Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas, Namaste

Whatever your beliefs, whatever your traditions, May Your Heart Be Light :-)

Thursday, November 01, 2012


Lately I've been waking up with a feeling of anxiety in my stomach.  Before I've even opened my eyes, I send my feelers out, to see what the 'danger' might be.  I think about what I'm supposed to be doing that day, and sometimes, even if what I've got planned is pleasant, something in me reacts as if it is a task to be endured rather than an experience to be enjoyed. 

It can happen all too easily.  For me it usually starts with a feeling of needing to get things done which snowballs into a need to keep everything under control.  I need to get Jake fed, dressed and to school on time, I need to clear out the dresser of the clothes that are now too small for him, I need to figure out what I'm going to do with my life, I need to hurry up and get over a stomach bug, a pulled muscle, a cold, I need to do the washing up, clean the kitchen floor, write that thing down that I thought about this morning before it disappears, reply to that email, catch up with my circles, remember to sort through the pile of papers from the school, and I don't notice that I am stomping about and banging cupboards and muttering under my breath and being shouty until the cat cowers and meows as I rush past him or Jake tells me to please stop shouting because he wants me to be happy.

Somewhere along the line I disconnected with the present, the feeling of my feet on the ground, the reality of my breath, gently carrying me through each moment, whether I appreciated it or not, so that everything becomes a need that has to be attended to urgently, as if there's a scary taskmaster breathing down my neck, ready to clobber me if I don't get it done fast enough.  Sometimes it takes me days to realise that this has happened, sometimes it takes longer.

But it only takes a moment to reconnect again, to the present, to the ground beneath my feet, to my breath that carries me, to pay attention to reality as it is, not what I fear it will be, not what I want it to be, but as it is right now.  And I don't have to take in all of reality, which isn't really possible in any case - I can just focus on one thing. 

Like the vibrant yellow-green of the swirls of olive oil on the surface of my broccoli and potato soup, or the three starlings that are chattering on the chimney stoop, or the curve of the ginger tabby cat's neck as he lifts his nose to the sky, watching a thrush bob up and down on a swaying tree branch.

Did you notice what happened then?  Everything slowed right down.  The world came alive.  Of course, the world is always alive.  So maybe what happened is that you came alive again, just by stopping, paying attention, noticing the details.  Maybe you felt something open up, like the feeling of stepping into an empty meadow under a sweeping blue sky.  Space.  Calm.  Peace.  And underneath it all, a gentle burbling of joy.  Even if just for a moment.  And that scary taskmaster with the big stick?  Gone.

Today is mindful writing day, a day when a bunch of people have decided to stop, pay attention to something and write about it.  You can take it however you want it, or not take it at all.  Or you can take it as a gift, with "the present as the present." as Fiona put it.  A gift that is freely given, and keeps on giving, whenever you choose to open it. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All change

So Jake started school, and just like that, it's half-term.  I was going to write a post about autumn and use the earth's graceful way of dealing with change as a lesson in wisdom to apply to my own life, but I couldn't even get myself dressed this morning - I pulled a muscle in my hip, apparently from sleeping, so I'm having to set my sights a little lower today. 

Here is one half-assed attempt at autumnal poeticism though...try not to blink or you might miss it...

Ah autumn...the ground is aflame with leaves, we are wearing our red winter coats, the conkers are lovely and shiny, and it is now possible to persuade Jake to get ready for bed by 6:30pm!  Seriously though, I've been looking forward to half-term.  I've been trying to enjoy the time to myself while Jake's been at school, but, no matter how chaotic, I miss him when he's not around.  His exuberance about everything, his gorgeous little face, his complete readiness to give me a kiss and a cuddle whenever it's needed.  He's also given my life an intense purpose for so long that I'm finding things without him...well...odd.  Am I still a mother if he's not around?  If I'm not then why aren't I doing something useful?  And if I am then why aren't I doing something mother-ly?  Then there are the questions..."What are you going to do with yourself now that Jake's at school?" and "When are you going to go back to work?"

I wish I had ready answers to those questions, ones I could dole out with a witty ha ha to cover up the anxiety of not having had that sorted out already.  But, for the moment, I can't, so it's a relief to have Jake back with me for a bit, to fill the days with chaos and familiarity and cuddles on-demand again, and to deflect any annoying questions with his inappropriate cheekiness which he can still get away with because he's cute..."Hey fatty boom boom, give us a banana!" and "Have you got a vulva?  I'm gonna call you Vulva Guy!"

Now if that doesn't win me some sort of parenting award, I don't know what will.

Mindful Writing Day

This Thursday the 1st of November is the first ever Mindful Writing Day, organised by Kaspa & Fiona at Writing Our Way Home.  I'll be taking part...what about you?

To join in simply slow down, pay attention to one thing and write it down (making a small stone). Read all about it here.

If you visit Writing Our Way Home today or on Thursday, you'll also find out how to download your free kindle copy of the new anthology, 'A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems'.

You can also submit your small stone and see it published on the blog, and be entered into a competition to win one of five paperback copies of the book.  Of course, you don't have to show your small stone to anyone, or even tell anyone about it.  The moment you take to stop and pay attention will be yours regardless. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Blackbird Sings

I know it's been awhile, apologies for my silence.  And this is just a quick post to let you know I have a teeny tiny poem in this book, now available on Kindle and in paperback.

You can buy it now, or wait till the 1st of November when it will be available to download for free on Kindle for that day only.  

Thank you and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Quietly unravelling

In a few days, Jake will be off to his first day of school.  Of course I knew this day was coming but I still can't quite believe it.  There have been loads of first day of school photos and <sobbing> status updates from Facebook friends going through it already.  In the meantime, Jake and I go through our last days of "freedom" together, as if nothing momentous is about to happen. 

While I was getting on with Mummy stuff, Jake sat and quietly drew.  It is going to be momentous, but it is also going to be one moment sandwiched between many many others.  He is always growing.  Life is always going on.  I am calm right now, but also feel a sense of quiet unravelling. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

More food

My breakfast today...cheese on toast, olives and Earl Grey tea

And my lunch...Tortilla Soup and corn on the cob dressed with butter, salt and a squeeze of lime juice

Recipe from Thomasina Miers' book 'Mexican Food Made Simple'
The soup is topped with soured cream, coriander, fried corn tortilla strips, and I used buffalo mozzarella instead of the feta suggested in Tommi's recipe. The texture and milky aftertaste were just perfect.

I'm having pork chops with mushrooms and sweetheart cabbage for dinner.  Can you tell Jake's away?  Photos tomorrow perhaps...


These were made from Dan Lepard's Muscovado Peanut Cookie recipe.  I renamed them "Nutty Sparks" and adapted the recipe to make it gluten free for a friend.  Oh, and Jake helped me make them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Some random lists

I love a good list and it's been awhile, so here are five...

Things Jake brought over from his Daddy’s yesterday: his potty, his inflatable Spiderman, a postcard of the Poussin painting Extreme Unction.  What can I say, he likes it.

