Wonders

I’ve said this before, but I am addicted to Instagram.

I’ve gone on instagram ‘cleanses’ before.

Once for a month. Once for a week. Once for three months.

I always end up going back, though. There’s something about it. Mindless scrolling. Satisfaction… for what? I don’t post anything and I don’t get high off ‘likes’ (because there are no ‘likes’ because I am not posting anything!). I like to see the pages I follow for ‘inspiration’.

Homeschooling ideas, activities for my kids, cleaning inspiration, workout inspiration.

The thing is, though, the people who make this content also post a lot about their personal lives, so you’re subjected to that too.

And it’s just so much of it, so monotonous, so tedious.

Yet I still scroll.

There is a science behind it, why you keep scrolling even though you don’t want to. They’ve researched it thoroughly and have programmed their apps to hit your dopamine right on target.

So anyway. I deleted instagram again for a month, ending 25th August. During that time I read three books, bought and made a start on a planner (very colourful and I thoroughly enjoyed decorating it with stickers and whatnot), went out a lot with my babies, hosted family over for three weeks…

Not to say I wouldn’t have done those things if I had instagram on my phone readily available to me.. I WOULD have still hosted and gone out and read things…

I don’t really know how to describe it to you.

There is a word in arabic and it’s ‘ikti’aab’. It literally means depression. But in your bones. Deep exhaustion.

Not tired.

It’s like the monochrome videos everybody makes now. They’re all doing something with their fists, some kind of weird dance, and words pop up on the screen as they fist pump and wriggle around like worms on camera. It’s the same thing, just done by different people. Eagerly eyeing the like button. Faces filtered beyond recognition.

It felt weird opening instagram again after this hiatus.

It felt like peering into a world of narcissistic aliens, and they all harp on about not being narcissistic and being ‘real’ but their ‘real’ footage is scripted, because they look so perfect and are angling their cameras just so… just so their boobs are looking their best… just so their hair is at the perfect angle… just so their faces are tilted just right….

Being raw and vulnerable …

All the comments… ‘you’re so brave! you’re so strong! you’re so raw! omg!’

And I look out of that fakery into my reality and realise with a painful thump that this curated world I am peering into is an illusion.

I still feel shitty about myself though. My parenting. My ability to school my kids. What I feed them. What they wear. How our house looks.

And so. One of these days. I am deleting social media for good.

Cool as a Cucumber

Cool to the touch, calm of voice. Shirts ironed but doesn’t look like he puts much effort. Looks clean as though he woke up that way. Born that way. Effortless and smooth. Gliding along polished floors, handwriting naturally flowing out of a pen.

Doesn’t look like he presses too hard or gets wrist pain ever.

Smile is easy. Simple. Clean brown hair, brushed but not too meticulously. Clean nails, not bitten, cut.

Doesn’t get angry or defensive or argumentative. Turns pages softly, washes apples gently; none of that crazy splashing and spraying. Turns tap quietly. Turns round to smile at me. White straight teeth, biting into that apple. Easygoing dimple. Just there. Looking pretty in that cheek. Bright blue eyes. Flashing easily.

Easy easy easy.

I try to eat my sandwich neatly, but the filling (chicken salad) globs out of the centre even as I neatly pinch the sides, and now it’s all down my lap. I leap. Jump. Swing. Chicken on the floor, on my canvas shoes. Heart thumping.

‘uggghhh’, I bend down to wipe it up with a paper towel. My bright dress doesn’t show the stain, it blends into the busy busy busy – messy – flowers printed all over it. I dab at it anyway, frizzy thick curly hair falling over my face. Messy messy messy. Flyaways everywhere. Glasses slipping down my nose. Sandwich abandoned on the plate.

I throw the paper towel in the bin, and sigh.

When I look up he is still there, and he smiles at me. Not judgemental. Something else. I colour. Fluster. Gather my things, leave my sandwich. I’m out of there. I bump into the side of the countertop, the sharp edge digging into my thigh. Bump into the door on my way out. Apologise to it. Glance through the glass window as the door closes behind me. There he is. Calmly throwing the apple core into the bin. Smooth arc in the air. Neat flop right on top of my messy chickeny paper towel.

I tut, and my books fall. Swear. Push hair back. Bend over. Door opens.

‘Whoops,’ gently.

Hands reach down with mine. Pick up my books. Hands them to me. Hands. Tidy watch. Black leather straps. I take the books. Don’t dare look up at those eyes. Don’t know what it’ll do to me.

‘Thank you,’ I mutter. Turn to walk away. Hugging books. Stupid girl.

‘I love your hair,’

Huh?

‘Thanks,’ head down, rushing off, canvas shoes squeaking on the corridor.

How (not) to Disappear

I was browsing through Goodreads when I came across a title called ‘How Not to Disappear’, about a road trip across the UK. It looked really interesting. Aunt with dementia, pregnant teen, family secrets.

So I went to get it as an ebook.

When I bought and downloaded it and began to read, I realised the book I was reading was not about a road trip. It was about a teen girl who witnessed a murder.

Huh?

It was based in the UK and so I carried on thinking, ok, maybe she will get pregnant later and travel across the UK with her aunt Gloria.

