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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NaNoWriMo Day Three: Finding Time

Every time I do NaNoWriMo it strikes me afresh how there seem to be more hours in a day in the month of November than in all the other months of the year. Clearly there are still almost never enough hours to fulfil my daily word count, or to do more than one important life task alongside said novelling challenge (wash self or wash clothes being a particularly tough dilemma), but still.

Take tonight, for example. I finished work at 6pm, went to the gym, sat down with the other half for dinner and  managed to bolster the word count up to a very respectable 4,441 words (taking me, I might add, to almost where I should be at this point – though still finishing, according to the doomsday NaNo counter, four days after deadline. Pah). All that before 10pm, leaving (just) enough time to squeeze in a cheeky episode of Sopranos before bed.

Granted, bedtime is later during NaNo month, but that alone doesn’t account for this feeling of extra time. When you’re up against the clock you are forced to use your time more effectively, pure and simple. The time I spend staring at inane posts on social media is, for example, vastly reduced in November. As is the time I spend staring forlornly at my ever growing to do list (because frankly there just isn’t time to do anything on that list this month, so I may as well not look at it).

So yes, this is a positive of NaNo and something I’d do well to remember the other eleven months of the year when I profess to be far too busy to do any writing at all. Tonight alone I’ve written 1,666 words as well as this blog. Proof it can be done. I might put a wash on to celebrate.

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Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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The Wonder Years (or why ageing maybe isn’t so terrible after all-maybe)

Today I was listening to Radio 1 Xtra (I know what you’re thinking – isn’t she a bit old to be listening to that?) when the dj, an enthusiastic chap with a penchant for substituting every other word with “cuz” (yup, definitely too old) began bemoaning the speeding up of time as people get older. “I mean cuz,” he said, “I’m only twenty six and already it feels like a week goes by in a day. Imagine being, like, fifty! How bad would it be then?” How bad indeed.

When it comes to whining about ageing I’m hardly one to talk. Until I reached my current age of *coughs* thirty two I’d always enjoyed lavish birthday celebrations, but as my thirty third hurtles towards me at alarming speed (that dj was right, dagnamit) I must confess I’m feeling hugely (and that’s an understatement) underwhelmed (I am also aware, at this point in proceedings, that older readers may well be gnashing their teeth and branding metaphorical claw hammers positioned directly above my skull). The logical part of my brain is constantly telling me that there’s nothing I can do to stop the process so I may as well accept it, yet I can’t stop fixating on my frown lines long enough to listen to it.

If it’s true that you’re only as old as the man you feel then I’m twenty seven all over again. Though, in all seriousness and as great as it is, being a woman who is five years older than her partner is not without its challenges. Fortunately I’ve always been young for my years in both spirit and looks (an old soul I most certainly am not) and so, for the time being at least, it suits me to be living a youthful and relatively unencumbered lifestyle. But that’s not to say I don’t continually worry whether what I do is age appropriate, or draw constant comparisons with my peer group, many of whom are now playing out the traditional marriage and 2.4 children scenario with aplomb. Don’t get me wrong, I want that myself desperately, and not in the TOO distant future either (cover your ears darling), but right now the thought of sleepless nights, snotty noses and nappies is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. I want to go on more adventures before I settle down, to live a bit more and eke out just a bit more time for being selfish. But what about convention and my biological clock? Wahhhh!

Then, in the midst of all these brain-churning thoughts, I stop. And a realisation dawns on me. No matter how old we get, those of us who do keep ageing are the lucky ones. So many people’s lives are tragically cut short before they have a chance to worry about worry lines, or contemplate the future of their relationship or career. As the Buddhist way of thinking goes, when all is said, done and worried about (I made that last bit up), all we have is this very moment – so what’s the point of worrying about a future that we cannot guarantee?

And so, in light of the above (and ignoring the current agony I’m in with no doubt age-related back issues) maybe it isn’t quite my time to switch over to Radio 2 after all. Isn’t that right, Cuz?

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The Ticking of the Clocks

The only constant in his life has been the ticking of the clocks: First the mighty grandfather clock that stood at the foot of his crib like a sentry; then the gilt-edged pocket watch he was given as a boy before being sent to the country as a refugee. He remembered even now the thrill of that transaction as his father dropped the watch into his right hand, closed his fingers over it one by one and smiled. “Look after it,” he had said, ruffling his son’s hair and closing the door of the train as the engine creaked into life. That was the last time Bobby had seen his father. He was seven years old.

Now seventy seven, Bobby lies in a starched hospital bed. His eyes are closed, his breathing ragged. They have sedated him, they tell his worried family – son, Thomas, daughter in law Serina and beloved grandson, Jack. He has had a stroke and suffered serious paralysis and possible brain damage. “Don’t climb up there, darling,” says Serina to her son. Her voice, normally calm, is shrill. “But I want to see Granpa,” says Jack, ignoring his mother and climbing up onto the bed. He takes the old man’s veiny hand in his and squeezes.

Jack is seven, an inquisitive child with an aptitude for art and a love of reading. His sensitivity will serve him well in life, and he will one day become a celebrated artist. But for now he is just seven, sitting on a bed with his dying grandfather, listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall – waiting for something to happen. And then something does happen. Jack must have closed his eyes for a moment because when he opens them again he is standing on a dark landing with his grandfather. Bobby says nothing but points towards a big clock twice the size of Jack that stands at the end of the corridor. He looks down at his grandson and smiles, and Jack has the feeling everything is going to be okay.

