Thursday, March 31, 2011

My writing up at The Pygmy Giant

Needle & Thread - a non-fiction piece I wrote is now up at The Pygmy Giant.

Go read it and maybe weep, maybe not.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Small stone

on the way to counselling
buds on trees in shadow
remind me of shrapnel
metal wounds blossoming
from flesh


I'm off on holiday tomorrow for a week.  See you on the other side.

23 March ~ Praise

The warm and sunny day

Being able to wear my spring coat

Our laundry hanging out to dry in the garden

The beauty of everything budding, the anticipation of blossoming

Paul taking the morning off work so I could go to counselling

My counsellor asking if I want to come twice a week (not because she thinks I’m not coping, but because she thinks I’m on the brink of something)

Discovery of a local Buddhist meditation group

Jake napping

An aisle full of honey in the International Supermarket, some jars containing chunks of hive

The work of bees

Does 10 things seem like a lot?  Does it seem excessive?  Does it seem like I'm showing off?  I wonder about these questions as I've been posting these lists.  But I'm reminded of something Fiona said in one of the exercises on Praise - to think of someone in your life, whether you know them well or not, whether you like them or not, and list 10 reasons why you are grateful to them. And if you struggle, think of 15. 
Why should finding 10 things to be grateful for / to praise each day be too much?  Is it because there is a shame in being "too happy"?  Is it because underneath it all is a feeling of not deserving to be happy?  There is something very British about grumbling and finding solidarity in moaning about something.  Being happy or showing it is almost looked on with suspicion, almost as being "too American".  I feel all of these things as I make my lists and post them.  So much so that I wonder if I shouldn't post them at all, but keep them to myself.  Because it makes me feel exposed.  But then again, if I'm not willing to take any risks about revealing myself, then why do I blog.  Why do I take courses like Writing as a Spiritual Practice?  Why do I go to counselling?  Why do I write?

22 March ~ Praise

The arrival of a book, a gift from a friend who cares

The kind postman who said have a good day and meant it

Turmeric & honey in my kitchen, a simple, ancient remedy for colds

Jake snoring on the sofa, breathing easier, through his nose

A phone call from another friend who cares

Rectangles of light on the floor, so I could lie in the sun

The view of blossoming cherry trees out our bathroom window

The way the see-through handle of a toothbrush captures and reflects crystal white light

Aubergine & chickpea stew

The refuge of bed

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

21 March ~ things I am grateful for (before puking, please read the post that precedes this - if you still feel like puking, then go ahead)

A piece of my writing, accepted for publication

Two of our neighbours, stopping to talk to Jake, and finding him charming, even though he pretended he was invisible and refused to look at them

A tube of hand cream for £1

Paul coming home early and making me a celebratory cup of tea

Dinner cooked for me

A heart-shaped anya potato, eaten with a smear of butter

Tempeh perfectly fried in soy sauce

Tenderness offered in an embrace, easier than I imagined

Words that open up possibilities

Praise ~ reasons to be grateful (don't panic - this is NOT a reverb10 flashback!)

It's the last week of my Writing as a Spiritual Practice Course.  I haven't written a great deal about the course as it's progressed.  Mainly because it's been hard to articulate how it's affecting me.  It is so personal and requires a lot more exploration, but I do want to write about this.

This week's topic is Praise.  This word has uncomfortable connotations for me.  It reminds me of the days when I was mired in fundamentalist Christianity and praising God was a given, something one had to do - visibly, vehemently, loudly, in order to prove what a good Christian you were.  Not praising God, not being grateful for every little blessing was so frowned upon, that I hid all my doubts and fears and negative feelings even from myself.  I'd had plenty of practice in doing so, so it wasn't new to me.  But over time, it came to bother me.  The need to always be in that place of euphoric exultation, the way that praising God became a way of proclaiming one's own rightness, one's own superiority over others who did not believe, or did not believe as fervently as you. 

