Wandering through Colours: Theories in Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia is not a product of conscious thought. Though it is possible to induce a short-term effect in the minds of test subjects, via hypnosis, mnemonic-training and drugs, the truth lies in the lack of consistency and prolonged reaction times between the inducer (trigger) and the concurrent (synaesthetic response.) To put it another way, regarding the more commonly known grapheme-colour type, the identification of colour in a letter will differ each time, with an “a” seen as red in one instance, blue the next. Synaesthesia is closer to the involuntary actions of a cardiac muscle; we don’t tell our hearts to beat or blood to flow, yet these will occur even as we sleep, and we are aware of them through the feel of our pulse and in our conscious state.

The Stroop Effect is used by researchers to “see if the reactions within a person’s brain are consistent with those standard in a brain altered by synesthesia.” Typically, a longer reaction time will be seen in the mind of a non-synaesthete (imagine a kick as opposed to a blink.) The Test-Retest measures consistency between inducer—>concurrent: subjects are presented with a set of objects, flashcards bearing numbers and letters/words, or an audio programme without visuals, and asked to attribute these with a synaesthetic response of colour, shapes/patterns, textures, taste, personality traits, moods etc. After a set period of time, the test is reissued, with a synaesthete producing replicate results, “as they’ve already made neural associations which are automatic and consistent.”

The answer then lies not in preference, but in a reflexive response. It’s also true of synaesthesia that, with increased awareness, its strength can be intensified. This was my experience last year, when I could finally put a name to what was causing all of the colours and shapes in my mind, in relation to sounds, letters, numbers and – more recently discovered – moods. I had experienced flecks of synaesthesia, in conjunction with sounds and some written words, since childhood, and had assumed everyone saw the world as I did. Now, it’s possible to distinguish one particular “mood” from another by the colour that defines it, like strata-nimbus layering up the sky as forewarning of storms, or wispy cirrus on brighter days. This is most likely through an increased awareness of what I’m “looking” at.

I did at first attribute every reaction to grapheme/tonal synaesthesia, but this couldn’t explain how I was also able to perceive moods in colour, independent of text or sounds. Further research showed that an emotion-based type does indeed exist. It’s possible for a synaesthete to present more than one type, often without realizing it, much as we experience crossmodal correspondences to enhance our awareness of surroundings (think of a cat phlegming the air, using both taste and smell, as well as sight, to map out relevant features of its territory.)

On top of all this are the actual means of manifestation, through internal or external perception. An associator-synaesthete will find their concurrent is based in the mind, as of an awareness, like ink sifting through water, while a projector will find synaesthesia in the world around them, as colours in letters or shapes moving around their body in connection with sound.

For my part, synaesthesia presents itself in indistinct form behind my eyes – I’m an associator. A grapheme won’t be defined in clear-cut lines, but I am aware of its inherent colour all the same; just as I know that singer Cat Power has a smoky-purple voice, and the colour of loss is milky-violet. It is an awareness of changes in light and darkness, a shape seen out of the corner of the eye. A sun-dial shadow moving silently over the plate. A painting in Tonalism.

nocturne
James McNeill Whistler, “Nocturne – Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach.”

I’m certainly no expert in neuroscience, but curiosity about the syndrome has led me to wander from one theoretical idea to another, linking proven facts relative to the brain, to what is known of synaesthesia through objective tests, research and subjective reports. Of particular interest is the chance of there being a deeper interaction between sensory modalities for a heightened synaesthetic response, like weaving orchestral instruments into a symphony. In my experience, reading aloud from a book can stimulate colours in sight and hearing, as well as evoke colouration in a mood. Do these always stand independently of one another, or can they mingle to create a stronger impression?

One theory holds that “synaesthetes have unusual connections between different sensory regions of the cerebral cortex, perhaps because of a failure to prune improper, under-used or redundant synaptic connections during development of the nervous system.” If what has come before sounded like gobbledigook, this one’s a clanger. It basically means that, in the creation of synaesthetic brains, some wires were leftover between important sensory regions; this allows unusual crossovers to occur between sight and sound, smell and memory, mood and touch. The cerebral cortex is responsible for information processing – everything from thinking, perceiving, producing and understanding language – and is divided into lobes, each of which has a specific function for governing areas of response and interpretation. These are the important regions, while the synaptic connections are the wires.

cerebral cortex

This rather brilliant study of emotional-synaesthesia, goes some way towards supporting the theory of a “candidate region… implicated in both emotion and memory,” playing host to my own colour-associative experiences of mood, and certain letters/numbers. The retrosplenial cortex is “known to respond both to personally familiar people relative to unfamiliar people, and to emotional words relative to neutral words… Its location in the medial-posterior region of the brain also makes it an attractive candidate to interface with visual regions.” Which would explain how I am able to sense an internal response, while filtering out “neutral words” (and presumably sounds) with no emotional salience – could this be the reason that I have a strong reaction to letters “a” and “e”, because they happen to make up my own name – Rachael?

A study conducted in 2010 by Romke Rouwe and H. Steven Scholte of the University of Amsterdam, saw the recruitment of “16 projector and 26 associator grapheme-colour synaesthetes”, who were each placed in a brain scanner and “shown letters and numbers to evoke synaesthetic experiences.” Of the structural and functional aspects tested, one striking difference between the brains of the two types lay in the volume of grey matter density of particular areas. Projectors were seen to have increased levels in the visual and auditory regions, the activation of which caused the perception of “real objects… letters and numbers, to evoke the vivid experience of colours in external space.”

Associators, on the other hand, were seen to have increased grey matter in the hippocampus and surrounding areas known to be “critical for the formation of autobiographical, semantic and spatial memories.” The hippocampus is involved in connecting “emotions and senses, such as smell and sound, to memories” – that’s the wonderful nostalgia found in the smell of frying bacon on a golden morning, or the wind-rush excitement that spikes up the skin, evoked by the spice of pine needles. The location of the hippocampus, in the temporal lobe – itself responsible for the interpretation of sounds and language -gives a boost to the possibility of a crossover occurring via “unpruned” synaptic connections, in the brain of an Associator. Furthermore, it would allow for a range of synaesthetic experiences, perhaps activated simultaneously by the same stimuli, for that “symphonic” effect. It would certainly help to explain how I am able to experience writing, music and other inducers, on a multi-sensual level.

It is noted in the study that this region, with its wholly internal perceptions, would resemble “memory retrieval”, in that letters and numbers would only evoke “recollections of the experience of colours, rather than vivid impressions of the colours themselves.” This goes back to the issue of recall v.s. actual sense-crossovers, and would lead me to question the validity of my own experiences … were it not for the undeniable presence of colours in relation to moods, as well as the additional (and consistent) features found in inducers, such as texture, personality traits and spatial awareness. These are all experienced on such a unique, nuanced and involuntary level, especially where there is strong emotional resonance, that I find it difficult to attribute each one only to memory-recall. But the study does serve to highlight the crucial differences in construct, for understanding how one synaesthetic mind will differ from another in practise. Variations between regions of the brain that are stimulated, will dictate whether an internal or external effect is produced.

