well, listen. Eventually you will know it to be a lie. You have a letter in your hand and you are sobbing. You don’t know what to do with yourself. You are in deep despair. You already believe that the accumulating evidence shows the truth. You have never been asked out on a date, never been asked to dance, never had sex. One drunken snog with a stranger last year and then a summer of glandular fever that you think must be connected. You are twenty, already falling miles behind your peers. You are drenched in shame about whatever it is that’s wrong with you, that means no one is attracted to you. Toxic searing embarrassment. In depressed desperation, you wrote to your parents last week to try to tell them how you feel. You are in the thick of yet another unrequited, obsessive crush on a boy, though you don’t tell them that. You would rather die. Instead your letter is full of flippant, jealous references to your flatmates’ adventures in love (as an aside, let me tell you that it will turn out that the boy in question is gay. Unavailable. Safety can be excruciating). Your mother doesn’t exactly reply. She writes regularly with news of people you know and an account of her week. She worries about you, always asks you if you’re all right. You know she wants to hear you are happy, thriving. Sometimes she writes things like, Don’t worry, I felt the same at your age. She might add, it was awful but you’ve got so much more going for you. Your father, meanwhile, writes earnestly, warming to his theme amidst pages of jokey anecdotes. Right in the centre is the killer sentence. I sometimes wonder if we, as a family, don’t give off the right pheromones. Bang. That’s it then. You are biologically incapable of attracting a mate. A vision of a lonely, loveless, childless future rears, fangs bared. It doesn’t occur to you to challenge him, to fight back. Dismiss it as the nonsense it is. Serious arguments with Dad are beyond the pale, have never happened. His vehement, sweeping statements go right in, like rusty 17
darts thrown carelessly around all your life. They’re not aimed at you but they hit anyone in their path. No one tries to stop it. It’s corroded your sense of self-worth to critically low levels. He goes on to tell you that the family GP recently commented that he must be very proud of you and your brother. Your father reports that he replied, more relieved – instead of both of you being in education, one could be on heroin and one pregnant. He believes he is being supportive. You believe it, sort of. No one is to blame. All of you are trying hard. This is impossible, slippery. You have been brought up like a sea bird in an oil slick. Your parents – our parents – are covered in oil too. None of you know any different, but it hurts so much to try to fly and you are too wounded to do it yet. You believe it is your own fault. The shame is overpowering. It isn’t your fault. You self-harm with vicious, poisonous words, written and spoken to yourself. The vow never to use the word hope. The deliberate, frequent listing of all the ways you are unloveable, unemployable, inferior in every way. Continuous, hurtful, secret comparison. Striving to protect against disappointment by purposefully predicting a bleak unchanging future. I want to tell you I get it. Finally. You were brought up in a family suffering from multiple forms of serious first and second-hand trauma. Childhood bereavement, estrangement, life-threatening illness. Poverty. War. Abandonment. Who knows what else, if this isn’t enough? The adults in our family coped by wilfully – knowingly and not – ignoring it. By carrying on in blinkers. By avoiding emotions and pretending all was well. They were too scared to do anything else. It worked up to a point. You grew up never witnessing an argument, or grief, or freely expressed love. Huge reserves of anger, fear and shame were floating around like icebergs. Ordinary, sometimes happy, family life was punctuated by bad moods, listlessness, migraines, silence, faints, strange turns, cruel jokes. Illness real and imagined. An extraordinarily powerful helplessness. Worry took the place of love. You learnt always to reassure them that you are fine. You present a cheerful, capable front most of the time. You learnt not to cry, or rebel. Never to rock the boat. You learnt that it was impossible to have teenage relationships, make teenage mistakes. You turned to your diary, to books, yearning to be more like other people. By twenty you are standing there, craving, parched. And truly terrified. So yes. You’re crying with exceptionally good cause. Get help. 18
It’s not easy to find the right help or to ask for it or when necessary to pay for it. But this is essential. You were brought up restricted by oil, gluing your wings down, distorting your limbs. You cannot fix this yourself. You need help from people who can see the oil. Somehow or other, persist. Find ways and people. Give yourself permission. Do it. Learn to tolerate the pain of stretching, the discomfort of removing the oil, of learning to fly. It’s ok. This route is infinitely better than clinging to the first and smallest things that are thrown your way, in love, work, anywhere. Clinging will keep you slicked in oil, matted and misshapen. This is extremely hard advice, which you are too distressed to hear right now. Now, find comfort, soothe yourself. Find your friends, show them your father’s letter. They’ll perhaps be shocked, laugh, hug you, probably pour a drink. It’s a start. Keep this letter. It’s never too late. Sarah, 2020
The Lost Girl I stood outside a telephone box one gloomy autumn afternoon counting my change. My head and tummy ached as I dialed home. ‘I hate you’, I said to the voice on the other end. ‘Anything else you want to say? ’ my mother replied. I bashed the phone down and dialed again and again, repeating my words till there was no money left. The road back to college was greasy with dead leaves, reflecting the texture of my skin. In the canteen I clung to a radiator, waiting for a spasm to pass and for the heat to give me comfort. Seventeen but felt seventy-seven. I hated being a woman.
