A good day

“A good day, ain’t got no rain….. A bad day’s when I lie in bed, and think of things that might have been.” – Paul Simon, “Slip Sliding away.”

I can understand this. When you’re very down, you can only conceive of good as being barely OK. I have had plenty of days lying in bed and thinking of might have beens, but generally, something restless in me kicks me out while there’s still daylight enough to have any sort of day.

Sunday was a good day. First, it didn’t rain. Second, despite the fact that I had an anxiety attack the night before, I was looking forward to it enough(but not so much that any sort of reality check would have ruined the actuality of it) to get through the anxiety and not decide to stay under the covers.

I don’t get many perks but Sunday was one: a free ride to London and effectively a free day. J and I arranged to meet and due to traffic decongestion, I got there first and was waiting for him at Covent Garden. I planted myself squarely against a pillar on the premise that he’s a sneaky beggar and might try and creep up and surprise me. The Miss Piggy karate chop is pretty lethal and I didn’t want to start our day by decking my friend. I have a hair trigger. He was a bit sneaky and almost caught me out by appearing from the side and not from the front.

We had a coffee and then started to meander our way towards Bloomsbury and the British museum. I can heartily recommend The Thai Garden on Museum Street for a lovely and affordable meal. We headed into the Museum itself and I took J to meet an old friend of mine, Ginger.

Ginger is someone I visit every time I go to the British Museum. He’s getting on in years now and I think sooner or later they’ll have to retire him. He needs a rest and some TLC. He’s been there since I first visited when I was 17 and he’s still there. He doesn’t change much but then at his age, what’s a few decades? Ginger is over six thousand years old, after all. He’s one of the earliest mummies, naturally formed in the sands of Egypt and almost perfectly preserved.

I visit Ginger to put life in to perspective. It sometimes upsets me that people snap away with cameras and never seem to think this was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s husband….But I always come away feeling strangely relieved. While I have aged and am not the girl who got threatened with expulsion from the museum three times in one afternoon, Ginger remains the same. He’s come to represent something to me I find hard to explain. The permanence of impermanence, maybe. Or that while we live we make a difference and when we’re dead, maybe even then our works may live on. I don’t know. Anyway, I think J understood why I took him to meet my oldest friend.

Downstairs in the old reading room I managed to upset the lady who was showing exhibits to the public. I did NOT mean to but I did put her nose slightly out of joint by seeming to know more about the artefacts she was handing round than she did. If you ever read this, lady of the Hand Axe and Samian Ware Dish, I am so sorry. I’m actually quite nice when you get to know me. She probably wanted to bury the Hand Axe in my face….

We sauntered off and out into the sunshine and took the route the girl took in Someone’s Watching Me https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/someones-watching-me-short-story/ down into Victoria Embankment gardens where we flopped down on the grass, inhaled the scents of wallflowers and exhaust fumes and avoided being biffed by pigeons. Underground trains rumbled beneath us creating utterly weird sensations as the grass and earth trembled where we sat.

Too soon over, my coach pulled in and we said goodbye and I climbed aboard my ride home, feeling gently happy and very tired from all the walking. 

In my life, one good day is worth ten  bad ones. You have to store them up like treasure to mull over when the grey clouds block out the sun. This was a good day, without drama or over-excitement or  expectations.

Who can ask for more?

Heartbeat of the Earth

It’s a glorious day in England and the late spring is rushing along as fast as it can go. I keep looking up at the sky to see if I can see a great cloud of volcanic ash heading this way but all I see are white clouds scudding along like frisky sheep.

I walk, fast enough to keep warm, because the wind is still cold, blowing in from the north east and bringing the smell of the sea long before I reach it. Sometimes I stop and talk with other dogwalkers; we admire each other’s animals and talk dogtalk. There’s a great camaraderie among dogwalkers and it’s probably a measure of my slightly sick mind that it occurs to me that using the cover of dogwalking might be a great disguise for a serial killer. We greet someone who we don’t know like a long lost relative simply because of their canine companion.

The beach is bracing, the wind whipping the waves into fine spume that makes you wet if you walk too near the shoreline. I feel sand seep into my trainers. Back up and head towards the wood again as I run out of beach. The nudist beach is no more, as much a result of coastal erosion as it was of county council statutes; but few naturists felt the narrow stretch of rough shingle was worth the pains of visiting any more.

