The Resistance

Today things feel a little bleak. On a global level, in five days of office Trump the Tyrant has ridden roughshod over the environment, women’s rights, freedom of speech and now refugees, ushering in a new era of legitimised fascism along the way. On a personal level, my spirit is feeling dampened not only by the events in the US, but also by the plummeting temperatures across Europe which signal further devastation for homeless refugees, the crazy levels of air pollution in my old home town of London where many of my friends still live, and the fact I am under too much pressure at work and don’t know how I’m going to juggle it with the masters degree I’m starting next week (next week!!). In short, I feel helpless, and also a little hopeless.

But – as life sometimes has a way of doing to drag us out of our despair – a chance encounter with my local florist this afternoon when I stopped by for tulips for our cleaning lady (whose brother recently passed away) reminded me why it’s so important to have hope. We got chatting about how beautiful the flowers were, and she told me she had quit her office job some years ago for a simpler life. Despite earning less money now, she told me she is far happier. She then asked about me, and, when I told her I was soon to start an MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and had aspirations to be a freelance wellbeing coach she said “the world needs people like that more than ever now.” I felt a surge of optimism at that, and a renewed sense of purpose. And to remind myself of that I bought this beautiful pink orchid.

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Hope springs eternal

When I got home I was delighted to see that Greenpeace had unfurled a ‘Resist’ banner right outside the White House, and to read that a group of scientists are coming together to march on Washington in protest against Trump’s gagging order against employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also heartening was the Badlands National Park Twitter account which sent out three messages on Tuesday promoting climate science despite the Trump administration crackdown on agencies communicating on social media. Since then they have been forced to delete the tweets, but an alternative Twitter account has sprung up which already has 575,000 followers.

This growing groundswell of angry defiance in response to people like Trump must spur us all into immediate action, because action is all there is now if we are to stand up to what is so patently wrong – to save ourselves and our planet.

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Chasing Sunset

I wrote this for the Creative Ink Writing Prompt, but also for a special friend, my twin soul, who is forever chasing summer, and who turns 30 tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Twin xx

She had always loved sunset; the romanticism of one day coming to a close, with the promise of another soon to follow. Flying at sunset was the best, that feeling of cheating time. But it was all too fleeting. You could never cheat time, not really. And that was why she had to leave.

Liv’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She slipped her hand inside and pressed down on the power button until she was sure she had killed it. She couldn’t risk the onset of unwanted emotion. The only way out of this was cold stoicism. And when she got there, well, then she could deal with things once and for all. It would be over.

She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but the red-rimmed sky had finally succumbed to the blackness of night. Liv rolled her neck from side to side, wincing as she cricked it back into place. The cabin was dark, save for occasional spotlights beaming down onto insomniac passengers like alien spacecraft.

Something brushed her hand, making her jump. It was the little girl sitting across the aisle. By Liv’s estimation she was four, maybe five. Tight black curls and fresh pink lips. Cherubic. Liv looked across at the girl’s mother. She too was beautiful, or at least she would have been were it not for the trail of dribble descending from her open mouth.

“Hi,” the girl whispered.

“Hi,” Liv whispered back, ignoring the tightness in her chest. Her heart.

“I’m Becky. What’s your name?”

“Liv.”

The girl regarded her with such a look of scrutiny that Liv felt unnerved. Of course she didn’t know her secret, she couldn’t know it. And yet.

“Can we be friends?”

Liv smiled. “Of course.”

Becky’s face shone from the inside out. Her lips parted to reveal a gap-toothed smile. Liv wondered if she was perhaps older than her original estimation. She watched as the girl reached into the pocket of her pinafore dress, screwing her face up in concentration as she tried to retrieve something. Eventually she pulled her hand out with a flourish, extended her arm and unfolded her fingers. In the centre of her palm was a turquoise stone. “Take it,” she said.

Liv picked up the stone and ran her finger along its surface. It was smooth and round, and though it was dark she could make out flecks of glitter in its swirling pattern. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s yours,” the girl replied.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly…” She offered the stone back to the girl, but she shook her head and refused to take it.

The girl’s mother stirred beside her, opened her eyes and looked down at her daughter. She followed her gaze to Liv, and when her eyes alighted on the stone in Liv’s hand her breath caught in her throat. “Becky, darling,” she said, her voice measured but tense. “Why did you give this lady your stone? Don’t you want it?”

