4 years ago today. I got up, went to the gym for an hour and then went shopping to Marks & Spinster with my folks, where we stopped to have a pot of tea and an apple turnover. ‘What a beautiful day’ I thought.
Little did I know that an hour or so later my heart would traumatically tear away from its root, contacting emergency services as I struggled to unlock my apartment’s door for the ambulance and my parents to get in.
2 days later I woke after 2 emergency heart operations, having lost several pints of blood and being put on ice, hallucinating about Chinese nurses and caretakers and hippopotamus and Aladdin.
The years between have been full of cancer scares, cameras up/in every orifice, depression, PTSD, the loss of 2 jobs, a mini stroke, loss of field vision, losing my driving licence because of health issues, severe anaemia, a crash with a double decker bus ……..
I began blogging a little before this. In fact, it was in anticipation of planned heart surgery. I’d been planning a holi-holiday to Peru (Macchu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Nazca Lines – all terribly exciting) and because so much of the adventure was at high altitude, I decided to check in with my Cardiologist. I watched as her face dropped on examination, and she rushed me in for an echo-cardiogram ‘just to check’. I waited to see her for the results as the ward emptied and we were the only two Left Standing. It wasn’t good. I had an underlying heart condition, which had worsened and required surgery within the next 5 years – she would need further tests and a referral to a surgeon in order to determine when.
The trip to Peru was cancelled – the first of many holidays I’ve had to cancel since. I was never all that keen on Macchu Picchu if I’m being honest – I don’t really like edges, as I get a bit drawn to them and a little too intrigued about what happens if I go over the edge. In the end, my heart decided it couldn;t really wait for the NHS and so it broke early and impetuously.
In between all that, I had the small matter of my testicular cancer diagnosis the previous year before my emergency incarceration. I know – it never rains but it pours, right?I had some counselling as I was going through it all – the orchidectomy, the chemotherapy. the waiting for surgery. Which is what led me to the blogging. I found it a cheaper way to process and capture some thoughts and feelings – so, if you’re reading this, you’re kinda my cheap therapist. But I don’t know if you’re qualified or not. If you are, I’ve got a bargain. If not, just don’t go telling my secrets to people, because you’re bound by confidentiality, right?
Today I was at the gym. There were 2 crutches left by the side of my treadmill, and I saw a woman struggling to climb on to a Stepper Machine. I recognised the determination on her face, and the struggle she was experiencing.
4 years have passed. I’m not currently employed, and it’s not always easy.
Step by step ….
Today I sewed on a button.
That may sound so inane, so simple, so easy.
Yesterday, I found it overwhelming to even think of sewing a on a button. So, for me, it’s progress.
This is not the story of me climbing Everest, or winning an Olympic medal, or even overcoming a traumatic injury. It’s just one day in which I managed to overcome so low, dark, depressed feelings. Just enough to complete what would ordinarily seem a simple and straight forward task. And even now I’m belittling an achievement, making light of it. It’s just a button, right?
Getting up was difficult. A night with little sleep, which becomes a pattern during times like these. Everything spirals, and what didn’t worry me yesterday worried me in the night. So it feels good to put on a fresh pair of clothes. A clean pair of trousers. I’m halfway in, skinny legs covered, and pulling the waist up, zipping up, and realise the button is missing. They’re active wear trousers, a special kind of stretchy material that’s all treated with insecticide and UV protection and waterproofing and all sorts of marvels. But without a button, I can’t wear them.
And that’s the day ruined. But I drag them trousers off, and find another pair. In a few minutes, I’m at least dressed, and manage to feed myself and take some pills and have a cup of tea.
The Epic Search begins. Not the Third Ring, not the Keys To Time, not the Golden Fleece. Just a sodding button. High and low – every button but. Surprising how many buttons you can find lying around when you want one particular button. The right button. Because, if it’s not the Right Button, I’ve Completely Failed.
