Tag Archives: love

Crossing Places

A few days ago, while playing among our books, The Toddler pulled out a slim volume which caught my eye. It was a book – or, more truly, a notebook – which I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

A very long time.

winnie-the-pooh-notebook

Photo credit: SJ O’Hart.

This notebook was a gift from my schoolfriends to me on my 17th birthday. In it, they had each written a little note wishing me a happy birthday and how much they were looking forward to celebrating with me; some wished me a bright future, and others shared funny stories (some of the details of which, sadly, have blurred with time). Many put their first names and their surnames, just in case I lost the notebook and didn’t find it again for so long that I’d have forgotten who they were. One spent four pages insulting me in the most colourfully hilarious language imaginable and didn’t bother signing his name because he knew (rightly) that we’d be friends forever and I’d never get around to forgetting him – and his message still made me laugh out loud.

I read it with a huge grin and, if I’m being honest, a few tears too – and not just because my 17th birthday is so long ago now that you’d need a telescope to see it.

This notebook’s reappearance in my life made me think a lot about intersections and choices, the random algorithms that bring people into your life and take them out of it again. I’m delighted that most of the people who wrote in my book are still my friends; a few I haven’t seen in a couple of years, and one I haven’t seen, sadly, since we left school. But I remembered them all, even without the surnames. Each of them was important to me, and many still are – and there’s not one among them I wouldn’t be glad to see again, right now. They’re all (as far as I know) still alive and well, and though most of them still live in Ireland there are a couple who left – one for America, one for the UK – and very few of them still live at home, where we all grew up. We all entered one another’s lives through the simple coincidence of being born at around the same time and either growing up in, or moving to, the same place in time to attend secondary school together. Besides that, we are as disparate a group of people as you could find.

And yet, we are bound to one another forever.

I was thinking, recently, about the ‘quantum’ versions of myself – by which I mean, fancifully, the versions of me which exist in every other imaginable universe. Would I be doing the same things I’m doing here, in this space? Would I be the same person? Would I live in the same place, with the same people? Who’s to know. Every life has its ‘crossing places’, points at which the choices you make determine the path you take. My life has had several of those, some of which I would dearly love to relive. If it were possible, would I take different paths? Would I make different choices? I have some regrets; people I have lost whom I miss, people I loved who never knew it, things I wish I’d had the bravery to do when I had the chance.

And yet, the choices I made have led me here, to this room, in which I’m typing. My child is a few feet away, playing. John Grant is on my stereo. The proof of my first book is sitting on the table beside me. Things are not perfect: the world is far from good. I, like many, have found the last few days very hard, for many reasons. But as lives go, I can’t complain about mine. It has been circuitous and challenging, and I look back on so much of it with a nostalgia bordering on pain, but – in one manner or another – everything I have ever wanted or worked for has come to pass.

But as my child grows, these are the lessons I will impart:

  1. If you love a person, tell them. Even if they don’t love you, and you know it; even if you fear rejection. Tell them, without expectation, because regret is a far heavier burden than embarrassment, and it grows heavier with time.
  2. If you have an opportunity to travel, take it.
  3. Ditto with studying.
  4. In fact, if you have an opportunity to travel and study, take it. With both hands. And don’t worry about how you’ll work things out – you will.
  5. If offered a job you don’t think you can do, try it anyway.
  6. If you want to go on an adventure, do it.
  7. Always treasure your friends.
  8. And never stop working for what you want, fighting for what you believe in, and doing everything you can to help others, as far as you can.

Every life has its crossing places, but hopefully my child’s will have fewer than mine – and, with any luck, friends and friendship will be a big part of it, as they have been for me.

Thank you to my friends, all of them, past and present and future. I’m lucky to have, and to have had, such love.

 

Absolute Beginners

It’s been emotional.

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Fly on, little wing. Image: sjohart Artist unknown

The past week and a bit has seen my baby spend several days in hospital. The care we received – all if us, not just Junior – was impeccable, and a full recovery is imminent,  but still. If I never have to call an ambulance for my tiny child again, it will be too soon.

The picture above is one I took in Baby’s hospital room. The tiny bird reminded me of the child in the cot beneath it in better, healthier days – all wide, sparkling eyes, the mouth barely open in wonder and curiosity – and I found it hugely comforting. As kind as the nurses and doctors were, however, it was exhausting, both practically and emotionally, to maintain a bedside vigil and I was glad to be allowed home again last weekend.

I listened to ‘Lazarus’, a track from David Bowie’s latest album, on one of our trips to or from hospital. How incredible, I thought. Bowie is still a relevant, creative genius.  I loved the track. I resolved to buy the album.