Only that never happened.

There was no aunt called Gloria.

And the description on the front of the book said ‘bestselling thriller’.

Is travelling across the UK supposed to be thrilling? If so can one teach me how to make it so because so far I’ve only ever had very mundane road trips!

Anyway, halfway through this thriller – and I was really beginning to thoroughly enjoy it – I checked the cover of the book and smacked my forehead.

It was called ‘How to Disappear’

Not ‘How NOT to disappear’.

Still, it’s a fantastic book and keeping me on the edge of my seat.

Have you ever read one book thinking you were reading another?

Sylvester (Part 1)

I could describe a single meeting in a thousand pages, and a hundred years in two lines.

It’s all relative to perception, I think. 

The year I met Sylvester was the year I also broke both my legs in a terrible cycling accident. I never wanted to go into the details of it all, but it was ominous. I was happy and carefree sailing down the hill, the wind rushing through my hair and over my face, the sky was brilliant because the clouds were flushed with peaches and pinks, the last hurrah of a setting sun, and my legs had never worked so well, and they never would work as well as in that blissful, euphoric moment. I don’t care to think of what happened next, it doesn’t do me any favours and makes me wallow.

A girl is never any good at anything if she is an experienced wallower.

I suppose I would not have met Sylvester if I hadn’t broken both my legs. As it happened, I was lying in bed mostly for six months straight, unable to walk anywhere. The first three months were a living nightmare, and I was in a hospital bed for most of the time because the doctors weren’t sure about my spine.

I shared a room with six other women and girls, but it was interchangeable. They came and went, and nobody stayed as long as I did. During my sixth week, I lay with both my legs in a cast, staring at the ceiling until a tear rolled out of the corner of my eye and slid down the side of my head and burrowed into my hair. It was a tear of complete boredom. I wasn’t sad at all, I was just idle, listless; yawning but not tired.

That must be what it means to be bored to tears,’ I thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had plenty of visitors. My friends from school came around every weekend, and we had a little party by my bedside. Eventually the bulk of them stopped coming but Tommy Hill came without fail, chattering about everybody and everything and keeping me up to date on classroom and playground politics. Samantha Briggs brought me my homework, and sometimes sat with me to do hers and explain what I had missed. I got tired of that quickly, though. It was kind of her but I just wished she would let up on all the studious talk. Her large blue eyes would blink blankly at me if I dared to ask what her plans were for the weekend.

‘Well, there is that Chemistry pop quiz we have on Tuesday, and Mondays are always bulky bag days so probably homework?! Why?! Is there a test I am missing?!’

I would roll my eyes and shake my head, letting her carry on, her monotonous voice drifting above my head and over up to the ceiling, her words jumbling together and mixing up, forming mountains and tumbling down, crashing like waves on a shore of slick, black rocks.

Then, Sylvester.

I was sitting up that day. My toast was ready on the table by my bed, and I was stirring a mug of tea whilst absently staring at the small monitor on the wall opposite, where an old rerun of a staticky sitcom buzzed and twitched its way through a dreary episode, every few sentences interrupted by shrieking laughter.

‘Oh, I like this episode,’ a voice said from the doorway. I turned to look. Peculiar boy, he was. A shock of silver hair over a shadowy face. He wore a terrifically baggy T shirt, almost like a dress, and the baggiest shorts you ever did see. They hung below his knees, and his shins were scraped something terrible. He had two dimples and he wasn’t even smiling, and his eyes were piercing and black. Blacker than the longest night in December.

He was wild and brown, an exclamation mark of a human.

Pushing a trolley into the room, he said cheerfully,

‘Snacks, sweets, magazines anybody?!’

Sarah in the bay opposite sat up and said, ‘Do you have the Guardian newspaper, love?’

‘Why, yes we do,’ he swooped down and lifted the newspaper from the bottom shelf of the trolley, waving it above his head in triumph. Like he had won a gold medal.

‘Here you go, sweetheart. That’ll be £2.50’

Then he winked at me.

I turned away, back to the sitcom, and took a sip of my tea. ‘Rude boy’, I thought. He had no business winking at me.

‘This is the episode where they jump off that cliff, isn’t it?’

I looked up at him again and saw him leaning backwards to see the screen. He glanced at me so I knew he was speaking to me.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, curtly.

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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. 

What I Want

As each day passes,

I realise

With starker clarity

That I don’t have to feel lonely

Or adhere to people’s expectations of me.

I don’t have to cook fancy meals when family come to visit

Even when I don’t want to

I don’t have to pretend to feel stressed over the things my husband stresses about, to show solidarity.

I don’t have to smile when somebody insults me, to keep the family peace.

I don’t have to drive to visit my in-laws, just because they think I should.

I can get up with my kids and go anywhere and do anything.

I don’t have to feel like a failure for not meeting the expectations other people have of me.

I can

Just

Do

What

the

DICKENS

I

want.

So today, in the pouring rain, I am going to blast some tunes in the car, pop my kids in their waterproofs, and go to a woodland garden. We are going to get very wet. We will look at stones and jump in all the puddles. I will get the biggest coffee with the largest dollop of whipped cream, bank account be damned. Thighs be damned too.

