Restrained – a drabble

restrained

I watched my knuckles turn white as I gripped the arm of my chair.

Feeling tense and unhappy, I decided that this time would be different. I’d make my feelings known instead of just suffering in silence as usual.

He was a nice enough guy and everything — don’t get me wrong. We’d talked earlier and got a rapport going.

But afterwards, I was as disappointed and unsatisfied as ever. This time I would strike a blow for womankind…

“How’s that?” he asked, “are you happy?”

“Perfect thanks,” I lied, and gave a generous tip as I left the hair salon.

 

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Socrates and square pegs

round peg

One of the oddest reproaches I’ve had levelled at me in recent years is,

“But you didn’t used to think that!”

Let’s just consider that for a moment.

This person was berating me for changing my mind about something.

There I was, in my forties, having new and different opinions. Having different views about the world from the ones I’d held in my twenties.

This person was really saying, “How dare you develop and change!” and “Who gave you permission to think for yourself?”

It made me think of the words attributed to Socrates,

“The unexamined life is not worth living”.

There are various interpretations of this, but to me it means that we need to think about how we live, and where we’re going, in order to flourish and grow.

If I held the same views on my deathbed as I had when I was a teenager, I would consider myself an undeveloped person. Surely the experiences we have over the years and the people we meet — not to mention all the things we read — should open our minds and make us examine our beliefs?

This isn’t pretension or being a phoney. It’s growth and maturity.

So, no apologies from me about changing my views on politics, or religion or animal rights, or the myriad other things that affect the world and how I choose to live in it.

I’ve climbed out of that pigeon hole, the one that some people would like to keep me in.

I’m happy to be a square peg in a round hole

And they can either accept that and maybe come on the journey with me, or be left behind.

I intend to keep discovering new ideas and changing my mind until the day I die.

 

Hiding places, hidden spaces

hut

Didn’t we all love making hiding places or dens when we were children?

I graduated from a blanket draped over a couple of chairs when I was a toddler, to a shed-come-clubhouse in a neighbour’s garden at seven, to a tepee-like construction in some nearby woods by the time I was ten.

I’ve always been fascinated by creating little secret hideaways.

There’s something magical and exclusive about hiding away — but it didn’t always have to be alone. It was often most fun when a couple of friends joined in and we all brought food and drinks begged or pilfered from home. Strawberry jam sandwiches, apples and bottles of flat, unfizzy lemonade took on a special charm when shared illicitly, far from the grown-ups’ eyes.

Children’s literature is scattered with such hideouts — some of my favourites were Stig’s den in the dump, The Five Find-Outers’ clubhouse and Jennings’ Little Hut.

I remember adoring a TV programme in the 1970s called The Double Deckers, where the local kids hung out in — you guessed it — an old red London double-decker bus, in an unused junkyard.

And then I discovered Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators and I was in heaven. These guys were the epitome of cool! Jupiter Jones’ aunt and uncle owned a salvage business, if I remember rightly, and the three boy investigators had a secret den hidden deep under the scrap and bric-a-brac. Wow!

Anyway, you get the picture. I’m sure you had your favourites, too, both from books and television programmes and from your own childhood. You may not have thought about them for years. Did you have secret passwords to gain access? Can you recapture the excitement you felt?

And now, even though I’m (supposedly) grown up, with grown up kids, I still can’t resist a bit of a hideaway.

When we moved home a couple of summers ago, we needed to have a new central heating system installed, and we waved goodbye to a huge old Mexicana boiler housed in a cupboard in the dining room.

My husband thought we’d turn it into a linen cupboard.

But I had a much better idea.

After a bit of cajoling, he agreed to build me a Book Nook, and it’s one of my favourite spots to sit and read now. All my favourite books migrated from my bookshelves to the specially built shelves in the Book Nook, and I had so much fun choosing cushions and running fairy-lights around the shelves.

It’s now a favourite spot for young visitors to sit and share a picture book (when I let them…) and I hope it starts them on their own road to a love of hideaways.

And although we have two empty bedrooms in our house, only occupied occasionally by student sons, and both of these rooms have desks and computers where I could sit and write to my heart’s content, guess where I end up?

In a newly painted shed at the bottom of the garden, complete with comfortable armchair and writing desk.

I guess I still can’t resist hiding myself away and waiting for the magic to happen.

Speak up, speak out, break out

freedom

What’s holding you back?

Depression? Loneliness? Fear of failure?