And then news broke of his death.

I haven’t been so broken at a celebrity death before. Not even the loss of Terry Pratchett, who I adored, hurt as much as this. I can’t process the idea that Bowie, the chameleon, the otherworldly, the unspeakably beautiful, is dead. I prefer to think he has returned home. He will never be gone. He is part of the air now, and the night sky.

I don’t have a favourite Bowie track. I love pretty much all of them equally. (The video for ‘Let’s Dance’, however, is dearest to my heart). I wanted to share the video for ‘Absolute Beginners’, though, not only because I think it’s a fabulous song, but mostly because it was in my head a lot as I looked after my sick child.

I absolutely love you, but I’m an absolute beginner.

I am an inexperienced mother, but I hope I’m doing an OK job. ‘Absolute Beginners’ lets me know I probably am. I wish David Bowie knew how much his music and image have meant to me, and how much he has helped me just by existing and creating and showing us all how to turn our lives into art.

I loved him. I will never forget him. And my child will know all about him, in time.

Like I said. It’s been emotional.

 

Around the Bend in Eighty Days

*coughs* *blows dust off blogging seat*

So. Been a while, right? It feels like forever since I’ve swept my way around Clockwatching… towers, but it’s only been a couple of months (not quite the eighty days of the title, but c’mon. It was too good not to use). Thanks to you all for sticking with me (my stats have been booming, guys! Love to all y’all) and for being interested in what I’m doing and how things have been for me and my little family.

Well. In short, things have been great.

And terrible.

Great and terrible. I think anyone with a new baby can relate. We’ve had nights of relentless screaming, and we’ve had moments of pure panic, and we’ve had instances of utter and complete raglessness (as a friend put it, very aptly) when I’ve managed to lose my head completely. I’ve been down the road of Post-Natal Depression, and I’ve realised that I’m not as strong nor as naturally maternal as I always assumed, and I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with admitting that things are getting overwhelming  and you need help. I was terrible at accepting help before the baby came along. Sometimes, though, you just need to let someone else do your dishes or sweep your floor, no matter how much it pains you.

I’m very lucky to have had immense amounts of help from family and friends, and to have years’ worth of wisdom to draw on from people who have been here before me. So thank you to everyone. There are a couple of friends (no names, but they know who they are) who’ve been particularly amazing. So cheers to them both. Neither me nor baby would be in quite such good shape without my little backing crew – and boy do I know it!

 

elvis

Everyone needs their backing crew – even the King. Photo Credit: Lawrence Chard via Compfight cc

But things have begun to get back to normal. Baby is getting older, and more settled, and we are all getting used to one another. Routines are being established. Smiling has started happening – and not just the sort of smiling one gets from a baby with a full stomach, but the sort that says ‘I see you. I know you. You’re my family.’ Any amount of sleepless worry is worth that tiny flicker of love. We’ve bought a baby sling – a cloth carrier – which Junior seems to enjoy (fingers crossed) and we’re experimenting with cloth nappies, which hasn’t been going so well.

But enough about that.

I’ve been learning lots of new skills, too (as well as not forgetting my old ones; I was terrified I’d have forgotten how to type, or spell, or think – but luckily all seems intact!) and discovering that having a baby really prepares you for so many different sorts of career paths. If the writing thing goes belly-up, I feel vastly qualified already to do any of the following:

Mind reader: Because when you spend most of your time interacting with a person who is non-verbal and whose idea of a good conversation involves screaming, flailing, dribbling, fixing you with a series of intense stares, and fairly random body convulsions, you get good at interpreting thought patterns. (Or just making use of guesswork. Who knows?)

Interpretive dancer/mime artist: Until you’ve caught yourself dancing round your kitchen to ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, making gooey faces and accompanying your vocal performance with limb twitching, you haven’t lived.

Animal wrangler: Babies eat. A lot. All the time. Around the clock. This means they need to be fed at night. My baby does not like waking up at night to feed. It happens, however, despite Junior’s best intentions, and after hours of moaning and groaning and snuffling and whuffling and kicking off of blankets, eventually baby comes to and instantly – instantly – the wailing for milk will begin. Now. Trying to balance a scarily strong infant on one knee while warming up a bottle (which involves dealing with boiling water in the dark, which is always fun) and attempting to get the milk down said infant’s neck without scalding someone and/or the infant back-flipping out the bedroom window is a true skill. I feel fully prepared to take up a job as a weasel wrestler any day now.

