Finding Narnia: The Wardrobe of Words

I’ve always loved the word ‘crinkle’. It has such happy, playful edges; an exuberant breed of wrinkle, nestling in furrows of amiability. Far more excitable than a fold, but so much kinder than a pinch! It’s the pleated corner of a smiling eye or the puckered crumple of seersucker. And unlike the meekly silent ‘wrinkle’, it has a distinctive voice too; a crackle, a ruckle, a scrunch and a pucker. Such a perky onomatopoeic specimen, just like ‘tickle’ and ‘wink’; tiny slips of mischievousness tied up in little wriggles of ink. 

More and more, I am beginning to understand the power of words. We don’t just speak them, we release them into the world like frogspawn; fertile pouches of punctuation that grow arms and legs, wriggling far and free through the world to leap or squelch. The language we send forth drifts like plankton through the energetic ether, wafting across vast reefs of vibrational-anemones waving colourful fronds to catch them, digesting and releasing their essence back into our teeming little rockpools of time and space.

Ah, the bawdy gleam of gobble, the sticky lewdness of secrete, or the dark relish of revolt; the ringletted prettiness of curlicued, the lyrical swing of whimsical, or the thrilling, breathy sibilance of illicit! Not to mention the stout clout of thick-witted, and the weighty plod of placidity. Though some words seem to have lost their way, like that poor, godforsaken militia (what were they thinking, allocating such a sibilant treat to something so mercenary and bleak, when it should so clearly be a word to describe a gooey, molten delicacy to be savoured on the tongue?) So thank goodness for hullabaloo kerfuffle and rapscallion, all doing exactly what they promised to.

As the 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson said, ‘Language is the dress of thought’, which means we each have access to an entire magical wardrobe into Narnia if we choose. We don’t have to settle for the dreary sacking of a word like ‘exercise’; we can delve past the hessian to the frills and fancies of the costume-box! As Candace Pert rightly notes in her book ‘Molecules of Emotion’, how infinitely more motivating to call it ‘bodyplay’ instead!

Like a sharp-suited ‘I will’ vs a threadbare ‘I might,’ words can enhance and empower us the same way Dynasty shoulder-pads did Joan Collins – or leave us chill-veined and shivery in our underpants and socks. Words can protect us or expose us. Feed us or deplete us. Nourish or sicken. Just like mushroom-picking, it’s best to choose with great care; those that are most tempting and accessible are often the most poisonous, and the rarest delicacies must be sniffed out of the earth like buried truffles. 

And so they remain, waiting patiently for us to discover them like presents under the linguistic Christmas tree: words like weevily, mawkish and celestial, or gnarly and ignominious. Just like the dwarfs of Sleeping Beauty, they’re an infinite curiosity of beads with which to string our motley necklace of meaning – and a merry ball-pit of enunciation. Oink, chitter and kerplunk; repugnant, turgid and execrable. Not forgetting the engorged licentiousness of tumescence of course. Oh, magnificent word, how I do love thee!

Like a cast of Narnia characters all jostling to play in the scenes of our thoughts, words influence each other too. Whomever we choose as our leading light, they nudge and prod their closest associates on stage with them, and the next bead we thread onto the necklace of our lexicon greases the slide for more of the same; miniature avalanches of associative energy tumbling endlessly into the jewellery of our subconscious. 

‘Struggle’ is a case in point – a sludgeonly word full of drudge and deadweight that I so often catch myself using (yes, I admit that I made up ‘sludgeonly’. Hang it in your wardrobe with glee!) What if I choose something a little more flexible – don a garment of vocabulary that clothes my perception like that fancy high-tech performance-wear athletes use? A breathable, moisture-wicking wonder that lets me prance, stretch and jump freely, all while giving my buttocks a gratifying-perky lift? What if I’m not struggling (which sounds arduous and futile), but rummaging instead – delving freely through the great jumble-sale of life’s possibilities, separating treasures from trash, ferreting and focusing and getting ever-closer to those neglected, mothballed delights and my inner-squeal of discovery? Yes, that feels better!