The Lost Woman After a shower, she still smells of unwashed uniform, Stale coffee, old blood clings to her skin Her mouth fills with acid Burning, corroding her inner being She is a screeching fishwife in the middle of the street Screaming at no one but herself Young men and women walk past laughing The old matrons look on and mutter Inside the house, the walls press in Waiting for her to implode
‘Women’s Things’ My menopause was instant, Bang, straight after the hysterectomy. They told me it would happen. They said they didn’t know how it would be for me. They told me they didn’t have facts or stats to give me. They said I was very young, at 26. They had leaflets and advice for older women, but not me. I can tell them now. I can tell everyone my story. Except no one really asks. They ask how I am, but they don’t really want to know. Not because they don’t care, but it’s women’s things. We don’t talk about ‘Women’s Things’ Just like we don’t talk about real feelings. I say ‘I’m fine thanks’, but I’m not. We are told to always tell the truth, So why do I lie and smile, When all I want to do is cry? How do I say I feel empty and numb, Without sounding crazy? How do I explain I can’t move from my bed, Without sounding lazy? I’m hot and bothered, Tired and troubled. I’m numb and blank. I’m a shell with a smile. I want to talk and say how I feel. The words are in my head, But not on my tongue, The connection is lost. I’ll try again if someone asks ‘How are you today?’
Menopause & Me Meno-pause. A natural ending. Definition, a pause of periods. Don’t they just stop? Some get a warning, Months or years before. A chance to prepare. Not me, mine was instant. Surgery removed the equipment An empty space where the oven was. There’ll be no buns in there for me. The golden years have arrived early. Or should that be my Older years? I cry over newborn babies. My heart aches for the children I won’t have. I smile at pregnant ladies to hide my envy. I grieve for something I don’t even want. There is no logic for my emotions. I feel angry and frustrated, Yet, I don’t know why. My mouth doesn’t have a filter Verbal diarrhoea with a new found confidence. No ties or restrictions, no rules to abide by. I don’t fit in any tick boxes, Somehow, I’ll find my own way. That’s OK, because I am me.
In a Haze The weather in my head is hazy, no visibility to see where to go. My thoughts are the signposts, signposts that I can’t see clearly. I don’t understand. I can’t think. The words aren’t in the right order. The letters are jumbled up. The haze creates humidity. Hot air that is thick and dry. Oxygen almost non-existent. It tastes of sand. The breeze is like a hairdryer. My hair is wet with sweat, dripping down my back. There is a blank look in my eyes, no thoughts in my head. The low clouds are suffocating me. The sky is white, tinged with orange. The mountains feel too close. I can’t breathe.
Transition Menopause. That dreaded noun. ‘The ceasing of menstruation’. I always thought I’d welcome this; my periods have been a curse for 36 years, but now that I’m 50 and staring it in the face, I feel bereaved. I have to say goodbye to the fertile me, the woman whose body could carry and grow a baby. I view myself in the mirror and stroke my bare belly, imagining my pear womb and cherry ovaries empty and shrivelling under the skin. My daughter comes into the bedroom, pushes open the door. ‘Why are you looking at yourself like that?’ she asks. She’s only 17, young and fertile. I could be a grandmother one day. The thought fills me with dread. She’s sensible, it won’t happen for a long time. I breathe in deeply to calm myself. I know that she doesn’t want to know about hot flushes and night sweats and feeling so low I want to cry, so I pull my dressing gown around my body, ashamed and don’t answer. ‘You’re weird,’ she says, leaving the room and me with my loneliness. No one tells you enough about this, I think. People want to talk, but it’s only the bad stuff, the negative stuff that they want to fill their coffee mornings with. The same as it was with pregnancy. No one was ever interested in a smooth labour, but they’d gather like pigeons in Trafalgar Square for a tale of blood and stitches. I google menopause and natural remedies. Herbs are advised: Menopace, Agnus Castus, Black Cohosh and Sage for hot sweats and hormonal fluctuations. There’s a whiff of witchcraft and yet I add them to my basket and splash the cash. I’ve read the articles about breast cancer and HRT makes me nervous because no one can tell me whether I’d be safe or not. I feel unsafe anyway, so why would I make it worse? I wish there was a definitive handbook. An academic textbook with questions and answers in the back. But my attention isn’t what it was and I imagine I wouldn’t read it anyway because I’m like a goldfish right now. The doctor says it’s menopause brain fog and to write lists. I tell him that I would if I could remember what it was that I wanted to write. Words I would have once devoured are heavy and incomprehensible in my mouth. Neglected novels sit in dusty piles next to my bed. I used to read every night before sleep. Now it claims me as soon as I feel the mattress beneath me and I fall into a heavy, dreamless sleep until 4am. 4am is a shadowy bleak time. My eyes fly open and I lie staring into the darkness, hearing my husband’s contented snores beside me. My mind takes me to places I have no wish to go. It flits like a fly from one unwanted thought to 25
another: my girls having terrible accidents, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, my husband being hit by a lorry when he’s on his cycle. Eventually, I fall into a fitful sleep just before the alarm rudely wakes me. I am permanently exhausted. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to speak, so I know any handbook would remain closed like the novels, unread. Its pages starved of attention. What book could tell me about this journey? Every woman’s experience is different. Each of our bodies unique. Yes, millions have walked this path before, treading arduous, stumbling routes, taking years until they reach their destination with their knees blistered and bruised, wild-eyed, wild-haired and bewildered, asking: What happened to me? Who am I now? Who is that woman staring at me from the mirror? I don’t recognise her. She is an imposter. I don’t want it to be like that. When I emerge from this menopause shroud, I hope the heat that crawls and creeps across my skin will finally cool. I’ll throw open my wardrobe and pull out my drawers, drag out the vivid colours that have been sulking there: coral pinks, tangerine oranges, lurid lime and wear them next to my sweat-free skin. I’ll come out of hibernation, throw caution to the wind and make up for lost time. Maybe I’ll tell my story. Maybe, I’ll be the one to write a new handbook. One that tells of change and freedom and walking into the light. But first… I need to remember where I put my pen, make a mug of chamomile and take my Menopace.