It’s not a failure to not adhere to a routine.

Trees

When she doodled, she always found herself doodling the same thing.

It started off as a trunk. A trunk of a tree. Usually she had two browns, so light brown for the outline, the branches, and then in with dark brown, shading the sides and adding rough texture to the branches. And then the leaves. Hundreds and hundreds of them. But she would not sit there and painstakingly draw every leaf.

It was different each time. Different, but the same.

With pencils it was clouds. With coloured pencils, it was still clouds, but lighter ones sat under darker ones and shadows filled every nook and cranny, and soon you could see the sunlight filtering in between the gaps.

Sometimes she had paint sticks.

If you don’t know what those are, they are fat little sticks that you twist out like lipstick and it’s some sort of crayony paint that dries quickly and is washable. It’s meant for toddlers, and she worked with toddlers.

When she had paint sticks she would swirl her trees. Swirl her trunk and her branches, the roots would swirl into the swirly grass, little circles of never-touching harmony, each colour giving way to the other until there was a kaleidoscope of colour and movement. Perpetual movement. That was a masterpiece, she would think. Better than the meticulous shadows of careful doodles.

Sometimes little effort yeilds great return.

And then chubby little hands would come along and add their special touches.

Dots and spots. Spatters and stains. Smudges and scribbles. But in each one was a proud smile, a toothless grin, a pair of large brown or blue or green or grey eyes in complete contentment.

And she drew so many trees, so very many. And so many hands would, sure as rain, come along, and deck them for conquest.

Trees that if they were to spring to life, would be tall and harmonious with the earth and skies. They would be of all colours and hues. They would drip with life and light and laughter, they would not fit in with the world but they would stand out and all who saw them would be in awe. Purples and blues and yellows and oranges, the sun beamed from the cracks in their rough trunks. The dreams danced between their branches, and the jewels of hope dripped and glittered in all colours from their branches.

And she would always doodle her trees, let them set their roots between her deft fingers, and grow tall and wide, spreading their branches through the world. Business and law and retail and marketing and publishing and writing and artistry and medicine and dentistry and order and dance and motherhood and fatherhood and leadership and travel and thought… it did not matter where they went or what they did.

What mattered was the roots that sprung from between her fingers.

Amy Giacomelli

I Miss Summer

I miss summer, with its sudden thunderstorms and endless light.

Hot, silent, still.

The grass crackles and folds and pales under the glare of a ferocious sun.

And then the rain gushes down in a torrent akin to a waterfall. As quickly as it started, an invisible tap turns off, clouds scudding away to reveal the bluest skies.

Endless deep contemplation in the vast azure.

Stretching over the world and into the distance.

Paling even as it speeds away, until it dissolves into ethereal nothingness.

Hours seem endless, meditation and reflection come with ease. Welcoming atmosphere. Gentle breeze.

I suppose there is a beauty to autumn too. Summer has to burn itself out, and bow to the change in season. Accept the rain, accept age. Accept that life must stand still after months of ravenous growth.

There is a beauty to lashings of endless rain, droplets light enough to dust eyelashes like the smallest jewels. Smooth conkers, waterlogged grass, windfalls aplenty. Trees become sparse, pale, and then explode in a plethora of colour.

Amber and saffron and gold.

The earth sighs and releases her deep essence. The aroma of life. Mud and grass and dying vegetation, rich even in their demise. Generous in their sacrifice. Nutrients seeping into the soil, waiting to sit through icy months, feeding the dormant seedlings that will once again spring to life when the earth turns her face achingly towards the sun.

I miss summer, I do. But I know that in order for us to have a summer, we must also have an autumn and a winter and a beautiful spring.

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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.

Fancy Yourself a Writer?

Writing a book is an incredibly hard thing. I fancy myself a writer but I have never properly finished writing a book. Sure, I’ve written drafts, but it’s a mammoth task turning a draft into something that flows with the smooth syrupy confidence of authentic maple syrup over some self-assured pancakes.

I have read plenty of books and judged them mercilessly. Some books feel cheap to me and I can SEE the potential in them, the words leap out in broken shatters, begging to be re-strung, imploring the author to please re-dress them, as they tumble about their pages in clumsy clusters. Some books just need a good editor.

Then there are other books that lift my feet right off the ground. I find myself amazed and defeated all at once. I find myself nursing an ache that won’t go away. How do people put pen to paper and release such magnificent things? Worlds and vivid imagery and passionate characters with all the dimensions of a kaleidoscope.

As an example, I was reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and when I reached the end I felt despair when I realised that he had attempted to dumb his novel down, since it was written by his heroine, Briony. I opened the first page of Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ and was floored by the ushering in of a leaden August sky by a biting wind that blew out July. The life in their words seethe and sizzle on the faded pages on which they were printed. And I don’t know how. 

So yes. Writing a book is a very difficult thing. And I am sure the people who wrote the ‘badly written’ books must have thought that their books were ‘well written’, else they would be ashamed to have them out in the world. So, that begs the question, HOW do you know your writing is ‘good enough’?