Dis _ _ _ _ tions!

Sitting at my desk, hoping to create gold on paper (read computer screen). I wonder what’s on radio? A new Urdu poem on Instagram? The angle of the sun getting snazzier by the day. That pile of unopened mail, staring at me. Those people walking by the window, in all-white costumes, singing. Are they drunk? The silencer in that car is not working.

The answer phone, blinking. Oh! That pending phone call to Mum and that long overdue important e-mail. Wonder if it’s cycling weather tomorrow. My hair, so bad from sweating inside the helmet. My stomach’s churning again. I wonder if the orchids need more water in this weather. Maybe I should look it up. No. No. Later. That new film someone recommended on Netflix. That Book at Bedtime – I need to catch up with the first two episodes. A-level results came out today. I hope the majority of the students were not disappointed. Saagar did so well in his A-level exams! Ten years ago.

That picture perfect Expedia cloud, framed in the middle of my window. This breeze, just like the one before the first monsoon shower back home. Wonder if anyone’s reading the report I wrote. Wonder if many patients will make it to the hospital tomorrow for their appointments. What do the train drivers do when they are on strike? I see the point they are trying to make. They believe they’re doing it for us all. Good for them.

The laundry needs sorted and put away. I need to pack for the weekend. A cup of jasmine tea and a piece of chocolate would be perfect. It’s too late to write anything sensible now. So, here’s praying for better luck tomorrow. Good night for now.

She.

(Pen Vogler by John Burke. BP portrait awards 2017)

With all her worldly wealth, she could not purchase belonging. Especially to herself. Her eyes thirsty for tenderness. Her muscles tense with want, her skin hungry for touch, her lips a straight line of dissatisfaction.

She hoped a painter might find her in his brush strokes and capture her on his canvas. She paid him a mountain, so he could help her find out who she might be … find out if she could like herself. After many hours of sitting still, with her hands clasped together in her lap, she was tired. She was tired of perfectly painting her fingernails bright red, for the painter. She couldn’t wait to see what he saw.

The day came and the painting was ready to be seen by her. Her eyes bulged out of her head, eager to find the joy she so wanted to find in herself. All she saw in the fore-ground, was a golden dress sitting beside a golden yellow lamp shade. All she saw in the back-ground, was dark brown walls and furniture. That was the gist of it. The thing she was dying to find was not there. It was yet to be born. Those clasped hands held the secret. She knew what she had to do – unlock the door with those lovely hands and leave … for some place, white, blue and green.

What do I do with this thing?

It churns inside me all the time. This thing does not settle. It does not sit still. It burns my tummy, wets my thirsty eyes, parches my tongue and pokes its elbow into the longing in my heart. It doesn’t rest and doesn’t allow me to rest. It kisses my forehead, only to kill me with its kindness. It stays with me, no matter where I go – to the park, to work, on a bike-ride, at my desk, in the kitchen. It seeps into my words. Into the movements of my hands. Into the mirror. Into the songs, I choose. Into tea and toast. There is no getting away from it. It pervades my silences and my sleep.

I wish it had never appeared but it has. It wish it wasn’t mine but it is. The problem is, it won’t leave me alone. Not for the briefest of moments. In a Stockholm Syndrome way, I hold on to it and defend it. How I wish it wouldn’t tear me up so mercilessly.

What do I do with this thing?

Once I heard a Therapeutic Writing Coach say: Name it. Claim it. Tame it. Re-frame it. Proclaim it.

‘Re-frame it’ stayed with me. It does not mean I tell myself false pacifying stories but encourages me to see it for what it is, beyond the drama. Grief, as love that has no place to go. Longing, as the other side of the coin of love.

If I don’t transform it, I will keep transmitting it and I don’t want to do that.

(Resource: Therapist and Writing for Well-being Coach

Nigel Gibbons : http://www.nigelgibbons.co.uk/About-Me.htm)

Who is telling me not to do this?