Today I Am… Today I am imperial purple. I am warm and loved. I am rich in the things that matter. I have hidden depths to explore. I am the darkening sky at night and the lightening sky before the dawn. Today I am a five-pointed star. I’m a little bit spiky, sort of person-shaped but not quite. There is meaning and tradition in me, mystical and obscured but there to be discovered. Today I’m floppy. I’m slightly damp, a wet tea-towel hanging on the edge of the sink, creased and grubby, not clean and ironed. Someone should run me through a boil wash. Today I am a gentle sigh. A sigh of relief, a sigh of exasperation, a sigh of sadness for things past and opportunities missed. You can barely hear me, but you can see my chest rise… and fall. Today I am warm. I say goodbye to the chills of the last few weeks. My frozen centre is starting to melt. Icebergs calve from the glaciers of my past, carried by swift currents to new adventures. Today I am a cauldron of emotions, coming to the boil. I’m still calm on the surface, underneath bubbles froth and rise. The recipe was written by a madwoman, and I followed it blindly. I think the results will make good soup.
Menopause is… Menopause is pizza. I’m looking forward to it, anxiously watching the oven, preparing the salad, placing plate, knife, fork on the table. When I take it out and put it on the plate it is topped with anchovies and pineapple and rocket and shaved bloody parmesan. That’s not what I call a pizza. Menopause is a blue whale. Like Alan Davies I think it’s the answer then the klaxons go off I realise I’m wrong, yet again everybody in the audience laughs. Menopause is a red-nettle. Dusky flowers nestle in green, promising joy. I reach out to pluck them, its soft fuzz bites me, leaves me with weals redder than its flowers and a pain that goes all the way down to my bones. Menopause is an open fire. I’ve laid it well: firelighter, paper, kindling, coals, and a couple of logs to make leaping flames. It takes me years to find the matches. I strike one, put it to the paper. There is a brief blaze, then it sputters out.
Growing Old Growing old… growing… becoming more, not less. Learning how to be me – a new me? or more me? I don’t feel old. There is no loss involved. I give myself permission to find myself, be myself, love myself. I used to say I don’t care what other people think of me. That was a lie. It is still a lie but somehow it is more true. I care what I think of myself, (now I am actually thinking of myself) and it feels good.
M is for Mountain, M is for Menopause The path to the summit is hard. The exertion makes you breathe heavily. Be careful of your footing. It is easy to turn your ankle on the rocks. Loose stones slip away as you tread on them. Rough heather scratches your shins. Descending will be even harder. Stopping for a moment to catch your breath, hot and cold rush through you. The coolness of the air on your skin is a relief. Tiredness washes over you, like a wave when you misjudge the swell swimming in the sea. But you know you will surface again. Tiredness reveals your strength. You sense your body’s power. Your mind, your will, your emotions, your body are one, unified in the task of carrying you on and on, further up the winding path. Years of walking and running in the hills have grown into a core of grit inside you. However bad it feels now you know this pain will pass. At the summit, you rest one arm on the trig point as you stretch your aching quads and calf muscles. The landmarks you have left behind are veiled in mist. There is no further up to go. To the east, a new horizon lies before you. You have found your own way here, to the top of this mountain. Will you retrace your steps and return to the valley? Or will you take another path down and then walk on, up to the next summit?
The Bicycle Was this the end of something she had always loved? After years of cycling to work and long summer days riding for miles, she found herself dreading getting on her bike. It sat in the garage, unloved, ignored. The burning vulval pain could not be ignored. Flaring up, making it uncomfortable to sit. Why did doctors always talk about the menopause affecting your sex life? This was far more important! Then one day she became a member of a secret society: a private Facebook group where women shared their stories. One day she would cycle again.