Things I picked up off the floor after Jake went to his Daddy’s yesterday: bits of blue yarn, an empty chocolate milk carton, a wooden dinosaur (in two bits), wooden dinosaur spine pieces, an assortment of marker pens (miraculously all with correct caps on), dried pasta (as in cooked pasta from a meal that had dried), half a Spiderman sticker, various stuffed animals, a twig, plastic train tracks, a tunnel, lego, megablocks, a Justin Sings cd (shudder), a wet flannel, dried up used wipes, a pair of headphones, a pencil sharpener, several toy cars, purple sand, a cushion, a fleece blanket, a small pair of sunglasses, a batman mask, a few books, a train door, a fire engine door, a bottle of bubble mixture.  I won’t mention the stuff that is still on the floor.  

Things I’ve enjoyed this week: chilli squid, aloe vera juice, pomegranate and rooibos shower gel, chocolate shampoo, an aromatherapy balm for hives, ice, aloe vera gel straight from the fridge, the novel The Reader, going to the newly refurbished William Morris gallery with Jake, seeing Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow Tapestry, a strawberry fruit roll, a sticky toffee muffin, the film At The Height of Summer, cool night air, a light show on Tower Bridge, a sleepover, a white chocolate Magnum, hugs and time with friends, kisses from Jake, cuddles with Yoshi, Toffee Ice cream, a quartet of dragonflies flitting about in the playground, sunshine, rain, being able to sleep, learning to play Sway on the ukulele, the quiet around Walthamstow, the emptiness of the playgrounds, giggling with Jake about Abney’s sneezing on The Adventures of Abney and Teal, comfortable silences, my parents’ faces on Skype, seeing Jake “get” potty training after 1 day in pants, knowing that he will be absolutely fine when he starts school, pink lady apples straight from the fridge, the sauce I made for my pork chops along with said pork chops.  Yum.

 Things Jake has said this week:  "I look tired" ~ "I'll be proud if I have some more (apple)" ~ "I love your bum which means I love you" ~ "I'm just moving this out of the way so I don't tread on it" (so proud of his usage of tread) ~ "I want to be close to you because I love you" ~ "I want you to have a big smile on your face" ~ "Silly is good, not bad" ~ "I want cuddles on the sofa now, I'll go sit on the sofa and get ready"

 Things found on Jake this week: green marker lines on his feet and toenails, a face drawn on his belly (by Daddy) and representing Daddy who had turned into a potato from eating so many potatoes and who got eaten by Jake and turned into a face inside Jake's belly - of course; his Spiderman outfit.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We are hives...

Resistance is futile.

Nevertheless...these remedies are being deployed

I've been getting hives ever since I hit puberty.  They've been appearing every couple of years, mostly in the summer but twice in the winter.  Each time they show up, they are more severe, last longer and are more resistant to antihistamines.  Antihistamines do absolutely nothing for me now but make me drowsy.

The last time they showed up was about 8 years ago and they lasted for about 3 months.  I've visited countless doctors and specialists who all concur that it is hives and some sort of allergic reaction but determining the cause is pretty nigh impossible.  Some health practitioners say that stress can exacerbate hives but not cause them.  Others think stress can cause anything.  I've had hives at times of extreme stress in my life, but there have been times when I've had extreme stress and no hives.  It isn't life-threatening, though I did have it once when I also had influenza and a high temperature and it was the only time in my life I ever fainted. I've had allergy testing and it was "inconclusive."  I've also tried acupuncture, homeopathy and visited a herbalist.  Although the homeopathy worked for hayfever, it didn't for hives.  The other methods did not provide any relief. Each time, the hives eventually go away on their own and, it seems, nothing can stop them from running their course. I've read a lot about hives and their possible treatments and this article is the most accurate in my experience.

The above photo of my own swelling beauties (ooo-er!) was taken today, day 6 of my current cycle of hives, and only one patch of the many making their way across my skin.  Yeah, it does itch, but not all the time.  They are worst in the morning and feel better as the day goes on but start to "act up" again in early evening and overnight.  The most annoying places to get them are my scalp, ears, eyelids, hands and feet.  But they move around so that helps.  I accept that I just have to live with them and that nothing can, as far as I know, stop it in its tracks.  But, I've discovered things that bring relief - aloe vera gel and a balm available from Aroma Healing

Other things that bring relief: ice packs, cool drinks, loose, cotton clothing, an appropriate level of scratching, any distractions that stop me dwelling on them, not feeling sorry for myself, not embarking on a programme to cut possible triggers from my life, and kisses from Jake.  The best things in life really are free. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I'm back from holiday and my circles have been updated.

While we were away, Jake "swam" for the first time, aided only by his "armpits"...

Michael Phelps, eat your heart out!

Friday, July 20, 2012

start where you are

It's not easy sometimes...or much of the time, but really, what else can you do?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sunday, July 15, 2012

This started out as something else

This was gonna be a 100 word diary post.  But now it's this.  There's been a "movement" in blogland you may have come across, called 'Things I'm Afraid To Tell You.'  Gazillions of bloggers have written posts of that title and linked to each other.  It got some media attention.  It was written about in the Huffington Post and stuff.  I'd been thinking of joining in and writing such a post myself but then I realised that almost everything I post on here is something I'm afraid to say.  Thus rendering said post redundant.  So, without further blether, here's what I was going to post, today's not-100 word diary.  Thanks for reading.

Right now, I need to be kind to myself but I just can’t seem to do it.  I started my day posting the photo above on Facebook but now I just want to give it the finger.  But right now, my fingers are cold and this is gonna be longer than 100 words and I don’t care.  Right now, I’m hungry even though I ate dinner three hours ago.  I had spaghetti with flash fried tomatoes and basil. Right now I think I have very few true friends, but this is one of the things I like to torture myself about when I’m having a bad day.  As well as the fact, yes, I said FACT, that I will be single for the rest of my life.  Some sort of punishment of course.  Wanna prove me wrong?  Knock yourself out.  And just so you know, my kid just drew on his face to make me laugh.  Beat that.           

It's not very clear, but he drew a line down his face, across his eyebrow
and some squiggles on his nose.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

what happens when you're not straight with your three year old

Looking at some pictures of a friend's baby, I explain to Jake that she came out of her Mummy's tummy.

Jake: Did I come out of your tummy?
Me: Yes you did.
Jake: But how did I get in there?
Me: Ermmmm, well...
Jake: Don't you know?
Me: Yes, I do know, I just don't know how to explain it.
Jake: Just tell me.
Me: Ok, well, Mummy and Daddy planted a special seed and you grew inside me and then you came out of my tummy.
Jake: Oh, ok.

Two weeks later...

Jake: Mummy, did you buy me?
Me: Did I buy you?  No honey, I didn't buy you.
Jake: Where did I come from then?
Me: Well, Daddy and I made you and you came out of Mummy's tummy, remember I told you about that?
Jake: You MADE me? 
Me: Yes, sort of, do you remember what I told you?
Jake: You made me when you and Daddy planted a tree?
Me: Ermmm, not a tree, a special seed...
Jake: Did you do it wrong Mummy?
Me: Ermmmm, no...I don't think so...what do you mean?
Jake: How did I come out of you?
Me: Ermmm, well...I have a sort of tunnel.
Jake: You have a tunnel?  <pause> Wow.
I'm usually so honest with him about everything, but I just can't bring myself to explain about sex - not yet.

