Inspirations for The Two of Us, my monthly radio show

Some years ago I had my very first radio show ‘The Conversational’ on Reel Rebels Radio. I became ill in 2011 with Lyme Disease and the unrelenting fatigue meant that I could no longer continue with the monthly show.  A great deal has happened in the years since. I’m still unwell but I’ve become more accustomed to it. It would be a lie to say that I’ve either learnt the fine (and impossible) art of pacing or that I’ve reached a state of acceptance.

Two things have made a massive difference to my day to day living. Firstly I’ve plucked up the courage to call myself an artist and not wince when I say it. And secondly I’ve discovered podcasts. These two statements are connected. I can’t say for sure whether my artistic ability has improved, although I’m confident in saying it hasn’t got any worse. However my relationship to my work has shifted. I’m more interested in personal story than ever and more recently (the one I love and bed) have found ways to integrate my photography, writing and interview, for example Whoever Was Using This Bed .

Being ill for such a long time has intensified my contemplative nature. My love of podcasts has a direct link to my social isolation. On better days I go for what I call a local ‘photo potter’ a camera in hand, headphones hon listening to On Being,Made of Human, Invisbilia or whatever I've carefully downloaded and curated before I began my walk. Story telling and story listening (whether in words or images) have become an integral part of my life in the last 7 years. Chronic illness brings with it a number of emotional hurdles. Lyme has gifted me with high end anxiety as a near constant companion. I first experienced depression after my parents divorced when I was 11 and it’s been a part of my life ever since. Luckily the treatments I’m having seem to keep it under control, that is until I have a flare and I can spend months housebound and often to bed.

Even though I live with depression and anxiety I believe I have a great capacity for joy. One of my greatest pleasures is found in human connection and satisfying my endlessly inquisitive nature. I never know quite where I get my ideas from. It rarely feels like I’ve made something up myself and more that it plonks itself at my feet and I’d be a fool to ignore it. As my love for podcasts began to develop I knew that I had a real craving to do another radio show. I just wasn’t sure what. I was clear about one thing - unlike my other show where I had two or three guests a show - now I wanted to explore the long form interview and have just one guest.

Two of my favourite, albeit somewhat gruelling, podcasts are Terrible, Thanks for Asking and The Hilarious World of Depression. The latter began as interviews with stand up comedians but has now expanded to other performers. Inspired by both of these shows I decided to talk to writers and from all disciplines about their experience and the result was The Two of Us, aired on Reel Rebels Radio.

Writing is home for me. I think you’ll find the writers here, Joelle Taylor Miriam Nash and S K Perry incredibly articulate and generous about their own mental health journeys. I decided to focus on both mental health AND emotional well being as I believe it’s like the flickering of a candle flame and most of us move from one to the other and back again throughout our lives.

I’m also interested in lived experience and intersectionality. Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it cannot. I wanted to create my own mini mental health awareness campaign and to include exuberance, survival and complexity. The three guests that have appeared so far have been fearless in their honesty and shared breathtaking work.

Living Differently - Holding the Gaze

Wall of meBack in 2013 I did an online photography course with Vivienne McMaster. Vivienne's work encourages her participants to "discover tools that will help you to cultivate a relationship of self-compassion both through the camera and in your every day life" (her words from the website), the premise being that self portraiture can help us look at ourselves with love and lessen the hold of self-criticism. It can be a radical act to show up in front of the lens and direct that gaze, that multi-facted honest gaze towards our most bullying critic - us. We can feel the earth shift when we direct a look of love towards ourselves instead.

A year before this I began using photography as a way to deal with living with chronic illness. After feeling trapped in my body I felt an enormous sense of relief capturing what was happening to me on camera. I was both the photographer and the subject and that allowed me to explore my feelings in depth without having them overwhelm me. The camera was a tool for both investigation and validating my experience. I began my self-portrait journey wanting to record the truth and the last thing I wanted was to 'play nice' for the camera. As I continued my work with Vivienne I learnt how to enjoy being in front of the lens. I found out that I was a worthy a subject as anyone I had turned my camera towards.

