Sunday, 3 November 2013

Roman Holiday

The clocks were turned back last weekend, so the days have been suddenly and thinly compressed. The light starts to fail at around three o’clock, the yellow trees dimming as the grey deepens. By five o’clock, we are sunk in darkness: the wet ground duplicates the office windows, the streetlights shoulder their sodium haloes and the shy moon begins her slow climb through the earth’s turn.

Invariably, people complain about the changes – the altered clocks, the rain that slants in sheets, the nights that stretch like black elastic – but I love the suddenness of it all. Summer has dwindled gradually into Autumn, Autumn has heretofore dawdled along…and then comes the end of October, and with it, a switch is flipped. The line between before and after is clean and cold, punctuated with darkness and stars, and from now on, we are on the descent into Winter, down, and down, like Persephone into her long half-calendar of blue subterranean rooms.

Two weeks today, I will be flying to Rome. It is strange, at least to me, that it is still sunny there, the cobblestones still baking with heat, the blonde ruins still simmering in hours and hours of light. I’ve never travelled out of my season before. Always, at this time of year, I have gone to places that are as cold, if not colder, than home. Paris last year was bitter. New York before that was frozen over, glittering with frost like a disco ball. I know, of course, that seasons on other continents are different to those I’m used to at home, but still it feels otherworldly to be able to fly from one season to another on a whim - like a magic spell, or a wish granted in a flash of sparks.

This will also be my first ever romantic break, which amplifies the magic factor exponentially. The thought of four whole days in Rome together fills me with lovely drifts of butterflies. I can’t wait to explore the city - the opulence of the Vatican, the elaborate ceilings of the Sistine Chapel, the crumbling grandeur of the Colosseum - but one of the things I'm most excited about is to do so as one half of a couple, and take part in all those little coupley things that I've seen and sighed over for so many years but never experienced for myself. Holding hands in the street. Stopping to kiss by one of the many fountains. Taking arms-length photographs with our beaming faces cheek to cheek.

Don't get me wrong. I will never be one of those girls who needs a man to be happy (thirty two years of being single has put paid to that)  or who defines the crux of her existence by whether she has a head on the pillow next to her at night. But right now, I am all a-flutter with first love, and treasuring the honeymoon period, which I know won't last indefinitely.  I am old enough and wise enough to know that - if I am lucky - the whirling dizziness of these early days will settle into a calmer and more companionable sort of love, and if it does, I want to remember every phase, every layer, every moment of how we got to where we are, like counting the rings on a tree to determine its age: this is our first date, this is when we said I love you, this is when we realised it was for real and for good….
And if it isn't meant to be, then I will deal with that, too. It's just a pleasure to be participating, for once. To feel like part of the game, and not a faceless presence on the sidelines. It's still a  bit terrifying, if I'm completely honest, the whole falling in love thing - it's not all roses and goodness and pleasure. Openness can be completely unnerving. Letting someone have access to all those parts of yourself that you normally brush under the rug is nail-bitingly worrying. I suspect I will never be comfortable with being vulnerable, but then who is?
There is a quote I love by Kurt Vonnegut: "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down". That is just about perfect for where I am now - somewhere between the sky and the sea, my skin thin but rippling with feathers.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Matters of the Heart

"The bees are flying...they taste the Spring."
'Wintering', Sylvia Plath
A blogless August, a blogless September. Where do the days go, and the months? The last of the sunshine slips through my fingers like water; the last leaves litter the lawn, crackling underfoot like tiny fires. I wake in the dark and go to sleep in the dark; my days are bracketed by blackness and stars.
October. I love the sound of the word in my mouth. I love its briskness, the implications of apples and frost, of breath hanging in the air like clouds. I love this whole segment of the year, the last cold quarter of the calendar, as crisp and clean as a slice of moon. The deepening. The gathering in. The hushed sense of everything having gone to ground, to sleep, to dream, to preserve and replenish. 
Year after year, I find my life mirroring the season. As the ground hardens and the hedges moult down to their brown bones, I invariably find myself sorting and settling, tying up loose ends, finishing the tasks that have remained unfinished – nesting, in effect. Readying myself for the year’s closing.
Which is perhaps why it feels so very strange this year to find myself suddenly in a process of growth and renewal, of newness and blooming, beginnings and opportunities. It seems somehow out of sync with the season. Like strawberries in January, or snow in the middle of June.  
I am thirty two and I have never been in love. Or rather, I have never been in love until now. While my school-friends were doodling names in notebooks and batting newly-mascara-ed lashes across the classroom, I was keeping meticulous lists of calories and loping determinedly around the running track in my lunch hour. While they were enjoying first kisses, first crushes, I was enjoying the new sharpness of my hips, my belly's empty bowl, the stutter of my palms over emerging ribs.
I missed out on all those years of relationships - the years where people learn what a relationship is, the years where people learn how to be in one. So that there was a part of the adult me that still felt like that tentative teenaged girl who hasn’t been kissed yet, who doesn’t know how to give herself to someone, who doesn’t know what really loving or being loved feels like.  
That used to terrify me. I saw it as a failing or a flaw, as something that made me somehow defective. I would tell myself that I couldn’t ever be in a relationship, that I’d left it too long without having laid the groundwork or had the practice runs. I told myself that it didn’t matter, that I couldn’t miss what I’d never had, that some people were just meant to live independently and alone. All of which is, of course, ridiculous.
My relationship history is perhaps atypical, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Yes, this is all new to me, and yes, I am probably very green in lots of ways, but I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. This relationship, this process, is so important and so precious, that there is simply no room for those old limits. There is no space for those voices saying Don’t, or can’t, or won’t.
I wake up in the mornings and the first thing that I remember is I love someone, and he loves me; my whole body hums with that knowledge as though bees had taken up residence. It's exhilarating and wonderful and a little bit terrifying all at once. I don't know whether it feels more like flying or falling. But I do know that I am treasuring every moment. And that the wait, however long, was worth it. 
This is what the poems are for, then. This is what the heart feels like when it's full.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Weather and words

