It’s #TimeToTalk, Now

It’s easy to be too busy

Or say

It’s not the right time

To worry that you’ll make it worse

So you accept their fumbled

“Fine.”

It’s hard to find the moment

For hearing truth

And depth

But really we’re just finding excuses

To keep ourselves

Deaf

To all the pain that gathers

When people can’t speak

Truth

And have to keep it bottled up

For fear of hurting

You

But what happens when you leave it?

When you let the silence

Grow?

What if their pain is your pain too

But not asking means

You’ll never

Know?

So let’s all breathe together

Hold hands and take

A dive

Into conversation

With neighbours

Strangers

Friends

And lovers

Because

Now

Is The Time.

  • JH

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

Advertisements

It’s #TimeToTalk About The Borderlands

This is a piece of writing I did when I was struggling, torn back and forth between being overwhelmed by negative thoughts and striving to remember the good and hold onto hope. It’s about being in the borderlands between dark and light and finding a way out. I have shared it on here before but thought it was worth sharing again.

***

You think it will never end.

You cower in shadow, fear and doubt, huddled in the corners of your own mind.

Some days you are screaming inside “LET ME OUT” “MAKE IT STOP” “SOMEONE HELP”…

Some days you are numb. Empty. The void itself.

Alternately wracked with pain and removed from all feeling.

You know it’s there. The good. Some happiness. The light. But it is removed from you. Unreachable. Shuttered behind a transparent wall. Taunting you. The happy sounds muffled to your ears.

The creeping cold down your spine.
The boiling fear in your gut.
The loathing and anger and confusion and pain and…emptiness.

You cry.

You sit, dry eyed, and wish you could cry.

You rage.

You wish you could summon the will to rage.

You wish for the feelings to go away.

You wish for the feelings to return.

It all feels so out of control.

You wonder in the darkness “Will it ever end?”…

You wait.

You give up.

You decide to try again.

And repeat…

And repeat…

And repeat…

Until…

A flicker of something in the abyss.

A waif of light.

So insubstantial, like a child’s bubble blown on the wind; you absently wonder if it’s real and how it got there.

It beckons.

Some warmth returns, just to the very tips of your fingers.

It’s enough.

Hope.

It casts enough light for you to see the good again.

“I remember this place.”

A soft smile.

A tug towards the light, and the shadows recede a little further.

Warmth spreading as feeling returns.

Raw, a little fearful, you step into the light and turn your face to it. Eyes closed, basking in the gentle caress of warmth. There’s still a chill in the background, still shadows behind you, but that’s ok. For now you face the sun.

Walk in it. Remember the flowers, the soft breeze, the ground underfoot, the sky overhead. Life flows back and the numbness, the rage, the pain shrinks further. A mere speck.

You fear it will return.

Don’t.

Be present in the warmth and light. Relish being able to see and hear and feel again.

The shadows may try to pull you back. Sometimes they may manage to wrap their ebony tendrils around you again. But that light will never be extinguished.

Look how it found you in the depths of the night.

So even though you’re afraid, even though it still hurts, even though there is still a numbness threatening the edges of your existence, look to the light of your own being and emerge from the shadows.

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

It’s #TimeToTalk Creating Opportunities

In order to encourage more open conversations around mental health, and breakdown the stigma surrounding it, we all need to take responsibility for creating opportunities where those conversations can occur. There are so many ways to do that but right now I’m going to share with you one of my favourites that is currently happening over on Instagram.

The lovely Lexi has found a unique and wonderful way to give people the opportunity to speak openly about their experiences of mental health. Every week, she hosts #AirItShareItWednesday, in which people can send her a private direct message with anything they would like to share, and Lexi will then share their experience on her Instagram story whilst protecting the person’s identity. In this way, people have the opportunity to speak openly with the sense of safety afforded by anonymity, and the community can offer support, advice, or just love and recognition to those individuals who choose to share, through Lexi.

Lexi began this initiative in order to “continue the conversation around mental health” and it’s a great example of taking the initiative to do something new and a bit different.