Timing will also differ between the two types, based on interference between actual visual perceptions, and the external synaesthetic responses of a projector. While a grapheme-colour associator would read a coloured letter and find their concurrent “in the mind’s eye”, a projector would take longer to identify what they are seeing in the external world, as evidenced in Stroop tests, when a “colour word is printed in a colour that differs from the meaning of the word… When asked to name the printed colour, the discrepancy causes longer response times and more errors, because we can read words more quickly than we can name colours.”

This is not to say that I don’t have my fair share of distractions and crossover-confusions. The colours of individual graphemes can be altered by the presence of a ‘dominant’ colour in one letter (“i” is white, and has a tendency to “bleach out” other letters around it; the word “institutionalized” appears as a blind man’s stick, tall and upright), while a mood-concurrent may overwhelm a song, cancelling out the colours inherent of vocals and music. The National’s “Slipped” appears in the silver-lilac of an evening sky; these are the colours of loss and longing. No instrument stands out, and vocalist Matt Berninger’s chocolate-baritone is obscured in the haze.

Lake heart 1

Some prominent grapheme-colour features:
a = navy blue
ae = blue-green
c = canary yellow
ch = canary yellow
e = green
h = kelly green
i = white
m = red
o = ultramarine
oo = teal / turquoise
s = mint green, silver
t = black
u = yellow
x = grey

3 holds very favourable connections, as its turquoise appearance has a silky sheen reminiscent of sunlight twinkling in a thousand sparkles on the ocean, or a beautiful ball gown cunningly sewn through with glitter. It is also of moderate size, neat and compact, with positive traits of independence and intelligence. 6, on the other hand, is little and silly; light green, and quite youthful. 9 is enigmatic and purple, towering-tall as a solemn older lady in heels; while 7 is brown and cheerful. 3 also runs concurrently with the letter C, which begins many of my favourite words; but in this case, the colour-perception is far less appealing, in solid canary-yellow (think of a child’s box of poster paints, or a piece of plastic.) Again, this points towards a reflexive, rather than a preferential reaction.

0 = no colour
1 = red
2 = yellow
3 = turquoise
4 = dark green
5 = yellow
6 = orange
7 = brown
8 = pink
9 = purple
10 = no colour

The name of my friend, Carlotta, is dark blue (“o”) and pale pink (“a”). There is no sign of canary-yellow “c”, and “a” is normally blue when beginning the alphabet; it also stands at odds with her Twitter handle, @1chae, with the consonant diagraph “ch” appearing in yellow, while somehow lightening the blue-green of “ae” into turquoise.

The presence of “name colours” has a mnemonic effect that’s handy for social situations – I can pin a colour/colours to people, as you would bookmark a page. Similarly, synaesthetes who experience sequence-space and colours in relation to time, are able to create an internal diary or an external calendar; in a projector type, the latter is known to appear around their bodies, with more recent dates featuring large and prominent, and later dates “further away”.

“For me, the days of the week go from left to right, and the months go round in a wheel, with January meeting December in the bottom centre. Oddly, I don’t have this for numbers. So when I think “I’m meeting Lizzie on Thursday”, my mind jumps to a low space in front of my torso, towards my right. (Thursday is brown; Lizzie is blue).” – Holly Williams, “I can smell a Rainbow.”

cartographiesoftime2
Brainpickings, “Cartographies of Time: A Visual History of the Timeline.”

The texture of a letter can be altered between its written and spoken forms, with certain phonemes silvering-up words that would otherwise have a matte or solid appearance. The sibilance found in “city”, “cerulean” and “strata”, for example, whittles their shape down to something delicate, like a crystal glass or fine-link chain; at odds with the boldness of phoneme /k/ in “cat”, “clover” and “kill.” It’s for this reason that I consider words based in Old French to be of paler hue and lighter substance than those of Germanic origin, which appear more jagged.

While a lower pitch equates a darker tone, the colour of a voice or instrument will not change; a swift climb up the scales produces a narrowed effect and lighter shade. Should one instrument take precedence over others, an overlay of colours may appear, as with the ostrich guitar in the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” – those brass flares claw at the smoky teal background like forked lightning over a midnight sky. The two colours stand out, distinct from one another, yet the image is still wholly internal; there are no external projections onto the world around me.

Timbre dictates shape, with folk singer Nick Drake’s voice appearing in the rounded fluidity of an oboe, rippling green as river water, occasionally gritty with oak bark. Canadian singer Leslie Feist appears in pale mint-green, woven through with striations of darker and lighter shades, in a texture best described as “tethered” – a matte, frayed-edge appearance, as of a strip of papyrus or woven cloth. A broader stroke (e.g. a guitar chord or throaty voice) produces a wider sweep of the brush in a range of shades, while a single monotonous note or thin/quiet voice appears in the trail of a fine-tipped watercolour pencil.

As a general rule, music I would file under “wandering / nostalgic” – almost invariably in minor key – will appear in colours evocative of the bittersweet tang found in a sunset, regardless of unique instrumental and vocal features. Gold, brass, copper, cream, honey, fawn: twisted scrap metal, the jagged hues of a landlocked barge; the haze of an early autumn sky, the sepia tones of an old photograph. Mogwai’s “Too Raging to Cheers” is one such song, reminscent of a fiery day’s end, wandering an abandoned railway line, smelling the thick richness of oil leaking from heat-baked sleepers, listening to the scrunch of gravel underfoot, the bony clatter of weeds in the wind.

abadn
Flickr, “The Disused Railways Pool.”

Kensquarrycar1-1

When depression begins its slow creep-crawl through my head, I know of its presence through the gradual fading-out of all colours. While this can happen in connection with weariness or low blood sugar, a prolonged state of “pale mind” is a signal for me to look around at circumstances, experiences; if I’m not pushing the buck with excessive exercise or lack of rest, something else is at work. In similar fashion, a stark “whiteout” represents real fear and/or shock, caught in the camera flash of a moment. This reaction has been known to intrude on actual visual perceptions, much as someone suffering with a migraine would find it difficult to see properly. Other synaesthetes have reported similar instances of their concurrent producing a warning signal:

“Since I was a child I have had vivid visual images in response to fearful or uncomfortable thoughts. Intense ones, that is. The fear-induced images take the form of highly wrinkled bluish-greenish paper moving around in an irregular pattern. It’s a whole landscape. Sometimes the images consist in large quantities of quickly presented irregular and wrinkled pieces of bluish-greenish cloth moving around very quickly. Not all of my uncomfortable or fearful thoughts are associated with this sort of phenomenology but the occurrence of this kind of phenomenology is a sure sign of uncomfortable or scary thoughts.” – Berit Brogaard, DMSci, PhD and Kristian Marlow, “The Superhuman Mind: Cases of extraordinary mental ability.”