The sky finally broke open yesterday, weeks of heat and pressure shattering like a dropped pot, an explosion of sound and water. I opened the window a little to watch the sheeting rain, and the smell of the garden rushed in, lush, and wet, and green; the pines were glittering all over like brides in sequins and silvery lace. And then lightning scorched the sky, its singular smell like pennies sweating in a sea-green palm. And thunder rolled in, low and deep as the boom of a bass. I watched for ages, the odd jewel of rain tossed on the sill like a coin dropped in the throat of a well. And despite the violence of the storm, I felt strangely calm. Safe and peaceful. Human. Small.
I write a lot about the weather here. It's not intentional. I think it's a way of locating myself as I write; anchoring myself in a physical reality before I spiral off into poetry and metaphor and glorious dreamy language. Like someone about to fly a kite in a high wind might plant their feet in the sand before letting their paper diamond go up into the high, far blue.
I feel a little as if I am flying today, barely-tethered, grazing the clouds and the white day-moon. It occurred to me earlier, as it sometimes does, that I am writing something; more than that, I am writing a book. I've had bits and scraps for so long, chapters scattered like wedding confetti, notes here and notes there, that it's easy to forget sometimes that it is taking shape and becoming something solid and cohesive. I thought of it for so long as jottings-that-I-might-be-able-to-make-something-of-one-day that even now as it gathers weight and depth, even as it spills from one desk drawer into another, I still think of it as something formless and fragmented, so on the rare occasions that it strikes me that it is now very definitely a book-in-progress, I get this wonderful soaring feeling, a sort of wild exhilaration that is perhaps three parts pure joy, one part fear.
It has been slow in the making, partly because I move like a butterfly between projects, lifting here, landing lightly there: poetry one day, fiction the next, non-fiction the day after that. I love the actual process of writing, but I find exacting any kind of discipline impossible. If I’m in a poetry-writing frame of mind, I am quite literally incapable of writing anything else. Each style of writing comes from a different place, I think; is driven by a different sort of compulsion. And the idea of trying to corral that compulsion and break it like a wild horse is utterly absurd to me. I like to write from spark and fire, from the first kindling, to a flickering, through to a furious burning, a bright white heat. I’ve heard other writers talk about the ratios between inspiration and perspiration, about the necessity to sit down and write even when the motivation isn’t there, and maybe that works for other people, but it doesn’t work for me. I write from exhilaration, not from duty; sometimes I wish I could be more clinical about it, more dogged, but there it is. And it’s taken me a while to realise that my way of writing is fine, too.
Different people have different ways of doing things. That is part of what makes us interesting. I am fascinated by other people's kinks and quirks, their particular habits and processes; if we all worked according to the same template, I would have one less thing to be fascinated by.
And I do so like to be fascinated.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Moments of Gratitude #6

Beach weekends, and horseriding in the dunes, and peeling lighthouses, and oyster shells with a rosy gleam in their folds, and blue skies, and crab skeletons, and old temples with holy pools, and champagne on the sand at sunset, and friendships, and laughter, and boys with Irish accents and soft, soft lips.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Full Fathom Five

Summer has finally arrived like an overdue visitor, her arms brimming with conciliatory gifts. Lush bouquets of plum-coloured roses. Soft gold bees browsing dizzily in the grass. I bring sandwiches to work - cheese thickly slathered with lurid yellow pickle - and sit outside to eat them in the sunshine, reading, dreaming, feeling utterly content.