P.S. On an irrelevant note: this is my 1200th post on this blog!
P.P.S. To those of you who read my last post and got in touch to ask me if I'm okay...thank you, and yes, I am okay.  You're all lovely.  Thank you for caring.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I don't know

I don’t know if it’s because it’s Thursday
or the longest day, the first day of summer 
and yet we are already creeping towards the dark
I don’t know if it’s because it’s 4:34 in the afternoon 
and I am alone
I don’t know if it’s because The Walkmen 
are playing a waltz on the radio 
or I because I spent the morning with kids in school 
and my little Batman will be off soon
or because I heard of the death of another 
in the arms of his young mother 
or because my Mom’s polyps were benign this time 
or because it’s raining again and I still haven’t cut the grass 
or because a young couple are moving in next door 
or because of the smell of paint 
or the memories I can’t feel 
or the story of the lost owl 
or because I am sending postcards to strangers in China 
and there will always be books I’m not going to get around to reading 
and my shirt is damp 
and the strawberries are bruised 
and there is no one to smell my hair which I got cut two hours ago 
and I don’t know what I mean to you 
and a dog named Zeus licked my feet even though we hadn’t met before 
and probably won’t again 
but I feel as if I’m about to lose everything
as if it is all about to fall away 
and I will empty out 
and not be filled again.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

On a good day

I'm loving this song at the moment.  She plays it on a harp.  Billy Bragg covers it on guitar (video below).  I'll be attempting to teach myself to play it on the uke.

Right now ~ 9 June 2012

I can hear Jake chewing his potato waffle Batman and Robin are on TV and my tongue is still savouring roasted asparagus with garlic and hollandaise sauce.  I went to bed at 4am.  Got home from bridge at 3am and couldn’t sleep.  The later it gets, the more awake I feel.  So I wrote in my journal and read a sample from Bankei Zen on my Kindle.  I was woken before 9am by Yoshi wanting his breakfast.  Nights out aside, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for over a week and I just can’t seem to shift this cold.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Right now ~ 8 June 2012

The wind is making the silver birch tree sway my fingers smell of clementines my laptop is making a wailing sound and I feel too stupid to blay pridge.  This morning Jake woke up laughing and singing.  Even when he said, “Sing along Mummy,” I didn’t know if he was awake or dreaming.  He was awake.  I said I was tired so he sang me a tired song:  “Starry dee doo.  That’s it!” I need to feed Yoshi.  He likes to stick his head in the fridge, not to sniff meat, but to chew on the packaging for the grapes.

Monday, June 04, 2012

100 word diary ~ 4 June 2012

I am rather fond of moments of insight.  I live as if I’m supposed to see them everywhere.  It’s annoying cos it gives the impression that I know what I’m on about.  Words aren’t the truth.  Just cos this is written doesn’t mean it’s complete and infallible.  If these entries were spoken, would they feel less weighty, or make me feel less twitchy about being misunderstood?  Does it matter?  Don’t we only see what we’re inclined to see anyway, react to what we’re inclined to fear?  These words are not the sum of me.  Then again, who knows what is.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

100 word diary ~ 3 June 2012

Most days, I don’t like my face.  I don’t like admitting that.  When I do, people think I have low self-esteem or I’m fishing for compliments.  But it’s because most of the time, I don’t see my face but my mother’s.  I appreciate her more now but I still don’t want to be her.  I want to be me.  I’m slowly getting that life is not about what I want.  But today I looked at my face and loved it.  Sunken half-moons under my eyes, shaky beginnings of crow’s feet, all of it.  I smiled.  And I saw myself smiling.

100 word diary ~ 2 June 2012

My Dad forwards me emails.  It used to be pretty pictures and inspirational quotes.  Lately though, they have been WARNING emails.  Don’t eat this candy and drink soda afterwards cos your stomach will explode.  If you microwave water for more than two minutes it could blow up in your face.  Know how to spot the signs of stroke.  What to do if someone is having a heart attack.  His unnamed anxiety packaged up in neatly wrapped parcel bombs and labelled as Practical Concerns.  I’ve been accepting these parcels my whole life.  Storing them under my bed, listening to them tick. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Right now ~

Right now, the clock ticks.  My body houses flaming aches that stretch and pummel when I cough.  Sometimes my breath grates my chest.  Right now, friends are meeting for a bridge game without me.  And tomorrow, my ukulele class, my yoga class, another friend will carry on without me, because I am sick.  THAT voice already needles me – so people get sick, get over yourself.  But I don’t want to.  I want to feel sorry for myself because I am alone, because I can’t ask for someone to come and take care of me, because maybe there is no one. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

The Power of Vulnerability

Have a listen to this TED talk, it's just wonderful.

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

the most beautiful thing

 Jake being a banana tree
My boy, the most beautiful thing ever to come out of me, without a doubt, hands down, 
no contest.
I didn't really know what love meant, until I was given the privilege of being his Mummy. 


TheWeighing of the Heart

What does the heart weigh?
More than the pull of your small
hand on mine?  More than your head's
light heaviness on my shoulder?

Under the tender pressure of sleep
my old wool jacket becomes
your memory of consolation, comfort,
that ancient sweetness of love and tweed.

Remembering this, watching you,
I lose my place entirely, not knowing
whose the head, whose the sleeve,
whose the big hand and whose the small.

The Ancients measured a good heart
against the slightest puff of down,
in the gleam and glitter of delicate scales.
Like Thoth, we watch and wait.

What does the heart weigh?
Less than your head's tiny burden,
for lighter than a feather is love
and this the Egyptians knew.

- Maura Dooley

Want to read about other people's beautiful things?  Go here.

And to read Fiona Robyn's novel The Most Beautiful Thing, go here.  It's available for download for free for today and tomorrow only.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Little feet, big feet

~ rolling up trouser legs and wading in a fountain in a park with your favourite person

Friday, April 20, 2012


~"There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in..." - Leonard Cohen

(The book is True Love, A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

a child's eye view

Walking to the playground, Jake stops to look at the sky.

"Oh look Mummy!  Those clouds are moving really fast!" and then, a moment later,

"Mummy, how does the sky float?"

Ermmm...good question.  Anybody know?  Apparently gravity (which was my answer) is not the correct one.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

a blade of grass, a drop of rain (some beautiful things)

~ at the bottom of the stairs leading to the garden, a tuft of grass growing as if out of the concrete ~ on each blade, perfect orbs of light, translucent droplets of rain

the most beautiful thing

What's your most beautiful thing?

Next Tuesday 24th April, there's going to be a blog splash...a whole bunch of people will be blogging about their most beautiful thing, inspired by Fiona Robyn's novel of the same name.  I'll be taking part, and will be posting one beautiful thing each day until then.  How about you?

