Love 1

Love (1)

Love wounds us.

Like tribal scars,

Love marks us,

Shows us as new

Initiated beings.

Parallel slashes

Of raised scar tissue

Label us as different.

Love hurts us:

The brief bold cut

Dripping hot blood

Shows us changed,

Reinvented daily.

Only those who share

Our pattern of scarring

Can see and know

The person we have become,

Or see the beauty and power

Of those indelible wounds,

Invisible to those untouched

By Love’s kind blade.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Following an interesting comments discussion resulting from a rather intriguing post over at:

 And not to mention a conversation last night on the phone with J, I began to think about happiness.

What makes me happy? Actually, nothing. You can’t make (ie force) someone to be happy. It’s a spontaneous response to something and that something can be physical(ie material) or something emotional or even spiritual. And it’s a fleeting thing; you often notice afterwards that you have been happy. It’s often the absence of it that triggers the awareness of the state.

To chase happiness through material gains is futile and well documented. No amount of wealth and material goods will do the trick. To chase happiness through a relationship is equally  doomed; how often do you hear someone say, “I’d be so happy if I met Mr/Miss/Ms Right!” That sort of happiness, bound up in the being of another person is at huge risk of vanishing.

But there’s another chase that is somehow far more seductive.


I’m guilty as charged, M’lud. I’ve been chasing success as a means of making me happy for far longer than I dreamed I might and it was partly something J asked me last night that meant my thoughts on it finally crystalised and I woke up.

The previous post to this has been about the publication of my first novel. This is something I’ve fought, wept, battled, given up, beaten myself up over for decades. It’s meant everything to me.

But when J asked me what I really enjoyed doing, what made me happiest, I said “Losing myself in writing.” He then(very gently, because that’s the sort of guy he is!) said, “Well, why have you struggled so hard to get published when what really makes you happy is the writing?”

Hmmm. Good question. Don’t get me wrong, I feel happy to have got this far, got the book out in the public domain, but now there’s a sense of restlessness, of incompleteness that is beginning to focus on sales. It’s not a bestseller yet by any means. The feedback I have had from readers blows my socks off, but it leaves me hungry.

This is where the chase for success comes in. It’s never ending. When you’ve climbed one mountain, there’s always another taunting you to conquer it.

This doesn’t mean you give up. Giving up dreams is not what I mean. But it is about giving up our ATTACHMENT to them, our blind hope that achieving this crucial thing will make us happy. It won’t, except for a short time; not as short as the time new material goods keep us happy for. You keep going because it’s what you do, because the goal has a greater meaning than simple personal happiness. Because whatever you are trying to do is part of your path and no more(and no less) than that.

Happiness comes out of nowhere sometimes, as a gift of grace if you like, and it comes most often when we are in alignment with so many things in our lives. When all our talents and our hopes and our loves and interests all come together at once, then often that happiness that seems to drive us  to chase it isn’t far away.

I’ve been happy writing this. I hope you’ve been happy reading it.

My New Book

As the observant among my readers have already noticed, and some of you already knew, I’ve just launched my first novel. First to be published, that is; I’ve been writing a long time.

I confess I feel a bit awkward about this post because I’m someone who finds the process of self-promotion excruiatingly uncomfortable. I wasn’t brought up to “blow my own trumpet”, to sound my own praises. I’m old-fashioned British, if you like. But the world moves on, and uncomfortable as it is, the author needs to do some book promotion, even when she’d rather just shove it at you all and squeak, “There it is. Enjoy!” and run away, crimson with blushes.

I’m glad you can’t see me now, for that reason. Beetroot meets tomato, if you like.

The central premise of this book is that even strong, able people break down beyond the power of their own recuperation, due to the hand Life can deal them. I’ve been there. You probably have too. But have you ever sat at the computer, in the small hours of the morning, thinking, you really can’t go on, that “My heart is broken and I am dying inside”? Each of the six protagonists in the book come to this point, and in this space of despair, type those words into an internet search engine, and start the strangest and most powerful journey of their lives.