Yesterday I watched a jewel-blue dragonfly skimming the surface of the lake. Today I threw in my leftover bread, and the soft little patters drew madly-quacking ducks like filings to a magnet, a hundred gleaming emerald heads bobbing for scraps.

I have always loved the water. It’s in my horoscope: the sign of the fish, two little slips of gold in a single loop, gilt-scaled, thin-finned. I have always found solace in it, a sense of quiet and calm.  It feels like home. Like I lived there once, in the cathedral quiet of the ocean depths, and some memory of it still lives at a cellular level, as coiled and self-contained as a nautilus shell on the sea-bed. When I was little, I wished every night that I’d wake up a mermaid – slim tail the colour of tears, hair spilling over my shoulders like water. (Secretly, I still believe it could happen. That one sunrise there will be a faint salt scent in the covers. A scattering of light in the sheets).


I've been choosing beauty wherever I can. And finding that the more you look for it, the easier it is to see. Filling my head with fairytales and poetry, selkies, spells and elves. Taking the longer route home along the river, stopping to take photos of the fish in the shallows, the cool blue herons as regal as queens. I’ve been eating dinner in the dappled garden, cats about my ankles in happy figure-eights. Drinking peach tea and writing out quotes in my cramped notebooks.

It’s as though beauty wants to be noticed. If I open to even its smallest expression - a smile, a sweet smell, the halo of light around a candle flame - it crests and swells, rises like a wave, or the notes in an orchestra. 

And who wouldn’t want to live on that singular frequency. Who wouldn’t want their body to pulse with that song.

Einstein said, Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is. 
My whole heart tell me it's the former.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Down the rabbit hole...

After months and months of grey gloom like a pencil mark smudging endlessly across a page, the weather this weekend was beautiful. I sat in the garden watching the cats chase butterflies, bits of leaf, and dandelion down. I drank fresh pressed juice and read for hours, while the washing flapped smartly on the line sending out tides of scent: fresh air, jasmine, tiger-lily, rose.

My mother and sister are in Greece this week, so I have the house to myself. And although I’ve missed them, I have settled into the peace and space left by their absence with a quiet contentment. Sometimes it’s pleasant to simply be in your own company. I find myself humming while doing the laundry because I’m not mindful of someone’s presence in the next room. I sit in the kitchen with a cup of tea just gazing out of the window, silent, dreaming, undisturbed.

The plan when I initially moved back home was to stay for just six months. I would get well, save some money, and move out again. As it happens, I’ve been at home now for a good while longer than that, and while there was safety in it at first, a necessary sort of net, my taste of total independence this week has been intoxicating. 

There are spaces that contain and protect, and that is a vital thing, sometimes, crucial for health and growth – the chick in the cool room of its shell, for example, or the tadpole quivering like a comma in its gel. But always, always there will come a time when we grow beyond the confines of that space. The grown chick beaks its way through the shell, the tadpole matures and transforms. And so must we eventually step out of our cramped quiet to stretch our legs, breathe different air, move in a wider world.

When I was a little girl, I was given a gloriously illustrated version of Alice in Wonderland one Christmas. I read it over and over again, until it literally fell apart in my hands, its spine broken and the pages fluttering out like dropped petals. When that happened, I took the drawings and pinned them to my walls, a themed frieze of fantastical images: a fat caterpillar smoking a pipe; the Cheshire cat’s smile like a slice of moon in the trees; the playing-card soldiers furiously painting the white roses red; the anxious-looking rabbit wearing a silk vest and a gold pocket-watch.

My favourite was actually one of the plainer images. I couldn’t have said why I identified with it at the time, but in hindsight it seems to reflect how I felt right the way through my childhood, and long into adulthood. It was the drawing of Alice in the White Rabbit’s house. She has eaten a piece of mushroom which makes her grow to gigantic proportions, so that suddenly she no longer fits in the room. I remember that she had one arm out of the window and another up the chimney, while her knees bumped at the ceiling and her head bent to her shoulder like a swan’s.
It both terrified and fascinated me, that image. A girl who was too big for the space she found herself in. A girl whose place of refuge had changed around her, become a place too small for her to inhabit.

This is a little how I find myself feeling this week. Not trapped, or panicked, but cramped, certainly. Yearning for freedom and change. I’ve let myself get complacent about moving out, about pushing my boundaries, because I’ve felt happy, and centred, and safe. And it’s not a bad thing to have just enjoyed that for a while, but for continued growth, it really is time now to start thinking about moving into a place of my own.