CIA operative: Admittedly my knowledge of what CIA operatives do is largely based on watching ‘Homeland’, but it seems to involve withstanding torture a lot of the time. Listening to a colicky baby screaming for hours on end will prepare anyone for that. Believe me.

Land speed record holder: For when you’re downstairs and the baby monitor informs you of disaster unfolding upstairs, or you’re in another room (taking a Xanax, perhaps) and you hear the air-raid siren warming up in its bassinet, you run. You run. And after a while you get pretty fast.

Lip reader: When you’re silly enough to try to watch TV with a baby, you need to be able to lip read. Go figure.

Statistician: Anyone who has ever spoken to a new parent will agree on one thing: they talk about poop. A lot. How often the baby goes. How long it takes. What colour it is. What consistency it is. The sheer power of its aroma, based on how similar it smells to the Bog of Eternal Stench. And so on. We’ve taken to keeping a poop log (no sniggering down the back) where we record times of poops and what sort they are. We also have a feeding log. We like to map the data. In graph form. Don’t judge us, for we are nerds.

Somnambulist: Not that this is a job, per se. But it’s definitely a skill. I walked up and down the stairs without opening my eyes once, and didn’t realise I’d done it until I was back in the baby’s room. Sort of scary, but a bit impressive too.

Anyway. One thing you’ll note is, of course, that having a baby doesn’t exactly lend itself to writing. I haven’t written anything longer than a Tweet for many many moons. My WordPress back-end has changed beyond recognition, and I’m feeling at sea even on this blog, my safe place. However – there is light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I speak too soon, but – here it is, whisper it – I’m getting the hang of this parenting lark.

So. Before too long I hope to be back to a semi-regular schedule. I hope to get back to work. I have ideas still pinging into my dried up little brain – not so many, and not all good, but they’re coming – and so I hope to have time, and something to write about, as the new year rises.

Until then, wish me luck. And thank you for still being here. It does this tired mama’s heart good to see it. Adios, till next time!

 

Thursday Randutiae*

*I so totally can’t take credit for this amazing word. It belongs – as far as I can tell, and insofar as a word ‘belongs’ to anyone – to the author Kristin Cashore whose books, if you haven’t already read, I’d highly recommend. Her blog, and general existence, are pretty cool too. Go on! Check her out. I can wait.

Tum-ti-tum-ti-tum... Oh, don't mind me! Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

Tum-ti-tum-ti-tum… Oh, don’t mind me!
Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

Okay. She’s pretty cool, yes? I told you so.

Anyway. It’s Thursday. My life feels gritty, rather like it’s full of small particles of random minutiae (or, if you prefer, randutiae. See how useful this word is?) As I was pondering this, trying to come up with something slightly more nuanced to blog about, I thought…

…Whatever.

Blog about the contents of your heart and mind. That’s the point of the entire exercise, isn’t it? So, here’s what’s in my heart and mind. Bear with me. It’s been a weird and rather fragmented week.

Firstly, this morning over breakfast my husband and I developed an outline for a new format TV show named ‘Baking with Physics.’ It all began when I told him I’d bake him something later (though I made no promises, mind) and I mentioned the famous quote by Carl Sagan: ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’

Well, says the Husband, all science-like, not really. You’ve just got to invent a universe. One in which there are apple-like things.

I couldn’t really disagree with this logic.

This moved on to discussing a fun feature called Schrödinger’s Pie, where the presenter of ‘Baking with Physics’ gazes out benignly at the audience and a cat’s meowling is heard somewhere off-screen. ‘So!’ trills the presenter. ‘You can’t see the cat, or whether it’s inside or outside the pie. How does it feel to live in an existence where a cat both is, and is not, baked inside a pie?’ (Cue canned laughter and applause). We also discussed Quantum Baking, where the presenter would begin going through a recipe, demonstrating the steps, and at the end a pie would appear in his or her hands. ‘Oh, look!’ they’d say. ‘And here’s one I’m going to make tomorrow. Won’t it look lovely?’

Yes. Just be glad you don’t live with us. It’s hard enough being us.

We also discussed the strangeness of the fact that the word for ‘oat’, in most of the major European languages, falls into one of two camps (excluding Finland, because Finnish): either it’s ‘havre’ or its crew (Norwegian havre, Danish havre, Swedish havre, German hafer, Dutch haver) or the ‘av’ group (French avoine, Spanish avena, Portuguese aveia). Yet good old English has the sturdy ‘oat’. This sort of linguistic ‘family tree’ stuff really interests me. I wish I knew the reason why English has ‘oat’; it probably has something to do with the roots of the language. It’s not Latin, because in Latin ‘oat’ is ‘avena’, and the German-Dutch roots, which might have been connected to the Anglo-Saxon word, aren’t anything like ‘oat’. Apparently the word comes from Old English ate, plural atan, but – and this is the weird bit – nobody knows where the word ate comes from in Old English.