The response to this movement has been wonderfully positive and I love that Lexi has taken the time and care to open up this opportunity for sharing and conversation.

You can find Lexi on Instagram, Twitter, and on her blog. Pop over and say hi.

***

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

A Word For The Year – 2018

IMG_5880.JPG

Another year gone. Another twelve months of highs and lows and everything in-between. The years seem to be flying by ever more rapidly and, as always, there is a strange mixture of excitement and melancholy as one year ends and another begins.

As with the last couple of years, I won’t be making any resolutions but instead I have chosen word that reflects my intentions and hopes for how I will choose to live these next twelve months. Last year, I chose ‘Nourish‘ as my word to live by. I wanted to nourish myself and my relationships with others and, whilst I can’t reasonably claim that I was driven by this unswervingly all year, it was definitely something I came back to repeatedly and it helped me to refocus when life became overwhelming.

This year, my chosen word is ‘Serenity’. This word choice was inspired by the well known and loved Serenity Prayer and so encompasses more than just its inherent meaning.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

In choosing ‘Serenity’ to drive my year in 2018 I am actually choosing (or maybe seeking) all the things in the prayer: serenity, acceptance, courage, and wisdom.

Turning 30 in 2017 made me increasingly aware of the many expectations I have, both of myself and others: expectations that are not always reasonable and that can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. I feel the need to continue developing my self awareness, to be able to recognise when I am holding onto things that I need to let go of, and to be brave enough to make a change (or stand up an demand one) when it’s needed.

I’m looking forward to whatever excitement 2018 has to offer and ready for whatever challenges it might bring. I wish you all a happy, healthy, prosperous year.

2017’s Top Ten(ish) Books

I did not read as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. In fact, I was a whole 20 books of meeting my Goodreads challenge! In spite of that, 2017 was a really good reading year and I discovered some new favourite authors and some new favourite books. I can never pick ONE favourite book but it takes something special for a book to worm its way onto my favourites list and this year at least TWO of the books I read made the cut…possibly even three. I’m undecided.

Anyway, I thought I would recap my year in books by sharing my top ten reads from 2017…but then I couldn’t quite whittle it down so it’s my top eleven. Who’s even counting?!

I have never really listened to audiobooks. I like to hold the actual book and savour the words in my own time. I’ve also previously struggled to find narrations that don’t annoy me. This year, however, saw the addition of a puppy to our family and with her arrival went a good chunk of my peaceful reading time. So I decided to give audiobooks another try to stave off the story withdrawal, since I can listen to them whilst I walk the pup. And now I’m hooked. It still all depends on the narration, as there have been a couple of books that I haven’t got more than a few minutes into before giving up through sheer annoyance at the narrator’s voice, but here are four audiobooks which not only had excellent narration but were also outstanding stories in and of themselves.

How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

Matt Haig is one of those authors who I have been meaning to read for forever. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while and have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for his openness about mental illness and the way in which he offers support and encouragement to those who are struggling with their own mental health. I’ve read a few of his books this year and he has quickly become a favourite author.

How To Stop Time is a beautiful, eloquent portrait of what it means to be human: to want, to feel, to fear, to contemplate, to search, to love. Haig weaves and paints prose that reads like poetry until you are so enraptured by the image before that you hardly notice that he also wields words like a sword, until the moment when it pierces right to the heart of something you didn’t even know you were holding inside you. With compelling characters and an intriguing, twisting storyline, this is a tale to get lost in. The story, much like Haig himself, is endlessly quotable and is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. This was the one downside of listening on audiobook: there were so many points when I wanted to stop and write down or just re-hear a quote (not really achievable when out walking an energetic puppy). With the help of Goodreads I managed to track down some favourites:

“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”

“Everything is going to be all right. Or, if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.”

“A problem with living in the twenty-first century….. we are made to feel poor on thirty thousand pounds a year. To feel poorly travelled if we have only been to ten other countries. To feel old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren’t photo shopped and filtered.”

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

“We have the knowledge to realise we are just a mess of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.”