(Incidentally, I've read Fiona's novel and it's very good indeed.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fantasy wishlist: Dream Daddies

Just in case you think I've been gettin' too serious lately and suspecting that I don't know how to have fun...

My friend Kate over at beforeiforget wrote a blog post called The Daddy Issue.  I suggest you go read it then come back here... since I read her post shortly after my Scintilla post all about my Daddy breaking my heart (boo hoo), I was positively tickled by her list of famous Daddies she'd like to have in her life and was inspired to make one of my own.  Here goes...

My Daddy...Bill Nighy 
(need I say more?)

My Step-Daddy...Billy Collins 
(a funny poet, what's not to love?)

My Grand-Daddy...Gandhi 
(just look at that smile!)

And my Sugar Daddy...Gabriel Byrne 
(I've always thought he was a bit of alright and he just seems to get better with age...
now I think he may also be my fantasy therapist, after watching him in In Treatment)

I just want to say that I love my Dad.  Despite all the heartbreak, we have as good a relationship that I imagine we are able to have.  But hey, a girl's allowed to dream...and it's told me things about myself and the kind of men I'd like in my life...things I don't think I'd really thought about  too, don't tell me you aren't thinking up your own list...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And here's some more love

Two posts in one day....ooooh!  Aren't you lucky ;-)

There are many reasons why I love going to the cinema with my friend of them is this: whenever I hear a gorgeous piece of classical music in the film, I can just lean over to her and ask, "What piece of music is this?" and she'll know it - just like that.

We went to see The Kid with a Bike yesterday - fantastic film by the way, and when I asked her the above question about the music at the end, she replied: "Beethoven, 5th piano concerto I think, the 4th one's good too..." Naturally, she was right.

Love love never gets old

I don't care what your faith or religion is, what your name is, where your home is, whether you're enlightened, multi-talented, an uber being with a great mind and a great following, lowly or high in 'status', wear labels or make your own clothes, buy from supermarkets or pick your own peas, work in an ivory glass tower or sweep the streets...what good is any of it without love, without kindness? 

"For love is action.  It is not saying or wishing or hoping or longing.  And it is in the details."

"Any part of the world completely seen is the world.  When we come to glimpse being in this way, no one is surprised by the fullness and the emptiness of things."

"...we must begin loving everything by loving ourselves.  With breath we begin and end life.  With breath we feel another breathing next to us.  There are no thoughts attached.  We just do it.  Can you not also feel the breath that is more deeply in you than you are yourself?  It is love.  Breathe it and you breathe everything."

(all quotes from St Nadie in Winter by Terrance Keenan)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Heartbreak ~ The Scintilla Project ~ Day 10

Talk about breaking someone else’s heart, or having your own heart broken.

I wasn’t going to go anywhere near this prompt.  Almost all of the Scintilla prompts have made me wince at how personal they are, but rather than write something safe and not as meaningful, I’ve taken them as a challenge - to lean into my discomfort and try to understand what I’m afraid of, and write anyway.  There is something about revealing too much about myself, feeling exposed and vulnerable, a fear of being judged harshly.  The subject of heartbreak takes that fear to a whole new level.  There are a few too many stories I could tell about that but it occurred to me that perhaps all of our heartbreaks are a result of the original heartbreak, the one I think most of us experience and spend most of our lives trying to repair or get over or even deny – the first heartbreak(s) we experienced in relationship with our parents.  If I’m honest, when I really think, or rather, feel, about heartbreak, these are the two memories that come up straight away.  They are both connected to my Dad and they both occurred when I was in my teens.

I can’t remember exactly how old I was, I’m guessing 14 or 15.  We were visiting Thailand over the summer and we went to a “Dairy Queen” in Bangkok for some ice cream sundaes.  I remember the coolness of the air because of the air conditioning, I remember how everything was white – the walls, the leatherette seats, the formica tables.  I sat down with my ice cream and my Dad sat next to me.  Suddenly, he started to play with my hair.  It was so unexpected that I froze.  Both because it was so out of character – my parents were not demonstrative in the slightest and it was my brother and I who instigated hugging in our family when we were in our late teens – and because I was afraid that if I moved even a fraction of an inch, he would stop.  He did stop not long after and it was never mentioned. 

The second memory was from when I was 16.  We were living in Cyprus and my father was dropping me off outside the cinema where I was meeting some friends and the boy I was dating at the time.  He’d parked so that my door opened onto the pavement side of the road.  I didn’t look as I opened my door, but I wasn’t expecting there to be any traffic to look out for.  As I opened my door, an old man on a bicycle was riding by.  He collided with the door and fell off his bike.  He was a little stunned, but he was unhurt.  However, my Dad insisted on driving him home.  I thought it was all under control, so I said goodbye to my Dad and went to meet my friends.

When my Dad picked me up later, I asked how the man was.  My Dad answered that he was fine.  Otherwise, he didn’t speak, but that wasn’t unusual for him.  The next day, after I’d gotten home from school my mother waylaid me and took me into my room for a talk.  She closed the door and had her serious face on.  I immediately went into a panic, wondering what had happened, or what I might have done. 

She reported that I had bitterly disappointed my father, that he thought he’d raised me to be better than the selfish person I clearly was.  My stomach fell through the floor - my stomach, my heart, my blood - I felt like I’d been hollowed out.  I could not fathom what I might have done to deserve such a judgement.  Then she told me.  By going into the cinema to meet my friends the night before, rather than stay behind and accompany my father and the old man to his house, I’d shown myself to be utterly and wickedly selfish.  I was shocked.  Shocked that my father had felt that way but said nothing to me at the time.  Shocked even more that he couldn’t talk to me about it himself. 

My father rarely loses his temper and rarely expressed any disappointment in my brother or I.  When we didn’t do quite as well as expected with our grades or failed to complete our chores or any number of things my mother never let us get away with, my father was always more understanding, more encouraging.  So to receive this judgement from him was a real blow.  I felt utterly misunderstood.  I don’t think I’d ever felt so unfairly judged as I did then.  It was so upsetting to me that I felt like I’d been abandoned.  I felt my father’s disgust for me as physically as I’d feel a shove in my chest.  It was all the worse because he couldn’t even tell me to my face.  And by sending my mother to talk to me, I couldn’t even defend myself to him.  I remember trying, trying to explain to my mother and then feeling angry that I even had to explain and then I just started to cry.  Maybe I imagined it, but I think she felt some sympathy for me.  Because her tone was soft, and her tone was hardly ever soft.  I don’t think she enjoyed being my father’s messenger but she had a belief in his authority as a parent, even over her own, even though she was the one who always did the real parenting “work.”  I remember her saying that she would talk to him, but I felt deeply ashamed for a long time around him – ashamed and angry and disappointed.  I still feel shame when I remember the whole thing.  It was far worse than any physical punishment I’d received from him and it says a lot about our relationship and my long struggle to ever feel “good enough.”