I always know when a feral mood is coming on. It’s in the glossiness of a raven’s wing or a beetle’s back; the purple-blackness of a forest full of thorns and silent trees, all shot through with the pale claws of the moon that lick off dark eyes. It’s the wilder side we try to conceal from the grey reality of Everyday. It’s an amalgamation of those raw emotions that are rich as soil and hard to deny. It’s the source of my insomniac nights, spent wandering the orange-splintered lamplight haven, kicking up old leaves. It’s the hot hard feeling in the back of the throat, the burning eyes and iron-grin, when reading something that fills you with a sudden savage desire to act – to run, fuck, claw the walls. Sometimes it appears without any prompting at all. When I’m at work, it’s best to keep my head down. Left unfulfilled, it can fall into a nimbus-mood, which is closer to repressed anger and a bad mood.

beetle black

For all of these words and theories, I still have no clear idea as to the origins of the synaesthesia that colours up my mind. Perhaps it’s better this way, wandering through the half-light, in unfinished lines of what-might-be. All I can be sure of is the consistency. Even when talking with another chromosthete (sound—>colour), I would find discrepancies between our reactions; particularly if they happen to be a projector-type, able to watch the flux-flow of colours and patterns externally. My internal perceptions are as much a focus of life as the normal five senses, and – as a writer – it’s priceless in figurative language. I can simulate (and stimulate) versions of what I perceive, through sensory crossovers that will allow a non-synaesthete to know how a word relative to cold may appear blue, how a situation full of tension can be tasted in the iron-tang air.

I’ll cover my own influences in the next blog post.

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In Love, On Time / Album Review, “Secrets Spill Over”

Every now and then, an album or song will come along and look you squarely in the eye, take you by the hand and walk through your mind; it will speak with the words you’d come out with in your own time… if you dared. A period of your life becomes framed in the overall structure; listening to a particular track, you find the starburst of images and emotional connections, and it’s all that you can do to wander off down an alley somewhere, to be quiet and alone, to make sense of it all over again.

I’m a method-writer, and rely heavily on these sensory triggers to re-enact or replicate an emotional reaction to a situation (which may have its place in my history, or someone else’s.) Music is an excellent conduit, leading with words and a mood-colour of the moment. As much as we might cringe at the cliché (Dylan Moran worked this “Song is all about me” phenomena into his Monster tour), it is the familiar resonance of what remains linked to the chords, the lyrics and melodies, which we fall back on when the going gets tough. We look to our pasts to learn how to govern our futures. It’s a bit like going home to stay with the folks, or crashing with a best friend after a bad break-up.

There is no emotion more riddled-up with clichés than Love. I try to avoid them wherever possible, in writing and my personal life, though inevitably will fail in both, because the clichés were born out of some kernel of originality, which is old and dark and far more important than my opinions, or the vacant stare of a fluffy bear haemorrhaging its heart.

Time shares this duality. It is at once a continuum of ghosts on a wild road, a stream of collective conciousness … and a heady flux-flow of emotions bound up in reality, strung like beads along the ribbon of Always be There, and Beyond Death. It is the difference between dust motes drifting through bars of sunlight … and the wind that stirs them away with a footfall. Or better yet, not dwelling too much on Where is this Going? in favour of I’m still with you; and you are You, while I am Me. That’s only my take on things, you understand. I’m not averse to anniversaries, but continuous counting along a calendar tends to feel like heading for an end, rather than a limitless horizon.

Secrets Spill Over, the fifth solo album of artist Paul Gonzenbach and his eighth overall, is a narrative of the continuity of Love and Time, their moments of raw reality. Not so much a nostalgic contemplation, as a fine expose of the mood swings which can be our undoing, when communication breaks down and self-doubt wells up; when frustration boils over.

Every time I listen to it – and it has been on repeat for the past couple of weeks – I find myself walking through the soul of a clock, watching the slide and shine of wheels and cogs and bars; a symmetrical dance that somehow brings form and control to what is otherwise abstract, would remain forever elusive and unknown.

inside a clock

The opening chimes of the guitar ring pure and crisp through the mind, a harmonic overlay of silver bars, which soon prove to be a running motif through the album (with varying degrees of volume-inclusion; they become more noticeable on the softer tracks, which take on an ethereal quality.) These shining silver bars offset the black-fuzz of bass, which in harder songs runs us ragged, burning the heart and filling up every corner of the mind, while the bite behind some of the lyrics is unnervingly belied by the gentle tone of Paul’s voice. It’s a brilliant effect, direct without loss of control, like the dark wind which blows between icicles.
(On a side note: as a synaesthete, I have to say that this album is almost entirely silver and black. Just so you’re not thrown off by my references to cold colours; it’s not a negative slant, only how the music appears to me.)

“An obligation you blew off … Where did the drive go, the sense of devotion? When’s the last time you had that?”

the-large-clock-inside
Image: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Time. The word comes back to haunt us, with the two-way mirrors of “fault” and “disappoint”; it’s always pleasing to find a narrator who is willing to stand and confess to his/her own flaws and faults, even while delivering an expose of other’s (“You broke up with him by just not returning phone calls … And you have to admit, it’s not like you’re blameless.“) In this, Paul Gonzenbach bears more than a passing resemblance to The National’s Matt Berninger; their narrative styles read like pages torn from a personal diary and thrust under the nose, while there is something of the Ohio/Brooklyn band’s baroque-rock aesthetic, in the use of guitar, drums and fine-angled cello. But while Matt’s chocolate-baritone vocals hold the dust of an open road, the longing for loved ones left behind in pursuit of the rockstar life, Paul wears the iron-smile of one who knows what he is due. The burning-bass intro and echo-effect of vocals in “Consequence” make the hairs stand on end, even before the lyrics have begun to sink in: “Another chance to miss / Another option to dismiss / You haven’t got the sense / We’ll never face the consequence.”

There is the familiar push-pull of individuality and pining, the I need You / I don’t Need You’s which Leonard Cohen once spoke of (“And you know that I stick around for your getaway, even if I say that I won’t.”) Housing developments, drunken dizziness and fair-weather fathers, make those pockets of reality all the more tangible; these are essential for grounding what might be mistaken for youthful laments, in an ageless insecurity and self-flagellation (“It’s all in my mind, and conscience, all the time / I was too much of a coward for you to be mine.“) Frustration jars in the dissonance of chords and vocals, the staccato of drums and the burning heart of that bass, in “Break your Lease” and closing “Say you’re Wrong.”

Of the latter: I’d had it in mind to criticize the positioning of such a frantic track, in what is otherwise a very compact album. Surely the cathedral-ceiling pathos of penultimate “Worse for you than smoking”, would have made a more fitting closure? But further listens shifted my perspective. Following the themes of Love and Time, the album is not linear; it isn’t going to stride off into the sun-soaked distance, having completed its work. It is going to lead us back around, with the exodus/genesis of “Call me in the night, with your eyes wide open”: a demand for responsibility to (at last) be taken for actions. This is another wheel in the mechanism, a recurring theme often found in eye rhymes that give a fluidness to some of the lengthier lines, akin to poetic enjambment (“You fantasize about working the graveyard shift / It’s a grave way not to be missed.”)