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is one of the most discomforting and yet endearing characters I have every come across. From very early on in the book I was intrigued by Eleanor’s unique way of seeing and operating in the world and desperate to understand more about her and her history. Raymond is a wonderfully loveable character and the development of his unlikely friendship with Eleanor is heartwarming – I loved every second of seeing it grow. Eleanor Oliphant is darkly comic in its exploration of the impacts of childhood trauma and the story raised both laughs and tears. I have to give special mention to Cathleen McCarron for her excellent narration of this tale – she really brought the characters to life and I so enjoyed listening to her unspool this story.

Although I have never experienced anything like what Eleanor has been through, I still found a lot to relate to in her character. Honeyman’s writing is amusing and highly relevant to so much human experience, here are just a few of my favourite quotes:

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”

“I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

“In principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.”

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

“Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

“If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.”

“My phone doesn’t ring often—it makes me jump when it does—and it’s usually people asking if I’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently.”

The Keeper Of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

The Keeper Of Lost Things is a wonderful story of loss, love, finding and letting go. I was captivated by the idea of lost things being carefully collected and catalogued, eventually to be reunited with their owners and the cast of characters had the added charm of being lost on their own ways as well. The alternating narratives across different character’s perspectives and time provides a breadcrumb trail through the story – the connection there the whole time but just out of reach and understanding, until right towards the end. Happiness and heartache in almost equal measure make the story compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.

“Her grandmother had once told her that one could blame ugliness on one’s genes and ignorance on one’s education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”

“Common decency, good manners, kindness and hard work were treated as peculiarities”

“A hush is a dangerous thing. Silence is solid and dependable, but a hush is expectant, like a pregnant pause; it invites mischief, like a loose thread begging to be pulled.”

The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

This is one of my absolute favourite books, not just of 2017 but ever. I listened to the audiobook and was so utterly enraptured by the story that I am dying to get hold of a hardcopy so I can reread it and savour every word again. The first in the Winternight trilogy and voted best Sci-Fi and Fantasy book of 2017, The Bear And The Nightingale is one of those rare reads that is so immersive and enchanting that you forget you are reading (or in my case, listening) at all. I could feel the icy breath of the Russian winter with every turn of phrase and the magic seemed so real I felt Morozko himself dogged my footsteps. Here is a world caught in balance between the realities of harsh, arctic winters and the old, fantastical magic woven into centuries old folklore. It made me want to learn Russian and read every folk and fairytale I could get my hands on, and I did not want to leave the realm of the winter-king.

Arden’s prose is so lyrical it weaves a spell all of its own and her characters are so well developed that they step into being with barely the lift of an imaginary finger. The story was exquisitely narrated by Kathleen Gati and her voice only added to the wonder of the story. When I started listening I hadn’t realised it was the first of a trilogy so my excitement was palpable when I noticed The Girl In The Tower will be gracing bookshelves any day now. If I were to recommend any book from 2017, it would be this one.

“Wild birds die in cages.”

“Nay, it is the coming storm. The first sign is fear. The second is always fire. Your people are afraid, and now the fires burn.”

“It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.”

“But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.”

Dear Ijeawele: A Femenist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I discovered Adichie through TED talks when I stumbled across her talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and read her book of the same title off the back of it. I am yet to read any of her novels but immediately picked up Dear Ijeawele when I saw it and enjoyed it even more that We Should All Be Feminists. Both books should be required reading for everyone but Dear Ijeawele especially spoke to something deep in the heart of me. Direct, perceptive, and wryly amusing, Adichie’s letter to her friend gets to the root of what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

A quick and compelling read, it’s one to shove into the hands of anyone and everyone. Politely of course.

“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

“If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”

“Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.”