It’s located. I sit myself down, consider this to be a Mindful Task. It will calm and self-soother me, so it can help with the dark mood. I focus on the needle I’ve pulled out, and the black thread I have chosen – it has to be the right thread or it will look STUPID.
And I try, and I try and I try to thread the needle. And I fail, and I fail, and I fail. Again, again, again. The mindfulness becomes a barrage of self criticism, and encompasses everything I haven’t achieved today, yesterday, this week, this month. I can’t even thread a needle now.
I gave up. I just couldn;t face it, and halfheartedly mention it to family in the hope that Someone Else Will Do It For Me. Rescue me, save me, from my own failure.
The morning comes, slow and inevitable and unwelcoming. The trousers remain on the floor, the button unsewn. A cup of tea, pills, some toast.
Today is another day. Another attempt. I pick up a thread, a needle, a button. And I try again. Cursing the size of the eye, cursing the state, of my eyes, licking and sucking the thread to straighten it. I try to think mindfully, to focus on process and not outcome. perhaps I will be able to thread it this time, perhaps not. I am in the process of doing it. This time, I have not given up.
Unbelievably, astonishingly, I reach the summit. I climb Everest, I find the Golden Fleece, I knock out Goliath. The thread is in, and I tie it off before it escapes. I hold the button in place, and I thread in and I thread out. In and out of the back, in and out of the front. A slow but determined rhythm develops, and I try to breathe with it. This is process. This is determination. This is The Moment for which I am grateful.
I’m wearing those trousers, and the button is still on. This is the small tale of that moment, when I dragged myself out of gloom and despair and failure.
I sewed on a button.
Just As I Am
A keyboard in front of me – dusty (I really must clean more), a buzzing computer and a pile of papers in front of my screen. This is all clutter to be cleared. Sitting in an office chair, wearing thermal trousers (pants, as the Americans call them) and a blue Bear Grylls top. Active wear for a not so active activity.
Some sadness and some relief – an ending , a journey , a struggle. Post lunch fatigue, post assignment apathy. Having come from smart advice from a smart, successful and disciplined writer, and feeling that coming to this task ahead of me, I bring nothing. No smart idea, no brilliant revelation, no witticisms or wisdom, or tragic disclosure. A half hour or so tap tap tapping.
A reminder that the printer isn’t working. A jam leaving half eaten snatches of paper ripped to shreds in unreachable parts and unmapped locations where inky fingers fear to poke and prod. Another prevarication, another writer’s block. Not block but jam. And jam still in the crevices of my fingernails after an unwanted spillage discovery on the kitchen surface just before lunch. Before scrambling the eggs, and toasting of bread. That chattering mind, that monkey on the back. Sit and be still.
Sit and be quiet.
Sit and be.
Tortoise slow and hibernation dull, a reflection on proof reading, editing, ghost writing, creative verse and poetry, sports writing, journalism and blogging. Creating content, selling ideas, apps and websites all designed for this strange and tortuous practice of writing. For pleasure, for profit, for fun and out of boredom. To expose, to reflect, to analyse and opine. Words on paper, words on screen, doodles and hastily written snatches of conversation or half noticed observations. All the better to see you with.
A countdown is ending. A journey is coming to a close. This discomfort shall pass. There are deadlines ahead – more words to find, more corrections to make, more dreams to catch, make or break.
Outdoor wear for an inner adventure. A somatic awareness of the aches and pains of the tap tap tap. The anticipation of ending, of relief, of … success? And yet those words of advice, the difference between competitive and competition. Making comparisons and trying toavoid comparisons. The challenge to motivate, to coach and be coached, to discipline and to drive.And the urge to sit and be quiet.
To sit and be.
Tap tap tap.
A Walk To Clear Your Mind
The buzzing is too much. Voices, shouting deadlines and ideas and the noise of a chattering mind. The fear of failing, the critical inner voice, shouting so much louder than all the their books and novels and articles and blogs and evidence of what has already being achieved. But it’s not happening now and it’s not happening fast enough. At the moment there are no publication dates, no deadlines, no cheering editors or publishers clamouring for more work. No delicious reviews, no awards ceremonies, no writer’s panels or reading events or interviews or proposals.