Along the same eloquent lines of colloquial-singers Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, each track reads as a short-story or chapter, gathered to a collective whole. While the message is coherent, there is the risk of stylistic overlap about midway through the album, which is prevented by the counterbalance of differing tempos. Written between the recording sessions of its predecessor, Notify your Friends: Everything Ends (released September 2013), Secrets Spill Over employs a slalom-run of pacing that brings relief in a breath-space, before the next adrenalin rush.

In love, no one is ever truly free, or perfect (“I’ll be waiting at the bottom of a pool… And I know that if I surface, I’ll disappoint you again.”) When we acknowledge ourselves to be wrapped about the little finger of someone else’s powerplay, we accept the consequences and get on with it, bringing our own resilience into the mix. The game is set accordingly. Time and Love can be found in the changing faces of the world, in the shifting scenes; but ultimately, it comes down to the hope for continuity to keep us going, regardless of screw-ups and misunderstandings.

There is always time for one more song, for one more page to turn; for one more evasive smile, and forgiveness found in a sigh. Secrets Spill Over is testament to this.

secrets spill over
Image: http://www.paulgonzenbach.bandcamp.com

Secrets Spill Over is available at www.paulgonzenbach.bandcamp.com/ iTunes, Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com and eMusic.

Huge thanks to Matt Foster (@mlpfoster) for putting me onto Paul’s music.

Songs that saved my Life, Pt 2

Following on from last week’s Monday Blogs entry –

You’ve probably experienced this yourself at some transitional point in life – listened to a song, and its melody and/or lyrics leapt out to fill your mind with stunned silence, that weird missed-step feeling of Fate having a hand between your shoulder blades. Regardless of its release date, that song would then become synonymous with a fragment of time when, for a few moments, you didn’t feel quite so unique, or so alone and unheard by the world, depending on how you viewed it.

This is how music has always underscored different aspects of my life. Each year, I’ll find at least one song/album which can define the overall mood based on events, or my mindset. It’s been an ongoing game for a while now, one I believe to be integral to building something like a rapport with the artists involved (though they’ll never know my shadow, of course.)

Taking a leaf out of Simon Goddard’s excellent chronological analysis of The Smiths, I’ve compiled a series of these songs to mark significant periods of time, either in my life or the lives of those I care about. They’re listed according to the chronology of when I first heard them, or how I “relearned” them through the filter of changed circumstances.

Since musical taste is an excellent way of getting to know people, I invite you all to join me; either as entries on your own blogs, or as stand-alone articles. I’ll include relevant personal meanings for each song, and ask that you do the same; as descriptive/sensory as you like. Paint a Vulgar Picture, if necessary – or indeed, a Starry Night. Make it a journal-account of sorts. Keep to around 15-20 songs, include music videos and pictures if you wish; but above all, go in-depth about how these songs wove themselves into the fabric of your being, how they mark those defining moments.

9) Garbage, You Look so Fine / Dido, Thank You, Life for Rent (2004)

Once out of hospital, I was at a loose end. Still not well enough to work full-time, there was a real danger of sliding back into old routines out of sheer boredom, and a need for control; especially as I had picked up some bad new habits inside. This is all too often the case in an inpatient unit that’s packed out with friendly-fire rivals. Anorexia thrives off the curious competition-empathy of sufferers. Us against the World; Us against You. You live in Me.

I made myself look away. Cut off contact with almost all the friends I had made on the ward, since our one tenuous link was the illness; the ones I did keep around, had shown genuine resolve in fighting their demons, which were my demons – and in this state, we were unified and individual at once, for everyone’s backstory is different. But the symptoms remain largely the same, across the board. These women and girls were facing down the world again, just as I was, and we were agreed that it was best to find Distractions as soon as possible.
Also, to reform old attachments.

Friends from school had, to some extent, fallen away – understandably so, for who wants to chase after missed phone calls that are never returned, messages received and left unread or ignored? I was still the emotionless girl who wished only to pace up and down the local streets; daunting, as one old friend put it, when he made the decision to call me first to find out how I was doing.

You look like the old Rai, but with too many years in your eyes, was a line that stuck in my head. Mainly because it was so uncharacteristically poetic of him.

This guy, he was that first love of mine; an old friend from the Clay Pits, who I’d watch from the corner of my eye, and wish to Whoever that I could stop caring about. He knew how I felt, and couldn’t reciprocate – the truth burnt between us in loud silences, for how is it ever easy to discuss with a best friend, the love that could kill such intimacy and trust? So we didn’t. Just another one of those Things.

I gave him the song by Dido, Thank You, from her first album, with its silver-blue light behind my eyes. Every moment spent with him was at once torture, and the pure sunlight of those honeyed evenings we’d spent in the Pit, barely 3 years before my fall, chasing each other and the rest of the gang through the tangled webs of grass. That almond-paste smell of hawthorn petals, is intrinsically linked with him in my mind.

Clay pits

He was my rock in late 2004, when – suffering a relapse, and staring down the barrel of another long inpatient stay – I grasped desperately at the only other option: education. It seemed the only logical option, other than slow decay again, and bouncing off the walls behind a locked door. I was pretty much back to pre-hospital weight, and had the additional (silent) concern / possible-reproach of my family, on my shoulders. I don’t know this for fact, but that’s how it felt. Such bitter guilt, to have failed.

Just prior to signing up for sixth form again – this time at my old school, where it was hoped that the familiarity of the grounds and the consistency of classes would have a stabilizing effect – I attended the barn party of another old friend. He was in the habit of throwing these things, impromptu as they were, and packed with ex-school mates, nostalgia-fest music (Offspring, anyone?) and of course, kegs. My dear friend was there too, having coaxed-prodded me out of my own head for an evening.

I’ll never forget how cold his hands were, holding my face – like this – gently on the cheeks, while we stood there in the black-diamond air of midnight. Our breath made little silver plumes, to mingle with the purple smoke of the bonfire nearby (this was the only thing keeping me alive; so raw-boned, but determined to stick it out and drink with friends, though the October night was full of frozen stars.) I didn’t think he was going to kiss me, that was too much to expect; and indeed, I knew he had a girlfriend by that point. It still made little bursts of pain in my chest to think about it, but anorexia had managed to dull this somewhat, like a knife repeatedly striking a wall of stone.

What he did do was lean in on my right ear, breathing hot alcohol breath down it and my neck, to whisper that I was Going to be fine. Everything would turn out OK, because I was fantastic, and he believed in me.

Not the usual cynical stuff, then. He really was drunk. But it struck down so hard inside me that I couldn’t reply, for all the shards of tears in my throat. So I just nodded; let him hug me, in that hesitant way of people who were (as my mother put it once) so afraid they would break me in two.
When he staggered off into the dark, out of the firelight, I left to go home. There wasn’t any more reason to stay; but then again, I could acknowledge to myself (with a small smile) that there was less reason to leave now, too.

His favourite song, when we were in school together, was by Garbage – You look so Fine. I wore dragonfly earrings in his honour.

you look so fine

10) Coldplay, Talk / Jefferson Airplane, White Rabbit (2004-6)

Sixth form turned out to be as hectic as I’d feared, with its deadlines and the hormonal clouds of classmates mingling with deodorant and BO. Being three years older than everyone, with that hunted/haunted look of someone already out in the world, I rarely spoke – but absorbed whatever I could, whatever got past the anorexia-bitch. English Literature, Language and Film Studies – these seemed a good place to start.