This week, Jake and I were Skyping him and my Mum.  At the end of the call, when my parents had to go, Jake suddenly got really upset.  Usually, he’s quite happy to say goodbye to them but not this time.  This time he was absolutely sobbing and wailing that he wanted to stay with them a bit longer.  I did what I usually do when he’s upset – I held him and kissed him.  Sometimes he pushes me away but this time he let me hold him.  In the meantime, I could feel my father’s extreme discomfort about Jake’s crying.  He started by saying that he had to go because it was getting dark and he had to go for a swim before the mosquitoes came out.  Naturally Jake has no idea what any of this means.  Then he went into the awful good boy speech.  “You’re a good boy aren’t you Jake?”  My heart broke when Jake nodded, tears rolling down his cheeks.  “So, if you’re a good boy, you should let people go when they want to go, right?”  My heart sank.  Jake, to his credit, shook his head.  “Oh, so you’re going to be a bad boy then?”  At that point I held Jake very close to me and said to him, “You are a good boy Jake.”  Jake was looking at my Dad’s face on the screen, sad and confused.  So I started to try and talk to Jake about why he was crying.  I said, “Are you sad Jake?  Are you sad because you’re going to miss Grandma and Granddad when they’re gone?”  He nodded.  So I repeated that to my parents, telling them how he felt in the hope that they would acknowledge it and reflect it back to him, so he would feel heard and understood.  But they said, “We miss you too Jake but we have to go now…”  He just carried on crying and shaking his head and saying, “Please, I don’t want you to go, please just stay a bit longer.”  Then my Dad started making stuff up – saying that Skype were sending them a message saying that they had to go because they were going to close the office and cut off the connection.  “You see Jake, it’s not us, we don’t want to go, we have to go, they are going to close the office.”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  But at the same time, I remembered that my father’s like that, that he’s always been like that.  Jake carried on crying and looking confused.  Then they said, “OK, we’re going now” and ended the call.  Jake cried harder, grabbing the mouse and saying, “No!  No!  Call them back, call them back!”  He frantically directed the mouse to the “Call with video” button and clicked on it and managed to call them back.  They answered and the whole thing went on again for a bit longer.  Then, as I held Jake in silence as he sobbed, they suddenly fell silent.  For a minute or so, we all just sat in total silence.  It felt powerful.  I felt hopeful that they’d be able to just sit with his feelings and their own without running away from it.  But it didn’t last.  Soon after I had this thought, they ended the call, this time without even saying goodbye.  Jake cried again and frantically tried to call them back.  This time, they didn’t answer.  Jake was fine after a few minutes.  I just held him and kissed him and then he was fine.  Me though?  I felt heartbroken by the whole thing.  I felt that it wasn’t just Jake I was holding through the tears, but my own 3 year old and 14 year old and 16 year old self.

(NB ~ Even as I post this, I am wincing wincing wincing.  This feels like such raw exposure.  And I keep hearing these voices in my head laughing at the triviality of my pain, saying, "Jeez, you think this is heartbreak?  I'll show you real heartbreak!"  But hey, this is my post and this is what I have to say.  So bite me.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Surprise ~ 100 word moments

Yesterday, walking through the marshes with Jake, away from a park full of couples and families belonging to each other, a bloke rode past on a bicycle, trailing a sound system under a huge yellow umbrella.  Through the chilly sunshine, Frank Sinatra sang.  I closed my eyes…Someday, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you, and the way you look tonight... Yes you’re lovely, with your smile so warm and your cheeks so soft, there is nothing for me but to love you
Why does longing always take me by surprise?


If you can, go grab someone and dance...

23 for The Scintilla Project ~ Day 9

Write a list of 23 things...

Here's mine: 23 titles from my bookshelf to be used as prompts for 230-word micro stories

  1. Skin
  2. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  3. Thaw
  4. Apples
  5. Emotionally Weird
  6. Stitches
  7. A home at the end of the world
  8. Until I Find You
  9. When Memory Dies
  10. Map of My Heart
  11. Fun Home
  12. Out
  13. Disgrace
  14. What if?
  15. Small Wonder
  16. The Tattooed Map
  17. Sleepwalk
  18. Holes
  19. One True Thing
  20. The End of The Affair
  21. The Lover
  22. Wild Things
  23. Bad Behaviour

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Right now

I'm feeling a little sad and I wanted to say so.  I don't know why.  Sometimes, when it's been a lovely day or I've seen something beautiful, it makes me sad.  There is a magnolia tree in somebody's front garden in my neighbourhood.  I love magnolia trees.  When I saw it, for a moment, I thought it was full of quiet pink birds perching.  It made me stop, its beauty clutched at me.  And then I felt sad.  I didn't see it today but when I thought about why I might be feeling sad, that is what came to me.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Simple Pleasures ~ Scintilla Project ~ Day 8

What are your simplest pleasures?

Finally, a nice easy question!  Especially since this is the second time I’ve been asked it this week...

feeling the sun on my skin ~ standing in the open air, anywhere, and looking up at blue sky ~ the smell of Jake’s head ~ a slice of lemon drizzle cake ~ a still warm cup of tea ~ hot buttered toast ~ a candlelit bath, scented with aromatherapy oils ~ breathing ~ breathing in downward dog ~ the feeling of spaciousness at the end of a yoga session ~ getting into freshly washed pyjamas or a bed dressed in newly washed sheets at the end of a long day ~ a good book + my duvet ~ the sound and warmth of Yoshi purring in my lap ~ eggs and bacon ~ a kiss and a hug from Jake ~ a hug from a dear friend ~ hearing someone I love say my name ~ playing my ukulele ~ closing my eyes and letting a great song live right through me ~ seeing the sea ~ the sight of cherry blossoms ~ the pair of robins I saw on a silver birch today ~ a poem that sings and breaks my heart at once ~ episodes of In Treatment ~ long, slow, deep kisses ~ going to the cinema ~ crispy duck pancakes ~ the sound of Jake’s breathing deepening, just as he’s fallen asleep ~ sleeping in a tent in an attic room ~ lentil soup ~ the smell of rain just before it arrives ~ the sound of rain just as it arrives ~ the colour red ~ black ink on white paper ~ standing before my bookshelf, deciding what to read next ~ writing on Show Me Your Lits ~ the rosy glow of sunrise on red brick ~ laughing, especially with friends ~ the sound of Jake’s laughter ~ being with wonderful people ~ writing a letter by hand ~ receiving a handwritten letter ~ a steak Bavette with fries and green beans from CafĂ© Rouge with Mad ~ sleepovers ~ sleep

Parents as their own people ~ Scintilla Project ~ Day 7

Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of their role as a parent.

I’d always experienced my mother as an unhappy person.  In childhood, I remember her as being very temperamental, very quick to anger and often violently so, though she would be very different in company.  She could turn on the charm just like that and you’d never know she could spit venom at me for putting too much fish sauce in the omelette or hit me over the head with a book because I couldn’t grasp fractions.  But I grew up thinking this was normal.  I hadn’t spent a great deal of time with other people’s parents and even when I did see other adults, I never entirely trusted what they were like “in company.”  I don’t know when it became clear, but it seemed painfully obvious to me that most of them were putting on an act.