My hearing loss and tinnitus are medical facts that I allowed to limit my life and my happiness for far too long.

Dealing with them has made me think about the other ways in which our lives can be limited.

Some of us get trapped in depression, which is also a medical fact — not a flight of fancy, not a whim. And which thankfully can be also be helped. I saw being deaf as a stigma, and too many people see depression in the same way and are ashamed to open up and talk about it, or seek help.

Some of us are socially isolated and lonely — maybe as a result of death, or divorce, or just through feeling out of step with our peers.

And sometimes we are so afraid to fail that we put limits on our creativity, by thinking that our painting, or writing, or music are not good enough to show the world.

So we keep things locked inside of us, we don’t dare let our voice be heard. We wear mental straitjackets that keep us confined and choked.

But it’s only by speaking up, speaking out, and breaking out, that we can find our freedom and enjoy life.

Don’t be ashamed; don’t be silent. You aren’t the only person feeling that way — locked out, always on the outside, or maybe locked in, and voiceless.

And you are worth so much more than that. Take a small step and start changing your life.

My small step was finally going for a hearing test. I’d had my hearing tested in my mid thirties, and some loss was found, but wearing one hearing aid made me feel unbalanced (more unbalanced than usual!) and I also found it hugely uncomfortable. Instead of persevering or talking to my audiologist, I gave up on it.

Well, fifteen years passed, I’m 50 years old now, and my hearing has become progressively worse. There’s a history of hearing loss on my mother’s side of the family, and this together with my…ahem…increasing maturity, meant that deafness was tightening its grip on me.

Hearing loss is very isolating. You don’t want to be the person who continually says, “Sorry? What was that? Can you say that again?” That may be okay (if annoying) when you are in a one to one situation with someone, but if you are in a group and can’t keep up with the conversation, you just keep quiet. You switch off. You let the conversation carry on around you and you don’t attempt to take part.

I think that deafness and depression have a lot in common.

Other people think you’re unfriendly, or stand-offish, or unintelligent. And this can really affect how you see yourself and even how you live your life — always on the periphery, never quite part of what’s going on. It can knock your confidence and self-esteem, limit the jobs you go for, and keep you from going out and socialising.

In short, these conditions are life-changing.

I bit the bullet and got my hearing tested several months back, and was told that I now have significant loss in both ears. The day I had my tiny, digital hearing aids fitted will never fade from my memory. I could hear the clock ticking, other people’s conversations as I walked past them, birds singing, and the kettle boiling in the next room. I also immediately turned the volume down on the television from 38 to about 22. Wow — my poor family!

I kept bursting into tears as I realised how different my life would be now — and also when I considered how much I’d missed out on over the last few years.

On the first day, I wore my hearing aids around my busy city for a few hours, marvelling at this new world. And then I went home, took them out, lay on the sofa and slept for two hours right in the middle of the afternoon. Complete sensory overload — it was overwhelming.

Even now, after wearing the aids for a few hours, I sometimes choose to take them out. At first it’s like being underwater — everything is muffled and unclear. Then after a few minutes that settles down into normality and my brain readjusts. Because sometimes I don’t actually want to hear what’s going on. When rowdy people get on our local train and are being obnoxious, I take my hearing aids out. When my husband is watching a documentary on television and I’m trying to read, I take my hearing aids out. It’s quite pleasant having the choice to zone out!

One of the biggest benefits I’ve had is the massive reduction in my tinnitus. Tinnitus was what drove me to get my hearing tested again, to be honest — the noises in my ears were constant, and getting louder. When I’m not wearing my hearing aids I have whistling in my ears, and I’ve discovered that if I shake my head quickly (don’t ask me how I found this out), the sounds merge and become like high pitched church organ music…The good news is that when I’m wearing my hearing aids, I’m not aware of my tinnitus at all. My brain is hearing quite enough external noise, and doesn’t feel the need to manufacture any for me, thank goodness.

The quality of my life has improved dramatically, and I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t do something about this years ago.

I know that deafness can often be dealt with in a concrete way because it has a physical cause, while depression is that terrible, insidious, nebulous monster that stalks you and lies in wait. I know there are big differences. But there are also similarities.

Some of the people I love most in this world have suffered from anxiety and depression, and they suffered in silence for far too long because they were ashamed. They thought that admitting to depression was admitting a weakness.

I think the opposite is true; if you can get through day after day while suffering from depression or anxiety, you are one of the very bravest, most resilient of people.

And you have a 100% success rate in living with it so far.