If feelings are the fruiting bodies of our thoughts, then the language of our consciousness spreads spores like fungi; great cankers can bloom forth if we’re careless with our words. Their resonance can spread underground like honey fungus, attacking and killing our roots and decaying the inner wood of our spirit.

So may we all be truffle-hogs instead, digging out the subterranean treasures rather than grasping at the familiar toadstools of our lexicon!

And may I rummage through my words the way I do through my tin of Quality Street…

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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The Fertile Seed of Uncertainty

Whatever situation I find myself in today, and however uncertain it might appear, I’m going to imagine – just for now – that I landed there as a seed. No matter the challenges I face or the feelings they stir, I’ll be an incipient kernel of growth; plump with fecundity and eager to emerge. Maybe the wind blew me in or a beast excreted me where I lie, but I’ve landed where I’ve landed and have no means to move away.

Do I choose to germinate, or do I choose to resist?

As a human bean, I often sit in my fearful little seed shell and grumble ungraciously about my conditions. The weather’s not right or the other plants are too big. The soil’s not rich enough, the slugs too beastly and there aren’t enough pollinators popping by. Oh, and the irrigation’s lousy and there’s too much bloody leaf-litter in the way…

But whatever I find to complain about, and however much I judge, my location won’t change. This spot – right here, right now – is still where I’ll lie.  

And so in every moment, I have a choice: either to sink my roots into acceptance, germinating into the full potential of what is, or to contract within my protective seed-coat and shrink back from infinite possibility.

Do I succumb to the damp spores of victimhood, or do I burst forth and spout?!

A seed never knows what might happen, and it can’t predict or control its conditions. It’s a ripened little ovule of love, programmed for unconditional acceptance and belief. The acorn doesn’t lament its smallness compared to its mighty dreams; it simply commits to growth and expansion, rooting itself in what is.

What if I could do the same? To be with the present moment, however indeterminate and uncertain, and soften into it rather than clenching the fist of fear; to embed into the soil of the unknown, and send loving shoots into its infinite possibilities; to open up to all that’s around me, and grow unwaveringly towards the light?

It’s easy to panic when our seed-coat ruptures or to think things are going wrong when our growing pains begin. But the process of germination is an act of trust, and an exercise in patience and faith. It requires a willingness to surrender our mirages of immediacy and embrace the power of life’s transformative spasms instead.

We can flourish in the rich peat of uncertainty once we learn to trust its fertile depths, knowing it’s the spaciousness into which possibility flows and our most powerful fertiliser for growth. Without judgment or attachment, opportunities can blossom from the unknown like flora round an oasis; a bright and magical watering hole, surrounded by an unfolding of lush abundance.  We begin to see things as they are, not as we think we know them to be, and so the plants of possibility grow verdant and green. Unlimited by prohibitive herbicides of preconception, the seeds of possibility begin to release their gifts and sprout in gleeful abandon – familiar, and yet so enchantingly free.

This, then, is the most powerful substrate for our expansion, the magic grow-bag of the soul! 

And so, just for today, I’ll see how it feels: to nestle in, germinate with trust and unfurl towards the light, tickling the winds of change with my bravely growing tip.

A boggy bilberry, stretching gratefully towards the sun…

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash.

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The Leaf Litter of the Mind

As the leaves begin to drift and decay, so too do my thoughts. Here I am once again, in stout wellies and overcoat, tending to the damp and depleted garden of my boggy autumn mind. Here comes the dwindling of daylight and the slow creep of dormancy; the building weight of mud clinging to the heavy boots of my thoughts.

I submerge a little further with every sodden step, my energy sinking deeper into my roots. My flowers have blackened, my stems have begun to sag, and the instinct to grow has retreated like sap. I want only to cover myself in protective mulch and lie dormant till spring.