“We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. And we do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous. Many sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be “nice” to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Not ordinarily one to reach for contemporary reads, I was pleasantly surprised by Me Before You. In fact, I loved it. I absolutely adored Louisa Clark and quickly wanted to make friends with her and sit down for a cuppa and a heart to heart. The story itself is also engrossing, being both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. I think what I loved most about this book though was that it didn’t succumb to the temptation to make everything all right in the end. There was something viscerally real about the stories understanding that love does not automatically make everything ok and that sometimes a happy ending doesn’t seem all that happy or look at all how you pictured it. I haven’t yet read the sequel to this book but and very much looking forward to it.

“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

“I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”

“I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.”

“You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

The Princess Saves Herself In This One – Amanda Lovelace

I love a good poetry collection and this one really hit the spot. Gritty, unashamedly honest and beautiful, there is something profoundly relatable in Lovelace’s poetry, in spite of the differences in my personal experiences. I don’t really have an awful lot more to say about this one because I find poetry to be a very personal thing. It does deal with some very difficult and potentially triggering issues but I found The Princess Saves Herself In This One to be validating and inspiring.

“ah, life—

the thing

that happens

to us

while we’re off

somewhere else

blowing on

dandelions

& wishing

ourselves into

the pages of

our favorite

fairy tales.”

“repeat after me:

you owe

no one

your forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.”

“once upon a time, the princess rose from the ashes her dragon lovers made of her & crowned herself the mother-fucking queen of herself.   – how’s that for a happily ever after?”

“fiction:

the ocean

i dive

headfirst

into

when i

can

no longer

breathe

in

reality.

– a mermaid escapist II.”

Blankets – Craig Thompson

Much like audiobooks, I’ve never really got into graphic novels but I’ve had a couple by Craig Thompson on my bookshelves for ages that my husband read and loved. So, over Christmas, I thought I’d give them a go and found I really enjoyed them. Blankets in particular was an excellent read with Thompson’s graphics really bringing the story and the characters’ struggles to life. The tale is both moving and thought provoking on a subject I have always found interesting and challenging: the tensions between the sense of belonging and the expectations present within a religion or religious community. The characters in Thompson’s story are imperfect and therefore very real. Whilst I’m not sure they will ever have the same richness as stories written in prose, I’ll definitely be trying more graphic novels as there they offer something unique.

“How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement – no matter how temporary.”

“Sometimes, upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing that reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — Not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream.”

“On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

“At night, lying on your back and staring at the falling snow, it’s easy to imagine oneself soaring through the stars.”

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Another wonderful book from Matt Haig; very different from the first mentioned in this post but just as profound. Haig’s unflinching account of his experiences of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts is raw, moving, and strangely uplifting. He gets right to the heart of what it is to be trapped in your own mind and the horrifying experience of not being able to be fully present in your own life, even when it’s a wonderful one. Reasons To Stay Alive gives you just that; as well as truly nailing the torment of mental illness, Haig’s account also provides a funny, even joyful reminder of what it is to truly love, and why we should strive to stay alive even when it seems the dark is closing in. It is a tale of survival as much as of struggle and reading it felt like being offered a hand to hold and hearing, in the voice of a friend, that we are never truly alone.

Recommended reading for all.

“THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”

“And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”

“Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.”

“To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.”

“You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.”

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power is one of those books that I started shoving into everyone’s hands the moment I finished reading it. Before I finished reading it in fact. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and disturbing books I have ever read and it made me think about our world in a different way. It woke me up to some uncomfortable truths – some of which I had been aware of but somehow seemed to have accepted as just being the reality of things, and some to do with my own thinking which I was saddened to realise existed in my own thought patterns. Graphic, visceral, and haunting, it provides a frightening portrait of society, past, present, and…future? One can only hope not. With themes similar to those in The Handmaids Tale, The Power strikes at the heart of some of the most vivid fears, hopes, and tortures of being female, in any society, in any age. Whilst part of me wanted some of the storylines to be more rounded and developed, the messages of the book were sharp as a blade and I found it interesting to discuss the story with friends, both male and female, and everyone seemed to have taken something different from it. Above all else, it really seemed to highlight the dangers of power: in anybody’s hands.

“This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.”

“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’

And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’

That is the only answer there ever is.”