They also thought that they were hopeless cases — that nobody would be able to help them. The best news is that a combination of medication, counselling, and using cognitive behavioural therapy has helped the people closest to me immeasurably. Hell, just talking about your problems with people who love you can help immeasurably. One person I know uses painting to feel better, another gets out into the woods and walks, a third writes about his feelings.

And for those people who find themselves lonely through social isolation, the hardest step of all is admitting to being lonely. They sometimes see loneliness as a stigma or a judgement too — what’s wrong with them, that out of a whole world full of people, they have ended up alone?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Nothing is wrong with them. Just bad luck and circumstances.

But that first step — just getting out of the house — can be so hard. Charities who help lonely and isolated people suggest joining a book club, a church group, a walking club, or volunteering for a local charity. How about trying hang gliding for the over 50s? It doesn’t matter what one chooses — any of these activities can help people to connect and feel a sense of community again.

Facing the issues in your life is really, really hard sometimes.

But the rewards are huge.

Don’t give up. Things can get better. Just try and take that first step.

Hold out your hand and someone will take it.

Despair

sad girl

Awake at 4am, scrolling idly through Facebook, I find a nightmare post from my friend Kitty.

She longs to return to five years old, be safe and loved, and get life right this time. But since she can’t, she’s done with everything, will haunt anyone who dares call her selfish, and we should all pursue what makes us happy.

No reactions, no comments — only me awake.

I dress, drive round, hammer on her door. No answer. I call the police and ambulance.

Kitty’s in hospital now, barely alive.

If she survives, it’s my responsibility — will she forgive me?

Wishful thinking

 

wishful thinking1

It started out quite innocently, as these things often do. I thought I was lucky; life seemed to smile on me in small ways. Then I realised there was a pattern and that freaked me out a little. And now – well, let me explain.

When I was eight years old I was the second smartest girl in the class. Maria Hernandez always managed to do that little bit better than me. Her mother was a GP and her father was a top oncologist. For the record, my mother was a shop assistant and my father was a coal miner. Not that I’m saying my inferior intelligence was their fault. But still. I discovered a couple of years ago that Maria Hernandez went on to become one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons. I’m a teacher. As I said, there was no way I was ever going to outsmart Maria. How I envied her. How I wished she didn’t go to my school. And then one morning she came in and told us she was leaving; her father had got a new job at the other end of the country. She left two weeks later. Suddenly I was the smartest girl in the class. My eight year old self was delighted.

Fast forward five years to High School. I was one of the cleverest kids in our year. Three or four of us battled it out for top place in every subject and I was right up there with the best of them. But when the exam results came in, this one boy, Frederick Bosomworth, always managed to win the First in Year prize, leaving me in second place. How I envied him. How I resented it when I heard one of our classmates say,

“Yeah, Judith’s smart. But we all know Fred’s smarter.”

I knew it was true. And I wished he would disappear, just like Maria Hernandez had. And then one day, he did. Just like Maria’s family, Fred’s family moved away. And I became First in Year. I felt so lucky.

It was different at university. I knew from the outset that there were lots of students smarter than me. I’d gone from being a big fish in a little pond to being a just another little fish. But we were all doing different assignments with different tutors, so it didn’t bother me too much. There was a whiny girl I didn’t like in my first year and she dropped out, and in my third year a real loud-mouth boy dropped dead while playing football. Turned out he had a hitherto undiagnosed genetic heart condition. But I wasn’t the only one who was glad about that. So university was pretty quiet and I didn’t really have to give much thought to any tiresome competition.

It was really once I’d been working for a few years, at three different schools, that I started to notice a pattern emerging. I would start a new job, settle in and like my new colleagues and pupils well enough. But you know how it is in life – there’s always that one person that you look at and think,

“It would be much better if they weren’t here.”

I found that, within three months tops, they would leave. Or sometimes die. Which of course was regrettable and a little freaky. But not my fault. I eventually confided a little of this to my colleague, Sue, who asked,

“You mean, you just have to wish someone would leave, and they go?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “It’s even vaguer than that. I just realise I’d be happier if they weren’t here…and one way or another, they…disappear.”

“You’re not bumping them off are you, Judith?” she laughed nervously.

“Ha ha! Of course not!” I said. “I guess I’m just lucky.”

“Lucky or disturbingly psychic,” Sue said, looking at me a little oddly.