Rewilding It is late summer Now she is letting the grass grow, Not under her feet but around her. Panicles of tor, rye and meadowtail caress fingertips. Now she is sowing wild flower seed, Red campion, poppy and forget-me-not, Bring the promise of jewels of ruby and sapphire. Now she no longer cuts back, And honeysuckle, nettles and dog rose, Tousle through once-tamed hedges of suburban ease. Now she breathes in the scents Of lavender, rosemary and marjoram, And breathes out the duties of a lifetime. She is rewilding. Her garden is where now she will be she.
A Charm for Those Desiring both Vim and Vigour Bring forth The joy of a puppy on a beach, The rays of the sun from a ripe, oozing peach, The bounce of toddlers leaping on a bed, And the passion of new lovers, No longer unsaid. Conjure up The roar of a lion on the plain, The fizz of bubbles held in champagne, The whooooosh of fireworks in the night sky, Bring on this energy, that we may fly high
The Menopause is … The menopause is like a leech It sucks the life out of you You would not have it as a pet You would not go out and get one Pointless and painful The menopause is like a hurricane Stay inside She is on her way to rip up the town Wild and angry And then an eerie calm The menopause is like the ocean Frothy, salty and wet Mysterious No one really knows what lies deep below the surface It changes by the day It does not stay still Constantly moving Back and forth Happy, sad Go with the tide The tide of life My body floating on the tide of life Wearing away at the beach It’ll never be the same again Take one womb With a handful of doom Dry from blood Is all well and good When you’ve hit middle-age You’re constantly in a daze One sweaty hormonal wife Teetering on the edge of life Crying and shouting in her prime Why is this happening all of the time? 34
The Pleasures of Puberty, Not! Puberty is burning, chilli-hot cheeks stung by salty tears. Senior school is agony, where fit lads overlook me and chat up my best mates. Who can blame them for dodging me when bulbous zits explode on my face, my skin shining like oily residue on a frying pan? On a period day, skiving basketball matches is a must, due to the teachers’ dreaded sports-shower timetabling. Wendy whispers that wearing your passed-down, orange corduroy skirt is not cool. That comes as a complete shocker. I beg the ground to swallow me. My family doesn’t help much, although they claim to care. My elder sis never misses the chance for a cheap jibe. ‘Wash your greasy mop, you look a mess!’ she says, her bedroom door slamming. Whatever! Strong antibiotics from the skin specialist interrupt the breakout of dotto-dot spots and prevent more scarred pits in my epidermis. But I can’t stay on drugs forever, no matter how calming, and I’m not going to magically grow out of it. I give in to Mum’s insistence and try her latest healthy diet thing. I’m at my happiest as a recluse, Mum knows this. My bedroom is a safe haven from intruders and with a tea towel covering my mirror I can escape into a wonderful ‘Rebecca’ fantasy. Still, Mum drags me over to the fruit and veg shop. I tag along to inspect Reg’s chilled counter, hopeful of a fruity treat, no questions asked. But Mum can’t resist nit-picking my choice of lunch. She does my head in, Mrs. Know-all, squashing my 14-year-old attitude with her loony tone. Next, she asks poor Reg, ‘Have you any low variety yoghurts, because Fiona is cutting down on her farts.’ She means fats but in her telephone voice, it comes out wrong. In shock, I glance between the embarrassed greengrocer and his customers, then bolt from the shop and across the busy road. I retreat to the sanctuary of my bedroom, my tea towel blotting a stream of fresh tears. Staring at my ghostly crimson reflection, I gain strength to blank the knock at my door. Eventually, Dad coaxes me out for tea. I wail over the dining table, ‘Can you believe what Mum said? She only went all posh to tell Reg that I was cutting down on my FARTS!’ Mum shakes her head and denies all knowledge. How rude! Dad at least manages to keep a straight face. I compose myself. ‘Next she’ll be telling him I’m past my sell-by date.’ 35
Dad’s expression breaks into a grin. ‘Never mind, eh? You need a good sense of humour to survive this family.’ My sister finds my plight hilarious and is super-quick to spread the news. My family discover I’m game for a laugh, when I man-up. Beware: revenge is sweet!