“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not, Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”

“the highest among us aren’t always the wisest…”

“We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.”

Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it did not disappoint. Taylor’s writing is rich, magical, and utterly mesmerising and her latest, long awaited, book is wonderful and beautifully strange: a dream in every sense. Uplifting and heartbreaking and utterly fantastic – stepping into this story is to have tour imagination ripped open in the best possible way, to find stars and flowers and terribly beautiful monsters waiting above. I didn’t think that Taylor would be able to beat the magic she wove with her Daughter Of Smoke And Bone trilogy but with Strange The Dreamer she did just that and I did not want to leave Dreamer’s Weep.

“”You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.””

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.”

“I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”

“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

“You think good people can’t hate?” she asked. “You think good people don’t kill?”[…]”Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.”

“Without his books, his room felt like a body with its hearts cut out.”

“There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.”

“The library knows its own mind… When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

So there you have it, my top reads of 2017. I highly recommend that you pop off and read every one of them immediately. Just the thing to brighten up the wet, cold start we’re having to 2018.

Happy reading!

Winter

Just when it seems

That the world has

Withdrawn

Into itself

And skeletal trees stand testament to a

Lifeless

Season,

We hang stars on every branch and bough

And light candles in every window,

Bringing warm hope

To the cold night.

 

When it seems the whole world should be

Hibernating,

Hidden away and

Waiting

In quiet solitude

For the Sun’s return,

We gather.

Stories and laughter and gifts

Of Time

Or Trinkets

Are shared

Over vats of mulled goodness

Under a man-made Milky-Way.

 

And when the sharing is done

A sleepy

Silence

Settles itself,

Like a thick, woollen throw, around our weary shoulders.

We sigh and allow our stuffed selves to

Drift

Into a contented sleep

With a wish of snow upon our lips

And,

If we’re lucky,

We wake to find the world muted and muffled

By a new kind of

Magnificence.

And we are reminded of the

Beauty

That can be found in a

Blank

Page.

Borrowed With Thanks

When she woke, it was gone. Everything else was in its rightful place: watch laid out on the bedside table, its gentle tick having lulled her to sleep hours before; earrings placed carefully side by side, hooks aligned so as not to become entangled with the copper filigree leaves that hung below; bracelet creating an uneven circle of shadow, light glinting off the worn, engraved bar bearing a simple motto of encouragement: inspire. But of her necklace there was no sign.

Searching with increasing puzzlement for the gleam of the fine, rose-gold chain, she tried to recall any ‘safe place’ she may have left it, mentally rolling her eyes at her own uncanny ability to sabotage even the simplest of her daily routines.

She lifted each book from the stack by her bed. She rifled through the pages and lifted the dust-covers. She checked inside the pillow cases; unmade and remade the bed; peered under the bed frame; checked in the bathroom and even looked through the wardrobe. Nothing. Not a link or clasp to be found.

With a great air of frustration and disappointment, she gave up the search and got on with her day, feeling distinctly unfinished without the light touch of the chain round her neck. It was a day filled with quiet busyness. She worked in silence whilst grey clouds scudded past the window and a late summer drizzle darkened the panes with silvered rivulets. As the day wore on, she forgot her missing necklace, distracted by imagines worlds and daydreams. It was only after she had eaten supper and headed up the creaking stairs to bed that she recalled it’s absence.

She fell frowning into a fitful sleep.

The next morning, she woke to a dull, misty light filtering through the small bay window. Stretching, she swung her sleep heavy legs out of bed. As she rose, a tiny, unexpected glint if light caught her eye. There, at the foot of the bed, just visible under the fold of her rumpled duvet, was her necklace.

With warm surprise she tugged the duvet back further. Surely she must still be dreaming! She knew how carefully and thoroughly she had checked the bed. But maybe she had not been thorough enough, for there, as she perched back on the edge of the mattress and peered a little closer, without doubt was her necklace.

As she reached out to pick it up, she paused in a moment of surprised curiosity. The necklace was not, as one might expect, lying in a knotted clump but rather in a perfectly cooked pile. When she picked it up, it uncoiled to reveal not one knot, not one tangled link.