Sue and I got on well – we both taught English, and we socialised outside of work together too. But then Sue started dating a lovely guy called Richard, and although I liked him a lot, it did alter things. He wasn’t particularly good-looking or rich, but he treated Sue really well. I watched them one night when a group of us were in the pub and I could see they were so happy together. I couldn’t help wishing he was my boyfriend – I was so tired of being on my own.

I swear that was all. I didn’t wish Sue away. And I definitely didn’t wish her any ill. But three days later Sue was killed outright in a car crash.

Richard was devastated. So was I, of course. He became a bit of a recluse, but I persevered in trying to help him through it and about six months after Sue’s death we started going out with each other. I didn’t tell him about this strange power I seemed to have. What could be gained by telling him that I might have caused Sue’s death? Or any of the other stuff I’ve told you about? He wouldn’t have believed me; he’d have thought I was crazy, or a monster.

Five years have passed since then. Richard and I are married with two lovely children. And I think the loss of Sue was worth it. I’ve come to terms with it. Apart from the unexpected disappearance of a midwife after the traumatic birth of my second baby, life has been pretty normal. I’ve had plenty of time to think about this gift of mine and it’s raised some interesting moral and ethical dilemmas. If you can bring about someone’s disappearance or death just by thinking of it, without having to take any physical steps to make it happen, are your hands still clean? Is it okay to wish it? I pondered this for a while.

And I came to the conclusion that the world needs me. I think I can use this gift for good. I asked myself who posed the biggest threat to civilisation at present. Who caused the Doomsday Clock to be moved forward, so that it was set at only two and a half minutes to global catastrophe? I turned my attention to President Donald J Trump, and – just to be bipartisan and unbiased – Dictator Kim Jong-un. Wouldn’t it be better and safer for mankind if these two guys didn’t exist? And if I could make this happen just by wishing it, would I really be guilty of any wrongdoing?

So I sat down and thought very hard about it. I simply thought how much better it would be if neither of them was around anymore. I didn’t exactly wish for them to die. And what happened? Well, as the world knows, Donald J Trump was found face down in his swimming pool, and Kim Jong-un was found face down in his morning bowl of congee. Within twenty four hours of me thinking about it. And I felt fine about it. Both were accidents and no-one had to assassinate them for the greater good.

The only downside was that I decided to tell Richard I was responsible for the deaths of the President and the Dictator. I wanted to be honest with him and I was curious to see his reaction. Annoyingly, he laughed at me. Then, when he saw I was serious, he explained calmly and logically, in that boring Richard way, that the laws of nature and the universe don’t work like that. That nobody can make things happen just by thinking about them. That I’m deluding myself if I think I’ve got that power. That frankly, he thinks I’m still suffering from post-natal depression.

So then I told him about all the others. Including Sue.

Big mistake.

He went white. Then he was sick.

He didn’t speak to me for three days.

And for the last week he’s alternated between yelling at me and telling me I need to see a psychiatrist. That I’m deluded, or evil, or both.

To be frank, he’s really starting to annoy me. And upset the children.

I’m kind of wishing he wasn’t here anymore.

 

Street Sentinels

 

streetsentinel

…so here we stand  arms upstretched come day or night or rain or snow or sun. unnoticed, us, full of beauty and life coursing through but on you go past us without glancing upwards. guarding night and day arms up to heavens unchanging and strong we do not yield to rain or wind except the fiercest storms when crack and splinter dark bark rent apart and unseen flesh and sap exposed. leaves and twigs on branch and furrowed scaly bark rough protection yet protection none when you come with axe or saw, though all my being strains to live I am powerless and cannot run but only stand and scream. all through night in dark and starry skies my arms still upstretched untiring against the moon while on you sleep uncaring and unknowing, unaware of strength and beauty and peace and wisdom outside your house and on your street and in your garden. your mind on petty everyday affairs your job your boss your sex life your new car your holidays and not a thought for oxygen and lungs and our breathing life for you our planet with green growth and shelter and food. but we breathe on through years decades centuries millennium outliving all mankind watching kings and queens and leaders presidents dictators generals armies rise and fall we live through all endure endure persist give life give breath heal each other. little you care of animals insects creatures so plants and trees still less, forests and jungles disappearing, breath choked out, gasping, wheezing un-lunged continents. my own part just to stand here on your corner, street corner, houses around cars passing by fumes choking but changing with seasons adding to your life if still unnoticed guarding street sentinel until you see me in the way and come to lop chop machete axe me down limbs severed butchered fall to ground and cleared away not even used as boat or chair or fuel just abandoned tipped landfilled lost and I scream and my brothers cry with me but still on we stand arms upstretched uncomplaining and changing yet unchanging wishing you well and saving you and unthanked we breathe on ..