It all seems blank.
The screen, the paper, the mind. All blank.
I rise, weary from doing nothing, from being and knowing nothing, and slip into a heavy coat with this heavy frame of mind, and take heavy footsteps towards the closed and locked front door. I turn the lock, slowly open the door into a cold, wet, scary Real World. The World outside my front door.
A slow dismount of the stairs. I lean on the wall for company, for support and reassurance. Slumping my way down it like a drunk from a Saturday night stag do, barely aware of who or where I am. A rush of cold air passes over me from the stairwell, an unwelcome reminder that it is still the darkness of winter and that summer is many months away. Perhaps, this year, it never will arrive, and we shall stay covered with snow and dark skies.
The hill is steep, an uphill struggle, and I clamour for breath as my heart beats hard and fast with the struggle to put one foot in front of the other. progress is made and at the top I stop, gasping, and bent over. Further steps, with feet so heavy, tired muscles unworked, avoiding the foul shit of dogs and pigeons and police horses and discarded johnnies full of spend seed and fast food wrappers and cartons and litter, newspaper articles and postings for lost pets and feather from birds mauled by feral cats and rabid dogs. All this detritus of man and nature, an unholy mess outside my front door.
I stumble, broken, bleary, exhausted, to the bottom of the hill. A bridge over dark water. I lean on the curving wall, and close my eyes. I breathe, and feel the coming spring sun on my face. I hear rooks and the cackling of magpies and the improvised song of blackbirds, the gruff coo of a wood pigeon, and the distant rush of traffic.
And I breathe freely.
Drops on the window. Who needs the shrill cry of an alarm clock. A deluge now awaits me outside.
At first, in bed, a reluctance to get out from the warm womb, to enter a wet and miserable daytime. Memories of the kitchen flooding last week, the drip drip drip of water from lighting sockets and that dreadful feeling that the roof will bulge, become pregnant with puddled water, and suddenly burst. Waters breaking to give birth to nothing but water. A drip becomes a torrent. A torrent becomes a flood. From the flat above, drenching the kitchen floor again. Damned mops and towels. Damned plumbers and insurance.
Calm down, calm down. That was then and this is now. The rain is outside. It’s on the window. A hypnotic tap tap tap. Let it lull you back to sleep, to calm you like a warm bath. Spring is coming. The rain is watering roots, feeding half dead tubers and bulbs, satiating the ground’s dry thirst after a long and lonely winter.
You are warm, you are dry. Today has no agenda. There is no fear needed. There is the gym, a wet walk to the powerhouse, to the usual regimes of weights, and cardio, of warming up and cooling down. Stretches and shakes. An hour, three times a week, four when it feels good. A regime. A healthy interest. A habit, a lifestyle, a life-saver.
And the writing. Not a whole book in a single wet day. But some notes, some exercises. That Business Writing Diploma that’s taking forever. Those assignments that seem so dull and insurmountable. On a wet day, amidst the dullness and the creeping bleak mist, an expanse of light and sunshine – distant worlds, far off worlds, remembered worlds, imagined worlds.
All of which are sensible things to do on a wet day. Yes, yes, all sensible, all a good use of time. If I can get out of this bed. This warm, warm, dry bed. A tempting home for the day. Other things too. Other stay at home things – a movie, a DVD, a bake (some lemons still in the box – that gin and tonic drizzle cake I’ve got the recipe for and always wanted tot try). Or into town, a wet wait at the bus stop, then a bus ride smelling damp hair and wiping the condensation from the window to watch th passing gloom. To the flicks. To shop til I drop. To brunch and to afternoon tea with cream cakes and lace tablecloths, sandwiches cut into triangle with no crusts.