Even away from fundamentalist Christianity or any religion or set of beliefs that demands rigid blind obedience, the concept of gratefulness has always well, grated on me.  Because it was something that was always forced down, from the outside, usually from parents or relatives who delighted in telling you how wicked you were for being ungrateful.  The hypocritical insincerity of it has always made me suspicious, and rightly so.

So I was relieved to be given a new way of thinking about praise, of being offered the possibility of having a different relationship with it.  Without regurgitating the whole of Fiona's essay on the subject, in a nutshell, praise is offered as an alternative to blame.  As human beings, we blame all the time when things don't go as we want them to - from the little things to the big things.  We blame others or ourselves or both.  And even though it may feel justified and absolutely right to do so, blaming does not change the situation, doesn't offer solutions or ways through it.  Holding on to blame means you hold on to hostility, anger, uneasiness, anxiety.  You hold on to suffering.  The suggestion is that you don't have to.  Of course this is easier said than done.  Knowing this doesn't mean you can practice it.  But being aware of it is a start.  And maybe the next time something happens, even something trivial that upsets you, and you blame yourself or someone else, you might remember that you don't have to.  You might remember that you don't have to slap yourself (literally or metaphorically) for not being perfect.  You might remember that you're human and that no blame is necessary.  You might be able to let it go. 

One way of practicing this letting go of blame, is to find things to praise in your life, things to be happy and grateful for.  But not in a rigid, I must do this because someone else told me I should kind of way.  This is tricky, because if you feel particularly resistant to it, then it might mean that it's something you could really benefit from.  But, how to reconcile that with not just doing what you're told?  I don't know.  But maybe there's a way, a middle ground you can start from, even if that middle ground is a patch that is only a few square inches wide.  If, however, this becomes an exercise in resentment, then stop. 

I'm writing about this because it's a practice I want to embrace.  The way writing small stones has helped me to see more clearly and keep me grounded and connected with something bigger than myself.  Because this resonates with me:

"Praise helps us to remember how interconnected we all are, and how much we receive in every moment.

It helps us to stay humble - to escape from the tyranny of me me me.  It reminds us that we need less than we think we do. 

If we can find enough to praise, we will want to offer something in return - to give something to others, and to the world.

If these noble reasons aren't enough, then listen to Mary Oliver*.  Holding an attitude of praise makes us feel amazing.  It kills us with delight."     - from Fiona Robyn's essay on Praise

*"Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight."

The reason I'm writing all this?  I'm adding another practice to my repertoire.  In addition to writing a small stone every day, I will also be making a list of things I have received which I am grateful for.  In doing so, I acknowledge that there will be days when I don't feel very grateful, when I struggle to see what I have received.  Maybe those days will be a signal to me, to look deeper, or to ease up a bit, to try and find what's blocking me, what's getting in the way of seeing, or maybe to stop looking so hard.  Maybe I will be able to see through it.  Maybe I won't.  Maybe the best I can hope for on those days is that I might be able to sit with whatever I'm feeling, without judgement.

I named this blog the heartful blogger so many years ago.  It came about because the name I wanted to give to the blog, the artful blogger (tacky pun on artful dodger) was taken.  So heartful came to me instead.  It has always made me feel a little phony and pretentious - because it's something I wish I could be rather than something I believe I am. 

This week, reading about mindfulness, I came across the phrase heartfulness.  It was used to describe the attitude of mindfulness - of paying attention without judgement, in a gentle, nurturing way.  I don't know why, but it surprised me.  That it's okay to be this way, gentle and nurturing towards the self. 

So, this practice of praise is maybe an attempt, a step I'm taking, towards that heartfulness.