Laurie had just sat down at her desk with a coffee and turned on the pc when she heard the truck pull up in the street outside her house. She looked up automatically and through the window saw two guys jumping out of the cab. Then she read the writing on the side of the truck,

Greenwood’s Tree Surgeons

She watched them lift a chainsaw each out of the back of the truck and advance on the two alder trees on the corner.

Stay calm, she instructed herself. They’re probably here to do a bit of maintenance work. But she abandoned her desk and coffee and hurried out down the driveway to speak to them.

“Good morning guys, what’s happening?” she said, smiling. “And can I make you both a cup of tea?”

The younger man glanced to his boss, who answered,

“Thank you kindly. Don’t mind if we do. But then it’ll be best if you keep clear, as we’re here to cut these trees down.”

Laurie gulped,

“Cut them down? Not just prune them?”

The man repeated,

“Cut them down. Council’s orders.”

Laurie felt herself go hot and cold all over and realised this called for reinforcements. She took off up the drive and back into the house, shouting back over her shoulder to lull them into a false sense of security,

“I’ll be right back with your teas…and some biscuits…”

She grabbed her mobile and called Bernadette, local busybody and head of the street’s elderly Neighbourhood Watch,

“Bernie, did you know anything about the council cutting down the alder trees outside my house?

……………………

“No, me neither. Well, there’s a couple of guys here now with their chainsaws.”

……………………

“Yes, yes, great idea. Bring as many as you can, and definitely Henry. I think I can stall them for ten minutes with tea. But hurry!”

Laurie rang off and set about making the promised drinks, dashing back to check through the window every couple of minutes that the men hadn’t started work. Fortunately, like most workmen employed by the council, they seemed happy enough to have a tea break before getting anything done.

Twenty minutes later the two workmen, whom Laurie had discovered were called Bob and Pete, were munching their way through a plate of chocolate digestives and swilling back industrial size mugs of tea. Laurie had heard from Bob about Bob’s wife and Pete’s pregnant girlfriend, Bob’s now grown-up children, said children’s ground-breaking university educations, (with a quick detour round his own uneducated parents’ hard life), his musically talented grandkids, his planned holiday in Tenerife, his vegetable allotment  and his general outlook on the Tory government. Pete meanwhile gazed up at the trees and munched away. No doubt thinking about his imminent fatherhood, thought Laurie.

Just as Bob took his last gulp of tea and set down his mug on the pavement, Laurie saw a small but bristling crowd turn into the end of the street. Bob followed her glance,

“Hey up,” he said. “What’s all this then?”

Laurie was relieved to see Bernadette at the helm, flanked by Henry and his wife Jean, with Susan, Beryl, James and a couple of others she didn’t know bringing up the rear. Laurie could almost see their metaphorical pitchforks being brandished in the air, and she was not alone.

“Quick, lad, back in the cab,” Bob told Pete, and then shook his head at Laurie as he climbed back in behind the wheel, “I thought you were being overly friendly. Stalling tactics was it? Typical.”

Laurie reddened but said in her defence,

“I always offer workmen a drink. We just don’t want you to cut our trees down.”

The two men were safely back in their truck by the time a breathless Bernadette and her posse reached them.

“Well done Laurie,” she slapped Laurie on the back. “So lucky you spotted them.”

There was a general murmur of assent and Henry, a retired solicitor, advanced on the truck’s cab and gestured to Bob that he should wind his window down. Bob hesitated and then valour overtook discretion and he complied.

“Good morning gentlemen,” Henry was politeness personified.”Will you tell me what you’re here for this morning, please?”

Bob reached inside his coat and Laurie wondered for a mad moment if he was going to pull out a weapon, but then, no…this was rural Thorpshire after all…he produced a folded bit of paper which he handed to Henry.

Henry studied it,

“What’s it say, what’s it say?” said Jean at his elbow.

Henry paused theatrically, adjusting his spectacles, then read from the letter,

“To Whom It May Concern. By order of Mablethorpe County Council, these trees are to be felled. On the advice of council arboreal experts…blah blah blah…inherent risk involved with retaining trees of this size in such close proximity to properties.

There have been a number of complaints recently…blah blah blah…. falling debris, damage to the carriageway, footpath and vehicles.