This is a book for a seeker, a book for those who wonder “What if?”. It’s a book that draws you into the world of each of the six characters and keeps you there. J said he wanted those six as his friends, and didn’t want the book to end because then that time with them would be over.

It’s not chicklit, it’s not murder mystery, it’s not vampires, it’s not spies or cops and robbers and it’s not romance. In fact, it’s quite hard to categorise because it doesn’t fit into any easy genre slot. It is itself and that’s probably the best way any book should be. If you’ve been through or are going through major life challenges, this is the book for you. It might be fiction, or it might not; there’s an ambiguity about the events that you need to make up your own mind about. But fiction or not, it’s also true in ways that go beyond literature.

The book is available as a paperback from Amazon, but it’s also available as a download, if you prefer that:

I’d appreciate feedback if and when people read it; and if you like it, add a review at Amazon. Every little helps!

The Comfort of Ashes

I was travelling for most of Ash Wednesday and would have posted this then but now will do better anyway:

The Comfort of Ashes
There’s something clean about ashes;
Rubbish reduced to uniform powder.
No heaps of trash to hurt the eye,
No rotting corpse to hurt the heart.
A gust of wind, a wash of water
And it’s gone for good:
It does not disturb me that I am such dust;
What the fire cannot touch
Never can be touched
By hand or flame or even eyes.
Let then the residual ash be blown
On the wind and be gone,
Returned to the kind earth
Whose bones gave me form
And let my soul go home unhindered.

Two takes on death

I wrote this some years ago but it still holds true.

Two Takes On Death
When people die, however dear,
There is a small and shameful voice
That whispers in the secret midnight grief:
"Thank God!" and breathes relief.
When William died I did not howl
As once I'd thought I must,
But amid the dry and sterile pain I thought
That nothing worse might come to him.
We who are cursed with the two-edged gift
Can see all futures and all endings
And sigh when worsened pains are spared
And let our loved ones go in peace.
How different then the warrior kind
Who thought it shame to die in bed,
Preferred a gory, glorious death
While we murmur, "Poor Soul,
He slipped away in sleep, thank God!"

Not what I expected to write today

What I wanted to write was a short account of my week away.

I always find when I come back from a trip or a holiday, I have a strong sense of anti-climax, like a sudden surge of depression. Last night I was very relieved to be home, and a few hours later we were watching a tv programme we all enjoy when I noticed blood in my dog’s mouth. Now, she’s got cancer of the tongue and her tongue has been in a mess for a while, but the amount of blood that appeared was alarming. She’s been treated for an infection in it, and what I think happened was the pocket of infection emptied, and bled clean. Needless to say she was unconcerned and after we mopped up the mess, it stopped. By the time we went to bed, she was OK. This morning, she was also fine. Her tongue looked ok;  well, as ok as it’s ever likely to be and we headed out for a long walk. As I may have said before, she’ll be fine until she’s not. Last night I had a real fright that suddenly she was not fine. I slept badly. I couldn’t stop shaking for hours.

To all intents and purposes, there was nothing wrong this morning that wasn’t already wrong, but today has been a tough old day. Dog walkers talk. We stop and talk about our dogs; it’s the one thing we have in common and today I talked to several people. Holly’s cancer came up. I was upbeat and cheerful about it, but the second time, after I headed up the beach, I found myself crying.

By the time I got off the beach and into the woods, I was sobbing. Thankfully no one was about so I didn’t have to worry. I was thinking about all the much loved animals we’ve shared our lives with and what sent me almost into hysterics was the sudden memory that it’s actually been ten years this year since Watson, my legendary ginger tom, died. Ten years. It doesn’t feel like it. I miss him still. I miss William, my big black shaggy cat, who slept on my pillow curled round my head, now gone twelve years.

I sat under an old oak and howled for a few minutes. Holly came over and put her head on my knee and we sat there like that for a while until I couldn’t let myself stay any longer.