I’m actually giving serious thought to relocating completely. I’ve gotten closer recently to a couple of good friends who live in London, and have spent quite a bit of time down there in the last few weeks, which has rekindled my love of the place. The red buses that steam down bustling streets, the open-air fruit markets, the church bells, the architecture of the cathedrals, as fine as spun sugar. I love the sparkle of saris and gold-threaded robes, the yellow lights shivering at night in the Thames. I love the green beep of the turnstiles on the Tube, and the names of the stops on the underground maps - Elephant & Castle, Goldhawk Road, Marble Arch, Blackfriars, Bayswater, Mudchute – that sound somehow British and exotic all at once, both Dickensian and completely foreign.

The village where I live now is sleepy and sweet, ringed by woods that tremble with bluebells, or else creaks under the weight of rain and snow. There is a tiny train station with only two tracks running side by side like zippers, a preserved Roman road and a centuries’ old church that still has the original village stocks outside, soft with age and rot. These are the things I will miss if I leave. Simple things, and small. But as Anais Nin says in the quote I so love, ‘The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom'.

Time to take the risk.  Time to blossom.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Straw into Gold

The non-Spring continues. The days are endlessly damp and grey. This is weather to be sad in. Skies to buckle under. Instead, I brim with joy, with light.

In the mornings, I brew tea and gaze out of the window, stunned by my luck. I watch the squirrels skitter up and down the pines, the delicate bluebells shivering in the wind. I look at the tree trunks, soft and wet, barks peeling to reveal the gleam of newer, whiter wood beneath. And I feel such simple happiness. Such gratitude. Such calm.

My life is far from perfect. In the last few months, my social circle has shrunk from a wide open hoop to a small, tight band. I hold it close to my heart, shielded, close, like a widow who hangs her wedding ring at her breast. My responsibilities at work have increased, which brings both pride and uncertainty: until I am totally competent at a task, I tend to feel incapable and small, and because there is a lot of technical learning involved at the moment, a lot of questioning and learning from mistakes, I feel clumsy, incompetent, cotton-headed.

In the past, I’ve seen these kinds of quiverings as a failing. In my head, they were giant, rocky obstacles to surmount: sheer-faced, not a foot-hold or hand-hold in sight. Now, I can see that they’re exactly the opposite. That they are, in fact, stepping stones to knowledge. Ladders to growth, and grace.

I don’t know what, precisely, has changed. I wish I did. I’d paint the formula in neon pink on every blank stretch of brick, scribble it on scraps of paper and scatter them to the wind.

I’ve been reading a lot about radical acceptance recently. I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable. I’ve stopped trying to heave myself over obstructions, puffing and panting, and tried meeting them head on instead, with recognition and a cool head. I have watered new friendships, even as old ones have wasted and browned in the known confines of their pots. I have cooked good food. I have written every day. And each of these things has contributed to this new sense of well-being, this quiet, consistent pleasure. Like the individual components in a charm or a spell: plain and simple in their separate parts, but combined, they’re pure wonder, pure magic.

Monday, 13 May 2013

There's a certain slant of light...

I am happy today. I feel like the world is open, and my heart. Slowly, slowly, I am coming into my own. All that potential that was suffocated under fathoms of anxiety, buried without breath under my obsession with food, and weight, all that possibility, all that hope – at last, there is a real, irreparable crack in the armour, and the light is spilling from it, reaching out with long golden fingers. 

I realised yesterday with a sweet surprise that I can’t remember the last time I wanted to purge. This normality around eating, and my body…it has become so commonplace and so familiar that it seems it must always have been this way, even though it’s only been since Christmas. How could I have lived as I did before? And for so long? Like asking a butterfly how it lived as a grub, I suppose, small and silent in its nub of silk. Or a rose in the closed head of its bud. 

I went on holiday to Egypt at the end of April. A week of desert heat, and cocktails in the pool, and tasselled camels, and hibiscus tea. But the biggest thing that happened was that I met someone. And I came back feeling…changed. In the best of ways. 

I’m not being a moony-eyed schoolgirl about it: the relationship was bracketed between landings and take-offs, and we live miles away from each other, so in all likelihood, nothing further will happen. And I’m okay with that, if that’s the case. Because it was the experience that was momentous. The letting go.  The taking a chance.

All those years I spent hating my body, covering my scars. All that stress about not being normal or having the right kinds of feelings. All of it has evaporated like saltwater in the sun, leaving only a beautiful glittering dust behind.