The trees are likely to become bigger and require more regular maintenance. They also have the potential to cause damage to property …blah blah blah….which is a significant likelihood due to the lack of adjacent screening to protect them from wind and the elements.

We believe the best option for the long-term maintenance of the area is to remove the two trees and re-plant with a more appropriate species for the area, ideally one with a smaller ultimate height.”

Henry folded the letter, slipped his specs back in their case and waited for a reaction.

There was a collective gasp from the neighbourhood watch brigade.

Beryl started crying,

“But these trees have been here nearly fifty years – they were planted when the estate was built.”

“How could anyone want to cut them down?” asked Susan. “They’re beautiful – and they have as much right to be here as we do.”

“A smaller ultimate height?” snorted Bernadette. “A shrub more like. Not on my watch!”

Returning the letter to Bob, Henry told him,

“There should, by law, have been a consultation period with residents.”

“Look, I don’t know anything about that, mate,” Bob said. “I’m just here to do a job.”

“Well, I’m afraid you won’t be cutting these trees down today,” said Henry, and with that he turned away from the truck and led his band over to the alder trees, where the residents joined hands and formed a circle around them. A couple of women started to sing,

“We shall not, we shall not be moved”

And although Laurie was one hundred percent behind the cause, she decided that this was a good time to go make another round of teas for everyone – including Bob and Pete, of course. Pete had his feet up on the dashboard now and was reading a newspaper, and Laurie was sure she overheard Bob on his mobile telling his council boss about a group of violent vigilantes preventing them from working.

The neighbourhood watch/vigilante party were just getting into their stride when Bob jumped out of his cab and addressed them,

“You win folks. Well, for today at least. We’ve been told to get off to our next job.”

A small cheer went up.

“I wouldn’t get too excited though. Mr Bryant at the council says he’ll be writing to residents and the work will be rescheduled within the next few weeks.”

“Not if we’ve got anything to do with it!” said Bernie, and Laurie could see her formulating plans for residents’ meetings, flyers, petitions on the high street, a sit in…Bernie would be in her element.

“Thanks for the teas, love,” Bob handed her their mugs back. “Sorry if I was a bit harsh earlier. We get a lot of abuse in this job. Nice old crowd you’ve got here, though. See you again soon, no doubt.”

Laurie thanked him and collected all the mugs in. She had a feeling she was going to be very busy over the next few weeks.

She looked over at the trees and smiled. They didn’t know how loved they were or what a narrow escape they’d had.

Oblivious.

…so here we stand arms upstretched come day or night or rain or snow or sun. noticed, us, full of beauty and life coursing through and on you go past us looking upwards. guarding night and day arms up to heavens unchanging and strong we do not yield to rain or wind except the fiercest storms when crack and splinter dark bark rent apart and unseen flesh and sap exposed. leaves and twigs on branch and furrowed scaly bark rough protection yet protection none when they come with axe or saw, though all my being strains to live I am powerless and cannot run but only stand and scream. and here you come caring and aware knowing our strength and beauty and peace and wisdom outside your house and on your street and in your garden. your mind on oxygen and lungs and our breathing life for you our planet with green growth and shelter and food. we breathe on through years decades centuries millennium outliving all mankind watching kings and queens and leaders presidents dictators generals armies rise and fall we live through all endure endure persist give life give breath heal each other. you care for animals insects creatures and plants and trees, forests and jungles lunged continents. my own part just to stand here on your corner, street corner, houses around cars passing by fumes choking but changing with seasons adding to your life noticed now guarding street sentinel until they see me in the way and come to lop chop machete axe me down limbs to sever butcher fall to ground and clear away and I scream and my brothers cry with me and you come save us help us brothers so still we stand arms upstretched uncomplaining and changing yet unchanging wishing you well and saving you and saving us we endure persist breathe with thanks breathe on...

A True Story

flying

Have you ever told somebody something and have them flat out not believe you? Isn’t it one of the most aggravating feelings in the world?

I remembered something the other day, and because it was such a cool and amazing thing, I had to interrupt the conversation I was having before I forgot about it.

I could tell right away the people I was talking to thought either:

a) I was joking
b) I was making it up
c) I’d been dreaming
or
d) I was crazy

It’s pretty bloody aggravating that, at age 47, I’m still failing to take the good advice of 17 year old Holden Caulfield, who said

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything.”

He’s completely right.

Because the worst part was, as I watched them not believing me, I started struggling to believe it myself.

Except I know it happened.