Then, in my late teens, I was home from University during a summer vacation.  We were visiting Thailand and one of our rituals whenever we went “back home” was to visit a particular dentist as a family, even though we regularly saw a dentist in whatever country we were living in.  She would examine every single one of us, even if we had no complaints.  When it was my mother’s turn in the chair, we were in the waiting room and my father was talking to the dentist’s brother, who worked in the practice with her.  I was reading a book and they must have thought I either wasn’t paying attention or that my Thai wasn’t good enough, or more likely, still saw me as a kid, rendering me invisible.

The dentist’s brother asked my father how my mother was.  They referred to her by her Thai nickname, which made me realise that this man knew my mother better than I’d thought, and possibly even better than I knew her.  I later deduced that they must have been friends a long time ago.  My father said something that seemed fairly non-committal, something about her having her ups and downs.  Then the dentist’s brother talked about my mother as if she had a serious mental illness.  I couldn’t fully understand all the Thai terms, but he urged my father to get her serious professional help.  I was shocked and outraged, but of course I didn’t show it.  I pretended to be absorbed in my book.  I think I was more outraged by the fact that my father didn’t stick up for my mother but just went along with it, even nodding as if he agreed with the man.  And yet, I knew my father would do nothing, just as he always did nothing, in the face of one of my mother’s “moods.” 

When my mother came into the waiting room, her bridge expertly replaced, they smiled at her as if they’d been talking about the weather.  I felt as if we’d betrayed her, even me, even though all I’d done was unintentionally eavesdrop.  I never spoke to either of my parents about what I heard.  And I don’t think I saw either of them in the same way again. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

On Faith ~ The Scinitilla Project ~ Day 6

Talk about an experience with faith - yours or someone else's.

When I was 17 (and living in Cyprus), my boyfriend at the time and most of my friends were born-again Christians.  Most of them hadn't been, when I first met them.  Then, they started hanging out at a Friday night youth group run by a super-friendly and welcoming English couple.  They didn’t seem like Churchy people or odd people or any adults that I’d ever known.  They seemed youthful and vibrant and unafraid to talk about anything, answer any questions, even about sex.  Reluctantly, I started going to these youth group meetings too.  First because I didn’t want to be left out, but then it started to become important to me.  Eventually, I ended up converting too.  

I often look back on that time and cringe.  I can see that I joined in because I desperately wanted to belong and because it gave me a sense of purpose, no matter how misguided.  But it’s not something I’m proud of and I’m reluctant to admit to it or talk about it.  Mainly because I became very over-zealous about it, especially when I went to University (in England) and met a group of people through the Christian Union there.  It was a small group and we didn’t really affiliate ourselves with any particular church, but for a while, it was very fundamentalist, evangelical and extreme.  We met regularly to pray together and always someone would be “speaking in tongues.”  There was always a great deal of emotion being poured out, usually in response to cheesy Christian music.  I’m certain that I was addicted to the way that made me feel – supposedly overflowing with love and yet I managed to ignore the emptiness that always came afterwards.  At one point, our group were walking around campus at night setting up angel sentries because someone read a passage in the Bible that said that the truly faithful could command the angels.  I also remember praying outside a metal gig that was taking place in the Student Union one night, in the belief that we were battling Satanists. 

There was one of our group in particular whom I remember going to America one summer to attend a programme with a well-known American evangelical minister and who came back completely changed.  He had a crucifix shaved into the back of his head.  He renounced his family and all his non-Christian friends because they refused to convert and he told them they were all going to hell.  He even told a friend of ours, a fellow Christian, that she didn’t have enough faith because she had a disability - that if she were a "true" Christian, she would already be healed.  That was the beginning of the end for me.  

I started to cut ties with the group and worried that they would hound me to come back.  It was the opposite – it was as if I’d never existed.  It was a huge relief.  I started to question my “faith” – something I hadn’t allowed myself to do before.  I met some Christian priests and a nun on a counselling course I took a short time after I left University and talked to them about their faith and was shocked to see how different it had been from my experience of Christianity.  I then started reading about other religions and spent years exploring all kinds of spiritual and “new age” subjects, although I made a point of not having any sort of religious or spiritual practice for a long time.  I have remained sceptical of any organised religion and of belonging to any group with religious or spiritual overtones, even a Buddhist meditation group, though I do follow a meditation practice of my own.  And I will happily chant Om in my yoga class, or other mantras on my own at home.

I read a great book last year by the Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg that resonates a great deal with what I feel faith is really about – trusting your own deepest experience.  I don’t think there is really a substitute for that, no matter what fancy clothes it might be dressed in.

Where'd I go? ~ The Scintilla Project ~ Day 5

Show a part of your nature that you feel you’ve lost.  Can you get it back?  Would it be worth it?

Do we ever lose any part of us?  Even if it may not be manifest, does it ever really disappear?  Maybe the parts that don’t seem obvious to us are simply that, not obvious, or maybe even just dormant.  Maybe they’ll always remain so, or maybe they’ll wake up one day, jolted by something or someone.  Maybe it’s like the rings of a tree – another layer that forms part of who we are now.  There’s also the question of who we really are anyway.  We are only alive in the present.  The past is a construct, all of our memories are constructs and the dramas and stories that we cling to about them, even though they feel vivid and real, are not the absolute, fixed, unchanging objects that we might believe them to be.  The future is only projection, only thought.  Is thought solid?  Where does it come from?  Who are we really?  And what of all these feelings that are attached to us, that live so very physically in our bodies?

In my head, I know that someday, I’m going to need to sit down and write about all those losses from my childhood.  Not just the loss of what I briefly had, but the grief for things I never had.  But there’s a part of me that feels that to try to pin down one part of my nature that I’ve "lost" is like trying to slice up and keep a piece of a sea.  I just can’t see it that way.  One part that can be separated from the rest of me. 

The closest I can come, without picking too many scabs, is talking about, in very general terms, a vivid experience from which I know I changed markedly.  An experience that caused me to shut down and harden my heart and armour myself in a way that I hadn’t done before, and as a child who had learned to detach, over and over again, a child who never really learned to deal with loss or feel grief, that’s saying something.

I was in my 20s.  I don’t want to go into the details of the experience, what caused it, why it hurt so much.  But the way I chose to deal with it was by believing, for a very long time, that I couldn't trust or depend on anyone but myself.  I then spent over 10 years suffering from it, living the fallout of the pain of it, learning the hard way how impossible it is to live with a closed off heart. 

I’m aware of it now and can have some compassion for myself for what I went through and the part I played in it.  But I still think there’s a possibility it could happen again.  Perhaps that’s why it feels so important to me right now, to actively practice, or try to practice, openness of heart.  I was going to say that without that experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  But I think that’s true of everything we live through.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Childhood Rooms ~ The Scintilla Project ~ Day 4

Talk about your childhood room.

I laugh at the implication of one childhood room, the same room you spend your whole childhood in.  I know that’s the norm for a lot of people, but it isn’t that way for everybody.  To me, growing up in one place is exotic.  I don’t even know how many houses I lived in.  I don’t remember any of the ones I lived in before the age of 6. 

