The story begins in New York – not the 13th Century story –  but the story of how I found the story.

I stepped out on a steaming sidewalks kind of day and found myself outside Strand Book Store. The sign says  Old Rare New. Books spill out onto the pavement, stack up on wheelie shelves.

I search for folklore stories and mythology.  There’s always a treasure trove of stories in that section. Folk narratives is how my family kept their roots when they travelled with nothing else.  Stories of personal suffering were too hard to tell. Identity was buried in the other stories they told.

In the basement, goddesses and tricksters have overrun the full height bookshelves, so the stories flow right over, and pile up on each other. All mixed up together:  All peoples’ oral traditions are stacked together, as if this is a single What Was Once Spoken Word, category.

Before I even pick out books, I have a think about what is going on for me,  so I pay attention to that little heartache that happens when I see something of myself looking back at me on the page.  What was going on for me right then and there, is that I was unknowingly tipping into the precipice of depression. I didn’t know this because my habit at times like this had been to cut myself off from my networks – friends, poets, storytellers, family – so that no one could ask “how are you?” and discover the answer might be “less than perfect.”

When I started out, bringing together my worlds of spoken word and storytelling, I simply worked hard, continuously.  Then I got some cred, got some fancy gigs. But I had no process, no awareness of methods of self care. My skill was in driving forward… So as my work gained higher profile, I simply crumpled under the pressure I put on myself, and I had no idea how to reach out to anyone, because as my inner critic said repeatedly –  who would help you? Why would they do that? I didn’t even notice that I was silent.

But it’s probably why the book stood out.

A shiny plum-coloured cover and the word ‘Silence’ running down it in brash white lettering.  In the whole World, only one manuscript unfolds this story. It was discovered 700 years after it was written, near Nottingham in a box marked Old Papers – No Value  But it was 1911. Suffrage protests were at their explosive height. And the story suggests that England’s wellbeing depends on a quest for gender equality and freedom.

It was from England?! Who knows this story? Noone I know. Chaucer, Shakespeare? Yes! Heldris of Cornwall? Not so much.

The more I read  (just sitting there in the bookshop, as you do), the more I heard the voice of a spoken word performer. What a tragedy, for this story that feels so relevant and resonant to be left on the shelf.

The journey to tell it has had to involve my own work to heal as an artist and person.

I had to pick up the phone and ask for help, which meant admitting I needed help and being open to the idea  that I deserved help. I can’t tell you the number of times I had turned down help before because I felt a pressure to be good enough to deserve it, and I wasn’t sure that I was.

Writing an ACE grant involved around 3 weeks of mine and other people’s voluntary working hours –of advisors, poets, producers, spreadsheet superstars. I would not have been able to get there without them.  Therapy is expensive. I found some who offer low wage assistance. But at the very least, sitting in a circle and sharing with peers is great. This is the genius of networks like Roundhouse Poetry Collective and Barbican Young Poets. But you don’t have to wait to be part of an official group. Every so often I sit in a kitchen with MC Dizraeli and a few poetry friends because a while back he decided that he needed more regular times to connect and reflect, and share. That’s all it takes, really, to be reminded that you’re not alone.

Improving my health continues one step at a time.

On that hot day in New York I managed to buy just one second hand book.  And I’ve been carrying the story of Silence ever since, wrapped in my own, both stories waiting to be spoken.

Full tour dates for Silence can be found on Rachel’s website.