But even so my feelings changed from,

“I really did.”
to
“I’m sure I did.”
to
“Did I?”
to
“I can’t, can I?”

Hmm. Crushing disappointment.

I was now doubting the most exciting thing that had happened to me in…oh…decades…or possibly ever (pretty much).

And yet when I’d remembered it and told them, I’d been absolutely sure it had happened — I could still feel the sensation inside me.

You’re probably not going to believe me either, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

I can fly.

And because it really happened to me, I don’t even feel it’s such an amazing sentence to come out with — although on another level I recognise it sounds incredible. But, you see, it happened.

Yes. I can fly. Or rather, I flew. (I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it again.)

It started with a slight bobbing motion. I was just in the kitchen at home having a clean up. I felt a little lightheaded, a tad floaty — like when you’ve taken migraine tablets and drank Red Bull at the same time. And then I was floating a little. Just a foot or two off the ground. And then right up to the ceiling. I noticed that the tops of the cupboards were thick with dust (well, who has time to dust the tops of cupboards?) I was pretty surprised, as you can imagine. And yet at the same time I had a feeling of inevitability about the whole thing. Like…of course…why have I never done this before?

So I tried a couple of small experimental swoops.

Wow.

And then I had a good fly around the kitchen, right up to the skylight.

Fantastic.

So then I decided to open the skylight and have a float outside. (The kitchen was feeling somewhat constricting.)

It was surprisingly cold outside and I dropped down a few feet so that I was just hovering over my back garden. I certainly didn’t want the neighbours to come out and spoil my fun.

Killjoys.

I got some excellent swooping movements in and the whole thing felt great, and as natural as walking — just more fun. Why had I waited so long?

After a while I decided I’d swoop along to the end of the street — to hell with the neighbours — and then I flew around over the woods that border our housing estate. It was wonderful — fresh air whooshing past me, trees below me — I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was worried at first in case anyone saw me, but I don’t think they did — people tend to keep their eyes fixed on the ground or just on what’s in front of them, in my experience.

It was fantastic fun, but after almost an hour I was pretty exhausted, so I turned and headed for home. I let myself back in through the skylight and landed in the kitchen safely. When I checked in the mirror, my hair was like a bird’s nest and my cheeks had a healthy glow. I’d been meaning to take up some exercise for years, and I reckoned this could be it — I certainly looked young and invigorated.

I was tired out though, so I decided to hell with the rest of the housework, I’d go lie down and have a nap to recover.

And I guess I just forgot about it. When I woke up, I had no memory of it.

That is, until just the other day, when I was sitting with my adult sons, and it came back to me in a rush, and I had to tell them.

But now, because they don’t believe me — and let’s face it, who can blame them? — I’m even beginning to doubt it myself.

Oh Holden, I should have listened to you.

 

A cheat for fiction writers: help with creating three dimensional characters

I want to tell you about a great website I’ve found called https://www.16personalities.com/ that’s really useful when you’re creating characters in your writing.

Although the purpose of the site is to test yourself and discover more about your personality and how to develop, the nice folk who have created it give a full breakdown of each personality type, including their:

strengths and weaknesses
romantic relationships
friendships
parenthood
career paths, and
workplace habits.

This means that you have details available to you about all of these different “characters”, no matter what your own result is.

Which, when you think about it, is really useful for us writers!

We can use the information and examples given to make sure our characters act in accordance with their personality in different situations. It’s invaluable in helping us make them credible and three dimensional. As authors, we may sometimes be out of comfort zone creating characters who are diametrically opposed to ourselves, but the last thing we want is for every character we create to be a cardboard copy of ourselves, or each other. And if you want to write believable baddies — how they act, what motivates them, what their weakness are — this site can really help.

I’m an introverted and intuitive personality type — INFP-T (and I think a lot of writers are INFP or INFJ personality types), so it’s been really useful in helping me to create an extrovert, logical and organised character (ESTJ type) in the novel I’m working on.

Most of us have heard of the Myers Briggs personality type indicator. The 16 Personalities site uses the acronym format introduced by Myers-Briggs but redefines several Jungian traits as well as introducing an additional one, bringing their test closer to the dimensions of the Big Five Personality traits. And instead of incorporating cognitive functions such as Extraverted Thinking or Introverted Sensing, they have chosen five personality aspects: Mind (how we interact with our surroundings), Energy (how we see the world and process information), Nature (how we make decisions and cope with emotions), Tactics (our approach to work, planning and decision-making), and Identity (how confident we are in our abilities and decisions).