Goodbye to the billowy-blond tresses of the long-haired meadow grasses; to whiskery ripples of barley, like green silk in the summer breeze. Goodbye to nodding froths of cow parsley, and to baked earth cracked like dragon-hide underfoot. Goodbye to freshly-mown lawns and bare feet on sun-warmed stone.

I’ve always dreaded the onset of winter. Not just its heavy depths, but the febrile brightness of Christmas too – highlighting every splinter and schism of the family in its unforgiving glare. As the summer tides retreat my hopes seep quietly out to sea, exposing the familiar mud-flats of melancholy that lay beneath.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ I rail, ‘Why can’t I feel buoyant and light?’

As if the trees could pick up their fallen leaves again, or the bees pop back out to pollinate! Would I scold my tomato plants for their withered October fruit or berate my hanging baskets for their decomposing blooms? No, I’d put them in a greenhouse and tuck them in for the night! Just as the trees shed their summer bounty and the dahlias blacken and slump, so my body responds to the whisper of the seasons; the call to rest and hibernate.

However much it feels like an ending, it’s simply another revolution of nature’s wheels; the patient coiling and loading of life’s new springs. Our energies aren’t the straight lines of productivity we so stubbornly demand. Like morning mists on a mountain, they slowly gather, circle, and rise.

The mind, too, is just another deciduous shrub on the scree-slopes of life. But as the winter approaches and the sun begins to ebb, we can still bathe our minds with our inner light. And so I turn my thoughts to the quiet joys instead; to the twinkles of fairy-lights and the smoky whispers of bonfires on cold nights; to the womb-like cocoon of a duck-down duvet, and the bloom of my breath in the cold air beyond; to drizzle-jewelled spiderwebs and crunchy leaves underfoot; to steaming mulled-wine and the crackling hum of burning logs. And to that most glittery of stipples – the hoarfrost of the night – painting the ordinary and overlooked with tiny crystals of delight.

And as I drive home, I spot a man playing the violin on a bench outside the botanic gardens, almost hidden behind a bed of dying wildflowers. Just a few metres before him watches his only audience member: one little squirrel nibbling a nut on its haunches.

The irresistibly daft charm of life’s reassuring wink!

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

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One Wedding and a Funeral

In the midst of the socially-distanced hiatus – and within the space of a single week – I found myself travelling the roads of our two most deeply-held rituals through an unfamiliar landscape of erosion, layers of social-sediment freshly exposed by the flash-floods of a pandemic.

There were many reasons to grieve in the wake of such mighty waters. But there sprang at both occasions – in their very different ways – delightful geysers of laughter and hope.

Early on in the crisis, Jen and Gary had plumped to postpone their long-planned wedding day another year. But since they’d always intended to do the legalities separately, they chose to go ahead with them on the original date.

And so we were six: the bride and groom, their two children, and Jonny and I as witnesses. Which, given the rich garden of their vivaciously imagined celebrations, could well have felt diminished and incomplete – a deflated party-balloon of disappointment, shrunk and shriveled with the stretch-marks of escaped dreams.

But instead it became a magnifier; a focal point of their light. And like a hot-air balloon beribboned in collective joy, raised its modest handful of travelers to unexpectedly giddy heights! Beautiful Jen effervescing in a kaleidoscope of colour and gems, and banana-bold Gary sporting his Hawaiian shirt and sparkly shoes; Jess brimming with queenly majesty, iridescent handbag clutched triumphantly to her side, and Toby resplendent in red lipstick under his burnished halo of autumn-curls.

And so we all rose to the occasion on mythological wings of finery…

Because, more than a celebration of shared love, this was an alchemy of family – the unique elixir of a magic blend. As they wrote on their Save the date card: ‘Yes, it really is OUR wedding – all four of us!’

Six people, six hearts, scattered like an exuberant tiddly-winks across that large and airy room. We couldn’t hug them. We couldn’t even get close. But what joy there was on their little two-chair islands, with Jen squealing occasional delight like a camping-kettle on its stove!