“You want to write a book? Who do you think you are? Why would anyone spend any time or the money on it? Who’s interested in reading your stuff? You will expose your inner life unnecessarily. You are not a writer. Don’t pretend to be one. Your book will simply prove your mediocrity to everyone. Even if you manage to write it, who will publish it? I think you will have to go the self-publishing route.” Oh no! This voice in my head. In any case, I don’t have time. Nor the talent or the imagination. I don’t feel inspired. I am not in the right frame of mind. There’s too much else going on. I am struggling with ‘structure’. It’s serious and solitary hard work. As the story is still unfolding, we haven’t reached the end yet. So, how can it be finished? When I sit at my desk staring at a blank page, I freeze. I don’t know what to write about. It’s too big a job and the hospital is keeping me so busy. On top of that, there are unending chores that need done. The summer has finally arrived and I should take the time to enjoy that. The list of excuses goes on and on. There is so much I don’t remember accurately anymore. How do I put that in words? I am up against this project when I want to flow with it. The book wants to come from a place of love. Not angst. I need to take it easy. Breathe. Gently ask my inner critic to come back later, when I am on the second draft. For now, leave me alone with these blank pages. Let me see them as friends who want to help me be fully expressed. I need to learn to connect with my anxious heart, soothe it and be fully present here at my desk. Right now. And start, regardless. Go to the kitchen. Make a cup of coffee. Water the money-plant. Return to the study. Look at the man in a blue and white base-ball cap walking with his tan Labrador in the park across the road. The round green trees and the clear blue sky. I put on the soundtrack of Human’s music on Youtube – a spectacular film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, music composed by Armand Amar. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uog4eCZTUX4) I am but a dot on this enormous picture inside which I live. Connected with everything. Not separate. In my heart, can I trust myself to be a tiny part of a greater process? Trust myself. Show up every day and work with the mystery. Trust myself.

Oceans apart

My mother.

she was known by

her chum-chum silver key ring

tucked into her slim waist

and her swishing saris.

Those delicate fabrics

draping her like feathers.

Her face so gentle, her red bindi

was home.

Still is.

*

No other.

I saw me in her.

Years carried me away

to far-off places,

where every house

had steep staircases

inside.

Outside, the winds blew hard and

the terrible winter

could bite.

*

Why bother?

Here, jeans and polo-necks,

only they would do.

The stairs would unfurl

my sari in milliseconds,

if I dared to.

My dupattas would sweep the floor.

My bindi out of place,

found no spot to decorate.

The years I blame.

*

Not like her.

Yes. Oceans apart,

she is she, in her handwoven

white, pink and blue cotton sari

and me is me, in my blue Gap jeans.

Yet we are somewhat the same.

***

Blue words

Woke up at 3 am this morning to attend a Poetry workshop on-line, India time. Himalayan Writing Retreat made it happen for us twelve. Hard to believe so much fun and learning could happen with strangers, sitting thousands of miles apart. Here’s what came out of it. Looking forward to much much more. Today’s Haibun:

She is decimated – an earthen clay pot, once holding colourless water in a colourless circle, now dust. She watches this happen to her, as if from outer space. As she zooms in, she can touch the wetness of what is spilt all over the marbled floor. It is possibly still within reach, this source of life. Drop by drop, she picks it up and adds it into her tumbler of tears. It magically swirls into an aquamarine blue – deeper than the deepest ocean and sky. The blue of life. Yes. It is blue and all of it, her very own.  

She colours her words with it. The words that were once, blood red.

Her walls, her flowers, her friendships.

Now she has this blue, she’s complete again. Fully of this earth.

dancing flame . . .

finding myself

in the mirror again

(Resource: Learn to write at https://www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/)

The Season of Giving

In July, looking for inspiration to think and write beautifully, I spent an hour on 3 consecutive Sundays listening to David Whyte, a wise and warm poet of English/ Irish origin who speaks and writes, seemingly from his spirit. I thought he was some kind of a magician as I felt mesmerized, awakened and soothed by his presence and his words.

He described the simple involuntary act of breathing as a life-sustaining exchange for the planet – inhaling is receiving and exhaling is giving. Generosity and gratitude – reciprocity in every moment. Last Sunday he spoke on the seasonal subject of ‘giving’ and I can’t help but share the synopsis of his talk in his own words here.