This is the first holiday ever where I’ve worn a bikini and felt, if not exactly confident, then at least acceptable. At least enough. Previously, I’ve been like a dog with a rag, worrying about my broadening hips, the perceived excess of flesh at my belly, the ladder of scars on my thighs that rise and whiten in the heat like the cross-hatchings on a loaf of bread. In Egypt, I felt none of that. I was present in my body, but I was not defined by it. I wore a bikini, and I talked to a boy, and...I was ok. I really was. I didn't liquefy in a puddle of shame and awkwardness. I didn't shut down into cold politeness. I just....was.

There have been men before, good men, sweet men, who have wanted to take things further than friendship. And I wouldn’t entertain it. Not only because of the emotional intimacy – I could not let my guard down, I could not risk being hurt – but also because of the shame of my physical self.  In Egypt, it was different. It was like all of that had been stripped away, removed from the equation: I was in swimwear from the outset, which was pretty much the same as being in underwear, my body, scars and all, was on display...and this boy, this clever, funny, attractive boy still wanted to speak to me, still wanted to spend time with me.

I keep telling myself that I am not my body, that I am not how I look or how much effort I make appearance-wise...but I've never really believed it at a core level until now. It's never been intrinsic. And even if nothing further happens with the boy, I can take away this: I am capable of giving. I am capable of being open, and vulnerable.

I can't over-estimate how huge of a realisation this is.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Long overdue....

I haven’t posted on here in a while. Sometimes, if my creative writing is going particularly well, it’s almost like it swallows my whole quotient of words; there are none left over to spill onto a blog post. It’s exhausting, but it’s a pleasant kind of exhaustion. I feel like every cell in my body is humming. Like my brain is shooting off flowers of colour and fire.
I’ve been writing wildly these last few weeks. Poems about seals and selkies. Poems about renewal. Poems about birds, and love, and seasons. I’m finding poetry in everything. All day in the office, I burn for my laptop and a quiet room. 
Nothing makes me happier than building a poem. Selecting the right words and clicking them together like interlocking puzzle pieces. It’s strange, but it almost feels like discovering something rather than creating something. Like the words are already there just waiting for me to brush the dust off and reacquaint them with the light. I imagine this is how an archaeologist must feel when they turn over sand and find old gold, or uncover a tomb full of jewels. Reverent.  Exhilarated.  Wide-eyed.
It’s still like Winter here even though April is almost over. The skies are gunmetal-grey, the trees are skeletal and the pond at work is thick with slurry fans of slush in the mornings. This time last year, we’d little peeping ducklings everywhere, and lanky, awkward-looking baby geese. This year, the nests are still full and quiet; the eggs are keeping their sweet secrets a little while longer. I love Winter and all of its austere beauty, but this season has been endless; I am more than ready for Spring with its clear skies, its buds fumbling into blossom and its daffodils trumpeting from the grass verges like triumphant yellow angels.
I fly to Egypt on Sunday, so I’m managing the current lack of heat by resting in the knowledge that soon I will be gilding my skin on another continent. A week of sunshine and drifting lazily in the sea, cocktails by the pool and the delicious coconut-smell of sunscreen.  The last time I went to Egypt, almost four years ago, I was still actively eating-disordered. I remember feeling totally self-conscious and glaringly enormous, even though I was so thin that sweat collected in the shallow bowls of my collarbone and the dips between each rib. We stayed on a cruise ship, and every restaurant on board had these amazing displays of food that I marvelled at but wouldn’t allow myself to try: hams and cheeses carved into Sphinxes, pats of butter shaped like pyramids, doorstop-wedges of cake brimming with chocolate curlings and bright slices of dragonfruit. My sister lay on the loungers, all lovely golden curves; I arranged and rearranged my pale bones in a vain attempt to find a comfortable position on the plastic slats.
There is a quiet joy in knowing that this time round, I will laze in the light, eating whatever I like whenever I like. Being grateful for my body, not at war with it.
A little reminder that even the smallest change matters. That any little effort towards the greater good is an effort worth making. A snowflake by itself melts away into nothingness, but a million together make a snowman, an igloo, a Winter palace. Every snowflake contributes to the end result. Every action counts.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Change, and change, and change again.

I am a creature of habit at the best of times. Change makes me wary. Sudden change breeds outright panic: the damp-palms, the hummingbird-heartbeat.

I have been anxious these last weeks. I have been lonely. My oldest, closest friends have been absent - new relationships, work difficulties - and I miss their company. I sit up nights with the moon, and wake early in the morning in the still-dark hush feeling lost.

And yet, and yet. There are lessons, always, to be learned. Slowly, I am growing comfortable with my own company. At first, I itched and burned and wanted desperately to be distracted from myself. I wanted to escape my body, peel out of it like a selkie leaving her wet seal-pelt behind. I drank more wine than was good for me, filled the hours with mindless TV so that I wouldn't have to deal with my feelings of rejection and unimportance.