Horses for Courses – A Letter to My Younger Self Forgive me for not writing earlier on this taboo subject of hormones. They are to be respected, believe me. I remember the time you started a journey into wild womanhood, thanks to those dreaded chemicals stimulating fiery reactions throughout your veins. We say horses for courses, don’t we? At home, hooves were firmly planted in grassroots – they led you out of the stable on a short rein. When you escaped, you protested with loud snorts and many a whinny. But bets were off as you cantered towards maturity. It was as if puberty were to be jumped over, at all costs. As a filly bolting out of the starting gate, you were raring to go. You actually frothed at the mouth, trying to attract a mate. When denied a fair pairing with a young stallion, you reared up in rebellion and kicked off big time. You watched the rampant stallions pass you by until successful introductions came from the careful steering towards a more mature breeding stable. As a mare, you sweated excitedly towards the finish line of a thoroughbred breeding course, gaining steady experience with a sure winner at 3 to 1. He was your Mr. Right. On your mark, you married and triumphantly waited for the rosettes to be pinned to your scoreboard. In your heyday, you were blessed with strapping offspring to successfully compete with. Your first rosette, red, came with the birth of your first child. That initial race was won with ease. Sadly, in the next race, you fell at the first hurdle and had a blue time with a non-starter. A yellow rosette came swiftly after, followed by a green, and your stable of three beautiful children was complete thanks to those pesky hormones. I’m delighted to say long after the shot reverberated around the track, you kept running. Three grandkids have subsequently joined the fold, your happy family the best trophy of all. Since menopause, hormones still bamboozle your mind. You’re quirky, but that’s no wonder, what with lowered levels of oestrogen and testosterone acting as secret double agents. These pit ponies were never sure bets. Even now, they regularly send security messages to your trembling body to comfort eat. Watch out for lameness because you no longer need that same old rush to get a buzz. Despite these up and down covert pulses, hormones sustain, strengthen, maintain, and even repair. They were a pain for many years, adding unwanted whiskers and dreadful bone aches, but more recently they’re on your side. 37
It’s no surprise that you are perplexed contemplating the hormonal love/hate relationship. But as you steadily pick up on life’s hazards and hurdles, adjusting to the pandemic lockdown crazy should be doable. After trotting in a metamorphic state to beat this national insecurity of high-risk poison, managing hormones is okay. There will be no break in the races today. Finally, as you approach the finish line and before you are put out to graze, stay in service of a creator God. Remember, it was He who graced you with that renewal kick.
Middle-pause Sad. I am overwhelmingly sad at my menopausal body. I would cry, but a camera might catch it, and I’m not ready to share. I ache for your touch, for the sliding of velvet, and then – Promising lust, my body refuses like an obstinate pony at a pony club ditch. It peers down and teeters, unable to leap, paralysed in the moment. Memories are lost in fog. Sleep becomes a suffocating blanket.
Immovable Barriers A huge clot, bulges, bigger than the elephant in our room. Pressure builds in cells. Bulges and shifts. Tiny hairs show on the surface. An iron door, clangs shut. A prison cell. Cold. The echoes isolate and separate. Stale sweat creeps and recedes. The ebb and flow of polluted rivers into the seas. Sharp rocks under bare feet. Coral slices through ready acceptance. Metal clings to her tongue.
Hormones ‘She’s controlled by her hormones, she is.’ Mother: She who both placed and labelled me, right from the start. The women’s lib expert who trod on her daughter at home Instilling a hate of her body Igniting a fear of her life ahead. Pushed her to break. Over and over. The waves of anger boxed her in. Made her pay for the treatment of others. Revenge was poured into her daughter. Judged and put down. Taught to despair. Taught to spell ‘loathing’. Modelled from birth.
Angry?... Me? An angry girl is an ugly girl. An angry girl is spoilt. An angry girl is unacceptable. An angry girl is spiteful and mean. An angry girl is ‘not very ladylike’. An angry girl must be punished. An angry girl is wild and needs to be tamed. An angry girl will never get a husband. An angry girl is sent off the sports court in disgrace. An angry girl gets excluded from school – especially if she's Black. An angry girl is unfeminine. An angry girl needs teaching a lesson. An angry girl needs to ‘calm down’, ‘eat this’, ‘swallow that’. An angry girl must have hit puberty. An angry girl must have started her period. An angry girl is a typical teenager. An angry woman is unattractive. An angry woman is unreasonable. An angry woman is embarrassing. An angry woman is letting the side down. An angry woman is making a show of herself. An angry woman brings shame on the family. An angry woman is irrational. An angry woman is out of control. An angry woman is crazy. An angry woman cannot be trusted with her children – especially if she’s working class. An angry woman should be locked up. An angry woman isn’t getting enough. An angry woman offends men – ‘What have I done?’ An angry woman needs to be taught a lesson. An angry woman will not get away with it. An angry woman needs to ‘calm down’, ‘have a drink’, ‘eat that’, ‘take this’. An angry woman must be on her period. Or be menopausal. Or perimenopausal. Or have early onset dementia. 42
Angry?... Me? An angry girl or woman has every reason to be angry. An angry girl or woman deserves compassion. An angry girl or woman needs space to safely rage against mistreatment, oppression and the irrational society. An angry girl or woman refuses to accept the status quo and directs her anger to unite with others to change the world.
Pride of Place My mum has had her womb out. We have had our womb jokes out. No womb for that kind of humour here. She says, ‘It makes you think, when it’s gone About all the work it’s done; Four babies all in all and none especially small.’ She says she wants her womb back, now it’s gone, ‘To appreciate all the work it’s done; Four children, I’m proud of them all, I’ve got their photos on the wall.’ She says she wants her womb and she’s got a plan. No, not a framed ultrasound scan. She says she wants her womb back in pride of place In an aquarium on the mantelpiece.