I don’t regret a moment, except perhaps to (wistfully) wish that I’d been well enough to appreciate the whole experience more – especially while learning about Weimar cinema in Film Studies, with the relative historical context (pre-WW2, post-WW1); and dissecting Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which remains my favourite film to this day. It is, with the song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, synonymous with those evenings spent studying in the heat of Ma’s back garden, where the air was thick and heavy as library dust. Rum would burn the back of my throat, as I crooked my head back to study that indifferent sky, fading as it was from turquoise to indigo. Curiosity, and this clawing need to learn, would sustain me through the raw times. This holds true today.

I also tried signing up for the RAF, just after exams had finished, since I still had no clear idea of what I wanted to do for a profession. Following my parents seemed a good idea, though into Intelligence rather than Signals / Engineering. Everything was going well, with an above-average grade on the BARB, and secured background checks … until they took a look at my medical history. This couldn’t exactly be ignored, though I had tried to (literally) pad out the truth by wearing heavier clothing, and tactfully meandering around some of the more probing questions.
It didn’t work. The guys in the recruitment centre were kind; they smiled, and handed back my medical form, while telling me to come back in five years when I was completely clear of the hospital’s shadow, and had gained about five kilos.

Ah well. Better luck next time.

“I am reality.”

The teacher who would leave an imprint on my life, as so many of them do, had a real thing for the band Coldplay. I’d never given them much attention before, but the album X&Y turned out to be a surprisingly nuanced soundtrack for those years spent learning what it meant to be – to feel – like a human being again. There was this constant knot of fear – of falling behind, of failing, in lessons and in the twisted face of the eating disorder that was screaming blue murder for me to Fucking Pay Attention to it.

As some kind of desperate grab for stability, I latched onto this guy. Married, as they inevitably are, and furthermore out of reach by virtue of his profession – but a friendly face, nonetheless, and an influence. So it goes that I tend to ricochet from one “teacher” to another, picking up new traits, sometimes leaving a trail of footprints, or just the tiniest fleck of a shadow.

My Ma has never understood this constant falling-for-guys-I -can’t-have. She figures that by indulging in such feelings for someone who might never know the truth, or whose circumstances prevent them from reciprocating, I am afraid of commitment.
This might be so. I do enjoy my own company, more than ever these days, and always will. That being said, I cannot share the belief that such feelings are any less true, just because they go unknown / unanswered, and are not fixed in the “reality” of physical contact or proximity.

Love at a distance, is still love – so long as we remain aware of the silent grace this entails.

Talk, by Coldplay, always brings back that sepia-smile of memory.

11) Bright Eyes, No one would riot for Less / The Last Shadow Puppets, Age of the Understatement / Joy Division, Love will Tear us Apart / Depeche Mode ft. Mike Shinoda, Enjoy the Silence, 2004 remix (2008-9)

… And then came one I could actually have.

Quite unexpectedly. With improved health, early 2008 saw me cautiously treading water in the online-dating scene, after being teased (by my Ma) into creating a few accounts. This flatlined pretty quickly. It was hard to take most of the profile names seriously, let alone the “people” behind the profiles; though I did find a couple of gems, who remain dear – if distant – friends.

J began this way, dropping into my life and Myspace inbox (of all places) one blue-shadows Friday night. It was getting towards that hour when solitary inebriation takes over, and the household is full of quiet thoughts, and most other people are asleep; when the writers of the world are either settling down to the latest Agony (bottle of wine or whatever, mandatory) or are riffling through the internet pages for similarly-tormented minds. Polite as you please, he left a note of some rambling-meandering overtures, with a cute little hesitant “Hello, by the way,” tacked on the end.

I responded to this introduction with what can only be described as a bite of cranberry, after a week of lechy messages from other Myspace members. My own politeness had frayed out. It’s a wonder that he replied at all.

But he did, and has never stopped giving me second chances since. Though he does like to tease me about that fragile beginning, when it could’ve gone wholly the other way – our paths might never have merged, and a five-year relationship would never have made it off the screen.

The physical distance was by turns a godsend, and pure agony. We were/are solitary creatures by nature. And there is no thrill to match that of the Friday afternoons of anticipation – barrelling out of work (for I was employed full-time by then), scrubbing-up-changing-outfits-doing-hair, before dashing for the train that would rattle-bang its way up the line into London (all seething air and clatter of pigeons, too many feet and The Last Shadow Puppets in my ears) –

Animal Genius: Pegions

to finally stand in the grotty train station at the other end of that sweary, sweaty journey, listening for the Mini’s whine, and blinking in the hazy evening sunlight.

Our weekends were full of pubs, and the Downs; we circled on that constant belt of air running between the latter and the Beacon, a great green wave in the distance, which would soon become friend and foe as our hikes advanced. I became part of the mosaic of his home life, as he did mine – though to a lesser degree, since I was more than willing to escape the small town where I’d grown up, to visit rather than be visited. We discovered a shared symbolism in the magnificent red kites, which were just beginning to respond positively to a new breeding program in the area. Dark hunter’s eyes. Hooked wings, and a V-shape heading west, into the sinking light.

Oh and there was pizza. I can’t walk past an open door of Papa John’s, without pausing to relish the memory of their Friday-feeling appeal (washed down with cider.)
Who knew that an anorexic could be encouraged, by love, to eat such things?

But those journeys home, on Sunday afternoons full of watery light … they were the pits. Balanced between crowds with my head down, on what was basically a Sunday skeleton service; it took twice as long to step back into the town I would suddenly hate for its distance from him, while still looking around with some relief that I was back, and on familiar ground.
Still, the distance was a new kind of pain. I’d never known real loneliness, before the realization of a person I could actually stand to be around for longer than 24 hours.

Drunk-dancing in the Norman King pub on his birthday, to Joy Division’s Love will Tear us Apart – that was the moment I realized we had gone over the casual-thingummy aspect, into something that would survive – despite the recession, the Dole, constant travelling; the instability of a relationship formed of 60% computer/phone screens, and an unreliable train service.

So I made the jump, in late October 2009; left home, to follow the kites and the bracket of nimbus/flooding sunlight, which would make up our shared time.

beacon rain

11) Emily Haines, Doctor Blind / The National, Bloodbuzz Ohio (2010)

Well, those hurtling-train days and Jack Daniel-nights couldn’t last forever. The honeymoon period was well and truly over by the time I was facing off with the weather, pulled on its conveyor-belt of air along the valley. Such storms! I’d never seen or felt the like, with hail ripping into my skin, purple shadows marking my every step, as I raced the flying nimbus home. The job I had planned to fall into, fell through instead; like J before me, I was now stuck on the Dole for the first time in my life, and let me tell you – that was an experience never to be forgotten, or repeated.