But as the weeks go by, I am more and more able to find happiness in solitude. I am writing - lots, and often. I wrote a poem just this week which I think might be my favourite of anything I've ever written (about change, incidentally), and this makes me happy. I have time to submit work again, and had another piece of writing accepted for publishing, and this also makes me happy. But more than that, this unexpected isolation has meant time in which to really think, and to connect with what I want, and what I need. A combing of tangles, so to speak. A winnowing of weeds.

I miss my friends. I also know that they are still there, and that they still love me and I them, but that lives change, that people change and grow, move apart and come together again, like a river diverging around a rock and then rebraiding into a single, beautiful movement. I think it's a necessary thing to know that you can, after all, exist without a safety net. That you can do the unthinkable and put your faith and trust in yourself.

Always, always, I have relied on others for love and reassurance. Who knew it was there all along, in abundance. That I simply needed the time and the motivation to look for it.


Sunday, 3 February 2013


Wanderlust lives in my bones, the way Winter does, and words. It’s a quiet kind of ache, usually, a sweet sort of pain. But there are times – and today is one of them – when it becomes a pressing need, and I burn with longing. I keep thinking Paris, I keep thinking leave. I itch for a suitcase fatly packed with clothes. I yearn for the tidy order of  departure: the stamp in the passport, the buckling in, and then the peanuts and the tiny wine bottle, and the streams of cloud at the round window.

I’ve been to Paris three times in the last eighteen months. Part of me thinks that with so many countries and cities on my wishlist, I should go somewhere new before going back there again. But just thinking of it makes my heart lift.

It’s hard to explain why I love it so much. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything. It’s the food, and the brusque poetry of the accent, and the windows piled with tiers of macaroons and expensive silks. It’s the clean white apartment buildings with slanting tile roofs and painted shutters and flowers brimming from the ledges. It’s the high, tight streets of Montmartre, and the painters in the parks, and the fact that everyone, but everyone, carries a fresh baguette in a brown paper bag. It’s the Eiffel Tower in her elegant supermodel poise; the way she glitters at night like a hundred thousand stars brought to a single point.

It’s the only place in the world where I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time all the time.

Perhaps wanderlust is the wrong word for what I feel today. Homesickness would maybe be more precise. A desperate wish to return to the place where I fit so perfectly. Where every cell of my body hums at the same exquisite frequency, right along with the singular music of the language.

There will be other days for those beautiful white beaches brushed by palm trees. Those flaring ribbons of Northern light. There will be other times for the roundly-smiling golden Buddhas and the emerald temples with fabulous spires.
The heart wants what the heart wants. And right now, this heart wants Paris.  


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Notes on a thawing-out morning

The days are getting longer. The evenings are briefer, and lighter. Just a month or so ago, I was met by a shocking moon each night when I left the office, a soot-soft sky and a million stars as bright as fire. Now when I leave, as if it happened overnight, the sky is a lovely royal blue, and the moon and the stars as faint as echoes.

I keep writing about Winter. It's an attempt to keep her, I think. I miss her already, and she hasn't even left yet. I can feel her gathering up her things - her frozen-over ponds and her frosts and her stark, glittering trees; she stands in the open doorway, ready to go, and I catch at her coat-tails, pull at her sleeve.

 Listen, I tell myself. You love the Spring. The bluebells shy as girls at a dance. The lambs on trembling legs in the fields. And there is truth in this. But all year long, Winter will take up a place in my heart, curled, quiet and sleeping, like a fox with is brush  on its paws.
I don't usually post my own poems on here. Most journals will ask that any poems sent for consideration are previously unpublished, including on blogs and personal websites. But this one seemed appropriate today.
The fox stops dead on the dark ice. 
Equally frozen. Both ears pricked. Her
eyes blaze on like lights, go dim again as she snaps
her narrow head to cast a black look
at some imagined noise. The duck 
carcass gleams in her sights, a lucky
prize she'll sneak back, the warm vise
of her mother-mouth clamped on our oily scraps -
six cubs mewling for a skinflint meal will feast
tonight! Off she takes at a level trot. 
Quicker now, light as snow on her quick feet. 
The sealed pond is printless, complicit. 
Tomorrow, only a hint of grease will last. 
And a faint animal scent the dogs will browse,
thrilled, flared-nostrilled, quivering in the grass.  

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Moments of Gratitude #5

Today I am grateful for random opportunities :)

My best friend, Steven, emailed me at work today asking if I'd like to go to a cocktail-making class tonight - it was a work-organised thing, but someone had dropped out so there was a spare place.