The little girl looked up at her mother and shook her head. Her mother smiled as if this meant something momentous, but Liv had no idea what. “Thank you,” she said to the girl. “I will treasure it forever. Truly.” The girl’s mother smiled, and Liv noticed she had tears in her eyes. She blinked and looked away. Nothing more was said.

When they had touched down and were waiting to disembark the plane, Liv found the courage to turn on her phone. It buzzed immediately. She had known it would. Before she looked at the message she went through the motions of passport control and baggage reclaim. As she stood at belt six, there was a tap on her arm. It was the girl’s mother. The little girl was playing with a doll several feet away, lost in her fantasy. “I wanted to explain what happened on the plane,” the woman said. “It must have seemed strange.” Before Liv could reply, the woman spoke again. “You see, Becky lost her twin a year ago. In a car accident.”

Liv felt her lungs deflate. “I’m so sorry. How terrible for you both.”

Despite her brightly coloured and expertly applied makeup, the woman’s grief was obvious. But Liv sensed something else behind the sadness, maybe a spark of hope? “It’s been the hardest year of my life,” she said. “And for Becky, well, it’s hard to imagine how deeply this has affected her. She’s only five, and the two of them were thick as thieves.” She looked over at her daughter. “The thing is, that stone she gave you on the flight. It belonged to her sister.”

Liv pulled the stone out of her pocket. “Please, take it back. I would never have taken it if I’d known.”

The woman smiled. “But that’s the thing. She wanted you to have it. For a year she’s carried it around with her everywhere, desperate not to let it out of her sight. Her therapist said it was part of the grieving process, that she would let go of it when she had turned a corner. And now, well, now it seems she has. I just wanted you to know. Whatever you said or did on that plane, thank you.”

The woman called her daughter and they turned to leave. As they walked away Liv heard the woman ask why she had given the stone to the lady on the plane. The girl replied: “She needs it more than me Mummy. Turquoise is for strength, she has to be strong for her daughter.”

The arrivals hall began to spin. Liv steadied herself on her trolley. She put a hand to her tummy and stroked it. How had the girl known? She couldn’t have known. Remembering the message on her phone, Liv took it out and read it. It was from Mark, of course. Just seeing his name on the screen choked her up.

Seven words.

The best she had ever seen:

I KNOW. I LOVE YOU. COME HOME. X

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Gratitude, Acceptance and Umbrellas

It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. This is, in part, because I’m currently focusing on addressing some of the issues in my life that are blocking my path to fulfilment and success. At the moment I’m reading two neuropsychology books, one on Hardwiring Happiness by Dr Rick Hanson (whose TED talk on the issue can be viewed here), and the other on conditions arising from neuropsychological damage, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by the brilliant (and, sadly, now also suffering from terminal cancer) Oliver Sachs. Alongside the Chopra Centre guided meditations that I am trying to do on a regular basis (which I think I mentioned in a previous post), these books have been helping me to understand some key facets* of the human condition that need cultivating in order to experience true fulfilment. These are:

Part One: Gratitude

It sounds obvious, but how many of us really take the time each day to count our blessings? I think I’ve touched on this before, but now more than ever I am realising how important it is to consciously feel gratitude in order to overcome negative emotions like anxiety, jealousy and fear. It is only by recognising the value of what we have – primarily the people in our lives who bring us joy and make us feel secure and loved – that we can create a sense of calm and acceptance. Which brings me onto…

Part Two: Acceptance

This morning I walked past the elderly homeless man who sleeps in a doorway along my route to work. For a time, during January, he disappeared, and I hoped he had found somewhere warm to spend the rest of the winter. But no such luck. Recently he has been back, huddled with his worldly belongings on the grey concrete step. I have wanted to do something for him ever since I first saw him, but was unsure whether he would welcome being approached and offered charity. Today I had my chance, as I had slipped into my bag a slice of the delicious tarte au sucre that was left over from the dinner party I hosted on Sunday night. As I passed him I had the urge to offer it to him. He declined. And you know what? I stifled the selfish compulsion to feel rebuffed, and in that moment realised that acceptance is an important part of coming to terms with life. We can’t change other people; we can only change our own thoughts, deeds and actions. I’m glad I offered him something, even if he didn’t want it, because generosity is part of being human – it connects us to one another, and it makes us feel less alone.