There’s only so many times one can be told to attend meetings – which, after an hour’s wait alongside dead-fish eyes and tight mouths similar to your own, last all of two minutes and yield only a stamp and wave-off – before nerves start to fray. Impatient, bored, in need of some consistency and not willing to sit around waiting on interview calls, I took to walking the length and breadth of J’s homeland, instead; learning every curve of a country lane, the nuance of hedgerows, the juxtaposition of light and darkness. The soft sweet swell of light on summer afternoons; the starkness of November nimbus, barrelling up over the Downs and chasing me back into the village where we lived.

And always, there were the dark eyes and hooked wings of the red kites, which would angle overhead and watch as I traipsed aimlessly here and there, seeking inspiration (for the writing had flatlined too, another sore point – I cannot concentrate on anything creative while life-issues stick pins in my eyes.) That raptor was my totem, symbolic of a wandering spirit, and a savage need to withstand the battering winds and endless variations of rain.

Those were lonely days, I must admit, for J had by chance fallen into employment – a lucky save, or I don’t know how things would have gone for us otherwise. As it was, cooped up together under his parent’s roof and with our future plans stalled out from lack of finances, we were running on a loop of the blues and the mean reds (to borrow a memorable line from Ms Golightly.) Times were tough enough; the recession had hit, along with the heaviest snowfall in decades; both had locked up the country, and seemed to put hope in exile. Every time I felt diminished, on the verge of collapse (in all senses), I had only to read the papers to feel – in that silvery manner of empathy – a pang of kinship with others, going through similar circumstances.

Living with your new love in close quarters, for around a year and with very little income, while dependant on the limitless generosity of his parents, is a very humbling experience. Take my word for it.
It’s also a hard lesson in discovering each other’s idiosyncrasies, adjusting and accepting wherever possible. How we came out of it still talking to each other, let alone in a stable relationship, is anyone’s guess.

winter sky

On one memorable occasion, striding home in the middle of a storm, I felt the wind actually bend the stem of my umbrella in my hands. My laugh tanged off my teeth; with a savage sideways thrust, I flung the damn thing into a hedge and carried on home, head high and still laughing, while soaked to the skin and exultant in being alive, if only to witness the sky turn black as my mind.
Sometimes, all you can do is grin in the screaming face of the gale.

Still. Melodramatics over, my luck changed in the next week. A forgotten job application back in early summer, and its subsequent interview; a blue-bolt phonecall in late September. The checks had gone through at last, and I was all clear to go. Did I still want the job?
Well.

12) Alex Turner, Piledriver Waltz / Cecile Corbel, Arrietty’s Song – from the Arrietty OST / Blonde Redhead, 23 / Mogwai, Too Raging to Cheers (2011-12)

The return of systematic hours and routines was a shock to my system, even after trying to keep up some semblance of control while on benefits. It’s always the way, after a spell of gluey time. Unemployment is striking in its restrictions, for all that there are masses of free time. Little money –> less options –> mental / physical apathy. Or so I found, anyway, which is why the return to work was a jumpstart to my spirits.

The best part was feeling needed again. Suddenly, there were demands on my time. Flinging myself around the building, head down and ever-watchful, silent, I soon learned how to approach the Family that is the Force – usually with coffee/tea in tow, since that seemed a damn good icebreaker, especially as they were trudging in and out of whatever vile weather happened to be hitting our isle in late 2010. Observing their grim humour, I felt at home. And after several months of suspicion – quite understandable, I suppose, all things considered, since I was the new kid in the building – I was duly inducted into that strange, bloodless bond which binds them all together. The odd hours, godless shifts, days when the entire building locks down in silence, or rings with laughter. The Nick is an old girl, now, and full of shifting dust in the air, echoes, and shadows of her former glory.

I’ve been there, in a civvy-staff role, for around 3.5 years now. Whether I’ll still be standing on the top floor to watch the sun rise by the end of this year, remains to be seen, for the world is changing and so am I. Circumstances, too, have had their say. Whatever happens, I don’t regret a moment of taking up this job. The Family have kept me alive, in more ways than one, and I can only hope to return the favour, as well as the caffeine-whiparounds.

blue lights

J and I had soon tired of the constant commute, back and forth, so moved to live in this new/ancient city. The air is notably heavy with the smell of the lakes, all black ‘n gold as whisky, while the water itself swirls with gypsy-scarf trails of oil and bird shit. In winter, silver snow rimes the grass of the park-slopes; chiming icicles hang from the tilting gutters of pubs (their interiors are dappled with open-fire smoke, while the walls are held together with split-wood beams strung up in leather and brass.)

Willow trees ring the water’s edge, to drip green-gold arrowheads and diamonds down and along looping branches, where in summer I can be found stretched out in the daffodil-soft air. I’ll dip fingers down to the rippling water, which so resembles that long-ago rivulet of the Clay Pits … I am 13 years old again, sitting with friends around a brick-potted campfire or nestled in the arms of that oak, with the lancing evening light turning the brown silt to gold.

Lake heart 1

Though the city is full of bling, flash cars with shit numberplates, and people whose ethos I will never understand – it is Home. A unicorn pays silent-sentry to the heart of our regal Lady, the city Cathedral. I give both a nod, in passing, each evening of a weekend walk.

It was on the foundations of these ancient stones, the oil-slick of modern faces, that I began to base my first novel (a short story, which grew legs and ran away with me.) The rain-slicked cobbles of the city centre, the winding green lanes of the outskirts where J and I had settled in our first little flat, proved ideal for inspiration – but it was the lamplight haven (a phrase I coined to describe the sanctuary of that orange-black time, when feral things come and go) which would hold the nest of words I needed.

Wandering here and there, under the pretty blue lights strung up in the city centre … traipsing up and down the many staircases at work, giving the creaking old walls of the Nick a loving pat … watching the leaf shadows drift to and fro by the wide-eye window of our flat, where gold evening light hung high in the trees … I felt content. For the first time in my life, I had a place to call my own, won out of waiting and work, desperate saving of money and hope, and love. J and I were as happy as any young couple could be.

Homeshots011

13) The National, Slipped / Sam Baker, Panhandle Winter / Peter Gabriel, Mercy Street / Fever Ray, Keep the streets Empty for Me (2013)

I’m in the crush, and I hate it – I’m having trouble inside my skin, I try to keep my skeletons in. – The National

All this is passing, is all that she said. – Sam Baker

And before we knew it, 2.5 years had passed, and I was that city girl the National spoke of; easy in my stride, and everyone’s friend/fuckup at work. 2013 ushered itself in like any other year, innocuous enough; an asteroid’s passage in February seemed the most momentous thing likely to happen, I remember thinking idly, while planning a holiday in London with J. We’d worked our butts off, and deserved a break. I also hoped it would reignite, well, whatever. You know how it is. Grey complacency filters in, quiet as the cobwebs hung in the rafters of a familiar pub-stop on a walk, or the drifting wings of a kite. We were – are – each other’s best friends, and confidantes. But lately, my gaze had begun to drift out the window.