   I return via another belt of ancient woodland, taking a short cut across a vast meadow and then back into tree cover again. I love trees. The dog trails behind me, following her nose where it leads and when she does that I stand and wait for her to catch up and feel the sun and the breeze on what little skin I have bared. It feels good. Back into a grove of trees, I remember my days as a warden on a nature reserve, working as education officer and I take a sneaky look around to see if I am watched before pressing my right ear to the nearest tree. A distant hint of moving liquid sounds inside the trunk, faint but distinct. This one is too big. I try a sapling and the sound is thin and thready, like the pulse of a dying bird.

Moving on I reach the final open space of the walk and a parade of trees greets me, spaced out across grass studded with wildflowers making up for lost time. These, like Goldilock’s porridge, are just right. Not too big and not too small. I lean my face against the first, feeling the bristle of lichen like kissing a man unshaven on Sundays. The trunk is warm from the sun and the lichen crackles and shifts as my ear finds the sweet spot. Like a river, the heartbeat of the tree thunders away and the tree seems to lean against me as the wind catches it, like a Shire horse will lean on the farrier as it is being shod. It feels strange, a great affectionate gesture from a loving stranger who has become a friend in the space between one heartbeat and the next. I stand, my cheek against this tree before moving to the next and repeating the experience. Four trees  later and I have moss and lichen in my hair, making me look like a slightly stout dryad, if dryads are allowed to wear combat trousers and National Geographic Buffs.

I cut down the field and back into the first belt of woodland, and stop amid the grove of chesnuts, where the bats inhabit a hole in one trunk and woodpeckers rear a nestfull of chicks every year in the hole below it and here, I stop for a moment and listen to the sound beyond the song of birds and the wind in the trees and further beyond the traffic on the A12 a few dozen yards away now.

So distant that I may well be imagining it, I hear another heartbeat: the earth’s. It might be my own magnified by my melancholy and sensitivity, but it doesn’t matter. Just as the trees leaning into me like horses comforted me, so too does this notion or perception. The earth is herself alive, and sentient and that comforts me beyond anything. Humanity may be doomed but the earth will recover.

    I go home, feeling tired and a little sad but not despairing. That’s as much as you can hope for some days.

10 things to help depression

Excuse me, I am more writing to myself than anyone else. It helps to make lists some times.  By the way, they are in no particualr order of importance, just as they occurred to me. I’m having trouble concentrating properly right now.

#1. Vigorous exercise of some kind. Not the easiest thing when all you want to do is crawl under the covers. Solution: get a dog. A dog will probably ensure that you get out for a brisk walk at least a couple of times a week. Exercise is up there on the list of things it can be impossible to do without someone else motivating you. A dog might just be the motivator. Mine was, until she got cancer 7 months ago and has slowed down.

#2. Physical contact. Massage is good, hugs are better. That said, I am not a touchy feely person generally and only within certain bounds I set for myself(which are often illogical when I try to explain; but to sum up its probably about INSTINCT.) My boss gave me an unsolicited hug and kiss on Monday and I felt like decking him. Decking your boss= a bad thing. A really, really bad thing…..

#3. This one is purely personal. Vast amounts of smoke. I don’t smoke and never have but I do love incense a lot. There’s a lot of evidence for the benefits of incense. My favourite is a Coptic one called God’s Smile (available from the Pan’s Pantry link on my Cool shopping list) which is used to treat depression. I’ve just used the very last of my supply a few minutes ago and am beginning to panic about it.

#4. Essential oils. Certain essential oils have intense properties of relieving depression. The same oils  carry a enormous price tag; Some neroli(orange blossom oil) retails at over £1 per drop. For what it’s worth, you get about 20 drops per millilitre. Years ago, in a very black spot, I tried to get a single drop of neroli out of the tiny vial, and in my haste, spilled half of it on the bathroom surface. Objecting to waste, I wiped it up with my hair like Mary Magdalene, and went off, to deliver child to school, intending myself severe harm later. By the time I’d driven the seven miles to school, the aroma had begun to lift me and halfway home I was singing a sea shanty. Other oils are also very powerful. Jasmine, rose, sandalwood, frankincense, lavender and most of the citrus oils are good. I’d recommend Valerie Ann Worwood’s The Fragrant Mind for further study. 

#5. Spending time in nature. Combined with exercise, if you can actually get beyond your front door, sunshine and fresh air can get you through some bad times. Again, refer to #1 for motivator

#6 Watching something funny. Many mental hospitals are using humourous dvds to treat patients with great effect. The simple act of smiling for more than 20 seconds produces feel good endorphins. Laughter is even better.

#7 Talking to someone who knows and loves you and you can trust. If there isn’t anyone, at all, try the Samaritans or some similar organisation. They’re trained to care , true but I’ve only ever found kindness and understanding there. You don’t get through the training otherwise. If all else fails, revert to #1: dogs are good listeners.

