She

She was a jellyfish, floating under a wave. Bobbing gently with the ebbing current. Her translucent hair swaying silently around her still face, eyes tightly shut, sealed like death merged with life.

She was the calm in a strong wind. The centre of a storm. The silence as the raging destruction hurled life over a precipice and into the unknown. The deep breath, pregnant with dread.

She was the shadows when you slept, the coat behind the door, the woman silently watching as you tried to coax yourself to sleep. She was there, even though you convinced yourself she was just the dressing gown. Everything looks frightening in the dark.

She was surreal reality, dread behind a closed door. She was the exhibit they ignored, because it made them feel uncomfortable. She was the haunting in Connecticut, the dried eyelids in a box. She was the soft breeze that blew out the candles when the windows were closed. She was the buzzing sound of a wasp when there was none to be seen.

She held her breath for as long as she could, and when she surfaced, life flooded into her in the gasps she took of the air which hummed with oxygen. Her eyes flew open, and reflected the vivid blue stretched over her head. The waves crashed on the distant shore, and her muscles ached with the struggle for life. She kicked, hard, and glanced back. Silhouettes stood on the beach, children’s laughter carried off by the wind.

She was alive, not dead. Death hadn’t captured her yet. The current was far from her curled toes, and she pushed her chest forward with strong strokes of her slender, young arms. Back to the shore.

Back.

To life.

‘Darling, you were away for so long!’, Mam said, as she meandered with long, swaying strides towards the blanket which lay slightly rumpled in the hot sand. She bent over and towelled her hair dry.

‘I was drinking the sea,’ she murmured.

‘Do you want a sarnie? Before Chris eats them all. We’ve got egg mayo and tuna.’

‘I nearly died, mam.’

‘Don’t be silly, we were watching you the entire time.’ her mother said, cheerfully, handing her a sandwich out of a fat orange Sainsbury’s bag next to her foldable beach chair.

She took it, a fat rectangle stuffed with filling and molded like a pillow in saran wrap. She looked at the sea, crashing gently on the shore. Swimmers splashed as the sun beamed down beautifully.

I could have died, if I’d wanted to. 

Education

I am nearly finished reading this booked called ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover. Oh my goodness. I CAN’T put it down. It’s a memoir that certainly needed to be written. You know how some 20-somethings write ‘memoirs’ and you’re just reading it thinking, ok first, did this person ever read anything apart from the back of a jam jar? And secondly, this person did not live life yet, and the life they lived already is so mundane that they really should not have written about it.

But, like, teenagers buy this book by the millions because it’s a famous YouTuber that they love.

Yes, this book is NOT like those books. Sure, Tara Westover is relatively young, but her life is so strange and odd and powerful, and the way she writes is so intense and gripping, that I have to read it every second I get, and when I am not reading it I am thinking about it.

It’s all about how she was brought up in the isolated mountains of Idaho as a Mormon, with an extreme father. She never set foot in a school and her family thought the Medical Establishment was part of the Illuminati and the Government were evil and wanted to control everybody. She barely learnt anything ‘academic’, but her life was filled with roughness, injury, thinking on the spot and extreme resourcefulness. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, she managed to succeed at exams to get her into a good university, which then allowed her to get a very prestigious scholarship into Cambridge University.

The story is gripping, detailing, among other things, the horrific injuries she, her siblings and parents obtained from reckless and ruthless actions (driving through snowstorms with no seats in the car and enduring severe accidents, climbing into dumping baskets in a junkyard, setting themselves on fire ‘accidentally’) without medical intervention, just recovery at home at the hands of their herbal expert mother. I cannot get it out of my head.

Above all, this story inspires me so much. That a person who had never studied or read anything apart from the Bible and Book of Mormon could then go and write the ‘best essays seen in 30 years of teaching’ (Cambridge senior profession proclamation) SHOWS me that sometimes what we pin as of ultimate importance, perhaps is just not that important. Maybe training kids from an early age to think the academic thoughts others have had before them and which have been refined for their brains is the wrong way to go about it? Maybe you ought to let children be as free as possible, and think as much of their own individual thoughts as possible, in order to create great thinkers within them?

Tara Westover describes her childhood as ‘loveless’, she was abused physically by her older brother, and felt that all her siblings and her mother suffered at the hands of her bipolar lunatic father. Yet at the same time she was given experiences that very few other children have. She worked in a junkyard with her father at age ten and learnt so many things which she applied in her later years studying at college, things which were not academic in the slightest but gave her a high advantage over others who had been trained for this sort of education their whole lives.

One of the main things to take away from this book is that the author suffered crippling depression from the aftermath of what she endured as a child. She became ostracised from her family for daring to speak up about the physical and verbal abuse she received from her older brother, but she still weathered through it and got a PhD, achieved her goals, and above all, did not let her experiences mould her. She decided to take control and mould herself. That is what is inspiring about Tara Westover.