  1. The foundational understanding that giving is not just a logistical act of transferring something from one person to another, but an art form to be practiced. Like all art forms, practicing it takes time and spaciousness and the ability to create a relationship with the unknown, the invisible and the unspoken.
  1. To learn to give is often the simple, heart-breaking act of giving again.
  1. Giving is an essence of relationship. To stop giving is often to call an end to relationship.
  2. Giving asks us to have a close relationship with both time and timelessness. All gifts change with the maturation of both the giver and the receiver.
  1. Giving is an imaginative journey into another’s life with all the implications accompanying that journey.
  1. Giving can be a form of blessing, a way of empowering another life. The blessing is made through giving what a person does not even know they need themselves.
  1. Giving, in the words of Shakespeare, is ‘Twice Blessed’. Through exploring the edges of our own generosity, we come to understand where we have trouble receiving ourselves; and this teaches us to ask for what we ourselves might not feel we deserve. In the enriched relationship, giving becomes a reciprocal harvest where giver and receiver are not so easily distinguished.

(PS: On 3 Sundays in January 2021, he speaks about resolutions for new beginnings. Recordings and written resources available if you are able/unable to attend the live event)

Freedom on a page

Writing is a friend. It sustains. It slowly pushes open the rusted, jammed doors of many hearts and allows for the gaping wounds in there to heal. Over the last few weeks it’s clear that it is not just possible but fun, to attend and host meetings remotely. Despite challenges, it can be enriching. A wise man/woman has identified 3 things one needs, to get through a day :

  1. Someone to love.
  2. Something to do.
  3. Something to look forward to.

No wonder people are gardening, baking, embroidering and doing various things, spending time or connecting in creative ways with people they love. We have been setting one episode of ‘The Crown’ as our carrot, to look forward to at the end of a long ‘working from home’ day. I have been writing some poetry and dreaming of putting a book together and getting it published some day. There goes my Ego …. again!

This seems like a good time to do something new. I would like to invite you to write with me. To connect with your hearts and bring a blank page to life. To find your own expression and share other people’s worlds through their words and prose. We would call ourselves “Freedom on a page”. In this time of partial captivity, this title seemed appropriate. If you have other suggestions, please bring them to the group. We would meet every Tuesday morning for an hour and a half – between 9 and 10.30 am on Zoom. We would write as much as we like during the week but have 200-300 words to read out to the group. If you would much rather only listen, that’s fine too. Join in. Don’t think so hard that you talk yourself out of it. You have done that before. Haven’t you? 😉

If you would like to join, please

(1) e-mail me at kidsaregifts20@gmail.com by Saturday, the 23rd of May. If you’d like more time to decide, take that time and send me the e-mail when you are ready.

(2) familiarise yourself with Zoom (https://zoom.us/) and download it on your computer/phone. It is free and easy. You can switch the video off if you don’t want to be seen. You can participate by writing on the ‘chat’ if you don’t want to speak.

I will send you an invite by e-mail on Monday, the 25th. I will start the meeting 15 minutes before 9 am, UK time (GMT+1) on Tuesday, the 26th of May and wait for you. Then we’ll see what happens. I have never done this before so I am a little bit nervous too. Shall we write about what ‘Freedom’ means to you? Feel free to pick any other subject. I look forward to this adventure. Depending on how you feel, we can continue to ‘meet-up’ every Tuesday.

Try it. Magic happens when the naked tip of a pen meets a nude blank page. The fingers holding that pen are deeply connected to the real you. So are the fingers typing on your keyboard.

Freedom on a page

Feathers fall from heavens like rain

A splash of sun-rays on the pavement lifts dust

Fills my senses with petrichor

The romance of which dances

In every gap, crack and crevice

I float up with the fragrance

And glide along the tops of trees

Breathe in bliss, touching green

Everything IS, as it IS

Watching its own ISNESS

Wrapped in a melodious silence.

This must be it

One moment of being fully alive.

— — — —

The Sliding.

Ryan woke up at least twice every night to run to the loo. But last night he moved like a little whirlwind under the sheets. Sue slept through most of it but found it peculiar. She didn’t say anything, lest it disturb him but he disturbed her at least every hour without knowing it.