Some stones

he sleeps
his small feet in grey socks
like birds
huddled together


the whole day
my head in a book
a different way of seeing
unspoken truth
catching in my throat
choking me on its way out


Oscar sits across the street
his white tipped paws lined up
we wave, call his name
He twitches
but doesn't wave back


I lie down
on rectangles of light
letting the sun
seep into my skin

Friday, March 18, 2011

In the kitchen

a turquoise bowl
on the floor
pebbles in pools
on the counter

between the bowl
and the counter
the story
of small hands at work

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Letting go

This is what happens when you let go of your need to keep that box of gouache paints you bought nearly a year ago pristine and unopened and let your toddler play with them simply because he wants to.

Gouache rocks!  Depending on how much water you use, it takes on a texture like acrylics or watercolour.

The top one is Jake's painting.  I love that it looks like a bird-breathing dragon.  The bottom one is mine.  Both were happy accidents, just playing with the paint with no end result in mind.  I used to think I didn't like painting, because I was so focussed on not being able to do it well.  Sod that!  I enjoy it so much when Jake and I are just playing.  Long may that continue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What are zebra crossings for?

Two posts in one day?  Oooh, what a treat.  Lucky for you, I was verbally accosted today and feel the need to share...

Earlier, both arms laden with heavy grocery bags, I stood at a zebra crossing and waited. Cars don’t always stop just cos they’re supposed to. One finally did. Normally, I’d lift a hand up to say thank you. This time, my hands weren’t free. So I just walked across as quickly as I could. After I got to the other side, the driver shouted as he pulled away, “Say thank you, don’t you have manners?!” So I shouted back, “It’s a zebra crossing you wanker!”

Now if he’d said his piece while I was actually crossing in front of him, I could have stopped, put my grocery bags down, lifted a hand up / got my semaphore flags / I AM EVER SO GRATEFUL placard / megaphone out and said THANK YOU KIND MAN. But he didn’t. He waited until I was already on the other side of the road with my back to him before trying to teach me a lesson.

Funny thing is, a few months ago, I was waiting at the same zebra crossing when at least three cars sped by without stopping. Finally, one speeding car slowed down to stop, so I stepped onto the crossing. After I safely got to the other side, the driver shouted (as he was driving away), “Watch yourself, next time you could get yourself killed!” So I shouted back, “What do you think zebra crossings are for?!” In retrospect, I see where I went wrong. Such a question may have left a bit too much ambiguity for him to handle.

I don’t drive, so maybe there’s something I’m missing here. But – if you drive and you resent having to stop at zebra crossings so much it makes you shout at strangers, then don’t. Just give in to the impulse to drive on. Because most pedestrians can stand waiting a few minutes to being shouted at by ass-fungus.

Conversations with a toddler

I hand Jake a rich tea biscuit. He makes a dunking action with it, into an invisible cup of tea.

“Where’s my cuppa tea Mummy? For punkin?”


Jake asks me to please get the finger out for him. The big finger in Ni room. I go and see what he means. He points to a small Persian carpet my parents gave me a few years ago. One we rolled up and put away when he was a baby and spat up everywhere. I tell him it’s a carpet and ask him what he wants to do with it. “Want to dance on it,” he says. I smile because it’s the best reason I’ve heard yet to have a carpet. I lay it out for him and he dances across it saying, “Munch munch munch, munch munch munch. Come on Mummy, Come on Daddy, munch!” It takes a few minutes before I realise he’s marching.


Reading Winnie the Pooh. Pooh has gone to visit Rabbit and has eaten so much honey, he gets stuck on his way out of Rabbit’s burrow and has to be pulled out. “Pooh has to be pulled out!” I say to Jake. Jake says, “He done wee wee in pants?”


I’m eating soup. Jake runs up to me and says, “Mummy, have you wet your pants?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have.”
“No, I haven’t. I always own up when I wet my pants and this time, I really haven’t.”
“YES you have!! You wet your pants!!”