A few years have gone by and I'm still adapting to a life I did not choose, still looking for  my own story in the midst of change. The past 6 months have been very tough and I've got puffy and swollen in my face. This shouldn't matter, but it does. In an attempt to self-validate I forgot one thing - the constant passing of time. When I look at the photos above, all taken and processed on my phone, posing, pouting and beaming - I can also see someone trying hard to pretty herself for the lens. Looking at these pictures something is missing. Where is my body ? It's no coincidence that I live with an invisible illness.  I've managed to hide myself from myself.

Looking  again I can see that even the most processed of them are a part of my story. Some days I let my vulnerability show, others I shine with joy and then there are the times when I feel the only choice I have is to 'say cheese', hold my gaze and face the world.

Re Issue - Peter Pan Loses his Ability to Fly

Peter Pan Loses his Ability to Fly

My parents left me to defend myself with only sticks

and a few bad words. I open my milk-tooth mouth,

I've not even the jaw to bite. The inside of me is dust.

I want good fortune to stroke me

with a mother's bed-time touch.

I keep waiting.

My dreams are full of ghouls, angry fang-tooth dogs,

and dark corridors lit by just one flame.

If only I knew good things then my cottoned feet would lift

from the rubble of the earth, the split and splintered timber.

If I was happy, and not scared

I would rise like a bird

the island below my kingdom

and me, king for a day.

Re Issue - an introduction.

It's been a while since I've written any poetry but I thought I would go through two of my old projects Poetry Mosaic and Moments of Chaos and Nostalgia (a poetry/photography project with photographer Dan Wesker) and in addition to this some of my unpublished work and share the poems here in an online collection called Re Issue. I'm still very proud of Poetry Mosaic. This is how I described it on the blog initially.

Poetry Mosaic is the online poetry invention of London based poet, Naomi Woddis. I find that my writing process is changing rapidly and I am using found text in my work. Sometimes I will do an extended interview and this will form the basis or springboard for a poem. I mix some extracts of the conversation with my own writing. 

Poetry Mosaic goes a step further. The responses to specific questions will be the starting point for the poetry on this site. Short phrases from these replies will be cut and pasted with longer pieces of my own work and the finished poems will be posted on the Poetry Mosaic blog. Each respondent will be fully acknowledged at the end of each poem on the Poetry Mosaic blog. I will retain sole copyright for the poem that I create out of the responses.

Sometimes I created the poem using only the replies and at other times I would include my own contributions to the final piece.


On Time

The oldest knew the mountain. As children they had all the time in the world,

watched the hourglass empty, caught in the glint of the rising sun’s eye.


My greying hair, the shrinking human brain, skin products gathering on the bathroom shelf.

An antelope runs across a lonely desert, its shadow speeding.


Tornado time whirls. Monks meditate on stillness at the fulcrum.

Everything that has happened will happen. It is always Now.

© Copyright Naomi Woddis 2008

Inspired and taken from answers to the the following questions:

What image illustrates the true nature of time ? Describe the first time you saw another person’s blood ? What does the word home mean to you ?

Chrystine Bennett A tornado, a hurricane. no not the winds whirling round and round picking up cars and cows and houses, the strange stillness in the middle. Time is not forward or back, it is never past, it is always now.

Dorianne Laux  Trees are time. Leaves fall like minutes. Eons of rings hidden at the core. They tick like clocks in the breeze and the birds who live inside them are small beating hearts. They watch the grass grow over their feet. Their limbs ache when it rains. The oldest knew the mountains when they were young, when they had all the time in the world.

Niall O’Sullivan The human brain.

Sally Evans A sand-glass. Or the sun rising in the north east at the solstice. The neolithic tomb where the sun strikes in through an aperture only once a year, at its highest point. A reversible sand-glass.

Catherine Brennan The increasing accumulation of skin products in the bathroom cabinet!