The landing begins to shift and Jack feels himself being pulled away from his grandfather, back to the bright lights of the hospital room where his mother and father are waiting. The grandfather clock strikes seven times and Jack opens his eyes. He knows Bobby has gone but he looks peaceful, as if he is asleep. Jack climbs down from the bed and notices a feeling of heaviness in his pocket that wasn’t there before. He reaches a hand inside and pulls out a gilt-edged pocket watch. He smiles.

Past tense

If you get a chance to see the soon to be released Kings of Summer, one of this year’s Sundance Film Festival’s offerings, you won’t be disappointed. Unless, that is, you don’t like American coming of age dramas, in which case you might be best advised to steer well clear. But, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume this type of film does float your boat. Reminiscent of Stand by Me and set, in the main, in a house in the woods that three teenage friends built together, it covers the well-trodden territory of friendships made and broken, turbulent parent-child relationships and first love. The script is both funny and poignant, the setting charming and the actors superb; in particular the three boys who are the focus of the film. In short, it’s an engaging snapshot of the innocence of youth.

Ah, the innocence of youth; a time when everything seemed possible, the endless road of life stretching into a distance too far away to see and therefore too far off to worry about. There were immediate concerns, of course – like who was going on dates with whom, how you could get out of gym class and whether you could procure some vodka for the party at the weekend – but in the main it was so simple then. Wasn’t it? Or was it?

Remembering the past with fondness is a good thing because, whether good or bad the things that happened to you then have shaped the person who you are today. But clinging onto the past and believing that things were better than they are now isn’t healthy. What’s even worse is if you feel the best phase of your life is past, that you’ll never look as good again, or be as carefree, joyous or happy-go-lucky.

The passage of time makes it all too easy to forget the negatives and re-paint the past with a rosy hue that wasn’t always (if ever) present. When things go wrong in life it’s easy to revert to happier times in our thinking and to ardently wish we could rewind the clock and do it all again – only this time making different choices to avoid making the same mistakes.

But if you find yourself flooded with nostalgia about days gone by, ask yourself this: If you could choose to flick a switch and be your fifteen year old self again, go through your adolescence again, warts and all, would you take it – really? Or would you rather keep the memories of roaming the woods with best friends, long summers and first kisses as just that – memories to be treasured, but not pored over as examples of better times?

No matter how old you are the future seems far too far away to see. Who knows what adventures still lie ahead of you? And how many opportunities you’ll miss by always looking back?

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Time flies

I can hardly believe my final week at work is already upon me. It’s a cliché, I know, but time really does fly – not so sure about the ‘when you’re having fun’ bit, but hopefully that’s still to come. This time next week, quite possibly, as I recover from this weekend’s 16 mile Wholefoods run in style with a trip to the Big Apple to visit the girl I affectionately call my ‘spiritual twin’ (so named after the two weeks we spent helping each other  cling to our sanity in an ashram in southern India in 2011).

After the events of the past few weeks a holiday is just what the doctor ordered, and I’m very much looking forward to taking some time out to reflect on the imminent changes in my life (not to mention start tackling the enormous writing-related tomes I’ve purchased in preparation for going freelance). The plan, thus far, is to sip coffee, nibble (oh alright, scoff) cake, down wine and eat inordinately large amounts of CHEESE – with a bit of sightseeing and a LOT of nattering thrown into the mix to boot. In short, we’re going to set the world to rights one mouthful at a time and I cannot WAIT.

Because of all the recent changes in my own life it’s no surprise that I’ve been ruminating on the nature and importance of change as a life driver. Should we, I wonder, embrace it regularly as a way to rejuvenate ourselves, or should we rather seek out a more preferable state of equilibrium, in which we can be happy to see out the rest of our days?

At the moment I’m inclined to think the former, not least because of this article I remembered having read a few years back about how the brain perceives time. The article discusses the central concepts of a book, Making Time, written by Steve Taylor. In it, he claims that as we get older it seems as though time is speeding up, but that’s only because we fall into hum drum existences and get caught up in the same old cycle, day in, day out. If we seek out new experiences – for example by filling our weekends with trips to art galleries, coffee in kitsch new coffee houses and lunches and dinners in new locations with friends and family – then our perception of time actually changes and we view it as having passed more slowly than it actually did.

It could be argued that this is counter-intuitive, since the sensation of being bored often feel s as if it spans a lifetime, but if you stop to consider how fast the last five years have gone since you joined your current company you might begin to give credence to the idea.

As I’m no expert in how to live life, I’ll close with a quote from Steve Taylor’s book:

“Make sure your life is as full of new experiences as possible. If you live a life that’s full of routine, then time will always speed up but if you make an effort to travel to new environments and expose yourself to new situations, new challenges, even something simple like a new route to work, new interests, new hobbies, then this degree of newness slows down time.”

It seems a pretty compelling argument to me. Now where DID I put that passport….?

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I fell in love with this clock in the main square of Prague’s old town. It looks like a time machine!