If you love reading about lives that are out of the ordinary, and minds filled with the richness of learning, both physical and mental, and experiences which are painful and horrific but also very true, and which shaped a life in such an interesting way, then this book is certainly for you.

It’s for sure for me. It’s made me even more determined to get a Master’s degree, something I have been wanting for a while but have been dubious about following through with.

On Human Suffering

I managed to read two books this week because I deleted instagram from my phone. Instagram is highly addictive because it contains all sorts of high quality imagery as well as lets you know via short videos what your friends and ‘influencers’ are up to.

I used to use it for fashion inspiration and also to see what nice pictures my friends took on their out-and-abouts, but now my feed is all full of parenting, education and food ‘inspiration’. I must say I have learnt a lot about how to deal with my toddler by following the relevant experts and experienced mothers.

It helps when you’re isolated and can’t really share experiences with many mothers.

However, it is also a waste of time because you can end up scrolling your feed for 45 WHOLE MINUTES after your bubba has gone to bed and not realise the time.

‘That’s it,’ I said firmly last Monday, ‘THAT IS IT. I’m done with this sodding app.’

And because I suddenly had pockets of time free from scrolling, when I picked up my phone I went to the ‘books’ section to see what I’d left to dwindle.

And I found I had two books in there at 0%.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christie Lefteri, and The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

I know. Deep and heavy subject matter. But I delved in.

I started with The Beekeeper of Aleppo, purely because it was the first option in my library. It read like a sad, haunting poem. The imagery in this book was beautiful. The story was heartbreaking and you really felt like you were in the characters’ shoes. Christie Lefteri is the daughter of Cypriot refugees, and she was brought up in London. And, speaking as someone with Arab blood, I could very much tell that her portrayal of Syrians, their food and their way of life, even the words they used and how they spoke to each other, was very much through an overly romanticised western lens. This bothered me a little, but the story was so well-written that I was completely hooked throughout. Christie Lefteri did a beautiful job portraying the lives of people who are so often vilified in today’s media, and for that alone she deserves five stars. Most people like the Ibrahim family in this book will certainly not have the happy ending they did, but I think more than anything this story was meant to humanise refugees, and show that if they had any other choice, they would not be making these devastating decisions. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and it haunted me for days afterwards. The author based this story on a collection of true stories she had heard from the mouths of refugees during her time as a volunteer at several refugee camps.

I then moved on to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written well, certainly, but after Christie Lefteri’s haunting writing, this one felt a little monotonous. Like I was reading a screenplay. Throughout the entire book I never knew how the characters really felt, it was like I was being held at arms length by the author. If you overlook that, and just read the book for the sake of the plot (which is based on a true story), then you begin to really feel the story. And there are parts which are absolutely horrifying and I wish I never read, but know that it was a must to know these things. Because these things are happening again to many people around the world, and they always say ‘We will never forget the holocaust’ but they did forget it. Because humans are still suffering in horrible ways today, at the hands of evil regimes, for their religion! I was hooked on this book, I both dreaded each new page and anticipated it.

Reading two books so close to one another, both of which detail human suffering in such explicit ways makes me grateful, so grateful, that I live in ‘peace’. I have a home that isn’t bombed to a shell, my son is not lying dead in my arms with unseeing eyes. My family are not being gassed in chambers or taken away to evil camps. My siblings are squabbling peacefully and my mother is ranting about my sister’s shoes in the hallway. We are going through hard times, for sure. People are losing their jobs, dying, losing loved ones. But opening my eyes to this sort of suffering makes me realise that sometimes I complain too much, and it’s much better to count one’s blessings.

And delete instagram and read real books.

24 out of my 25 books for 2020. I think I am doing quite well.

On unwinding

At the end of a long and exhausting day, when your body is battered and shattered, sometimes you just want to flop into bed and close your eyes on the world.

Right?

But sometimes it’s necessary to unwind a little. Let the day’s happenings trip gently through your mind, so you can pick them up with ease, turn them over, mull over them.

I like to do this by thoroughly cleaning my kitchen so it gleams, and then getting my old baking bowl out that my grandmother had in her kitchen for a good forty years. I get my whisk, the spoon, and my measuring cups. The ingredients needed for something warm and sweet and delicious.

Turn the oven on.

And I measure out the ingredients and as I do so, my mind stops racing. It slows down to a jog. Looks behind it. Nobody. Looks in front. Nothing to catch up on. Just flour in a nice soft mound in an old baking bowl. A whisk catching glints of light from the warm spotlights above. An egg cracking into the bowl, running in a little hydrophobic river down the jagged edge of the flour mountain and settling itself in a small valley on the edge.

As I mix and pour and whisk and lick the spoon, my mind stops racing and some sort of grounding happens.

I think and stir, I plan and pour, I contemplate and scrape.

How do you unwind after a particularly stressful and exhausting day?

This is the result of my unwinding baking session.