“We left the camp singing” – the interrupted life of Etty Hillesum
These words, written on a postcard thrown from a cattle transport on its way out of Holland to Poland and its ultimate destination, Auschwitz, were some of the very last words written by Dr Etty (Esther) Hillesum. The postcard had been found on the 7th of September 1943 and posted by the farmers who found it a few days later. Dr Hillesum died on the 30th of November 1943. She was 29 years of age. Between 1941 and 1943, she kept a diary of her life in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, detailing the privations, the fears, the joys, the hopes and her extraordinary inner life.
I’ve been reading it in chunks, often during those frequent occasions when insomnia and pain and worry have driven me from my bed to read downstairs on the sofa. It’s been a true companion to me. Her voice, silenced for many, many years, rings out, true and clear and full of life. Her love of life, her resilience have been an inspiration and not a reproach to me in my own troubles (and believe me, virtually every self-help book I have come across, every nugget of a meme from some guru or other, has left me with nothing but guilt and self-reproach for my own lack of strength and guts) and I finally read the last section of the book today. It’s a collection of the letters she wrote from Westerbork, the camp Dutch Jews were held at before being loaded onto cattle trucks and sent off to Auschwitz. The voice in these letters differs only very little from that of the diaries; her integrity and pure honesty shine out, unmistakably amid the events of those terrible days. Humour, love, gentleness and a lack of bitterness that is almost shocking.
I’d put off reading this book, because the core of the book is something I cannot look at square in the face without feeling the abyss opening. Yet the abyss IS indeed opening. Concentration camps exist again in the so-called civilised world, and the fact that many dispute the use of the word is proof that they have become inured to the concept. But the book brought me some comfort that a voice of sense, reason, justice and love can still ring out across the years since its owner died. It reminded me that we have lessons from the past that can and should be learned from.
It never rains but…
You know the saying, and others like “troubles never come singly”. It seems to be true. The last blog post I wrote, I said I was very close to releasing a new book. I still remain very close but the chances of getting the final tasks done any time soon are fairly small.
April was a cruel, hard month. First one family crisis came along, and dealing with that left me so depleted, I came down with shingles. That’s not fun, I can tell you. Then, just as we thought we’d got the situation under control, I got complications with said shingles. More pain, more anxiety, more feeling like death warmed up. Then a further family crisis happened. That’s combined with everything else and I have a full-on flare of the EDS/JHS. The pain is excruciating and I am so, so tired.
Shingles alone is nasty enough. The risk, post shingles, of heart attack and stroke, rises by around 40%. Being post-menopausal, my protection against those catastrophes, afforded by a functioning set of ovaries, is gone. If I push myself, I put myself at greater risk of serious consequences. I’ve had some extra blood tests to rule out various other things but the musculo-skeletal issues are draining me of all energy anyway.
And the other question is this: is the world in a hurry for yet another book, to add to the millions of others out there? Short answer: no. While I know that many are looking forward to a new book from me, I also know that nobody is wanting me to put my health at risk to get it. I know my books make a difference to lives and that makes me content that it’s worth writing and publishing in a world that is largely dominated by capitalist models that I despise and abhor, because what I write fills a valuable niche, however small (in capitalist terms, read that as unsuccessful financially).
So, enjoy the May-time flowers and if you have good vibes or prayers to spare for me and mine, they would be gratefully received.
Fragments and Inertia (musings and mutterings)
In the ten or so years since I began blogging I’ve seen a lot written about SEO (search engine optimisation), detailing how to gain greater prominence among the various search engines. I’ve concluded that for the most part, what gives greater prominence is paying for it, whether by using a paying platform, or by plug-ins that you also pay for, or by choosing a blogging platform closely allied to the companies that run search engines. So for years I tried to use titles that might spark interest or somehow be picked up by the search engines (I’m not naming any…). But these days, finding a title for a blog post mostly involves finding something, anything, by which I might find it again amid the thousand or so articles filed away. Hence the fairly uninspiring title of THIS post.
I wanted to write a post that gives some sense of what I’ve been doing and what I have managed to do and what I have not managed to do. Oh, and why.
Good news is that I am quite close to publishing a new book.
For reasons best known to itself, the Mighty ‘Zon has lowered the price of “Away With The Fairies” to £6.65 (UK, not sure about US). There’s no way of telling how long this is for, so if you’ve been wavering about grabbing a paperback copy, maybe best to get it now.
Might make a great Easter present (to yourself, even) or a Mothers’ Day gift. Or hide it till December.
A Decade of Tightrope Walking – a celebration of ten years of blogging
February the 9th marks a full decade since I began Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking.
Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips
With the New Year came a plethora of articles and television programmes, basically with a new year-new you theme. The tidy fairy aka Marie Kondo has taught people to fold t shirts and declutter their homes. I’m not a fan of the whole decluttering lark, because it tends to actually create anxiety in many, because we are social animals and can feel pressure to conform and seek approval from our peers by following the trend even when we don’t really want or need to. And much of it is aimed at people who are financially secure enough so that getting rid of an item that still has use in it isn’t a problem if they suddenly discover they do need it six months down the line. They can just buy a new one. Nor am I am a fan of the idea that everything you own must spark joy. I’m more a fan of the William Morris adage: “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
An Epiphany, of sorts
Today marks Epiphany, the festival that for most marks the end of all things Christmas. It commemorates the arrival of the Magi, coming to pay their respects to the infant Jesus, though much of what people think they know about the Magi is a much later medieval addition. The bible does not give names to the visitors, nor does it state that there were three. That aside, it’s a charming addition; it personalises these shadowy visitors and gives them flesh and human attributes, as well as the gifts they brought, which were largely symbolic ones. I am sure that the holy family valued the gold; it probably got them through lean and difficult times. Frankincense was at one time worth the same ounce for ounce as gold and myrrh not far behind. I burn both during the Christmas period and I usually burn some beautiful incense called Three Kings after I take down the Christmas decorations (though the crib scenes remain until Candlemas).
But that’s not the epiphany I am talking about. The word has come to mean a sudden, dramatic and powerful revelation. During a recent episode of extra-nasty depression (that general base line for me is just fairly nasty and the extra-specially nasty was paralysing and unbelievably destructive) I had an insight I have had to sit with to see if it may be true, and that insight is the epiphany I’d like to explain. Continue reading