Not that I was hankering for anyone else. The unhappy truth is far more complex than that, and is something I will never forgive myself for. As ever, the answer eludes me. We had everything. Our shared silences were comfortable; we could be as easy in each others’ company, as apart.

lamplight haven

Yet when the difficult times came – with a loss of job security, and our flat being pulled from beneath us by an unscrupulous landlord (not forgetting the ineptitude of several estate agents, all of whom let viewings of potential new homes fall through) – I couldn’t bring myself to comfort him. We were stunned into ourselves with the speed at which things fell apart. I looked outward for distraction – in writing, on Twitter – building new friendships which at first seemed formless and empty, as anyone would assume of something born of social media, a lack of proximity.

But in the second half of the year – when J and I were crammed between unfamiliar walls, our hearts thumping in time with the door-banging of a passive-aggressive housemate, while wondering how we would recoup our lost money and selling off much of what we treasured – it would be this eclectic group of friends scattered over the globe, who would keep me going. Though I regret the ever-increasing distance this put between J and I, oh, every day – but by then, I didn’t know how to comfort him. Didn’t know what to say, to make things right. Our silences, once so comfortable, became loud with unspoken truths; we tiptoed around each other, on the shards of all we had once had.

That online support-system has proved to be priceless, time and again. As I’ve long maintained, distance doesn’t count for shit when it’s a meeting of minds, if not eyes. Some of my best friends are on the other side of the planet, and though we’ll often miss each other due to pesky time zone differences, the beauty of this social media thing is that we can leave little reminders on each other’s timelines, just to say, “Hey. I’m thinking of you.”

15) Of Monsters and Men, King & Lionheart (2014) / Marissa Nadler, Dead City Emily / Katie Melua, Belfast (Penguins and Cats) (2014)

Which leads me here at last, dear reader, to the finale of this overlong post, and life as it stands. A lowered visor, a wire-twist smile; less of a strut, than the sideways dance of a feral cat waiting for the next kick. Lessons learned have been taken to heart, and I am quiet in some ways, loud in others.

Times are changing; the world is shifting. The two mainstays in my life, the dreams of childhood – writing and travel – now wind about each other to make a rope that would tug me out the door… I dream of the places I have been, in childhood, full of the mountains with their diamond teeth, the brittle sky, the dark and silent forests.

There is a need, though, to quieten this thing in my head. Oh, it’s governable – in that strategic way of a fairly systematic life. I am what you would call a “functioning anorexic”; unable to afford therapy, nor having any inclination to spend my wages dancing between towns, as doctors would have me do (local services not being all that local) to attend what would only dredge up more flashback memories.
Then a wave out the door, ‘See you in a fortnight!’
Ja.

Poor excuses, I know. Believe me, I know. I’ve been making them to myself for years.

So, as ever, education is the key distraction from a fear which would see me fail each time I push against my safe boundaries. I do this alone, you understand, because it has the most lasting effect; I certainly wouldn’t advise it for every anorexic. Therapists have come and gone, but only one left an impression – a motherly woman, with a dark-honey voice and who resembled the late Eva Cassidy. It was she who told me – aged 18, staccato and sullen, still unable to grasp the length of the road ahead and expecting (like some of my family) for this thing to vanish overnight – that I had a formidable mind.
‘It is, and will be your greatest asset, and your worst enemy. You know damn fine what needs to be done. But it’s about turning that drive around, from something self-destructive.’

Well, Sue. Here I am.
(I do owe her a drink.)

I read and absorb all that I can, in the desperate manner of someone playing Catch-Up. Slowly, like those chiming icicles falling away with the thaw, I let go of the old habits and routines, to wander through new experiences, while seeking whatever distractions I can. And the world has much to offer.

I still fetch myself out through the lamplight haven, to the beetle-black sound of Fever Ray, and the silver glint of Marissa Nadler (like trees in November); wandering the alleyways with their click-clack cobbles, my eyes are distant and alert at once. Watching shores far from here, and wishing to be There, with a spirit that is again crying for leaving.

I always was a meddler. Context, experience, have much to answer for; improved health has allowed me to absorb more information, bit by agonizing bit. Though the past decade may seem wasted, it has at least taught me some patience, and an unexpected capacity for love and empathy. Watching what goes on across the world, in places I know in memories and as dreams, it’s difficult not to care. I can’t turn my face away.

My friends and foes, it is proving difficult to get across what I want to say, now we’re here at the end. But it feels like the start. It’s all too near, still too raw. How best to describe the inertia of job insecurity, the lingering questions that go unanswered? The strange things that are happening, which accelerate and feel wonderful, and terrifying all at once? The best I can do is roll with it all, as the birds do on the ripples of the lake.

If employment runs out this year, as I suspect it will, I won’t be around to see those gates close for the last time. I will be gone, long before yet more ghosts can make their home behind my eyes. God knows, this city is already full of them, like my old home town.

Lake heart – deep and abiding, full of the green-black heaviness, the silence; eyrie heart, where I retreat to be alone, to write and watch the sky. Petrol rainbows in the gutter, my own brand of love; nice to look at, and bitter as the thorns of the blue rose I carry everywhere, everyday. A language of symbols.

eyrie heart

Pale lilac and silver are the colours of loss, found in my mind, when it’s not the white-out of a stunned silence. Beetle-black is the feral mood which so often sends me out into the night, done up on writing and rum, waiting for sleep to come. Waiting.
Though with spring comes the green-gold light of hope, and the almond-paste smell of the hawthorn blossoms again. The world wears cherry hearts on its sleeve.

I have never been in a better position to leave behind the last shreds of this old life. Though I hate to lump everything which happened last year onto Fate – for it denotes a lack of choice – it certainly did feel like the Universe had its boot up my arse. All the security, the ties, fell away or were taken from us. Now, there seems little left to stay for. I can bid the city a fond farewell, and leave without looking back.

We may yet come full circle, to Suzanne; to travelling blind, to taking chances I would not have had the guts to make before. We’ll see.

tree cathedral

pale sun

Storms and Lightning

I know now that I’m turning into a sentimental idiot. Standing downstairs in the lounge, by that wide-eye window full of pale morning light and green leaf blades, I was hanging up laundry to dry; the radiator bleeds out a loving heart, one I was once so accustomed to that it burnt welts into my back and neck, from leaning up too close, to absorb some of that affection. Listening to the twins upstairs, warbling along to The Snowman with their mother, my eyes bled out too.

I didn’t ask for this pain, it just came over me.

That kind of life will never be mine. I haven’t the patience of my landlady, a tall and beautiful women, with the quiet dignity of one who has known much pain herself, and surmounted it. She cares for the twins alone. I will never forget that morning when she told me what had happened to their father. Our barriers had been lowered due to our mutual colds; we were feeling unnaturally talkative, and reaching out for affection, we bonded over our worlds of pain.

I have never quite understood a woman as much as I do her.

She has raised the twins in the capacity left to her, and it has been an admirable job. They are intelligent, kind, inquisitive little individuals. I’ve never really engaged with children before, except for my younger brother, who was much the same; he’d follow me around the back garden when we were little. Nine years apart but almost twins ourselves, in temperament and looks. More so now. Yet I hardly spoke to him over Christmas. We’ve both had so much happen this year, that our voices have been stilled. I couldn’t find it in my heart to reach out to him, as he couldn’t to me, to anyone.