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some stones from the week

It's been a crap-infested, germ-filled week, with a nice juicy gum abscess thrown in just for fun.  Jake is all better now, Paul is hopefully on his way to being on the mend and my abscess popped by itself.  So there you go - it passes.  But it still sucks.  And I'm sharing it with you because this week on my Writing as a Spiritual Practice course we've been looking at clear-seeing.  And that means not editing out the nasty bits.  Lucky you!

And now, some stones from the week...

uneven ground
graves fixed on a sea
of broken earth
a bed of blue pebbles
gaudy plastic blooms
tilt and bob in the wind

later, I pass a newsagents
a sign reads
All Spirits on Offer
I imagine walking in
and coming out
with a new companion
sticking to my coat


a week of sunny mornings
a paler shade of blue


new flecks of colour
join the crowd
in Clive & Eileen’s window box
English bluebells
Spanish bluebells
Lilac tipped freesia


Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Love, death, daffodils


Dad writes to tell us of a death of a friend, quiet and peaceful after a long illness and Alzheimer's, someone I used to call Uncle even though he was not.  I send my condolences and Dad replies, "it is one example where being dead is better than being alive."  It reads cold, but Dad's love has always been practical.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Some stones from the week

a pair of geese fly over the school
calling as they go
in the space above their wings
a break in the clouds
circle of blue sky


passing a bush of vermillion
pausing to look
not berries but flowers


last night
Jake unzipped his starry pyjamas
and stepped out of them
then lay down and placed
the soles of his feet
on his cheeks
then got up and danced
in circles round the table
looking up as he did so
his face watching
for my smile


Thursday, March 03, 2011

listening, sinking and floating back up again


A tiny little girl ties flowers to her wrists and bees come round to adorn her
All the time spent dreaming is never lost
Dreams come back through the bells of trumpeting horns
Souls lost out in the ether of death
come back wise in the eyes and the arms of newborns

Hearts can’t help but sing
Can’t help but ring

- From Ether Sings, by Laura Veirs (Carbon Glacier)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

This post was going to have a fancy title on howling and how Allen Ginsburg ain't got nothing on toddlers but things don't always go according to plan

Never mind hubris, vanity, greed. Humanity’s actual tragic flaw is the ability to have a raging tantrum when your mother brings you a peanut butter bagel because you asked for it. Then, howling, refuse it and demand honey. And on being presented with honey, howl some more and scrape the offending honey off the very last bagel with your fingers and wipe it on the table. But don’t stop there.  As Mummy’s cleaning the table, hit her while howling at her to put the stains back. Just so there’s no confusion, the flaw here isn’t rage or untamed ego. It’s the temptation to commit infanticide. Might as well dangle a live chicken over a crocodile swamp.

To keep the chicken alive, I shut myself in the bathroom for a moment and opened the window.  It's a small window but it's a way out.  Cold air hit my face, dragging me back to February.  I breathe it in anyway and brace myself as I remember what I read last night in Fiona Robyn's e-book How To Write Your Way Home*, about why I've been writing every day for the last few months, what seeing and writing small stones actually means.  I opened my eyes.  At first - the same things I always see - the broken green plastic watering can, the puddle on top of Jake's overturned paddling pool, the roof of our shed, its skin peeling off in layers of black and grey.  To my left, the neighbour's garden.  A weathered wooden picnic table.  A patch of weeds.  An abandoned barbeque, still black with soot.  And then, a brick wall.  And growing out it, branches of buddleja.  Grey green leaves and last summer's browned flowers, still there, as if rusted in place.  The roots have made cracks in the wall.  And just like that, my mood shifted.

Even after I close the window, it is still there, growing under no one's gaze, according to no person's carefully drawn plans.  Somewhere else, a seed breaks open.  Somewhere else, a root pushes through and makes space.

This month I'm taking part in an e-course, writing as a spiritual practice.  I don't know what I'm going to blog about or how often.  I usually like to have a plan, to pretend to know what I'm doing.  This month my only plan is to do what feels right. 

* This e-book can be downloaded here for free.