At 6, my bedroom was shared with my younger brother.  We were living in a house in Pakistan that had three bedrooms, but my mother used the third bedroom as a storage room and somewhere to hang the laundry.  So my brother and I shared.  I remember that it had no carpet, the floor was smooth stone, the walls were bare and white.  Each of the bedrooms had a bathroom connected to it.  My strongest memory of that room is my friend L coming over one day and introducing my brother and I to the game of doctors and nurses.  Even at that age I knew it was something to be hidden from my parents.  Even then, I was already keeping secrets.  We lived in that house for 3 or 4 years.

For a few months, when I was around 9, we lived in Srinagar in India.  We rented a huge apartment in a building.  It was very different from the house in Pakistan.  The house in Pakistan, in Rawalpindi, was all on one level, big but felt stark and bare, the walls were white, the floors were bare, there was no colour.  Outside there was just a lot of dust.  That’s what I remember.  In Srinagar, it was completely different.  We were in the mountains, there was greenery, flowers, colour.  The sky was bluer there, even the light seemed diffused with colour.  The apartments of the building we lived in had balconies, the rooms were carpeted and painted.  The furniture was ornate and old.  Wooden, upholstered.  I remember a room painted green, a cabinet of dark wood that I wanted to hide in as soon as I saw it.  But I don’t remember the room I slept in or whether I shared it with my brother.  We weren’t there long.  My memories of that apartment: there were daily power cuts.  We used to sleep by candle light and wake up in the morning and blow our noses and it would come out black from the candle flame soot.  Also, there was a bookshelf in the living room, a room no one seemed to go into but me.  My mother gave me my first novel to read then, Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth.  That was the day I turned into a bookworm and a future writer.  I also had a Math tutor called Mrs Hitter.  She would teach me math then show me how to make bubbles out of soap.  She didn’t come for a while and later I learned she’d been in hospital to have a spider removed from her ear.  When she came to see me again, she brought the spider along in a small square plastic box with a clear lid, the kind you might put jewellery into, its body resting on a square of cotton wool.

Then we moved to New York.  It sounds glamorous but we lived in Long Island and I had to go to an awful Catholic school.  I remember our apartment well, I even remember the address.  31D Stephan Oval, Glen Cove.  It was compact and had wooden floors.  The rooms were all very small.  I do remember my bedroom – shared with my brother.  We slept on mattresses that were laid on tin trunks.  There was hardly any space between our beds.  I had Strawberry Shortcake bedding and my brother had Spiderman.  We also had a humidifier, a huge pale blue thing that looked like a model for a UFO and used to make a loud humming noise all night while it was on.  That year we discovered Toys R Us, Hershey’s chocolate syrup squirted into milk, Ruffles Potato Chips and Atari games.  I remember watching bits of Princess Di’s wedding in that apartment.  But the only memory I have of that bedroom is going in there one day, when I had the chance to be alone, and writing in my very first diary, a hard backed, five year diary with a pink cover and a drawing of a cartoon girl on the front, all innocent and sweet.  It was a gift from my mother – to encourage my writing.  For each day, there were 5 squiggly lines for me to write on.  I’d had the diary since January but hadn’t been able to write a single thing in it.  When I finally did, it was June, the end of the school year, which had been lonely and difficult.  There had just been a school trip to Christopher Morley Park where I’d spent most of the day alone, because I hadn’t really made any friends at that school and all the other kids were hanging out together in cliques.  But when I got home, I wrote all kinds of lies in my diary about what a great trip it had been.  I tore that page out some time later.  Thankfully we were only there for one year.

After that we moved to Damascus, Syria.  We lived in 2 different houses there over 4 years.  If you count the first place we stayed in for a couple of weeks, then we lived in 3.  The first place belonged to a Thai couple who were already living and working there.  They had a dog that used to do tiny craps all over the floor, which was tiled and speckled and you couldn’t necessarily see the crap before stepping in it.  I think all four of us were sleeping in one room until we found our own place.  My distinct memory of that place is of being left alone with my brother one afternoon while my parents and their friends went to look at a potential house for us.  Before arriving in Damascus, I’d met someone who was going to the school I was about to attend, and she told me that they shot people in the streets there.  So when my parents were out and I looked out the window and saw a hole in the back windscreen of our car, I had a complete freak out and meltdown.  I screamed and cried and sobbed in absolute terror, convinced that my parents had been shot and killed and that my brother and I were now all alone in the world.  I came out of it when I looked up to see my little brother praying over me, the blue plastic rosary from our previous school around his palms.  Something in me snapped and I went into my usual detached-coping mode.  We didn’t even need to speak of it, it was simply known between us that it was something we would never tell our parents.  So they never knew.

Shortly after that, we moved into a house with a garden full of orange trees, and a small swimming pool flanked on one side by a wall covered by a jasmine bush.  The bedroom in that house was also shared with my brother.  We had bunk beds.  I had the top bunk and we had no privacy.  You had to walk through our room to get to our parents’.  We didn’t have a door to shut.  On one side it was open to the rest of the house, on the other, there was a door to my parents’ room, and on a third wall, there was a glass fronted door that went out onto the garden.  In that room, I put on a play that I wrote myself.  It was acted out with paper dolls that I’d also made myself, with a set that I put together using a cardboard doll’s house.  The play was put on for my parents and some of their friends.  I think it was a hit.  That room was also once turned into a haunted house.  When we lived in New York, we spent one of the school vacations there driving to Florida to visit Disneyworld.  We visited the Haunted House and we tried to recreate it in our bedroom one Halloween.  That was a hit too.  And then, the Halloween that I was 12, when my mother dressed me up as Snow White and my friend came to the school parade dressed as a prostitute, and we went off school grounds together after dark while she was still dressed like that, that night, I was silently thrashed by my father with his belt for committing some offence that I had no capacity to fathom at the time. 

We moved to another house after a year or two, but I don’t remember much of it.  I did have my own room there, with a door that closed.  My memories of that room?  My father killed a huge cockroach that was crawling up the wall next to my bed and even after its body was cleaned off the wall, the stains from its crushing remained.  I also made my first and only attempt to run away from home from that room.  I don’t even remember why I did it, but I know that it was during Ramadan.  The neighbours were up breaking their fast, there was a lot of noise of feasting.  I climbed out the window in the middle of the night with a small bag, determined until I got to the end of my road and heard soldiers firing their guns into the air.  We lived near a military base and soldiers firing their guns into the air was how they celebrated.  But as soon as I heard the shots, I ran back home.  Nobody even knew I was gone. 

At 13, we lived in a small apartment in Herzliyya in Israel.  We were only there for one year and we were there without my father, who remained behind in Damascus and visited us at weekends.  I did have my own room and remember spending a lot of time in there, scribbling furiously into a diary about how much I couldn’t stand my mother.  There was a lot of door slamming and shouting that year.  My main memory of that place is sitting at the tiny kitchen table when my father told me during one of his weekend visits that we would be moving again.  I’d really fallen in love with my new school and was just starting to feel like I belonged.  Except this time, instead of accepting news of yet another move quietly and meekly, I cried and got angry and asked him why.  He didn’t have much of an answer for me so all I could do was cry and rage about it.  It was the first and only time I cried and raged about being moved.  Then I just got on with it.