Lucy Lepchani Most cultures have a linear model of time: past, present, future. Tantric traditions are founded on the concept of time as non-linear: everything that has ever happened or will happen, is taking place simultaneously, constantly. Tantric practices, which range from meditation to feasting, sexual rites or intoxication or working with death, and many other taboos, shift consciousness to dispel the illusion of linear time (known as ‘The Monster of Time’). Tantrics hold that to experience Time as it truly is, as it reflects the nature of the universe, is to experience divine ecstasy.

Andy Thibault Simultaneously, I see the curve of the earth from space and antelope running in the desert from a cliff in the southwest U.S. Stella Duffy The greying of hair.

Living Differently - Heartpoint (for Catherine)

I'm still getting over my most recent energy crash. It takes a lot of self-discipline to care for myself this much. And I don't mean the physical side of taking enough rest or eating properly but the emotional component. That one I find pretty tough. For every step I take towards self-compassion a voice rears up in my head reminding me, with great authority, how indulgent I'm being to take it this easy and that I should be doing more.  It's an hourly battle not to be crushed by this inner dictatorial voice and I find myself losing the ability to see what I need with any clarity at all. To feel so in the wilderness with nothing but my own punishing thoughts for company can be a pretty lonely place and I begin to wonder if I'll ever find my way back home. Now I've written this down I can see it does sound rather melodramatic. It's also the truth.

Chronic illnesses have wavering symptoms, ranging from just about nearly OK to absolutely bloody awful and if the ghastly period is unrelenting the fear can hold you pretty tightly in its grip. The whole process of going through a crash, relapse, or flare is extremely traumatising. After the metaphorical storm has passed I find myself wincing at even the tiniest drop of rain. I know I'm not alone in this and that the unpredictable nature of long term sickness can be very anxiety producing. This is perhaps why so many of us turn to meditation, buddhism, a spiritual practice or a creative outlet to aid our navigation through these rough seas.

So, it will be no surprise to hear that recently I had given up on magic altogether, even in its most human form. That was until my friend Dina invited me over to her studio for a prolonged session of recuperative yoga. It's not the first time she's done this and I'm always grateful. The session lasted over two hours and Dina put me in a series of prolonged resting postures on mountains of bolsters and blocks, covering me with cosy blankets until I drifted in to that safe and hypnotic space between waking and sleeping. She is an expert at arranging the equipment and I often felt like I was floating in space, momentarily free of the burden of gravity.

One thing that struck me was Dina's attention to detail. Even my skinny wrists were supported by rolled up blankets. We often think of holding on as something we do with our hands but our wrists can also carry a great deal of tension, the support I had enabled me to let go at last, to take flight. I decided to find out what mysteries our often neglected wrists held and discovered the location of Heart Point 7  described as an acupressure point to quell anxiety. It also served as a reminder to me that when we are feeling our most fragile the seemingly smallest things make the greatest difference and hold the key to our emotional sanctuary. I've called this heartpoint to highlight that even in our most difficult times there are clues everywhere, tiny doorways to love and tenderness and it's in the silence and stillness that they are revealed to us.

NB: This post is dedicated to my friend Catherine who is in the middle of a storm right now.

The Inheritance

Another 5 minute freewrite but this time in response to my friend Musa Okwonga's poem 'Mortal'. I read it this morning and was struck by the lines There is nothing worse/ Than to be an ambition who has lost its thirst. I knew I had to put something down. Musa is a man rich in talent and this is my way of thanking him for all that he gives to the world. My piece below is very much about my dad who, like Musa, was never short of a word or two.

The Inheritance

He left me his books, the weight of the universe and so many unread words that I struggled to hold all of them - ignored, forgotten, featureless.

Instead I carried his name. Some places I travelled to it meant something, transformed me from anonymous in to a named being. And, for moments, I even felt a fleeting sense of love.

Now their spines shuffle together on a high shelf, fidgeting in their jackets. Their glorious moment passed and all I have left is the recollection of the day he handed them on to me. And his name. I carry that mouthing it in to the speechless dark waiting for an echo that never comes.