And when the officiant pronounced grandly at the end, ‘Once you’ve finished you’ll find wet-wipes at the side’, I simply couldn’t contain my mirth! Ah, such extraordinary twinkles of mischief in life’s beneficently-gleaming eye.

The same was true at my stepfather’s funeral, just a few days later – no matter the small group of chairs all spaced further than our reach, and the odd mosaic of face-masks and eyes; the kinship of expression smothered in the trappings of fear.

Because, as the opening music played, my beautiful seven-year old niece quietly whispered, ‘It’s a bit like going to the cinema isn’t it?’, and my heart swelled with glee – for the children who twiddle our reception dials, and help us tune fully in. How staggered we were that she and her tiny ragamuffin brother – the poor little imp who’d vomited strawberries all over his Mum’s white dress just moments before they’d arrived – sat in heart–melting contentment through the whole sombre hour. And how moved when the closing choral music started to play and both kids began humming so happily – so spontaneously – along.

Yes, it was odd to be in facemasks.

And it was odd to be so few, so far apart.

But there is nothing – no virus, no barrier, no distance – that can separate the joys and sorrows of the human heart.

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Updating the Inner Jukebox

As many charity shops will testify, lockdown was a perfect chance to sort and de-clutter, seeing many of us rummaging through the top-heavy totem-poles of our possessions with mild stupefaction over what we’d previously thought to need, keep or want.

So it is too with the clutter of the subconscious. For the first time in years, life beckoned me a few weeks back to grab its torch and grub about my basement for one very particular storage box – that strange container of peculiarities we call The Job Interview. Ah, there it was, firmly wedged on the ‘Things to be Dreaded’ shelf, languishing rather timidly beneath six years worth of dust! Full of odds and ends I have scant memory of owning, and a rather shabby collection of 1980’s records I’d never replaced.

And that’s when it hit me: I’ve been living life like an old jukebox on legs. For every blank-canvas of possibility life’s kindly waved my way, I’ve tossed in the coins of my true currency to play a familiarly-outdated track instead. How long have I hummed blithely along – without pause, question or thought – to a perennial playlist I’ve barely noticed anymore?

Oh bloody hell, I’ve had ‘Man Has to Struggle’ on repeat all these years!

How empowering it is to check these inner indexes, to take a peek at what we’ve unwittingly tucked away; to see the libraries of belief curated under each-and-every category. Songs about risk, songs about strife; songs about effort and danger and the sharp edge of life.

So many of us sail through the world on these tightly-lashed rafts of belief, built so hastily for survival when we first arrived. From the plastic and driftwood of all those who came before, we gather and cling to whatever washes up on our childhood shore. We bind and fasten, weatherproof and seal, then launch into the great ocean of adulthood on our salvaged dais of ideals. But it’s our desperation to stay afloat that fills the patchwork of our sails, and the great winds of fear that determine where we steer.

For so long I’ve navigated job-interviews like shark-infested waters, swimming only in the safety of a metal cage. Controlled my outer display-unit like a presentation stand of artfully-branded free gifts, pulling my mask-strings ever tighter to hide the grimace underneath.

Why oh why do we buy into this strange idea? That our true self is too risky, too dangerous to let free? That we should suffer instead beneath the weight of disguise, eternally longing to scratch the itch of our false-beards, while clutching so grimly to our socially-acceptable fig leaves to hide the poor, shriveled genitalia of our glorious inner-beings?

Tear them off, tear them off – let our truth dangle forth!

Ah, what a moment it is when we stand before the whole quantum-shop of music; toss the old records aside, and pick afresh. Strut down our stairs with Freddie-Mercury audacity in whatever pink-twinset, mustache and PVC-combo we choose! Mix up the ingredients of life’s kitchen in fresh bursts of floury glee, and realise – at last – that we can see things differently.

It’s time, for this interview, to try a new recipe. Not a trial or a test, nothing to fear or resist, just a synergy of sharing in the bright blender of authenticity.