She woke up feeling tired at 6.30 am. It was a Monday morning. The day of the week didn’t matter much any more as both of them had recently retired. She as a head-mistress of a primary school and he as an accountant.

Their daughter lived in Liverpool with her boy-friend. Her job as a personal trainer at David Lloyds was less than they’d hoped for her. Her boy-friends spoke funny but for a living, wrote speeches for prominent people. The phony politicians who couldn’t even write what they wanted to say to the people they represented.

Sue put the kettle on and freshened up while it whirred. She put two green and gold Wedgewood cups and saucers on a tray along with a matching milk pot and a tea pot large enough to hold 4 cups. She entered the bedroom with the tray. Instead of sitting up in bed thumbing his phone, Ryan was flat on his back. His eyes red and fine vertical lines above his nose.

‘Morning!’ she sang, ‘You ok darling?’

With a smile, she placed the tray on his bedside table and placed her hand on his forehead.  

“Yes. I’m fine.” Said Ryan.

‘Did you sleep well?’

“Not really. The temperature in this room was all over the place. Couldn’t settle.”

The temperature was just fine, she thought but decided to stay mum.

‘Care for a cuppa?’

“Yeah. Sure.” Ryan raised his head off the pillow. An oval wet patch was imprinted on the white cotton pillow case. He quickly turned it around and stood it up against the cushioned head-board. She noticed but did not comment. She poured the golden-brown tea into the cups and added a few drops of milk for him. Over this first month of their retirement they had been falling into a nice little routine. Opening the day with a shared pot of tea was a special pleasure for them both. It made space for the rest of the day to slide into their lives.  

“What shall we do today?” she asked Ryan.

‘I miss my work. All the friends I had. My clients. The window in front of my desk. The 11 am coffee with colleagues. The laughter. I even miss the commute. I never thought I’d hear myself say that but it was nice. I miss all that.’

“Yes. I am sure. I miss my work too but not much. Shall we go to the garden centre and get some saplings? This is a good time for planting. The Organic Café does some nice coffee too.”

‘Let’s see. I might just enjoy the sun-shine in our garden today.’ He got up to visit the loo again. This was not like Ryan. He was the one who normally put ideas forward and she was the one who normally said yes or no.

As soon as he left the room, she put her cup down and stood up to get a closer look at the other side of his pillow. It was definitely damp. She peeled back Ryan’s side of the duvet. The bedsheet underneath him was certainly moist. It smelt of him. Only stronger. This was unusual.

Sue’s pulse quickened. She’d heard of people working really hard all their lives and then dying soon after their retirement. She shoved her silly thoughts aside and waited for Ryan to come back, trying to focus on the delicateness of the tea.

When Ryan came back, she was surprised to hear the puffing sounds of his breathing. His brow had started to glisten.

“Would you rather have a lie-in Ryan?”

‘No. I am ok. Nice tea. Don’t make an old man of me. I’ll be fine once I’ve had a shower. It’s funny. My left arm feels strange. Must’ve slept funny.’

Now she could hear her own heart pumping in her ears. But she kept it cool.

She managed a fake smile. A polite false agreement. She wanted to jump at the phone and dial 999 but didn’t want to scare Ryan.

“There’s no rush to have a shower. More tea?”

‘No. Thanks. I’ll get myself a glass of water.’

“Don’t worry. I’ll get it for you.” She jumped.

At the kitchen sink Sue stood like a statue, staring at the water pouring down the hole in the stain-less steel basin. Is today the day my life changes for ever?

She debated with herself on what to do next. A tug of war went on within her. Does he know he’s unwell? Is he really unwell or am I imagining this? Is that new virus in him? In our house? In our bed? Will he be terrified if I tell him what I think? Is he just having the blues? Or a heart attack? Or an infection? Or nothing at all?

She carries the glass of water back to Ryan. He glugs it back and slowly slides back inside his duvet. She walks around to her side of the bed, slips under the covers and lays down right beside him, holding him with both her arms, a little bit tighter than usual.

Like a couple of soft cuddly toys, they snuggle up. In that moment, she has all she needs. Ryan breathing, resting right next to her. Her tears meld into her pillow. The past and the future disappear. In that moment, life is whole and complete.