Picture This – Naomi Woddis ‘How Light Falls’

Many superlative writers responded to a portfolio of my photography for a project called Picture This. I also worked with photographer and film-maker Craig Thomas, on a short film entitled Still Life, containing a selection of these images. Below is my contribution. At first I was reluctant to write a poem and, to be honest, the poem came before the photograph but I hope that the glaring sky with its scudding clouds is an apt partnering for my words.

How Light Falls

In between the spaces, more spaces. How light falls here. But not here. And how shadows have their own words for things even time cannot explain -

Here it ends. Here it begins again. Here it ends. And so on.

We can learn a lot from the language of light. Or those so ill they cannot recall anything other than this, and what breath and blinking means to those who cannot even carry air in their palms.

The cry of coupling foxes sounds worse to me than it does for them, or a cat wanting breakfast. Even the gulls cry is misleading.

Like all the photographs ever taken what looks like an edge, a beginning, a story is nothing more than a wish for something that has passed.

We cannot hold on to much anyway. I learnt this late on in the day.

What sounds like a shout could be a victory, the yell of defeat, or nothing at all.

Light falls here, and here. Darkness, shadow. Everything the air touches is right and true.

Picture This - Pauline Sewards 'Hinge'

Many superlative writers have responded to a portfolio of my recent photography for a project called Picture This. I am overwhelmed by the beautiful work I've received. I have also worked with photographer and film-maker Craig Thomas, on a short film entitled Still Life, containing a selection of these images. The original premise of this project was to look at both intimate detail and repetition. I must admit to being a little excited that today's photograph also inspired a poem earlier in the project. Pauline Sewards' piece marries with the image perfectly, even its structure mirrors the simple geometry of door, hinge, wood and brick.

Pauline lives and works in London.


eyes closed finger tips listen smooth caramel of old wood fine smoke splinter free a made world, measured lick of a sharp pencil tools fitted to curved palms ruminations of bees and thunder sharp light whistle of silence opening

Picture This - Sarah Butler 'January Morning'

Some exceptional writers have responded to a portfolio of my recent photography for a project called Picture This. I am overwhelmed by the beautiful work I've received. I have also worked with photographer and film-maker Craig Thomas, on a short film entitled Still Life, containing a selection of these images. Sarh Butler's writing has an immediacy to it that works perfectly with photography. In the thoughtful piece below she captures the sense of isolation that was my impetus for taking the picture.

Sarah writes novels and short fiction, and has a particular interest in the relationship between writing and place. Her debut novel, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, will be published by Picador in February 2013.

January Morning

He might have opened the French doors for a breath of January air, to clear the room of last night’s red-wine-cigarette-fog, but she knew he’d gone. There was no point in following, but she stepped out, across the moss-stained patio, onto frosted-grass that gave up its sugar-coating to the warmth of her bare feet. The soil beneath though, that stayed hard and unforgiving. There was no point in looking, but she looked anyway, and when her feet were so cold she had to retreat, she sat by the window and watched the garden – splintered into pixels by her tears.

Picture This - Jocelyn Page 'Shadows Point East'

During my recent spell of ill health I assembled a portfolio of photographs, Still Life. I invited some high calibre poets to respond to these photographs for a project called Picture This. I have been overwhelmed by the beautiful work I have received. I also worked with photographer and film-maker, Craig Thomas, on a short film containing a selection of these images which you can enjoy below. I feel very lucky to know poet Jocelyn Page. I was overjoyed when she chose one of my more abstract photos to inspire her poem here. Her poetry quietly and confidently beckons me in, then wakes me up to seeing the world in a whole new light.

Jocelyn Page is an American poet living in South East London. Her pamphlet smithereens was published by the tall-lighthouse in 2010. She teaches at Goldsmiths College where she is working toward a PhD on the topics of inspiration and collaboration.

Shadows Point East By the time we get to camp and our unpacking, line setting horse staking, fast eating, fireside click-clacking is through - I finally get to the words, blazed in charred shadows in my head, by then the opposite of their brilliance, like the noon sun stamps itself in the deepest black on the backs of the eyes. So nothing I write tonight, dear, will come anywhere near the idea that I had, that I had to tell you this afternoon, out stalking the west.