And so with a cloud of flour and an apron tossed aside, I clicked on the ‘Join zoom meeting’ and opened my heart. And almost three hours later, after a dialogue of connection and laughter, the meeting ended and two new tracks began to play:

What a wonderful world’ by Louis Armstrong,

And good ole’ Frank Sinatra;

I did it my way’.

Photo: Simon Carter Photography

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Trusting the Flow: The Art of Turning Up

A week and a half ago, between the opening and closing curtains of a wedding and a funeral, I did my very first podcast; another leap into trusting the flow.

And I notice, as I begin to let go of the old, the new and unseen doors that start to shimmer and glow, subtly lifting out of two-dimensionality like magic-eye art. By softening our gaze on the very same page, reality shifts and coalesces into a new and breathtakingly multidimensional stage.

Magic, and yet nothing of the sort…   just possibilities and pathways that were there all along, obscured by the shutters of mind and its fearful fastenings and locks. And so it was with this, as Julia Chi Taylor – the extraordinary soul I’ve been voyaging with through my internal seas – invited me to take part in her new Podcast series, ‘Conversations with a Bodhisattva’.

But how fascinating to watch the inner protesters rally so fast – a surging horde of banners and shouts, all chaining themselves to the shutters with unequivocal handcuffs of doubt!

‘Danger!’ they shriek, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t risk! You’ll be vulnerable before strangers, self-manacled in the village stocks!’

If the only way I can speak now is from the epicentre of my truth – from the tenderest spots still healing from their loosening thorns – then to trust to the free-flow of an interview feels like launching my leaky vessel into the torrents of Niagara falls.

I’ve already leapt with my blog, so why does this dive feel even higher? Because speech is such an instant and irretrievable creature, so different to the small woodland mammal of the written word that forages so quietly beneath life’s delicate leaf-litter. While writing can curl up and hibernate for as long as it needs, nesting unseen in the roots and thickets of daily success and strife, the spoken word shrieks with immediacy – a discharged bullet whose trajectory can’t be changed.

Am I ready to fledge, to learn on the wing, without the time to perfect and to tweak? To be a mayfly of expression, a momentary flutter in life’s skies, preserved in amber though so briefly conceived?

Of course the cinema of my mind screens me bumbling haphazardly, a clumsily-blundering daddy-long-legs of orality! Prattling hither-and-thither, shedding legs along the way, tangled in endless webs of ghastly ‘what if’s’…

What if I can’t express what I mean? What if my fluency startles and falters? What if it dries-up like roadkill under the truck-lights of immediacy?

What if I say it all wrong?

There is, of course, no such thing. Nothing to be done but release the comfort-blanket of ‘right’, and surrender instead to the simplicity of is. To turn up as I am, as raw and unadorned as a Christmas tree in February; no baubles, no lights. And trust, as Jonny once wrote, ‘Ah… but you’re decked with fairy lights all year round lady, don’t you see? How lucky I am that you let your needles drop for me’.

Something that applies to us all if we can only trust our inner lights to guide the way, instead of grasping at those B&Q aisles of decoration and display. To be who we are, bare branches and all, and trust the anchor of our roots as the winds shift and sway.

And so I watched those inner protesters march the streets of my psyche, and thanked them politely for their loudspeakers of doubt. Then took the inner projectionist aside to suggest we change the music, brighten the lights…

Time to banish this dis-empowering delusion that to be worthy of being heard we must be finished and complete, reclining in our armchair of success and basking in achievement’s firelight;

To tie a bandana on my true-self, don the 80’s crop-top of spirituality, and thrill at the speedball while shouting ‘bring it on!’ to the Rocky theme-tune!

Sylvester Stallone knew what’s what, all those years ago.

It’s not about ‘winning’; it’s the art of showing up.

And so I did.

The beginning…

Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash

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You can listen to my podcast with Julia Chi Taylor by clicking on the green play button below:

The Unsaid Goodbye

We were enjoying morning coffee on the veranda when the phone rang, tautening the string in me that already knew who it would be.