We then moved to Cyprus, where I spent the next 4 years, and finished school.  We lived in one apartment there, I had my own room.  It had two windows and got a lot of sun.  It was next door to a Montessori nursery so I remember always hearing the noise of children playing.  I have a lot of memories of that room.  It did include letting two boys in when I wasn’t supposed to.  The first was when I was 15 and my parents were home.  He was one of my best friends but he had a crush on me.  We went into my room, turned off the lights and slow danced to a Scorpions song.  My Mom twigged, knocked on the door halfway through and told him to leave.  The second time I had a boy in there, I was 17, my parents weren’t home and that’s all I’m going to say about that. 

And then I left my parents’ life and my parents’ homes and went to University and spent the next years of my life moving from room to room, from flat to flat, to different towns and cities, around different parts of the same city.  To this day, the longest I ever lived anywhere was 6 years and that was in a flat in London in my late 20s / early 30s.

My childhood never really had a room.  It’s still carrying everything in a bulging suitcase inside me.  Every now and then I jostle it and it causes a lump in my throat.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Scintilla Project ~ Day 3

A memory triggered by a song

Whenever anyone asks me a question that requires me to pick a particular song / book / film, my mind always goes blank.  When I first saw this prompt, I tried to think of a song, any song, to see if it triggered any memories, and I couldn’t.  I went to my shelf of CDs (yes, I still have CDs!) and tried picking some out at random but the ones I got also produced blanks.  Now, a few days later, I remember a song that will always have a particular association with it.

It was June 1985, I was 13.  We were living in Damascus.  It was the last day of school and I was going to the end of year “graduation” dance at the American International Community School I went to.  I was gawky.  I wore white sandals with white socks to the dance.  I had braces and no notion of what it meant to be cool or graceful.  But I did have a boyfriend, my first.  Willem – my best friend’s younger brother.  We’d gotten together, after my friend acted as go-between, about a week or so before the dance.  But being the kind of kids we were – geeky, bookish, shy and awkward, we’d spent most of our time together being geeky, bookish, shy and awkward and had not, much to my friend’s dismay, even come close to a first kiss.  The physical contact we’d had was limited to a few slow dances – you know, the kind where you dance so far apart, you could fit another person in the gap between us.  There was a lot of looking at the floor and after the music stopped, an almost immediate withdrawal, as if our parents had caught us doing something naughty.  But that all changed the night of the dance. 

It started as most of our school dances did – boys and girls not really mingling, lights and music blaring, chaperones on watch.  But then something changed.  I can’t remember why, but there was a very distinct moment when it felt as if we’d been left to our own devices.  The room went dark and they started playing slow songs.  When the first few chords of Purple Rain started, Willem asked me to dance.  I don’t know if it was because it was dark or because it suddenly felt as if we were alone or because he’d been under his sister’s instructions, but this time, there was no space between us.  I can remember those minutes so well, the way the room looked and felt, the way his arms felt around me, the warmth between us, the frantic beating of his heart and mine.  During that song, we had our first kiss, the very first kiss either of us had ever had.  It wasn’t what I expected, I’d never heard of a French kiss and had no idea what to do with his tongue in my mouth, but it was warm and soft and sweet and because they played the full 8 minute plus version of the song, it was long and lingering and it seemed like we melted into each other.

We got better at the kissing.  Over the next 10 days or so that we had left together, we went to a lot of parties.  We were teased by our friends for being the sweetest, most “stuck together” couple in school.  It was even better because it was all so innocent.  We were just two kids who really liked each other.  There was no malice, no jealousy, and despite the shyness, no fear.  There was also no pressure.  Except, that is, for mortality and transience and everything coming to an end and life being completely out of our control. 

At the end of those 3 or so weeks we had together, his family went away on vacation and mine got ready to pack up and move on.  My father was being transferred again, this time to Israel.

While Willem was away on vacation with his family, I remember trying to pick out a card to send him, from a hotel gift shop.  It was one of the few places you could find things like greetings cards in Damascus at that time.  I couldn’t find one in English, but there was one in French.  It was blue and had a cartoony white rabbit on it and inside was written Je T’aime.  I blushed at my boldness, it felt so utterly serious and daring for me to give such a card to a boy.  I didn’t know if I meant it or not and yet, I didn’t want to leave without saying something.  So I sent it to him.

We didn’t see each other over the summer but my Dad had to go back to Damascus briefly before school started so I arranged to meet Willem at a hotel pool.  I wasn’t sure if he’d still care anything for me and a big part of me had already become detached. I was already in that all too familiar place of limbo-numbness.  But when he saw me, he gave me a present.  My first from a boy.  It was a tiny silver heart, with a leaf over the top and the “evil eye” in the middle.  In the Middle East it is considered a charm to ward off evil and bad luck.  I remember receiving it with little emotion.  I didn’t know what it was supposed to mean and even if it meant something, I didn’t know what I could possibly do with it since we would probably never see each other again. 

At the time, I didn’t consciously perceive this and I certainly didn’t allow myself to feel anything about it, but looking back on it now, I remember my reaction was one of painfully absent emotion, perhaps a bit like a rabbit in the headlights.  Willem wasn’t detached though.  His face, when he gave it to me, was lit up, full of warmth.  It didn’t seem to matter to him that we weren’t going to see each other again.  It was probably the purest expression of simply, wholly giving, with no agenda, no expectation of anything in return, that I can remember being on the receiving end of and it makes my heart ache for the girl that I was then, not knowing what to do with such a beautiful gift, except put it away in a box.

I’ve been given jewellery since, but it’s not something I’m fond of.  I never wear any jewellery, I just don’t like the feeling of having anything around my wrist or my neck or even on my fingers.  And it’s never really taken my fancy.  I’ll go wild for a good book or a beautiful poem but pearls or diamonds do nothing for me.

Recently though, while reading Hemingway’s Across The River and Into The Trees, I came across a scene between the two main characters where they talked about how neither of them were showy people who cared to dress up or have things like jewels to draw attention to themselves but they wanted to give one another something solid, something solid and beautiful that, when touched or seen, would give the other happiness, because it would remind them of each other and how much they were loved.  I suppose this is the real reason behind gifts of jewellery, or any gift really, and yet it struck me as if I’d never known this.  So much of this seems to be lost in gift-giving these days I think, but that scene made me remember Willem’s silver heart.  Suddenly it seemed very important that I find it, see it, hold it in my hand again.

I knew where it was, in a small wooden box packed away in a cardboard box, behind some other cardboard boxes somewhere up in the attic room.  But I dug it out.  I shifted a chest of drawers, opened boxes, unearthed memories, forgotten books, letters, half-filled notebooks, photos.  And finally, the small wooden box.  Willem’s heart was still there.  And when I found it, I was overwhelmed by emotion.  As if all the emotion I couldn’t feel then had finally found its voice.  Willem and I never saw each other again but the 13 year old girl inside me could finally receive her gift, wholly and simply given, still present and powerful after all these years.