I’m not afraid of my own death. In some ways it doesn’t matter to me if death truly is the end for me, that there might be nothing after it. What matters right now is that if there is nothing more after death, for humans or for animals, then I’ll never see my friends and family(whether human or animal) ever again. The void they leave when they go is so immense, today I feel the great weight of that void crushing me; my chest hurts as much as if an elephant had sat on it.

Our lives are so brief, our lives are so brief. All that I strive to do and be in this life, what is it all for? What does any of it mean?

Even when I feel this bad, I usually try to turn it around and find and up side to even the worst of days. Today I can’t. I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better tomorrow, but for today, I am right here, hurting quite unexpectedly.

Oh and if anyone mentions anything to do with the Rainbow bridge, I shall probably puke. Sorry.

The wanderer returns…

As some of you knew, and some may have deduced from my unusual silence both on the comments front and the lack of posts, I have been away. I landed in England again this morning and got home about 2.30 this afternoon after not quite a week away working in Austria.

I’ve covered about 2000 km in this time, on land, and done and seen a million things, which will have to wait(as will my replies to comments) until my brain resets to English and to my normal life. I’m very, very tired. I’ve unpacked, had a bath and washed the smell of smoke from my hair(I’ve been around a lot of smokers; Austria still allows smoking in bars and restaurants) and am going to chuck all my clothes in the wash later.

I’ll tell you one thing though(beyond it was a good trip!): despite serious misgivings about flying for the first time, I was surprised how unfazed I was and how boring I actually found it.

Anyway, I’ve missed proper English tea and I must go and make up for the lack…

Watch this space!


Today Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking is a year old. I had hoped to write something witty and entertaining but I’m only just home from a frustrating and tiring day at work and still need to try and chill out and unwind.

So a big thank you to everyone who visits, and to everyone who comments, and to the lovely friends I have made through the blogging world, and here’s to the next year!



One of the lessons I do with pre-intermediate students is on opposites.

What is the opposite of light?

Well, I suspect most of you would have said Dark, but I’d have accepted Heavy too. Many words have multiple opposites: right  can be the opposite of wrong but also of left.

Most concepts have their opposites too. Good versus evil, Light versus Dark, introvert/extrovert.

I was thinking last night about how our very world shapes our perceptions of things. For instance, mathematics is based largely on the fact that for some reason we have two hands(binary) and ten fingers(digital). I think also the way we interact conceptually is based on having two hands. Everything is either/or or simply both. We can hold things in each hand. When you add things to the equation, it becomes complex and we seek to simplify by putting things into categories. We like to pigeonhole everything. We like things to be symmetrical and even.

And because our planet spins round the sun, we are aware from our earliest days of the contrast between dark and light, between day and night, and this is something I feel has strongly influenced how we perceive the moral and ethical world too. The seasons too have a power to change how we classify the way the world works.

Often when I have covered opposites, I move onto synonyms. People often forget that due to English being a composite language made up of hundreds of influences we often have words that mean almost but not quite the same thing. Is valiant the same as courageous? Not quite. Is intelligent the same thing as clever? No. There are shades and nuances in language that make it so hard for even native speakers to fully get to grips with it.

It’s the same with life. Absolute good and absolute evil are not things we normally encounter. I do believe they exist. I believe in God and I believe also in Not-god. I don’t like the terms that exist for this, because they carry a medieval taint. For most things though, there are infinite shades of in-between good and evil.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s built into the laws of physics. For every hero there is a villain. Our world is built around opposites.

So why do New Agers find it so hard to accept that Light and Dark are as much a part of our world and every person here, that the oppsite of light is not evil? Daytime and nighttime are built into the biology of life. You can’t have life without both. Dark is not evil. Dark is just…dark.

Raindrops on Roses

…and whiskers on kittens…

Relax, I am not about to burst into song and I’ve never actually seen the Sound of Music. The songs have a way of creeping into consciousness though.

This post was prompted by an exchange of comments at (John)Poettraveler’s blog (see blogroll), so blame him!