‘Oh Clare’ Mum began gently, ‘I’m afraid it’s not great news.’

Over the last few weeks my stepfather had been drifting on the ebbing tides of his life, a listing vessel buffeted against the rocks of this coronavirus sea, dwindling in a hospital no boat could reach while the storm still ran free.

If he broke through the surf again and held fast to the buoy, then he made it back to the ward but all visitors were forbidden. Yet if he wavered once more on the ledge of life, they moved him into a private room and Mum was allowed to see him temporarily.

Six-hours drive across the country, I span the roulette wheel of whether or not to make the trip. I could set off and be there in half a day, but if he stepped back from the precipice and moved back to the ward then I’d reach that far-flung door only to be turned away. But if I chose to wait, he could rapidly decline – pulling that brief, ephemeral opening of a last goodbye forever tightly closed.

And so came the call that Sunday, telling me he’d deteriorated overnight. ‘But I was there with him the whole time’ Mum reassured me, ‘right up until his very last breath’.

The gavel landed with unexpected force, ‘You mean he’s already gone?’ I cried, in a strangled sob.

But how can this inevitability still come as such a shock? A man of hearty age, at the end of a life well-lived, whose only alternative from here was the slow grind of brakes in the crepuscular semi-colon of a nursing home. He’d rallied so many times before I just assumed he would again; that I’d see him once more beyond the curtains of this strange covid scene and its face-masked stage.

Like a rupture in a plane mid-flight, death’s fierce vacuum defies the grapple-hooks of our minds; a tear in the everyday fascia of life, and a sudden disparity of air pressure through which so much of ourselves and our own pains rush powerfully in. And in that moment of truth – that suspended full-stop when we first hear the news – we’re right there at the metaphysical operating table, glove-deep in life’s seeping, blood-swamped abdominal cavity.

Death hits us with such sudden, sharp-edged clarity, with such punctured arterial force, that even a ‘good’ death feels like unfathomable news. And there is something so poignant about those last exhalations of life, a softly extinguishing chorus heralding the vast opera-singer of loss onto her quietly hushed stage.

Why is it so shocking, this earthly abandonment of our borrowed flesh? The return of a life force to its unknowable seas and skies? Because, I think, of the reckoning it brings. Not just of how we, too, will die, but of how we choose to live. And that whispered inner question…

“Did I do enough?”

Lester married into our family over twenty years ago, a man you couldn’t help but love. A gentlemanly bedrock of integrity, rich in the deep ores of honesty, goodness and modest joy. A man who lost his first wife to a heart attack in her sleep, and whose daughters drifted away in grief, but who embraced our patchwork family in all its frayed, chaotically-darned disarray.

Back when I was engaged to be married, and we hadn’t the means to buy a ring, Lester wrote with touching humility to offer me the one he’d given his first wife. I loved it on first sight; a beautifully unusual band of gold and emerald green. And though the marriage never happened, the ring stayed with me. So as Jonny and I were chatting incidentally about jewelry before the phone rang that morning, I just happened to tell him the story and dug it out for him to see. And so, at the very time Lester was taking his final breaths, I was holding his gift – a ring he’d given a wife so many years before and then, so many years later, passed on to me.

And so despite the grief of a goodbye never said – of a soul reaching the finish line without my particular loving wave – I’d still, in my own way, been there with him when he died.

A ring. A circle. A cycle lived. And at 9pm that very same night, my best friend’s sister gave birth to a little boy.

Souls passing in the ether, through unseen tributaries of life.

Travel well dearest Lester.

And may you find peace again beside your first wife.

Photo by Anthony from Pexels.

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Jewels in the Turd

As I walked barefoot across the lawn this morning, delighting in the nodding pestemons and bee-deep lavender, my pleasure was interrupted by an abrupt encounter with a small turd.

Fear not, I didn’t step in it. But oh, what a rude little serpent of distaste! Like the discovery of an overripe spot on your nose after a languid Sunday lie-in with a bright new lover, its presence spat me fatly out of my romantic reverie.