Part Three: Umbrellas

Also on my walk to work today, the air was damp with the drizzle I’m coming to learn is characteristic of life here in Brussels. But rather than putting up my umbrella the second I felt a droplet of water on my forehead, I deliberately waited until the rain was sufficiently heavy to warrant me being protected from it. And in that moment it occurred to me the umbrella could be used as an analogy for life:

Life is about learning when you need an umbrella to protect yourself – and when you are strong enough to walk in the rain.

The path I’m currently treading makes me feel ever more keenly that it isn’t possible to protect ourselves from the negative things in life – they are an intrinsic part of it. What matters is working on our ability to face them head on; to be humble, selfless and brave.

*Interestingly, one meaning for the word ‘facet’ in the dictionary is ‘one of the small, polished plane surfaces of a cut gem’ – it struck me this was also a good analogy for life, which has so very many different aspects, hence the image I have chosen to accompany this post.

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I never knew facets could be so beautiful.

Tat’s Life

I’ve been fascinated by tattoos for as long as I can remember; intrigued by the stories they tell, by their boldness and their permanency. I had my first one done around the age of nineteen, and whilst I can’t say it was the most profound of experiences (if I recall correctly I’d imbibed at least two pints of cider after a university lecture and had dragged my reluctant friend to the tattoo parlour with me intent on getting a dragon on my hip, but when we got there and they didn’t have any dragons in the book I opted for a four leaf clover instead – lucky I’ve never regretted it. But then, how can you regret luck?), it set me on a path of discovery that I’m very much still following today.

Each tattoo since that first one has held more emotional significance. The second, a literal translation of ‘inner strength’ into Cambodian script on my lower back, was done after a long term relationship ended badly in 2007, and I wanted to mark the start of my recovery by remembering the happy time I had spent alone in Cambodia before news of my ex’s infidelity broke. The next one came along after a stint of travelling in 2011. Written in English on my foot, it is the last line of a Buddhist prayer (‘May all beings be free), the full version of which my parents kindly gave me as a talisman on a necklace before I commenced my travels. On that trip I had a magical experience with a green turtle whilst diving in the Perhentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia, which I felt was relevant to the last words of the prayer (and hence also to the meaning of the tattoo). I also happened to meet the person I sincerely hope to spend the rest of my life with, who makes me feel more free to be myself than anyone I’ve ever known.

And then there’s the newest addition to the tattoo clan. I’ve been toying with this one for a while, and it’s been particularly difficult because it is related to the thing I’ve struggled most with for the majority of my adult life: Writing. Some of you may know I went part time a year ago to focus more on my writing, but due to a severe lack of discipline on my part, ‘success’ (whatever that means) hasn’t materialised in quite the way I’d hoped it might. So I’ve recently decided to take off some of the pressure, to try and write ‘for love’ instead of fame and fortune. And to help me both with my writing and with the new transition I’m about to make to life as an expat in Brussels with my partner, I decided one more tattoo was appropriate – this time the unambiguous word ‘Believe,’ written as if by a feather quill, which is also included in the design, and which stretches over onto the top of my arm.

I’m sure none of my tattoos will be to everyone’s taste, but all that matters to me is that they are to mine. Not only that, each one (with the exception of the clover, but I love it nonetheless) marks important stages in my life – beginnings, endings, declarations of hope. Each to their own, I say. Maybe I will be embarrassed by them one day, when I’m old and wrinkly and they no longer look as good as they once did. But, like my wrinkles, my tattoos will go to the grave with me, and they will tell the story of adventures, of love, of aspiration: They will tell the story of a life well lived.

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Celebrating Life – and Good Friends

Today I went to Birmingham for the funeral of my good friend’s dad. It was sad and uplifting in equal measures, sad because Brian no longer walks amongst us and he will be sorely missed by those who loved him, and uplifting because so many people turned out to pay their respects. Brian was a larger than life character, and it’s always those people who leave the biggest hole when they pass away. I didn’t know him well, but I knew him well enough to know he would have thoroughly appreciated every moment of today, from the sympathetic vicar who delivered the ceremony in exactly the way he had specified before he died, to the inordinately large volume of champagne that was drunk in his beautifully sunny garden afterwards. I know he would have loved the fact that everyone had come together to raise a glass in his honour, and above all else I know he would have been hugely proud of his son, my friend, who has borne his father’s untimely passing with such strength and courage, helped in no small part by his gorgeous fiancé and wonderful family.