How strange, she thought, before fastening the clasp behind her neck and continuing with the business of preparing to face the world.

Her mind already wandering to the tasks that lay ahead, as she remade the bed she missed the tiny folded note that became lost in the folded sheets, like a fallen bonsai leaf in a snow drift. She missed the words hidden within, written in a tiny perfect hand:

Borrowed with thanks. It saved our lives.

Come Home To Rest

The Earth smoulders

With the turning of the season

And the clouds drift down

To kiss the burning land.

A veil of tears

Lands softly on flaming leaves

But even heaven’s weeping

Cannot dull the

Rioting palette

Of autumn’s inferno.

And when the most parts,

Making way for the pale light

Of winter’s promise,

And the chill of year’s end

Arrives on the breath of the hills,

The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,

Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.

Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.

Woodsmoke hangs in the air,

The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.

The world exhales

A long sigh of letting go.

As though, after a long day,

She has come home to rest.

Sharing a Snippet

I seem to keep promising myself two things: that I will write more, and that I will share some of what I write. I am never very good at keeping either of these promises. During my wonderful stay at Gladstone’s Library I had intended to write some short stories and maybe a bit of poetry. What actually happened was that I wrote quite a lot of poetry and only two little segments of a short story. Turns out I am not very good at actually getting to any sort of narrative. (Note to self: work on that.)

Regardless, I’ve decided to share one of the little bits I wrote. I’m sharing it raw and unedited because if I get into all that I will never share it. This particular snippet was inspired by a writing prompt I found on Pinterest: “write about a new season and it’s impact on the world”. I had in my mind the effects of climate change, and how sometimes our seasons appear all out of whack, and I decided to set it in the far future, but beyond that initial thought I basically free wrote. What came out was a sort of message in a bottle…

No one knew what to call it. The first time it happened it was a ‘freak occurrence’; a ‘meteorological abnormality’; ‘nothing to worry about’. We were captivated by its beauty, and we believed them.

The light was entrancing: ethereal. Streaming from the sky in undulating ribbons, almost pearlescent and tinged with dawn colours. Like a day-lit aurora, it seemed as if each heavenly light fall should deposit a seraph in our midst. We soon discovered they were more of hell than heaven.

After years of this beautiful torture, the equatorial line is now a deep, permanent scorch, circling the Earth’s belly, growing wider with each passing orbit.

The Sun giveth, and the Sun taketh away.

We never know when the burning season will arrive. Unlike the old transitions, there is no gradual change; no slow curling and crisping of leaves as the hues shift to flame; no slow emerging of buds and shoots as greenery pushes its way to the surface once more. It comes in a sudden, terrible blaze. Without warning, the clouds part and the sun spears down, searing everything it touches from the face of the planet. It has proven impossible to predict when it will come and where it will fall. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres are now cut off from one another completely. No one dares cross the scorch band and the light falls have slowly created a no-mans land, not only on the surface but in the upper atmosphere as well. It was a shock when the first satellite fell.

Understandably, people fled from the Earth’s belt, humanity tearing like a seam around the middle. People surged North and South, seeking refuge; the upper and lower reaches of the planet have become unbearably crowded and we are running out of room. The scorch band expands inexorably towards us. All the old boundaries are gone and we are on the brink of war.

As if fighting the sun was not enough.

We did not heed the warnings and now nature takes its revenge for our ignorance and arrogance. The universe sends a mere sliver of its power, through a crack of our own making, and our downfall is sealed.

There is nowhere left for us to run. All our technology and bold proclamations are useless in the face of such relentless, uncompromising destruction.

This is our final hope. These words. Sent out in a direction we can’t control, into the vacuum of space, where we don’t know if anyone is listening. Where anyone who might be listening could be forgiven for ignoring our plea. Our trespasses, after all, are great and many.

But we plead with you anyway.

Because if you are reading this, you are our only hope.

If you are reading this, please send help.

Sacred Stories

Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.