It’s not mothers’ day that gets to me, not now. The days of buying cards for my small children to give to grandmas are long behind me. There is only an old scar now at the place where I used to wonder where my card was coming from. Like running my tongue over the edge of a broken tooth that’s unexpectedly sharp, it’s best to avoid such things.
Eventually children are grown enough that they too are sucked into the consumerism that rewards a lifetime’s toil with over sweet chocolates and limp tulips from the supermarket. It’s a little late of course, but still welcome for what it is.
No, it’s the birthday card I don’t need to buy, the expectation I don’t have to meet that pricks at my chest today. The mother-daughter dynamic is a complicated, beautiful, terrible thing to negotiate. It feels impossible to make it completely right from either side, try as we might. But from this distance jagged edges are smoothed by time, and murky waters settle and clear.
She was not perfect. Yet with each passing year I see her somehow more clearly; younger, brighter, dancing in a striped sundress of lemon-yellow. It may exist only in my mind’s eye, but that is what my brain wants to remember.
No matter how stamped upon and twisted her roots might have been, no matter what secrets she held close like a gambler’s winning hand, she blooms in my memory on a still summer day. Birds sing and she pushes through the mud and dirt to flower, brilliant and defiant under a cloudless blue sky.
Tell me a story. Give me tales of a thousand nights, warm scented breeze on my skin, sand in my shoes. Take me to the farthest pole, blue-green fire dancing in the sky, breath clouding in crisp night air.
Tell me a story. Let me taste salt sea tang while sun beats down on wooden decks. Show me dolphins, flying fish, whales breaching white-topped waves. Let me glimpse bright eyed merpeople watching deep under the surface, waiting.
Tell me a story. Carry me on red and silver rockets to vast silent space stations where the stars never go out. Show me galaxies born from cosmic dust. Bring whispers from strange aliens and stranger, once-human creatures.
Tell me a story. Lead me up the mountain, rocks skittering away under exhausted feet, lungs screaming for oxygen. Describe that joyful promised land seen only from the summit, take me there on wings of faith.
Expand my horizons. Play my emotions. Cloak mindless chatter, soothe unthinking wounds, only with words. Let me shed this skin, be someone else, somewhere else, sometime else. Give me distance, just for a while. Let me lose and maybe find myself.
By knowing the large you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings
You think me crazy, driven mad by long solitude, but you are wrong. I have braved storms, rain, and blistering sun. Birds call and wheel in the desolate grey skies of winter, and soar serenely in the blue of summer. Lately, the ring whispers to me, day and night.
Few would live the life of a lighthouse keeper, but I have been more than content to polish the lens, oil the gears, and light the lamp. When storms batter the headland I am unafraid, for this is when I serve my purpose. There could be none nobler than saving lives.
Now, my time is done and you are here to take my place as keeper of the light. I watch the ocean swell and fall back as it has done for ever. The sun moves across the sky and the stars light the night, and on the cycle goes. What is one life, measured against the sweep and grandeur of nature? Everything and nothing.
Once, a long time ago, I took off my shoes and ventured to the shoreline. Light breeze, warm sun, a perfect day. I thought to paddle in the calm waters. One step, another, and the water gripped my ankles, far colder than expected, far stronger than I could bear.
I screamed and ran. That night a silver fish admonished me in dreams. Open your heart. Close your eyes. Release knowledge and grasp truth. I woke and did not know where I was.
Near the beach, a patch of calm water grows in the sea. This is not usual, and you should stay away. The ring itches on my finger but remains bright, even after all this time. I think it washed up on the shore, but I’m not certain any more.
I cannot remove it.
Each night, silvery creatures drift in and out of my dreams. You know, the dolphin says. The endless sea, the tiniest rock pool, the tear in your eye are all the same. You know, the hermit crab says. This house of refuge is only lent, not given. A mermaid flutters cold slender fingers against my cheek, showing me four rings, then a swish of the tail and she is gone, leaving only her voice. Let go.
Humour me. It has been so long since I spoke with another soul.
I have seen great weather systems march across this wide horizon, and plucked shivering half-drowned men from angry seas. I always saw it coming, but I have run from my own storm. So many lives saved, so many more given. Who decides what is a fair exchange between land and sea?
Dreaming and waking are one to me now, full of whispered memories. The sea picked me, and gifted me this ring and a life that should not have been mine. I stand and let the sea caress my skin. When the sun pauses in the solstice sky, when time hangs in the balance, that will be my moment.
I see my slow walk into the calm shallows, the riptide that will pull me under, deeper, back to the start and the end of life, where a silver ring was given and now is forfeit.
The ocean and the raindrop are the same, and shallow waters will lead me to the deep questions. Keep my secret, but do not mourn. My life is a price worth paying to know the answer.
I don’t remember when I first saw him, although my life divides into before and after. It’s a simple fact that he wasn’t there, and then he was. I have a lot of time to think these days, so I might as well write those thoughts down. Maybe it will make sense one day, if not to me then someone else. Nobody believed me then, but it’s still true. I’m so very sorry.
He was around four years old, or so I thought. I found out later he was nearly five, about to go to school that September. I can see him now. He had a mop of curly brown hair, the kind that aunties would love to ruffle while exclaiming how big he’d grown. At first he smiled, showing little white teeth and a mischievous glint in his hazel eyes. He always wore the same green jacket, jeans and black trainers, clutching something in his left hand. I never liked children really, I preferred dogs. Continue reading “15.07”→
How many people say “I wish I had time to write/paint/play sport” but do nothing about it?