The young turd stared boldly back, throwing down the gauntlet of bad decorum and willing this old fogey to make a fuss.

 ‘Bloody cats!’ spluttered my mind, self-righteous with dirty-disdain.

A pause. A recognition. A chuckle. What codswallop, I adore my feline friends! So why this knee-jerk indignity at nature’s ways? 

I looked again. Noticed the sheen of bluebottles clustered on its crust in earnest industry.

And realised: Life is teeming with such moments of choice, the majority made unconsciously. I could choose to see a turd covered in flies and play the tired old record of disgust.

Or…

I could choose to see a banquet of living jewels, dazzling in iridescent dinner jackets at their giant ochre feast! To wonder at the crusade of little winged recycling-champions going about their permacultured day.

I took a moment to admire the beady sequins of their bodies with their taut metallic glaze; marvel at the little mascara-brushed eyelashes of their legs and the maroon globes either side of bomber-pilot helmets, the stunning complexity of their minutely pixelated eyes.

I’ve always been tickled by the saying, ‘You can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter’.

I’m even more delighted to realise there’s no need. Nature sends them their very own living sequins – with miniature delivery-wings no less! Oh tiny fecal fairies, if we consciously clean our minds of prejudices, judgments and beliefs we can see how miraculous you are, and the parable of truth you represent.

Just like the Universe, flies lay their eggs in life’s excrement because it’s such rich nutrition for growth.  So no matter how unpleasant things seem, there’s always a hot steam of transformation in every cowpat and a glitter of jewels on every turd.

The trick is to take off our smeary mind goggles.

And learn to truly see.

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

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Motherhood and Otherhood

It began when I fell in love for the first time; heavily, painfully and inelegantly. He was much older; I still had braces on my teeth. We were together for a year in Edinburgh before I had to leave for Oxford and start the betwixt and between of long-distance longing. But however willfully I battled in academia’s arena, maternal yearnings would lure me from my student lens and I’d find myself ogling pregnant women and their growing orbs of life, feeling the hot piercings of envy and the dull ache of grief.

I felt the urge to have children in the same way I felt hunger, thirst or tiredness; an unyielding compulsion of body and mind that couldn’t be soothed by distraction.

Looking back, it wasn’t the reality of parenthood that I craved. I pined for pregnancy itself; the bloom of promise and renewal within its expansive maternal bulb. I wanted the fierce metamorphosis of childbirth – all the pain, glory and gore of it – and I hungered for those early days holding raw, unblemished new life to my chest. The heart-swelling treasure of a tiny, helpless fledgling in all its feeble-bleated vulnerability. 

I wanted a baby so much I could already feel the unbearable softness of its hair against my cheek and inhale its milky aroma. And I experienced that lack as a palpable grief: the absence of something I had already felt and known, and somehow lost. 

Even a year as an Au-Pair for two little ones couldn’t cure me of my malaise. And a malaise was how it felt, wedged into a generation of emancipated career women astride ambitious chariots of sharp-edged CV’s. I was a sentimental bumbler among glittering gladiators and seemed somehow to have lost my way.

Hormones certainly played their part. But so, too, did an unwitting dodge of my inner cellar. I didn’t know myself; hadn’t even begun to scratch the lottery card of who I truly was. Instead, my authentic self lay gagged and hog-tied under the shadowy floor of my subconscious, bound with the invisible rope that childhood and society had so discreetly tied. What I was craving, I suppose, was my own rebirth, not that of another. But without the skills or awareness to go about it, I ached instead to be a vessel of fresh hope.

And there is something so primal, so irresistibly consoling, about leaping onto the hopeful hamster-wheel of reproduction. When you’re grasping at existential saplings, it promises a gratifyingly sturdy trunk – the most basic, elemental solution to our restless metaphysical angst. What better way to find purpose in life than to grow it afresh in all its beautiful, unblemished glory?

It was only in my early thirties that I began to realise how little of early parenthood is about finding your self, and how much about temporarily surrendering it instead – to the all-consuming helplessness of a child too young to understand you exist separately from its needs. The rewards are rich and endless, but it’s a voyage best embarked on from shores of love and trust in ourselves rather than a groping search for meaning.

Airlines tell us again and again that in the event of loss of cabin pressure we must don our own oxygen masks before trying to assist any children with theirs. We can be no help to others without a firm anchor to ourselves. And yet there I was in my twenties, desperate to grapple an oxygen mask onto a child who didn’t even exist yet, while I myself was gasping, flailing and suffocating. Did I really think a baby would save me? Yes, I think I did.

I still dissolve a little when I see them; some inner pendulum stops mid-swing and gazes in breathless wonder. Their simple joys shed the scales of our mind and reconnect us to the enchanted fascination of a world seen through untainted eyes. The marvel of a door handle, the slippy hilarity of a bar of soap…

Yet I know, too, that I’m only just getting to grips with my own oxygen mask.

For better or worse my time hasn’t come yet, and likely never will.

But on this particular journey, I’ve found my peace.

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

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Braving the Blogosphere – Field Notes from a Wobbly Novice

For anyone climbing anxiously aboard the blogging-bus for the first time – wondering how to make sense of the bewildering array of route maps, unintelligible fare systems and suspiciously-stained seats on offer – please know that you’re not alone. And since it’s a process of travel rather than arrival, no direction can ever be wrong.

Whatever the route, every bus has ‘learning’ as its final destination, so it’s simply the commitment to keep boarding that counts. And like backpacking adventures in Asia, it’s those where we’re cheek-deep in chickens – balanced unsteadily on a plastic micro-stool in the aisle and dry-heaving at the puppetry of roasted frogs touted through the windows at every stop – that we remember most fondly afterwards.

As Crocodile Dundees of a virtual New York, it’s perfectly normal that so little makes any sense at first. From the giant skyscrapers to the vast shanty-towns around the edge, the bustling metropolis of Blogosphere is an endless Escher-like labyrinth, an illusory winding confusion of streets and suburbs without any full-stops. Investing in property there is a peculiarly bewildering brand of real estate, one where ‘entire world’ is the narrowest search term available and estate agents don’t even speak in recognisable sounds. And then there are the touts and insurance brokers, prophesying certain death unless you pay more than your monthly rent for protection.

It’s easy to feel like Alice in Blunderland, crumpled at the bottom of the online rabbit hole and blindly groping about in the dark.

And while every new realm has its oracle – its Wizard of Oz – a google search of ‘How to Start a Blog’ brings up such a bewilderment of co-ordinates that it seems far easier just to scupper the ship and be done. Information, advice, must-do’s, deadly warnings and Endless-Acronyms-You Don’t-Have-the-Faintest-Clue-About all jostle noisily for your attention, blinding you in a paparazzi burst of flashbulbs while demanding you strike some savvy, lip-glossed pose to boot (I tried to smile for them, I really did, but I only managed a grimace of crusted cold sores and my darn dress was caught in my knickers).

How can anyone master their first sailboat in this melee of jet-skis and fog-horning steamers? How have so many gone so easily before?

The truth is they haven’t. Like anything worth doing in life, the key lies in the humility to be a beginner, and the willingness to do it badly first. It’s a practice in prising away each suction cap of perfectionism and doing the serious work of lightheartedness, calling upon our inner toddler in the bathtub.

We learn by doing, and so the only choice worth making is to take the next small step. Make a decision – any decision – and jostle free the log-jam of overwhelm. Otherwise the sinkhole of never-ending research becomes a safety belt that’s too tight to reach the ignition key.

Failure isn’t at the opposite end of the train line to success; it’s every small, tumbledown station along the way.

And the aim isn’t to board exactly where you want to disembark.

It’s to ride through new landscapes and welcome each and every barbecued frog, come what may.

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) from Pexels

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