One of my favourite lessons with my students involves my bag of delights, which is a bag of unusual things, unpacked for them onto an exotic pashmina and they are invited to examine them and choose one that inspires them to write. They can write anything they want to, from a description to a poem. I’ve had songs written and stories, and even a dialogue. They usually watch me unpack with some trepidation and with ever widening eyes and the words, “Mary Poppins!” are hissed under breaths. Yet another film I have never seen.

The following is a list of the items commonly or sometimes in my bag. I do vary it for an assortment of reasons; my Tribble had to be retired because I became concerned for her health….There IS such a thing as too much love!

1) two Egyptian gauze scarves, one black, one red, edged in beads, from Cairo, 2) a black velvet cat mask , 3) a duckbilled platypus finger puppet,  4) a Sol Invictus fridge magnet from Bath,  5) a carved wooden Welsh lovespoon, 6) a wooden rattle, 7) small set of panpipes, 8) lemur soft toy, 9) small rainstick, 10) two plastic water squirting goldfish,  11) a clove orange,   12) a Tibetan singing bowl and beater, 13) a gauze bag of resin incense, smelling of frankincense, fennel and lemongrass, 14) a string of agate beggars’ beads from India,  15) brass wire and bead mandala,  16) sandalwood bead necklace carved with elephants,  17) wooden bookmark with a lion on,  18) parrot soft toy from McD’s,  19) Tibetan prayer wheel,  20) clear resin contact juggling ball- this looks like a crystal ball but isn’t,  21) beaded medicine bag, with design of a leaping hare,  22) carved wooden rhino from Kenya,  23) pewter velociraptor,  24) single horn from a highland cow,  25) jingle bells Christmas decoration,  26) polished geode from mineral shop,  27) naturally occuring geode found on beach at The Witterings in Sussex (by my daughter), 28) Rowan Williams (archbish of Canterbury) figure for the Christmas tree,  29) Tibetan tingshags,  30) two sea shell fossils, found on a beach,  31)  Norweigian easter egg(made of cardboard to be filled with chocs),  32) Egyptian glass perfume vial,  33) a box containing 3 scarabs, one a genuine antiquity, one a reproduction one I bought at the British museum when I was 17 for 10p and one bought last year at the same location,  34) Chinese health balls in a velvet covered box,  35) driftwood shaped like the head of a surprised emu,  36) Stiff Nick, two inch high bronze fertility god figure with errrmm…appendage,  37)  Celtic knotwork brooch, obtained by playing swapsies in the ladies’ loo at IKEA Gateshead  about 15 years ago, 38) Chinese holed coins on a ribbon,  39)  lump of raw amber from Southwold,  40) palm stone of Mookaite,  41) rocks from Everest,  42) lump of native copper,  43) bottle of gold,  44) lump of fool’s gold,  45) reproduction Roman penanular brooch,  46) reproduction Viking cloak brooch with a two headed dragon ship design,  47) polished piece of clear quartz,  48) small pewter angel statue,  49) quartz pyramid,  50) Chinese carving of a dragon on a turtle; it’s made of a nut of sorts but don’t remember what. 

I’ve yet to be disappointed in what a class as a whole produces, though a few individuals have struggled to find their imaginations. Some are still writing at lunchtime, and beg to be allowed to hand it in after lunch. That evening I have the delight of reading them all and marking them, and the next day, they get to read theirs out and I give out rewards. Everyone gets a sweet, for trying and there are a few bigger prizes for thise who truly excelled. I’d give more but it is out of my own pocket, and you have to draw a line. First prize is often a scarab, of which I have a small store of reproduction ones, but it depends on the class and on the gender of the winner. Sometimes it’s a pen or something like that, or more often than that, a chocolate bar.

Usually I save this lesson for when I know a class well enough to know they won’t abuse my collection, but it has worked well for every level and every age I teach and the opportunities for discussion and exploration are boundless.

So, that was a few of my favourite things and my favourite lesson! Did any inspire you?