Isn’t that mad? Oat. The common, humble oat. It’s actually an International Word of Mystery, with shady roots abroad, hiding its secrets in the mists of time.

So what? You can't prove anything. I was never even *here*. Photo Credit: EsCrItUrA cOn LuZ via Compfight cc

So what? You can’t prove anything. I was never even *here*.
Photo Credit: EsCrItUrA cOn LuZ via Compfight cc

Yes. Anyway.

It’s been a pretty stressful week. I guess this is how my brain goes when pressure is applied to it – i.e. all over the place. Also, today is (or, would have been) the birthday of my friend who passed away earlier this year; you may remember him from this post I wrote about his passing. Today, he should have turned thirty-two years old. My thoughts are with him and his family, and they’re with my own beloved uncle who is still very unwell – though, miraculously, alive – and they’re with the precious fragility of all things, including peace of mind.

So, isn’t it great to be able to have a laugh, of a dark morning, about quantum bakery and the origin of the word ‘oat’? Things like that make everything worthwhile.

Have an oaty Thursday, everyone. And remember to do some baking – though not with cats, whether living or dead or both. See you back here tomorrow for some more short storying with Flash Friday – which, by the way, I hope you’ll be joining in with one of these weeks? Yes, I’m looking at you! Get those inspiration engines churning and get stuck in. What do you have to lose?

 

There Are So Many Ways…

…to tell someone you love them.

There’s the hug when they walk into the room. There’s the way your eyes light up when you see them, and the ‘I’m so glad you’re here!’ that you whisper into their ear. There’s the laughter you share, and the private jokes.

There’s the lifetime of memories: the special Christmases made all the better by the knock of your loved one on the front door, and their silhouette in your hallway, and the presents – always the same, but no less loved because of that – which, year upon year, they gave you. There’s the way you used to watch, open-mouthed, as this person you love did magic trick after magic trick, opening your mind to a world you couldn’t understand but were fascinated by. There’s the Bruce Lee posters on his wall, the tiny hints of a hidden life, one separate from you – a grown-up life, full of mystery. There’s the motorbike parts in the living room, which made the other adults tut, but which made you smile because it seemed so cool. So free.

Photo Credit: next. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: next. via Compfight cc

There are the memories you’ve made from all the family gatherings – the happy and the sad – made whole and perfect by the fact that your loved one was part of them. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

It wouldn’t be the same.

You show you love him in the way you roll your eyes as he rolls another cigarette, and the chuckle he gives to show he knows you care, but he’s going to smoke it anyway. There’s the glint in his eye as he stands at the pub door, and the nodding assurance that he’ll make sure to get home safe. There’s the affectionate way he tells you he’ll be grand and not to be worrying about him, but both of you know you will worry, regardless.

There are the bad jokes that you can’t help laughing at. There are the phone handsets that fascinate him, and the crazy ringtones, and the way you smile when he wants to show you all of them, all at once. It’s the the fact that he doesn’t eat broccoli because he doesn’t like the look of it, and you just let him away with it even though you shouldn’t.

There’s the fact that he brings an umbrella with him no matter what the weather – and you never make anything of it, even for fun. It’s just part of who he is, and you love it because you love him.

But I realised when this beloved person became suddenly, deathly ill, that in all my life I have never told him I love you. I have never spoken the actual words, the simplest and hardest in the world. Of course I hope I have shown it through actions, through the enjoyment of his company, through all the smiles we’ve shared and the happy days we’ve spent together. There haven’t been enough of those, of course. Of course.

But I have never spoken the words. Today I’m thankful I get the chance.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share their warm wishes with me after yesterday’s post. My uncle remains stable after surgery, but I would ask you to continue the good wishes and prayers, with my gratitude. There is still a long way to go.

 

A Note, on a Stressful Monday

By all accounts, today has been – and will continue to be – a challenge.

Firstly, my husband has gone on a work-related trip.

Secondly, spiders have taken over my house, and my only weapon against them – the vacuum cleaner with a pair of old tights stretched over the intake pipe – is banjaxed. (This may be because I accidentally hoovered up a pair of tights while trying to catch a spider, but I can neither confirm nor deny such rumours).

Thirdly, I was supposed to begin the second pass of edits on Emmeline today, but chances are high it won’t happen now. Because…

…fourthly, and most importantly, one of my dearly loved family members has been taken to hospital with a serious illness, and I am waiting anxiously for news.