GAIL MARIE MITCHELL
Charm for Menopause Sugar and spice and all things nice Round the decades once, twice, thrice Little girls will all grow older Some grow anxious, some grow bolder Round the forties, into fifties Sweetness gives you diabetes Mini wees each time you sneeze Aching breasts and creaking knees Less ambition, more nostalgia Lose motivation, gain myalgia Middle age is nature’s curse, But never getting old? That’s worse.
GAIL MARIE MITCHELL
Recycling I cried at the tip today Sorry, recycling centre as we call it now. And if you’ve got a couple of minutes I’ll tell you how A grown woman who ought to know better Stood there sobbing While people stared. In over fifty years you’d think I’d have learnt That crying isn’t socially acceptable. It’s not the first time I’ve been burnt By my inability to control emotions. There’s no excuse And I’d be lying If I told that this will be the last time That I stand in public crying. I’d worked so hard to be prepared, sorted all the rubbish into piles Researched the website, contacted the council, I thought I knew My wood from my rubble, My waste from my recycling. I had it in the garage all laid out and labelled ‘Scrap metal’, ‘household waste’, ‘electric cables’. But somehow, I’d misunderstood the online instructions The brusque and bossy woman in charge soon put me straight! ‘No! That’s chipboard,’ she said to me! ‘It’s also glass,’ I said Apologetically. ‘Don’t talk to me like that,’ she replied. And that is when I cried. She didn’t know how hard I tried To sort my waste according to the rules Or that, five years ago today, my father died And it was his possessions I was disposing of And I don’t wear a T-shirt with the handy warning 46
Menopausal woman with anxiety issues, proceed with caution So, I stood there panicked and hysterical And I’d still be there now – with her shouting that I ought to calm down If my husband hadn’t been there and gently said ‘Come on let’s go home – we’ll hire a skip.’ So, with half a boot still full of rubbish, we left the tip. And again, at the age of fifty-one I failed to be a normal human person Not because I can’t sort rubbish – who gets that right? But because I still cry in public and have never learnt to stem the tide Of grief, fear and insecurity From overflowing from my inside out. But… now here’s a revelation What if we gave up all the moral indignation? The shoulds and oughts and judgement calls And all tried to be kinder? I include myself in this. What if – compassion became the new normal And replaced the expectation of perfection In others and ourselves? And what if just for one hour every day It was ok to not be ok? If sharing our own weaknesses became our joint power. Then maybe crying at the tip Wouldn’t be so bad. It would just mean that I’m human A woman, flawed and broken Imperfect, sometimes sad A little bit uncomfortable with herself. And just as normal in my own way As everybody else.
Bonfires They used to burn women like us once. Heft us atop pyres to pay for someone else’s sins. Now, we are the smouldering bonfires, embers incandescent beneath the ash and charred wood. At any moment, we might catch flame, lit by the spark of impossible expectations. When fraught words sizzle across our tongues, they are doused with ridicule. But this fire will not quench. See, there’s no way to threaten us now. You cannot keep us quiet; we’ve been burning for years.
Ageing I am more experienced now: the years have been unkind. It is impossible for me to say I am wiser, stronger, more resilient, when I know in my heart I am a shadow of what came before. Let it never be said that I was defiant in the face of convention. When asked to bite my tongue, lower my head, I did what was expected of me. After all this time, I cannot say I am finally content. I am finally content. After all this time, I cannot say I did what was expected of me. When asked to bite my tongue, lower my head, I was defiant in the face of convention. Let it never be said that I am a shadow of what came before when I know in my heart I am wiser, stronger, more resilient. It is impossible for me to say the years have been unkind: I am more experienced now.
ABIGAIL ELIZABETH OTTLEY
Menopause is Liver and Onions Bloody, bold and sizzling rich, sometimes tough and sometimes tender filling up the void in my growling womb with a kick to the stomach like a mule. Menopause is a hearty meal that leaves a nasty mess in the kitchen. A thick brown sludge burnt on by heat sticking, always sticking to the pan. Menopause is Madame Wolf who comes loping, swishing and sniffing. Yellow-eyed and fierce in her unspeakable aloneness, her paws swift and sure. Wolf is savvy, finds water by moonlight. The old trails open up to her. Menopause is clever, all animal instinct. Wolf knows well who she is. Menopause is a cactus flower. Scarlet, pink and shocking. Also green and lush and cool as desert life must be. Thrust through with needles she will pierce your heart, make you bleed over and over. But still she will feed you from her store and her waters will slake your great thirst. Menopause is a day between autumn and winter when the wind whips the sun into shape. The ocean, turning turtle, shows its seething underbelly, fishbone-white and gun-metal grey. Where this year’s gulls go wheeling and screeching, glad just to be and be airborne. Menopause is a salt-sea savour and the blue haze of a squall across the bay. But menopause has also been the energy that drives me. Its microscopes and telescopes have taught me how to see. It is my paper, my ink, my pen, the passion that inspires me, the heat in which I hammered out a stronger, sharper me
ABIGAIL ELIZABETH OTTLEY
Waiting for My Man If oestrogen were a street drug would it come with a warning? Would shadowy figures in baseball caps and hoodies skulk after dusk in unlit alleys pausing to make furtive but urgent phone calls impatient for The Man to show? Would restless eyes scan the silent street and feet scuff and shuffle their impatience? If oestrogen were a street drug would that be a problem? I mean would anyone care? See the touch-paper queue in the street outside the surgery. as they wait for their hit for the weekend. Would women queue neatly, without complaint, submit dully with no hint of aggression? If oestrogen were a street drug would women still be nice?