My initial instinct was to refuse - people I don't know? A potentially late evening when I'm already so tired? - but I haven't seen my friend properly for a few weeks as he's been so busy with work and his new boyfriend. And so I said yes. Grateful for the invite, but mentally preparing myself for an evening of small talk with strangers, an evening where I would doubtlessly feel like the proverbial goldfish out of the bowl, flopping about, breathless, obvious, awkward. 

Fast forward a few hours...and here I am tucked up in bed with a smile on my face after a wonderful, easy evening. I drank champagne with edible gold leaf, laughed until it hurt, mixed amaretto sours, ate good food and made new, lovely friends.

Sometimes the no is easier; the familiar is easier.

But oh for the yes, and the new.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Winter Wonderland

I read somewhere once that whatever season you're born into, that is the season you belong to all your life. It claims you, and you it; it settles in your bones - seasonal sediment. This is certainly true for me: I was born in a bitter February, and I am a child of Winter through and through.

It finally snowed last night, although - yet again! - barely anything remained this morning, just a thin layer of white, motheaten by sleet into a holey sort of lace. But when I left for the eight o’clock train, it was beginning to fall again, cautiously, delicately; by the time I reached work it was flying thick and fast, the ground crunching underfoot and the pines around the office shelved with it, so they looked like Christmas trees waiting for presents, white-ribboned, white-wrapped.

I don’t know what it is about snow. It isn’t the novelty of it, although perhaps that’s a very small part of why I love it so much. It’s the way it gentles everything. Gone, the gum-studded pavements; gone, the bleak bricks; gone, the usual boring views. Left in their place like a changeling: an expanse of white, glittering and clean, a casual sort of miracle, a holy sort of hush.

I love the way it creaks underfoot; I love the way that bootprints leave trackable paths, like the words on a page, or the clues on a treasure hunt: follow me, let me take you on a journey…

Snow is Narnia, and lanterns, and sleigh bells, snow is Christmas even in the Spring; snow is an icy fire in the cheeks and every finger throbbing with its own heartbeat.

It seems to have stopped now for the most part, although the forecasts are saying that more is on the way, and the sky is suitably wide and white, so I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful.

And let this be my moment of gratitude for today, also. The loveliness of snow. The poetry of nature.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Moments of Gratitude #4

Today I am grateful for the stand of pines at the bottom of my garden.

In the evenings, the stars show through their dark branches. In the morning, grey squirrels skitter up and down the trunk, their tails furled and their eyes as black as peppercorns.

When it's cold, they scatter needles that turn silver and glitter. When it's warm, they send out a glorious smell, of sap, and green, and living.

The tallest pine is over a hundred years old. I like to imagine the things it could tell me. The birds it has known. The moons it has seen. The girls who have read beneath the spread of its welcoming branches...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Let it snow

The weather forecast promised snow last night, but there was only sleet. It was gone this morning; a mostly-melted scattering. The faintest hint of white left behind, as though someone had breathed with cold breath on the grass.

It is a miserable kind of cold today, not the killing kind, which is my favourite, with its brittle webs strung in the hedges like Christmas ornaments, and its treacherous silver streets. Today has been simply damp, the sort of cold that makes everything seem heavy and grey, and the sky look like sodden laundry.

Everyone talking about diets in the office today, and food. How many calories are in this or that, what range of numbers constitutes a healthy BMI. I sit quietly, knowing the answers to each and every question almost before it’s asked, marvelling at my hard-won knowledge, my dietary omniscience. I am the guru of loss and lack, of metabolic rates and mysterious acronyms: BMI, BMR, RDA...

I miss therapy today. From nowhere this morning, when I was looking out of the window at the wide, wet sky, I thought suddenly of Jane, and Thursday afternoons with a sudden longing. I miss Jane’s smile and her kindness. I miss the colourless hospital corridors and the waiting room with its moulded chairs and pink floral art-print. I miss that feeling of leaving somewhere lighter, unburdened. Mostly, I miss the way our words would fill the room and, touched by light, make a sudden, certain sense.

At least I have my writing. (How do other people do this? Stay connected without words?). I write diary entries, I write blogs. I work on the fiction project, and the memoir; I write down scraps of thought that might be or become poems at some point. And I’m getting better, all the time. I’d write anyway, simply for love of the act itself; that it is also healing and balancing and a source of calm and pride is a phenomenal extra.