If you’re the praying type, please remember my family in your petitions today. If you’re not, a handful of good vibes strewn in the wind will do instead.

And I hope you’ll be able to forgive me for not posting a proper blog today. For all these reasons, some more than others of course, I am not in the right place to do it justice.

So, here’s a photo of a tiny baby hedgehog in what looks to be a purple toilet roll holder for your enjoyment instead. It brought a bit of levity to an otherwise stressful morning for me, at least. I hope it’ll do the same for you.

I hope to be able to talk to you tomorrow; until then, may all go well for you and yours.

Writerish Wednesday

Today’s words – two girls  ::  thick braid  ::  peel  ::  heavy traffic  ::  allergic reaction – are unashamedly borrowed from CAKE.shortandsweet‘s Wednesday Write-In #3 (originally held in September 2012). CAKE has been offline for the past few weeks, and I’ve missed it terribly. Let’s hope it comes back soon.

two girls :: thick braid :: peel :: heavy traffic :: allergic reaction

Image: lovethispic.com

Image: lovethispic.com

All The World’s a Mountain

She carried the thick braid with her everywhere she went. It lived in her pocket, wrapped up in a fine linen cloth, tightly bound around itself like a never-ending loop.

She didn’t look at it very often, but its weight was always there.

‘What is with this rush hour, huh?’ muttered her neighbour, a tall and heavy-set man with skin so dark it absorbed the day. His voice made her fingers tremble, and she realised she’d been clutching at her coat, squeezing the lump of hair within it like a totem. ‘You ever seen such heavy traffic?’ The bus they were riding in sat, honking, amid a sea of metal and glass. The windows were beginning to run with moisture, and the air was too heavy to breathe.
She did her best to smile at him, but he – already forgetting her – rose sharply to his feet.

‘Hey! Yo! Driver, man! What’s happenin’ up there?’ He squeezed his way past, his elbow slamming into her shoulder. He did not bother to apologise, and she felt something sharp at her heart. Another layer of her patience began to peel away.

She ignored the yelling that kicked off around the driver’s cabin as she smothered the fear, the growing anger, the rising rage.

Her hand found the braid again. Through the fabric of her coat it felt cold, and wet, and heavy. She squeezed it, clenching her eyes against the noise and the heat and the stench

No two girls could be more alike, mama had always said. Born the same day, each with hair like evening and eyes like the dawn. We were friends. Always friends. Our hands fitted together like they’d been carved as one, and we were so rarely at odds that the older folk smiled and said of us that we could read one another’s minds.

But what is sweet and lovely at five is not so at fifteen, and still less at twenty.

My friend’s mama took her away before she turned twenty-one and sold her to a man from the mountains. He became a husband more bear and hair and growl than human being. She called out to me, her words not formed by tongue and teeth; I heard her, but not with my ears. She was so far away. To say I missed her is to make a mockery of the words. An oozing void gaped within me where my heart had been.

And then, one day, her voice stopped.

I packed a bag and left, mid night, on feet grown so used to silence that mama never knew. She slept as I climbed out the window; she slept as I slid into the shadows. She slept as I made my way to the mountains.

I arrived as they pulled her from the lake. Her hair – my hair – dark with dark water, sodden with cold, swollen and dripping and dead, flopped around her neck like a serpent. Her braid was neat and perfect, but her eyes were sealed.

‘She had an allergic reaction,’ blustered her husband. ‘She ate some berry or other and ran into the tarn, out of her senses. Stupid townish woman.’

They commiserated and sympathised and filled him full of their sorrow, but I could see the laughter at the core of him. He’d had what he wanted, and he’d got what he wanted.

Before they buried her, I took her hair.

After they buried her, the mountain man vanished.

My bag has grown threadbare over the years. My clothes are clean but out of date. My name changes every time I am asked for it. I leave no trail.

And I look into the eyes of every man I see, waiting for the spark of recognition. When I find it, I will know what to do.

She sweeps to her feet and grabs her battered travelling case from the overhead rack. The braid drags down her coat on one side, making it swing. She strides up the aisle and asks to be let off the bus in a voice she doesn’t recognise, and before he knows what he’s doing the driver has pulled the lever, the door has hissed aside and she is off, striding between the rows of unmoving cars.

A man – shrunken now, and shaven, eyes hidden by a cap – watches her pass. Before the door can slide closed again he runs for it, squeezing through the narrowing gap and plunging out into the melting light of a city day. His own pocket is heavy, but not with a token of love.

He was born to the life of a tracker. All the world’s a mountain, if you need it to be.