ABIGAIL ELIZABETH OTTLEY
Bloodworm in Winter The fish are my stories. Not all of them are pretty. Not the dancing tench or the lady of the stream the shimmering, lipstick-painted grayling but carp and bream and the fearsome barbel the bony-headed, slant-toothed pike. Monsters and predators stir my silted depths where corpses hook their fleshless fingers. Now there is a thawing and the ice gives way. Fish rise torpid to the bait.
Wild Thing My body is a wild thing stomach swells knees give way Yet it’s turned sixty borne two children walked countless miles stood whilst I have worked run when I have played remained smooth when things got rough stayed calm whilst I have dressed to hide its increasing girth and proved itself in for the long haul I think I’ll keep it
Defiantly Woman I’m not old More mature Young in spirit My knees are tricky Wish I could walk faster But does it matter when I arrive? I’ve already been. My T-shirt’s red And don’t even try to pull the wool! I am strong Invincible and defiantly woman!
The Answer The Question: How are you today? Grotty. Snotty. Dangerous to know. Annoyed. Exasperated. Undervalued. Definitely wasting my time. Warm. Drawn. Not on form. Scandalised. Dis-incentivised. Neutralised. If the future of committee meetings is Zoom. I am not yet resigned to it!
TEIKA MARIJA SMITS
Pomegranate Once, it was ripe; a chalice to a multitude of seeds, each seed a fertile ruby plump with crimson juice. Now it withers, lays untouched. Unseen. Soon, a woman will take a knife, sigh and then slice into it. She will marvel at its innards, its desiccated womb, so like her own. Glorious in its decay, it will stain her clothes purple.
Menopausal Metaphors (or Now is the Autumn of Our Discontent) The copper leaves start to lose their colour, Desiccate and fall to earth. On especially stormy nights You can hear them slowly twisting To the ground below. The autumnal fog, smell of bonfires And yesterday’s fireworks Suggest the coloured Catherine wheel Is spent. The season of mellow fruitfulness is over.
Velcro Last night I found myself velcroed to my chap's back. You see, middle age has been extremely kind; Bestowing us with extra hair. Not the silky luxurious kind, alas; It's black and spiky, on the whole. His ears and nose are richly blessed And his shoulders now rustle, Much like that field of wheat That caught Mrs May out. Whilst my menopausal chin, Clearly envious of our sooty cat, Or perhaps the hooks on my best jacket, Has sprouted black curved whiskers. And these two new coats, became entwined Whilst I was hugging his broad, still strong back. Locking us together. Rendering it Painful to peel away.
Writers’ Biographies DONNA CANALE Donna Canale is a poet and writer who has been involved in facilitating community education for many years. She facilitates the Corby Collective Poets who perform, write and publish together. She is currently working on her own collection of poems.
JUDE CASSON Jude Casson is a GP from Leicester who has mainly written essays for medical non-fiction writing competitions as well as some short stories. Writing about the menopause has given her inspiration to try poetry for the first time since leaving school!
SARAH DALE Sarah Dale is a psychologist and writer living in Nottingham. She completed an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck University, London in 2019 and she’s had stories published by the Mechanics’ Institute Review, Fairlight Books and The Letters Page. She’s been menopausal for years already…
MARY GIBSON Mary Gibson lives in Leicester with her three cats, plus assorted feline visitors. She writes short fiction and poetry. Writing about the menopause has been a therapeutic experience and she hopes to explore the subject more.
DAWN HARTLEY Dawn Hartley is a writer from Nottingham. She has been writing poetry and stories since she was 14 and is now pursuing her dream by having her work published. Dawn wanted to write about her own experience of the menopause as hers started after a hysterectomy when she was 26.
JANEY HARVEY Janey Harvey is a writer and teacher from Nottinghamshire. She is studying an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University and working on her first novel. Her articles have appeared in JUNO Magazine and her fiction features in The Fosseway Writers’ collaborative novels: Burning Old School Ties and The Brinwade Chronicles.
PIPPA HENNESSY Pippa Hennessy is a writer and publisher living and working in Nottingham. She has published poems, short fiction, creative non-fiction and comic stories in a range of magazines and anthologies, and her poems on quantum theory were selected for Soundswrite Press’s 2019 showcase book of three women poets: Take Three.
KATIE HOLMES Katie Holmes is an independent researcher and self-employed charity consultant from Nottingham. She writes about the history of women’s endurance running and gathers contemporary experiences of older female runners. She has written two articles about her own experience of running during the perimenopause.