Or none of this. A devil may care, break-all-the-rules, throw-caution-to-the-wind spontaneity. I could jump out and break free. Break the routine. Strip away all of my dull sleepy clothes, open the door as naked as the day I was born, embrace the world, its disappointments, its wet misery, its gloom and pessimism – and Go Dancing, Naked In The Rain.
In a break with tradition in the supposedly macho heterosexual world of the kicking game known as football, the first premier league player has declared his Gay Pride on a live televised match. Pedro ‘Mary’ Streisand of Dolly Rovers twerked his way around the pitch wearing a sequin emblazoned jacket bearing the words ‘Out and Proud’ after he finished the match against Manchestford CityUnited last Saturday. Dolly Rovers won 1-0.
The Institute of Kickyball Studies claims that as many as 100% of the Premier League players might be gay or bisexual, despite appearances. ‘They certainly play like girls, and many of them even have manicures’, a spokesman said.
Pedro’s former girlfriend, Cazza Broomsweep-Longthorne, exclusively told us ‘I just thought his Liza Minnelli, Queen and Pet Shop Boys record collection were indications of an eclectic musical taste. We had a perfectly normal sex life that I could tell – I would go out with the girls for a prosecco and Pedro had a pint with the boys.’
Fans have enthusiastically welcome Pedro’s coming out. ‘It’s great news for the sport. It’s 2017, and of course nobody really believed that there were no gay players’ Fan ‘Dogger’ Grimes told us. ‘We’re pleased to see him show such strong self-esteem, and to act so courageously in the face of discrimination. As far as fans are concerned, the whole England team could come out, and the fans would be welcoming and supportive. Some of us might even find a date!’
The FA have not made any comment.
*In case you haven’t noticed, this is allegedly an example of ‘satire’ I’ve written as part of a writing course. No animals were injured in the writing of this story, and any resemblance to persons and Football Legends living or dead is entirely a matter of unlikely and ludicrous coincidence
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a timid little thing.The sort of child that wouldn’t really say boo to a goose. Then, at school – after being overlooked for the central casting – a guy called Patrick was forced to pull out of the school nativity play. It was ‘The Shepherd’s Story’, and he was the lead shepherd. I was asked to help the rest of the cast by reading his lines in rehearsal. I can still remember the opening lines:
I wish I’d never been married. I wish, I wish, I WISH I’d never been married.
This from an 11 year old soon-to-realise- homosexual. I began to quite like the acting thing, and so was secretly pleased when Patrick failed to recover in time for the performance. All of a sudden, the timid child had found a voice, and it felt really good.
From there, I joined a local panto group (oh yes I did!) and went on to school plays, and on to studying drama at University. In the midst of it all, I found the power in having a voice – both in projecting on stage and to a crowd, and to find the individual voice for myself as powerful, engaged and active. I studied the voice as part of the drama degree, alongside using my body, working in space and working at different levels, and it became a journey of knowing more about my interaction with other people.
In a second career, I trained as a counsellor, a psychotherapist. I helped other people tell their stories, helped them to find a voice for themselves – to name and reclaim shameful of frightening parts of themselves. As much of the work was over the telephone, I found ways to quieten and soften my voice, to put aside views and judgements which impeded the client’s telling and speaking. I became a soft spoken facilitator of feelings, a person-whisperer.
And then people had to ask me to ‘speak up’. I’d become so accustomed to soft speaking that it was a habit, that instead of performing I found myself shrinking. The quiet voice quietened my physically, artistically, emotionally and politically.
For the first time in -ooh, 20 years- I’ve been performing again. A couple of one-offs, but a journey in rediscovering the power of my voice. Feeling it resonate in my body, the power of a voice in the auditorium. Shouting, screaming, laughing, swearing. All those – words. ALOUD. Not thoughts, but spoken words.
It’s like running or swimming, rediscovering muscles unused for too long.
Today was an interview – again, the softly spoken facilitation. It returns easily, that quiet and timid part of me.
But there’s still a part of me able to shout out:
I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED! I WISH, I WISH, I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED!