facing it

1.

You can recognise them, but only if you know what to look for. That bird-beak tautness of the face and the squinched lines of the jaw: these are the calling cards of the walking wounded.

2.

I have said goodbye to you in a thousand different incarnations and not one of them has stuck.

3.

The weird thing about death is, it consigns everything to definite. I don’t just mean in the obvious way, as in yeah, the person’s definitely dead and yeah, they’re not coming back. But what no-one tells you before it happens, is that their death, it’s going to define you forever, in relation to whatever you were to them. Or whatever you weren’t. You never see it any vacuities in obituaries, do you? No, ‘Sort ofs’ or ‘almosts’ or ‘on again, off agains.’ Just the concrete things. Husband, sister, mother, friend. That sort. Or nothing at all. There’s no room for anything that isn’t static, when the rest of the world’s turned upside down.

4.

How do you mourn when there isn’t space for you to do so?

5.

We were drawing at your coffee table, thick paper and lead-smudged noses. You rubbed out my face and inserted another. Your pencil pressed the page harder than mine did, so that even when I rubbed so hard the paper tore, I couldn’t quite erase your marks.

6.

You were the colour of melted wax, strung up to bags of sugar-water from your nose and wrist. I imagined that they were wicks and the steady stream of nutrition running through them was fire, lighting your veins with the candle-flame flicker that you had lost. I said, ‘How are you?’ and you said, ‘Can you look at the IV for me, at the back of the bag? I want to know what they’re pumping me full of.’ I pretended not to hear and you huffed a breath, pissed, but still held out an arm to me. I sat on the bed and you took my hand and it was all bone and bloodless capillaries, your fingernails clubbed and mauve, your knuckles mottled like chicken skin.

I said, ‘When do you think you’ll be out?’

‘Fuck knows,’ you said. The word was too big in your mouth and you held it carefully, presenting it bloody and broken like a cat with a kill, and I pulled my breath in so that my nostrils flared. I turned my voice to syrup, to toffee, to meringue, and said, ‘Oh, that’s a shame, we all miss you so much,’ and stayed as smooth as a chocolate river for the rest of the time I talked.

7.

I lost you when I was nine. I lost you when I was eleven. I lost you when I was fourteen, seventeen, eighteen and twenty. Over and over, the emptiness has re-entered me and there are times when I feel that all I am defined by is absence.

8.

The Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt, and I became good at swimming it. I carried Splenda in the pockets of my heart and whenever affairs became too jagged I dunked a couple into my dialogue. That’s what I became brilliant at, rowing myself along that river on a constant chatter of empty sweetness. Only I knew how empty I was, that besides all that sugar I was running on nothing but the white-hot fizz that sets up shop in your limbs when your heart is dying a long and terrible death. How could I tell anyone? I needed to protect them, and if my innocence was a comfort to them, that was what I would be.

The more you shrank, the more space you took up. The more space you took up, the more I shrank to accommodate you. A feeding cycle, of sorts.

9.

I’m lonelier than I remember how to be and God, I have never cried over anyone the way I cried over you.

10.

I received a card from you when you were in hospital, a red and gold peacock crested on the front, flowers and leaves ornate around the edges. There was something of a Faberge design about it, and I knew what you were doing, knew it in the pit of my gut even before I released the squashed-ant scrawls of your biro. I read it six times over and then I fetched the kitchen scissors and severed your love and promise and please into kaleidoscopic fragments and on each of the broken pieces of the whole I wrote my words over yours.

11.

How do you carve a crevice for yourself out of the ruins of what used to be?

12.

If you think that you will beat me down like dough to be kneaded or earth to be tamped, then I have a whole world of contradictions for you locked into this head of mine. I am more than what was, more than what I regret, more than what was made of me and more than what I failed to make of the glittering vestibules thrown at my feet. I am fire and water, earth and air, scars and stories and I swear with all of the marrow in my bones that I will keep on living and oh, I will set this nebula on fire. The world began with the destruction of a star, so let mine begin with it, with the implosion of light and loss that your absence in the world has gifted me with, darling. Ungive: in a faded language, this means to thaw. I will ungive myself, day by day and night by night, until these memories lay claim to me no more and I can mourn for you as a whole and walk this path not as a ghost or a wraith or a banshee but as a being whose footprints will mark this earth like stamps. Don’t cry for the loss of stars, because the universe is made up of them and without loss there would not be growth. Without change there would not be movement and without movement there would be no summer, no winter, no day or night, no sunlight, no starshine, and it is true that none of these things exist in your absence, but that will change and I know that you would wish that. Movement. That’s all we can do really, isn’t it? Just keep on moving until we stop.

13.

I live off these words, they are my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I breathe them in and they fill the space inside me like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, slotted in neatly to stopper the weeping of my wounds. Words and wounds: what difference, really, is there?

14.

You hurt me. You hurt me. You will never stop hurting me. Past, present and future, it is what it is, and you are what you are, but what you are not and never will be is a regret. You are my greatest fear and my deepest sorrow and you are the wheels that keep me moving onwards, down this path, wherever it might lead. I am scared of you and I love you and I hate you and I laugh at you and I am beginning to make my peace with all of these things existing as one, together and apart. Together and apart, that is you and me. Together and apart, imperfect and scarred, is how we have to be.

15.

When there isn’t a word to describe how you feel, do those feelings cease to exist? When there isn’t a space in your culture’s vocabulary laid aside to you, do you yourself cease to exist? Do you become invisible? Or do you just become deeply, deeply desolate?

16.

You came into my room and lay on my legs. You pushed your face into the hollow of my back and I felt you say, ‘I’m not enough, am I?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘You’re too much.

17.

The other day I saw a girl who had your face.

18.

As time goes by I see more and more of them, the people with your face. Less is more, and the lesser they are the more I see you in them. I wonder sometimes – did I ever see you at all? Or every time I laid eyes on you, on your mug holder ribs and ski-slope hips, was I in fact seeing, and loving, a different creature altogether?

– about that time someone I loved starved herself to bones and carved herself into mine.

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glacier

“This pain

It is a glacier moving through you

And carving out deep valleys

And creating spectacular landscapes.” – John Grant, Glacier*


It’s been a strange week.

I’m working through some things at the moment, but am finally at a point where instead of it stalling my writing, I’m able to channel it in. As I alluded to in my last ‘personal’ blog, the project I’m currently working on is based more strongly on my own experiences than anything I’ve written since I was sixteen. I’m finding that scary, but also cathartic and I’m rather enjoying the novelty of it.

What I’m not enjoying so much is the memories it’s bringing back, the majority of which I thought I’d processed and got over. I think  this might be why I’ve historically avoided writing stories with teen protaganists, and, in my actual teenage years, veered away from YA fiction as though it bore the plague. There are some things that really only do with being experienced once.

Minds are weird things. Sometimes they wait until you’re in a healthy place, with a clearer perspective than in the past, and then – BAM! Time to feel that pain all over again, just when you thought it couldn’t touch you any more.

Writing is helping, though. So is talking about it. I’m lucky that my friends are patient, and present, and that people are kind. I’m also lucky that my protagonists are complying with my whims. Long may it last (I suspect it won’t last for that long; the characters I create rarely do what I intend them to).

I suspect that a key trigger behind my current foray down memory lane is, in fact, my characters. Namely my main character. I didn’t intend, when writing her, for her to bear similarities to myself at that age, but she does. I didn’t intend, either, for her to be a particularly likeable person, at least not initially, and she isn’t. She’s all snark and sullenness and awkward anger, inexpertly plastered down over her wounds. She’s hurting hard, and she’s her own worst enemy, and she’s got a hell of a road ahead of her.

I guess the difference, this time, is that I know she’ll be okay.

Running through my head over the past week or so has been a note that I wrote to myself yonks ago – nearly ten years, in fact – in the margin of a workbook: ‘One day this pain will be useful to you’.

I think that day has come.


*This quote, and the title of this post, is from a song called Glacier by John Grant, which I discovered very recently and have been listening to fairly obsessively. It’s number one on my playlist for this writing project, and it may have made me cry at my desk just a wee bit today when I listened to it while working. Anyway, here it is.

 

gardenia

I dreamed of you, last night. We were standing in the garden over the river, with the round wall that we sat on all those years ago, eating from lunchboxes. I could smell gardenias, knew bumblebees would be lurching about, drunk on the scent, and you were beside me, and we looked out.

The houses are huge, in this part of the city. Sprawling like oak roots over the banks, they stretch out like cats in the sun, all the way to the meadows, where the grass runs parched and gorse bushes reign. Did we go there as children? I can’t remember. I don’t think we did, I think we only went down to the river, with school, and school is how we would have been there together, that was the link that fused us.

I wonder, in the way that I have lately, in the loosened moments between asleep and awake, why that bond was ever enough to hurt me when it was cut. We were not friends in any context other than classrooms, strangers who smiled in the street, guilelessly when we were five-six-seven, bashfully when we were nine-ten-eleven, and then not at all, or mocking, or ashamed, I never could tell: your glasses frames hid your face too well.

Anyway, this is a dream and we are standing together, in the curve of stone above the river in the city where we grew up in classrooms together, and I say, ‘Why?’

I don’t know if it is before or after this that you begin to cry, but you do, and perhaps I am a better person in my dreams than I ever have been in flesh, walking silent behind you when others shouted, hiding in taciturn terror, telling myself I was justified in my hypocrisy. I must be better, because I put my arms around you, first round your back, then your head, because you are warm and crying and I want you to stop, I do not want you to hurt.

So we stand there, in the curve of the cusp of the city and the care of years falls away, the gardenia-smell is strong and you are alive and I am glad you are, and gladder still that so am I, heart a-thrum with a beat that I would never have learned without everything that came before. And I feel a tremendous sense of grace.

When I wake, I understand that I have forgiven you.

ungive

If you think that you will beat me down like dough to be kneaded or earth to be tamped, then I have a whole world of contradictions locked into this head of mine. I am more than what I was, more than what I regret, more than what was made of me and more than what I failed to make of the glittering vestibules thrown at my feet. I am fire and water, earth and air, scars and stories and I swear with all of the marrow in my bones that I will keep on living and oh, I will set this nebula on fire. The world began with the destruction of a star, so let mine begin with it, with the implosion of light and loss that your absence in the world has gifted me with, darling. Ungive: in a faded language, this means to thaw. I will ungive myself, day by day and night by night, until these memories lay claim to me no more and I can mourn for you as a whole and walk this path not as a ghost or a wraith or a banshee but as a being whose footprints will mark this earth like stamps. Don’t cry for the loss of stars, because the universe is made up of them and without loss there would not be growth. Without change there would not be movement and without movement there would be no summer, no winter, no day or night, no sunlight, no starshine, and it is true that none of these things exist in your absence, but that will change and I know that you would wish that. Movement. That’s all we can do really, isn’t it? Just keep on moving until we stop.

birth pains

Lillie and I walk home from school together. In the past six months she has undergone a staggered transformation: she has grown breasts, her hair is highlighted with careful swathes of gold. Every so often she will press a hand to her stomach at break-time, face pulled taut in exaggerated discomfort. “Oh, it’s that time of the month!” And the others of our group will cluck in knowledgeable sympathy, proffering tampons like batons.

I have yet to experience any time of the month. Time as it is has taken on a strange quality for me. At school it seems to stretch out immeasurably, like the elongated earholes of women in African tribes. I look at the clock, it is five minutes to three; I look back to my workbook, write about the metaphors in Romeo and Juliet, breathe deeply and slowly through Emily and Blaise’s whispering, the way that midwives on TV tell mothers to breathe through birth pains; look at the clock again. One minute has passed. It is only once I am safely out of the front gates, away from the crowds, from Lillie, from all lingering remnants of the day, that time regains its normal speed and I feel like am moving through air instead of treacle.

Today it is raining, so we are huddled together under Lillie’s starry umbrella. She gets most of the room, as the umbrella is hers and her hair frizzes in moisture, but I don’t much mind; I like to feel the droplets on my face, passing down through the corners of my eyes and continuing their journey warm, like tears.

Lillie says, “You ought to be friendlier to people.”

She has always said things like this throughout the trajectory of our friendship; her instincts veer towards what needs improving, in herself, in an outfit, in me. Lately, though, these comments have started to hold a more anxious weight. She has begun to realise that I, like the red on her lips or the colour in her hair, am an extension of her reputation. Though she never says that I am bringing it down, she doesn’t need to.

Every day it is more than implied.

I chew my lip, a bad habit that I have picked up over the past year, in the same way that Lillie has taken up painting her face, and say, “If they don’t like me now, I have no interest in being friends with them.”

There is a beat in which I watch my feet stamp the ground in their sensible black loafers. Tides of water spray out from around their tread. Lillie draws a breath, and I expect it to precede agreement; reassurance of my validity, of the others’ bad behaviour, followed perhaps by a mitigating “but”, which I have the option to ignore.

This doesn’t come.

Instead, she says, “You can’t have that attitude.” She says it regretfully, chidingly, as you would to a wayward child. I tear a strip of skin from my lip with my front teeth, taste blood, swallow it. Say nothing. I know that she will read this as agreement.

We walk on in silence and I watch the puddles form on the tarmac, cradling water as grey and hard as the stone lodged in my stomach.

Oops, I did it again.

By ‘it’, I refer not to my ongoing bad habit of over-using exclamation marks (!!!) but rather to my equally serious, rather more long-standing habit of saying I will do things and then misplacing my motivation.

In this instance, I refer to my declaration, way back in October of last year, that I was going to update this blog regularly with writings and ramblings and ruminations. Yeah. That didn’t exactly happen.

In my defence, this has been a busy year. Also, I think only one person actually follows this blog, so it’s not as if I have an eager denizen of readers weeping into their soy lattes at the lack of updates. But still; I made a commitment and didn’t stick to it, and for that I apologise into the void.

Had you spoken to me ten or so years ago, when I first started writing ‘in earnest’, I’d never have imagined that I would one day struggle to write. There was a time, a very long time, in fact, when writing was just about the only thing that I could do with any consistency.  When I was extremely unhappy, the only outlet I had, in the absence of a vocal voice, was words on a page (I should mention here that I had big issues with depression and bulimia in my teens, as well as a smattering of elective mutism). And so I wrote like mad, I wrote when I was mad, I wrote because I had no idea how else to deal with the mess that was me. I wrote because the only time – and this is still true – that I felt like I knew all of the steps and nuances and lyrics of myself,  was when I was putting down words on a page and letting their colours mix (have I mentioned that I have synesthesia?)*

Long story short, I wrote more than I spoke and consequently I got good at it, because I had to.

That, I suspect, is where the problem lies: it’s a lot harder to do difficult things when it’s no longer a matter of survival. Because writing is hard. An author whom I like, Helen Oyeyemi, once said of writing:

It’s as if every day you have to put a worm or something really wriggly on you, and let it crawl all over you, and then at the end of the day, you can take it off. It’s weird. It’s self- torture.”

When I first read this interview I was seventeen, and frankly thought she was being a tad melodramatic; the woman did write an entire book about a house that eats people, after all. Now, though, at the grand old age of 23, I really do see what she means. It’s that same feeling of discomfort, like holding a flame to your finger and seeing how long you can bear it, or spraying aerosol onto your skin, like boys used to do at school.

To employ a more relevant simile, it’s like sitting down in a room with a box of all of your issues and letting them out to play. It makes sense, I suppose, that back when all of my problems were right at the forefront of my life, expressing them through writing was a completely organic, necessary process. Now that they’re smaller and quieter and I’m bigger and louder, bringing them to the page is harder. They want to stay where they are. They want to sleep.

For the past five years or so, as I slowly recovered, so my writing slowly changed. It became less obsessive and it became less real. Once my notebook and hard-drive had been chock-full of poems; now I tended more towards prose, a craft that is a lot easier to hide untruths in. Once I wrote about my past; now I was drawn towards fairytales, fable, myths. At the time I just went with it, and I don’t regret doing so: it was good for me, it was a process of healing, for me to let go of angry spillages about playgrounds and school corridors and IV drips in bird-boned arms. I wrote instead about gentler things, and there was still darkness, but the darkness was grounded in a different place, was born of spells and swords, not words, not jibes.

I wrote like this for a long time, and it helped. It was, I think, my mind’s way of purging the poison without forcing me to re-live it. It’s a lot easier to write about persecution, for example, when it’s aimed towards a life-sized automaton and not a little flesh-foddered human.

But I think I’m done with that now. I think it’s time to get real. Or real-ish, anyway. The project I’m working on currently has been hiding in my head since I was sixteen.

I think it’s time to let it out of the closet.**

 

 

*This is entirely unrelated, but wouldn’t Synesthesia make such a good name for a character? OR TWINS! Synes and Thesia! I have possibly had too much coffee. I should definitely never have children. God help their hypothetical souls.

**You have no idea how hard it was to resist an ellipses here. NO idea…***

***Bugger.

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2016

To introduce myself, my name is Mary, I’m 22 and I’m a small person who’s generally much better at talking when the words are safely contained on paper (hence the writing aspirations.) I write a lot and read a lot, and when I was sixteen I discovered the madness that is National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org/) and fell in love.

So, it’s 2016 and here I am – once again about to embark on a month’s worth of terror and turbulence, as I attempt to write (some semblance of) a novel in 30 days.

(Why November? Why not a nice, normal month with 31 days in it?? At least it isn’t February, I guess.)

In the name of trying to depart from my usual writing customs of –

  1. Stress
  2. Stress some more
  3. Spend approximately five weeks working out character names
  4. Spend another six weeks exploring the ~~symbolism~~ of every single word of dialogue, both spoken and implied
  5. Stress
  6. Eventually, with much hesitation, begin writing!!
  7. Decide that the project is pants and discard
  8. See Step 1.

– I have decided to approach this month with only the vaguest idea of a plan, and let the story evolve from there.

What I know so far is that the story I want to write is about names – namely (hehe) the magic and the meaning of them, how language can lay down strong roots and weave itself into the sedimentary layers of our culture – and the impact it would cause, should those layers begin to crumble.

In short: it’s about magic and words and stuff.

With that attention-grabbing advertisement, I’ll end by saying that I’m going to be updating this blog over the course of November, hopefully daily, more realistically  every few (or many) days, probably with rants on the theme of “how did I ever think I could survive this with such total lack of planning??”

I may also post chapters as I go along, but that very much depends on how awful I think they are on a scale of ‘My Immortal’ to ‘Middlemarch’ (if I surpass ‘Twilight’ I’ll consider myself satisfied).

It’s going to be fun. Or hellish. Quite possibly both.

Here’s to finding out.