How many people have said to me “I don’t know how you find the time to write as well as work?”
Quite a few over the years, is the answer. I’ve said it myself. What I am really saying is, I refuse to organise my life so that I can do the thing. I’m making excuses.
Time is precious, finite. It cannot be manufactured, but it can definitely be wasted. It is like holding sand in your fist, not noticing it slipping between your fingers but bemoaning the slow reduction in the pile. With a little effort you could find a way to contain it, as far as anyone can.
Everyone has the same24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 8760 hours a year. Achieving something worthwhile, something that’s important to you, means making the best use of those hours. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s write a novel or train for a marathon, can only be done in small chunks. John Grisham wrote his hugely successful legal thriller The Firm in the time between hearings, while pulling the long hours of an attorney.
Write 250 words every day, and by the year’s end you’ll have 91,250 words. That’s a novel’s worth.
We underestimate the power of steady effort over time. It really does add up.
Free time + wasted time = enough time
Start with a chart
Yes, really. Start with a simple chart showing seven days with a slot for each hour. You can make one with a spreadsheet or find it on the web. Or you could draw your own.
fill in essentials like sleep, work, travel, caring and domestic commitments
add all the extras you currently do like exercise, entertainment, hobbies
see where the gaps are
It’s important to be honest about what you do with your time. If you think all your evenings are full, consider how much time is spent on watching TV. Maybe even consider tracking actual hours watched for a week.
A 2015 survey showed that 31% of UK adults spent 11-20 hours per week watching TV. A further 39% watched more than 20 hours weekly.
The New York Times ran an article in 2016 showing that Americans watched on average five hours of TV daily, and 90% of that was live TV. We have DVRs and catch up TV, but we don’t necessarily use them.
TV is the thief of time
When I decided to start writing seriously again, I cut out mindless TV viewing and channel surfing. It wasn’t hard. There are a few programmes I like to watch, but I don’t follow soaps or serials (apart from NCIS, and even then, repeats are a real thing.) Working days were long and stressful, but I needed writing time. And reading time. And just plain old decompression time. I programmed in my writing time to suit my schedule. And I set the box to record anything I liked, to watch when I had time rather than when it aired. Let’s face it, Saturday night can be a lean time on the box if you don’t enjoy game shows and reality TV.
Listen to the sinking feeling
Did you sigh when you filled in some commitments? If they are optional, consider dropping them. If they are essential, be critical. Can you spend less time visiting a relative you see regularly? Could you listen to an audiobook on your commute? Do you look forward to catching up with that friend, or does she drain you? Pay attention and act. Limit time and energy drains, even if you can’t eliminate them. Your gut knows, even as your brain rationalises.
Night owl or lark?
All of us have circadian rhythms that mean we peak at certain times of the day. For many, that is first thing in the morning. Waking early might gain you the hour you need. But that might not suit you. You work shifts; you have small children who wake at five anyway and you cannot face waking before that; you’re narcoleptic before noon even with a double espresso. Maybe the later hours are your best time. If you can’t sleep, get up and write. It worked for me. I wrote this poem about insomnia during a sleepless, jet-lagged night.
Our time on earth is finite. In a year’s time we won’t remember the soap opera finale or the latest game show winner. But we can have an achievement to celebrate, which makes our lives meaningful. Be mindful with your most precious commodity.
Take control of your time and commit to the things you really want.
We all want to progress in life, don’t we? We want to improve, have more, do better. And of course we want the same for our children. Especially so if we come from humble beginnings. Recently I measured my progress using yogurt.
See that perfectly curated breakfast above? Bursting with protein, fresh berries and fruit, organic honey no doubt. It murmurs vitality and micronutrients and my body is a temple. It also says, I am well off. I can afford these ingredients and the time to make this hymn to healthy eating.
I don’t really have time for Instagrammable bowls of perfection, so I buy good quality yogurt with fruit and live bio cultures. My daughter watched me scrape the lid clean; maybe half a teaspoon’s worth. Any parent of older children is immune to the slightly pitying looks and sighs of their much cooler offspring, but I decided to play.
“At least I didn’t lick it,” I said.
“Ew. Why would you do that?”
‘To get the last bit, obviously. Don’t act like you’ve never done it.”
She rolled her eyes as she left the kitchen. “I’ve never done that. Gross.”
The yogurt lid of truth
I grew up in a large family where resources were scarce and you made the most of everything. Wasting anything that could be used was sacrilege. Hard work ensured my two children never had to cut mould off stale bread or go to bed hungry. We are comfortable. But here I am, still rinsing the last drop out of laundry liquid bottles and scraping tidbits off foil lids.
We are prisoners of our past.
We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what in the morning was true will by evening become a lie.
It’s a struggle to change ingrained habits. But sometimes little things are the marker of bigger changes under the surface. Today that marker is a yogurt lid with perfectly good yogurt clinging to it, thrown away without regret.
There was never enough in my childhood, but things are better now. I can relax and allow myself the benefits that my children take for granted, because there is enough and I will not be left wanting. With that change of mindset my focus moves from fear to gratitude, a much better place to be.