I know this quiet inside won’t last, this pulling-away from the world. I don’t know if it’s the slow lake-heart of depression, or just a passing nimbus of mood. It has been present for some months, since everything finally slowed to allow me time to breathe. I love my little eyrie, where my heart and writing and independence have flourished. I certainly don’t have itchy feet anymore. There’s a garden and love downstairs, a wonderful dog who howls for the moon with the blood of ancestors lost to an ancient and frozen world. There’s a woman I can confide in – a rarity indeed. Men have always been my preference for friends, mostly platonic, except where our feelings fell through the floor and we followed. I’m the lowlife of the party.

They never last. I return to the light, to the reality of life, while abiding as some Manic Pixie Dream Girl in another’s memory. Three times the charm, this year. No blame.

These things happen, and my life has only ever come in compartments, train carriages of this and that, slamming the door behind and moving on. It’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey. Blah blah.

Sentimental idiot. You cry for what can’t be, and still with the grim smile of one who knows that if it was your world, you’d be going spare. You who can’t keep still long enough to care for herself, let alone others; you who hasn’t the unselfish heart of a mother, who couldn’t give up that which you demand of others in this role, with that know-it-all attitude of one lacking experience and context. You saw what happened to your own mother, what is happening still. The guilt never leaves her, and it burnt your early life.

I wouldn’t foist that on any child, even if I could bear them. I love a storm, but I don’t love lightning.

Still, I can be their friend. For as long as I live here, I will be a whisper-confidante, passing messages and giggles from one room to the next. I’ve learned how to braid hair again. I sit with one child snuggled on either side, watching the kind of TV that used to make me gag, but now has a weird poignancy that I can’t explain. Maybe it’s because I see what is trying to be taught. I don’t know.
I’ve already learned more from these two than they could ever take from me.

My ex liked to tease me about getting broody. I’d only grin and reply that one child-heart can’t care for another. I still have a lot of catching up to do; at this rate, I might hit adulthood in my fifties. Right now, these are the teen years I never had.

I can’t blame you for losing your mind for a little while (so did I)

From the old blog:

From earlier in the year – and I sit on the other side of the mirror, now.

“I’m in the city you hated
My eyes are fallen
Counting the clicks with the living dead
My eyes are red…

Is it weird to be back in the south?
And can they even tell
That the city girl was ever there –
Or anywhere?”

My favourite track, Slipped, from The National’s most recent album, Trouble will Find Me. It sums up all that I have experienced this year – alone, with the fella, at work while waiting for the person on my shoulder to dry their eyes. Sometimes I feel more than myself; in a position far larger than I was hired to. Other times, I feel small enough to be part of the dust that gathers on our decaying windowsills. The Nick is a maligned old girl, a relic of the 60’s; thrown up to quickly accommodate, and just as quickly fall apart. Yours truly can sympathize.

They’ve been good to me lately, my workmates. I couldn’t ask for a better support system, in lieu of blood family in the south. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I still have connections there, still speak to them every now and then, with that fly-by-night fairweather charm, since it’s all my parents can take. I gave them hell in my childhood – wandering off in supermarkets, getting lost in parks; picking up broken glass I’d mistaken for jewels, slicing my fingers wide. Rubies and emeralds, running down my clenched little fists. I found the shiny pile under a slide.

I’m always picking up sharp, shiny objects. Small wonder I get cut.

In my teens and early 20’s, my father became a ghost of pale memories and absent eyes. He’s never been one for emotional items, stuffed in his pockets by other people; he’ll drop them, just as readily as I pick them up (oh God yes, I’m a magpie for feelings – other people’s, not my own. Those, I’d fling in the Thames if possible.)

I still love my Daddio. I miss his dark eyes, which I inherited, and the long lashes to hide behind. He’d whittle small wooden airplanes for me when we lived in Gutersloh, Germany, just outside the RAF base. He worked on the Harrier jet and Chinook helicopter, as a radio/comms engineer.

 photo 352b2d2c-673a-473f-9dbf-0507e0cced5d_zps89b8d77d.jpg

My mother met him at Cosford, training for signal/comms; she was part of the SeaKing helicopter search ‘n rescue. Their love was cemented by the accidental arrival of my older sister.
I always said she was a show-stealer.

When we were growing up, my sister was the lean and beautiful one. She had popularity in her blonde hair and blue eyes; she knew the lines to say, the shows to watch, the books not to read and the kids to never be seen with. I loved her then; I love her still. But we’re better friends when not in the same room.

When I was 6 years old, she came into the lounge where I quietly played with one of those stick-on/peel-off books – the ones where you can rearrange the scenery. It was a ballet setting, a vast house, where I could contort my dancers as I was already being trained to contort myself, in junior lessons. My sister took the book, with its careful arabesques etc, and threw it up in the air. The choreography fell in a jumble onto the carpet.

I wrestled my sister – 3 years my senior – down, and bit her deeply enough in the back to warrant a long white scar, like shark’s skin. She still has it to this day. We laugh about it now, as we laugh about the time I was practising with darts in our Nanna’s old cafe, and accidentally bounced one off the wall, into her foot. My sister’s, not Nanna’s. I’d probably still be grounded in my bedroom had it been the latter. As it was, a fortnight indoors was enough cooping-up, thank you very much.

Well, until 7.5 months on an inpatient ward. Locked main door. Unlocked bathrooms, with a staff nurse positioned carefully in the ajar space, waiting for the glint of a blade. I couldn’t be arsed to try. Contraband was a bitch to keep hidden from those sprung checks, first thing in the morning, with whittled eyes of staff screwing me to the wall as they patted everything down.

Oh, I love open spaces now, as much as I love cozy dark corners, like bay windows behind long velvet curtains. Prime reading spot, that. Also – in the overlapping branches of a great willow tree, dangling its emerald spearheads to the rippling water. Brown silt turns to gold in the sun – transmutation, under the bowl of sky.

I’m staring at that bowl of sky now, from my window where the great green spread of our tree sends odd shadows over my face. Only my laptop and an (empty) rum glass by my hand, to break up the lines of this room.
I don’t drink to forget; I drink to disappear.

My fictional world beckons, more so these days. I retreat to writing the novel in a bid to scribble over the dull faces and places I somehow still adhere to, here, today, everyday. Going quietly insane, while smiling into the teeth of those who would wonder what a stick-haired, steel-roped lass like myself, is doing in such a swanky city.

I enjoy being an outsider. An abstract among the concrete. It means I can float away while they’re stuck to the ground, with their multifigure mortgages, multifaceted jobs that pay a wadge and don’t let them home until the kids are in bed.
Oh, the kids. Colours and kids. They don’t keep me alive.

When at my sickest, my younger brother did. I owe him, my best friend, confidante and probably the closest thing I’ll ever have to a kindred spirit. He’s basically me, in male form.

Writing’s my savior these days. So if you’ve made it to the end of this rum-hemmed ramble, kudos to you.
Friends keep me smiling. Here’s hoping I can return the favour.