I still feel a little out of sorts – cranky,and anxious – but on the whole, I’m much more engaged and so much calmer than I was before Christmas. Sometimes a bump in the road doesn’t mean that a crash must follow, but only that you need to correct your steering. My hands are at ten and two again for the first time in weeks, and I am consciously filling my days with moments and objects of beauty the way I was towards the end of therapy when I was focused, and committed to my health and wellbeing. I bought pink tulips at the weekend, lit a million tealights and watched Les Miserables (which was breathtaking; I wept and wept). I put on a new crisp white bed cover. I aired the mattress, burned scented candles and cleaned the carpet with a cool blue freshener so that by the time I’d finished, the room looked beautiful and smelt pretty and flowery and clean.

Keep doing this. Keep refocusing. Keep the people and things around me that are conducive to my happiness, that mean, for me, a measure of joy or contentment. Keep working on my goals, on creating, on making things beautiful, on communicating. Keep working full-stop, because there is pride and self-worth in it.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Moments of Gratitude #3

Today, I am grateful for tulips, especially the colourful ones - how completely and utterly they alter a room!  

I bought a bunch of slender-stemmed pink ones yesterday and they are sitting very prettily on my writing desk.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Moments of Gratitude #2

Today I am grateful for bubblebaths that look like a Van Gogh sky :)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Moments of Gratitude #1

I've seen several blog posts recently where people have talked about little glass jars to fill with notes throughout the year - compliments they've received, things they are grateful for, good things that have happened to them etc. The aim is to open the jar at the beginning of the next New Year and remind yourself of all the goodnesses that the previous year brought you.

I loved this idea (and will be doing it myself). It's so easy to write off a period of time with a single adjective - 'Oh, last year was terrible, it was when my dog died', or 'Last year was rotten. Nothing good happened. I lost my boyfriend/girlfriend / lost my job / lost my self-worth'. But as I've noted in previous posts, nothing is black and white. Even the worst of years has its moments of light, like how on a bleak, grey, rainy day, you still get the occasional burst of sun, even if it's only for a minute, even if it barely breaks through the cloud.

This got me thinking about gratitude in general. I'm grateful for a lot of things in my life, but I hardly ever take the time to reflect on exactly what I'm grateful for. By that, I mean the little things as well as the big ones. Most people, myself included, could rattle off a list of things they treasure - friends, family, a nice home etc - but all too often we forget about the small daily things that make us feel good, that add a general sort of niceness to our lives. Coffee in the morning. New pyjamas. The sound of rain on the window when you're in bed at night.

I'm going to start taking stock of the things I'm grateful for this year, making a consistent effort to acknowledge and be thankful for each of them. So that at the end of 2013, I can look back and truly appreciate what a lucky girl I am, and how much loveliness I really do have in my life.

Today, I am simply grateful for this idea. And I'm looking forward to finding lots of things to be grateful for in the coming year.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Happy Belated New Year...

I’m a little late with the New Year’s post I promised myself I’d write, but that’s ok; I’m not going to beat myself up about that, because that is my one resolution this year. To stop beating myself up about things.

I remember past New Years when I would write a nice neat list of resolutions and head into the New Year clutching it, all shiny faced and hopeful about becoming a newer, nicer, more successful version of myself. And then invariably, usually within a week, I’d be crumpling up the list, scrapping it completely, promising myself that I really would do better next year.

Often, I find that I live in a monochromatic world. Either something is black, or it is white. I love it or I loathe it. I am totally passionate and invested, or I am limply disinterested.

Part of that monochromatic lifestyle is thinking that if you fail at something, you’ve failed completely, once and for all, and forever. Which is why I think a resolution is like a grenade in the wrong hands, just waiting to blow you into a billion flaming pieces. Once I’ve broken a resolution – or any kind of rule, really – I feel that there’s no starting over. It seems to me that it would be like making allowances I didn’t deserve – which really defies the whole purpose of setting the rules in the first place. The point is to abide by them, yes? The point is to succeed.

I’m happy to say that I seem to have come out of the last year a little older and a little wiser. (Well, maybe I’m not so happy about the ‘older’ part…). I still don’t find it easy to live outside my grid of extremes – things I absolutely can do and things I absolutely mustn’t do – and I still feel dreadful if I feel that I’ve failed at something or taken the easy way out. The difference is that I’m beginning to be able to accept that ‘success’ isn’t about setting a rule and sticking to it. Partly, yes, success is about achieving our goals. But it’s also – perhaps more importantly – about learning to take the knocks, acknowledge the stumbles, and move on from them. And learn from them. Not just stop trying, throw our hands up in the air and say, Oh well, there’s always next year. Every day is a clean slate. Every morning. Every minute.

This year I’m going to keep getting back up no matter how many times I fall, no matter how skinned my knees get or how bruised my outflung hands.

And that is my wish for all of you.

Here’s to a wonderful 2013