It’s on occasions like today I realise how important it is to count blessings. When I looked around me in the crematorium, which was lined wall to wall with people, I really felt the value of the life that had been lost. I like to think I live my own life well enough to ensure a decent turn out to my own send-off, whenever that might be, but that’s not to say I can’t do more in whatever time I have left on this mortal coil to positively contribute to others’ lives, to make them feel valued, supported and loved as they have me. I felt particularly grateful today at the wake, when I recognised the fantastic and extensive support network of friends I still have from university – not something everyone can claim to have sustained a decade after graduation. This friendship group is special and, despite not getting together nearly as often as we’d like, it is also lasting. I know I’m being a soppy cow but sometimes it’s just nice to take a moment to reflect on all the good things. And I’m sure that somewhere up there in the ether, glass of champagne in hand, Brian Simonite is doing just that too. Cheers, Brian.

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Strengthening Resolve / Finding Wings

It’s been five months since the end of my ‘write every day of 2013’ challenge and I can feel myself drifting. The desire to write – to be a ‘writer’ – has never been stronger, but when I do sit down to write it’s piecemeal, and my attention dots around from short story to novel to sitcom script (this latest addition being the result of my signing up for an eight week sitcom class with the City Academy) like a bee collecting nectar in a flower field. It seems I’ve lost my focus, or my confidence, or both.

I miss the halcyon days of being involved in writers’ groups, both online and in the ‘real’ world. At their best, they offered valuable critique, support and – above all else – comfort that other people were in a similar situation and going through the same painstaking process. Just knowing that others in the group were feverishly beavering away at their works-in-progress was enough to encourage me to do the same, and my output in the early years of my involvement in such groups was impressive.

At their worst, however, I found writing groups to be time-wasting (when you’ve spent two hours critiquing someone else’s work only to find they don’t have the common decency to critique yours in return it makes you wonder whether you should have spent the two hours working on your own writing instead), demoralising (for the same reason) and, well, downright sad (one woman started coming to every meeting with a clutch of business cards and invites to her latest ‘launch’ event – despite the fact she had self-published her book because no publisher in their right mind would print her terrible, clunky prose. I knew when I began to dread hearing her read her latest excerpt that it was time to leave that particular group for good, although I did so with a heavy heart).

My one remaining solace is being a member of a private writers’ group on Facebook, where many of my ‘old’ online writing buddies have also migrated. A lot of them are published now, and I have nothing but admiration for them. I also know the reason they are published and I am not comes down to one primary factor: Resolve. They have not allowed pithy excuses like having too little time to write (my personal favourite) to stop them from doing what runs through their blood. No. They have made the time to turn their works-in-progress into works-in-print, and in doing so have set their creative spirits free to soar into the literary galaxy and beyond.

At this juncture I am therefore teetering on the precipice, knowing in my heart I cannot bear to let another year of writing promise slip through my fingers like the sands of time. And the obvious fact that’s been staring me in the face is only now making itself plainly and uncompromisingly clear: The ONLY way to overcome procrastination, writer’s block and crippling self-doubt is to WRITE: EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Not necessarily on my blog but somewhere, and for a minimum of an hour each day. Only then will I earn my wings to fly. And, make no mistake, fly is what I absolutely intend to do.

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New Beginnings Part Two

Yesterday I spoke of new beginnings and adventures, and as a follow on from those sentiments I’ve saved this Christmas Day post for two very special people.

This couple have had a hellish start to married life after losing a dear friend who was usher at their wedding, then being evicted from their home by their mad elderly landlady and, most recently, having to endure illness over Christmas time (which they are having to work most of due to a lack of holiday).

These two, in particular my beautiful friend Bridget, have faced these hardships with the utmost of strength and fortitude, never once  complaining about their lot and simply getting on with things and facing them head on.

I have so much love and respect for them and just want to publicly acknowledge that I think they are amazing, and I wish them all the love and happiness that they truly deserve in the new year ahead.

So here’s to new beginnings for you too, Harry and my darling Little B. I wish you both a very Merry Christmas. May your year be filled with pandas and unicorns, and may you find the way ahead free of all burdens and obstructions. Love life. Seek adventure. Be happy.

Happy Christmas Everyone xxx

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