I know, I know — this all sounds horribly complicated. Head over to https://www.16personalities.com and let the experts show you how it works, complete with lovely graphics!

If you’re still here and want a few more technical details, they divide their personalities into the familiar 16 acronym types, categorised by role (which shows goals, interests and preferred activities) and strategy (our preferred ways of doing things and achieving goals). There are four main categories — Analysts, Diplomats, Sentinels and Explorers — and each of these is subdivided into four types. For example, as an INFP-T I am categorised as a Diplomat and then as a Mediator. Here are the types by group:

Analysts
Architect INTJ (-A,-T), Logician INTP (-A,-T), Commander ENTJ (-A,-T), Debater ENTP (-A,-T)

Diplomats
Advocate INFJ (-A,-T), Mediator INFP (-A,-T), Protagonist ENFJ (-A,-T), Campaigner ENFP (-A,-T)

Sentinels
Logistician ISTJ (-A,-T), Defender ISFJ (-A,-T), Executive ESTJ (-A,-T),
Consul ESFJ (-A,-T)

Explorers
Virtuoso ISTP (-A,-T), Adventurer ISFP (-A,-T), Entrepreneur ESTP (-A,-T), Entertainer ESFP (-A,-T)

It makes for fascinating reading. But enough from me — go take a look. I hope you enjoy it and find it as useful as I have done!

https://www.16personalities.com/

Endings

My room is small. One shelf of books, one painting on the wall. They wouldn’t let me bring more – “no space” they said. Everything was sold or given away.

So here I sit each day, trying to see beyond my possessions that aren’t here, looking across to the window.

From my chair I can see the branches of the tree outside. Today the sky is white, the naked winter branches stark against it like jagged cracks in ice. It’s prettier in autumn when the leaves turn red and gold, and sometimes I’ll see a squirrel, but more often just birds. Autumn was always my favourite time of year. But my days of kicking through leaves in the woods are gone forever. Just like Alfred – long, long gone. We used to have such fun together – he always could make me laugh.

I miss him.

The winter he died was bleak. A bitter, unkind December. Too cruel for old bones. I was afraid to go outside in the snow and ice for fear of slipping and breaking something. How unusually prescient of me. And how sad at your love’s funeral, to be preoccupied by concern for yourself. Alfred would have understood though. He always got me.

And this is not such a bad place, for an old folks’ home.

But who’d have thought I’d end up here?

Alfred would weep to see me sitting alone, hour after hour – hands too arthritic to hold a pen or type, eyes too old and weak to read. At least I have my audio books to listen to – I went almost insane with boredom that day last week when they took my hearing aids to be repaired. And yet sometimes deafness can be a blessing! Like when they take me down into the television lounge to sit with all the half-dead who are half-watching those half-witted game shows. I just turn off my hearing aids and shut my eyes and soon I’m back with Alfred in the house by the lake we rent every summer.

I write, he paints, and every weekend brings fresh visitors, escaping from the city. They come bearing gifts of flowers and wine and treats from the deli that are impossible to get out in the sticks. These are the days of wine and roses that every artist dreams of – and we have them, Alfred and I. We have our art, and we have our friends, and most of all we have each other. We’re young and happy – love and friendship and the warmth of the sun envelop me…and then they wake me with a shake, and I’m back in this ancient body, and it’s time for tea.

No visitors here. Not for me.

No children, we decided. Our work and each other consumed us.

But now I’m reaping what we failed to sow. Most of our crowd are dead and buried – surviving to ninety eight has given me ghosts for friends. I always thought I’d live fast and die young, “go out in a blaze of glory”. Our friends were mostly tortured artists – they killed themselves, drank themselves into oblivion, or wrapped their cars round trees in drugged up accidents. “Tragic” the papers said and wrote some nonsense about the 27 Club. Some lived on, of course, like us – then got cancer, suffered strokes, had heart attacks. My heart broke when I lost Alfred, dead in his sleep at seventy five. I thought it was a terrible way to go – no chance to evaluate his life, no chance to say goodbye. Now I think he was the lucky one. I’ve been too long without him.

How much longer will I sit here, in this chair, looking out of this window? I struggle to remember how long I’ve been here…I broke my hip at ninety two…or was it ninety three?…it must be five years if it’s a day. And inside me there’s still the girl who never could sit still – I always ran and danced and loved and laughed. No more.

But still – this is not such a bad place, for an old folks’ home.