CAROLYN HOWARD Carolyn Howard wrote her first story at the age of five. Encouraged by rave reviews (‘You’re the next Enid Blyton.’ – her mum) she has spent the past 50-plus years occasionally dabbling and always meaning to write more. This poetry is the result. Carolyn lives and works in Leicestershire.
SARAH JOHNSON 49-year-old Sarah Johnson is married with two children and lives in Leicester. She is a stand-up comedian/actor/scriptwriter and is currently going through a full-on menopausal nightmare!
FIONA LINDAY Fiona Linday is a writer and workshop facilitator from Leicestershire. She is currently under contract with Onwards & Upwards Publishers, bringing together her collection of short stories and poetry called Count Our Blessings. fionalinday.co.uk
MYSZKA MATTHEWS Myszka Matthews is writing a historical trilogy, tracing generations of women and the impact of their femininity, both individually and generationally. As both a writer and a therapist, she leads writing groups and courses at Foxes’ Retreat, near Ashbourne, with a passion to empower the voices of those new to writing.
CATHY MEADOWS Cathy Meadows writes to celebrate, empower and heal: herself and the rest of humanity. Read more on her blog, Can't stop thinking about/Can't stand thinking about Climate Change, csta2climatechange.wordpress.com
GAIL MARIE MITCHELL When Gail isn’t processing financial spreadsheets for the Council, she is trying to make sense of this crazy, confused and broken world. Her book Loving the Life Less Lived was published in 2017. As well as poetry, she is currently writing a novel about five friends facing the menopause.
ABIGAIL ELIZABETH OTTLEY Abigail Elizabeth Ottley writes poetry and short fiction. This year her work has appeared in The Lake, The Atlanta Review, Gnashing Teeth, Impspired, The Blue Nib, and Fragmented Voices. A former English teacher with a lifelong interest in history, Abigail is now primary carer to her very elderly mother.
CINDY ROSSITER A successful Hucknall businesswoman for nearly thirty years, Cindy restarted writing ten years ago, having loved poetry as a child. She now has several poems of her own etched on artwork in the Hucknall area and various pieces of poetry and prose in local books and anthologies.
TEIKA MARIJA SMITS Teika Marija Smits is a writer, editor and mother-of-two, whose writing often includes feminine and Jungian motifs. Her poems have been published in Atrium, Prole, LossLit, Brittle Star and The Poetry Shed. Her debut pamphlet, Russian Doll, is to be published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2020.
NICKY TULLETT Nicky Tullett has been writing poetry occasionally for many years alongside motherhood and work (in academia and mental health). She began performing her poems, as a personal challenge, in 2019 in Nottingham and is delighted to be included in this anthology.
Workshop Facilitators and Editors ANNA COTTON Anna Cotton is a Nottingham-based writer, editor, and community arts facilitator. Her microfiction and short stories are published in numerous anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is a founding member of two novel workshop groups. As the Silent Archive project’s shadow writer, her eyes are now fully open to the unvarnished realities of impending menopause!
LEANNE MODEN Leanne Moden is a poet, performer, theatre-maker and educator, based in Nottingham. She’s performed her work across the UK and Europe, and her latest pamphlet of poetry, Get Over Yourself, was published by Burning Eye Books in July 2020. As the lead writer on the Silent Archive project, she has been impressed and inspired by the strength, creativity, empathy and resilience of all the people involved in this publication!
Acknowledgements Thank you to all the writers who took part in this project, those who attended the workshops, and those who have contributed to this anthology – your words are moving, insightful and hopeful, and above all, truthful. We’re delighted to be able to showcase your work. We are hugely grateful to Dr Helen Foster, Research Assistant/Outreach Officer at the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester, for organising this project, and to Aimee Wilkinson and Hayley Green at Writing East Midlands for their support in facilitating the Silent Archive ‘Let’s Write About the Menopause’ workshops. Thank you to Anna Cotton and Leanne Moden for their work leading the workshops and editing this anthology. Thank you to Pippa Hennessy for invaluable support with cover design, editing, proofreading and typesetting for publication – we couldn’t have done it without you, Pippa! Finally, we are deeply grateful to receive funding for this project from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and ongoing support from the East Midlands Oral History Archive in partnership with Writing East Midlands and the University of Leicester. Thank you for allowing us to elevate seldomheard stories of menopause and middle age. We are also incredibly grateful to you, the reader. 2020 has been a ridiculously challenging year, but as this project has shown, the light of human kindness and connection will always shine out, even in the darkest of times.
“We don’t talk about 'Women’s Things’.” As a society, we don't often speak openly and frankly about menopause. But maybe we should... This innovative anthology includes new writing by twenty women from across the East Midlands. Created as part of the Silent Archive Project, each piece of prose, poetry and memoir in the collection explores the strange, poignant, funny and difficult experiences of menopause and mid-life, offering fresh and illuminating perspectives on a taboo topic, and giving voice to stories that are rarely heard. This collection is an act of defiance, solidarity and support. It is also an incredible insight into what it means to be a woman.