#8 Do something for someone else. Practise random acts of senseless kindness, like leaving flowers for the nurses at the local hospital.

#9 Music. This is sometimes a bad move if you tend to gravitate to certain kinds of music. Go to a music store and find something a bit different. I found a cd of Italian baroque improvisations which lifts me every time I hear it.

#10 Remembering that this, too, will pass. Knowing, even if you have to write it on post-it notes and leave it everywhere, that even the darkest days will eventually pass,  is a strange comfort when you can’t imagine anything other than the current pain, but it is a comfort.

#11……over to you….?        

I’m off to either walk the dog or put on a funny dvd.

The Uninvited Guest

  The Uninvited Guest 

I felt him come in; through the noise and colour and lights of the party, I felt him come into the room and stand quietly to one side, not mingling,  just waiting and watching. We have such a deep connection he didn’t need to tell me he was there; I knew. Maybe there was a change in the air, maybe I smelled him, his scent distinct as the ozone smell before a storm breaks. Whatever it was, I knew he’d arrived and I felt a brief flare of rage that he should just turn up here, uninvited and unwanted, when I was trying to enjoy my party.

The heat of the room was pleasant still and I was passing from guest to guest, making conversation and laughing, but all the time I could feel his eyes follow me round the room. He wouldn’t do or say anything yet; from experience I knew he could be trusted to behave for a while longer. He might even be decent company for some guests but if that were the case, as I shut the door on the last few to leave, there’d be hell to pay for ignoring him all evening. I had to act.

I sidled up to him; he’s an expert sidler so he appreciated that, and grinned at me as I took his elbow and guided him into the kitchen. With my foot wedged against the door, to stop anyone else coming in, I looked at him sternly and felt furious that he just laughed.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded. “I didn’t invite you.”

“You never do,” he said, his mouth turned down in a quirky mock frown. “You never do.”

“Well, what do you expect? You’re a right royal pain when you’re with me. You make my friends hate me,” I said.

“No,” he said and I saw that the joking was over. “They don’t hate you. Honestly. They don’t even know about me, most of them. Or care. I know I make you different when I’m with you, but is that such a bad thing?”

“Yes,” I said.

Someone rattled at the door.

“Just a minute,” I called.

“Look,” I said. “You can stay, all right, but please don’t upset anyone.”

“Deal,” he said and held out a hand.

Reluctantly I took it and he squeezed it.

“We do need to talk,” he said gently and I could see he meant it.

“Later, when everyone’s gone,” I said.

“You always say that,” he said.

“Maybe this time I mean it,” I said.

He kept his word and behaved like a perfect gentleman. I’m not sure anyone really noticed him among the guests; he certainly didn’t stand out as anything out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, I was glad when I shut the door behind my last guest and knew there was nothing more he could do to spoil my party.

I was collecting glasses and he came up behind me, making me jump and drop glasses. I scrabbled to retrieve them and set them down on a coffee table.

“We need to talk,” he said again.

“Then talk,” I said. “I have all night now. What do you need to tell me?”

Anatomy of Melancholy

I’ve been trying to get a handle on depression, in particular mine.

Breaking it down into the components, it looks like this:

1) a fair measure of melancholy that is part of my basic nature

2) intermittent clinical depression that sweeps in like a sea fret in summer, making everything grey, cold and miserable

3) a hefty dose of hormonal imbalance.

4) a running battle with chronic pain issues(which ought, like #3 be time limited)

5) some pretty difficult events in my life so far that have yet to be dealt with. I keep telling myself I’ll deal with them one day

6) a sneaky possibility that the depression wears a different face and is in fact a variety of bi-polar disorder

Batting on my team of positives are:

1) a sense of humour that verges on the ridiculous

2) intelligence

3)strong will and determination

4) the innate belief that my feelings and issues are not any more important than anyone else’s and they don’t need to suffer mine as well as their own.

5) extensive knowledge and experience of natural band-aids to get me through hard times

6) my ability to convey feelings etc in writing.

I’m not even going to touch on my support network of  family and friends. I only wanted to include in my list the things that I have any sort of claim to owning, on either side of the battle lines.

So there you have it. Which side are you putting your money on then, if you were a betting man/woman?

Dreaming of an archetype?

I find that as the days get longer, my dreams become more vivid and baffling and filled with symbolism.

This morning, I dreamed a strange dream. At first I was in a city I ought to know as I’d lived there for three years but not one of the landmarks was familiar to me; within the dream I told myself that the passage of 23 years had wiped my memories. I was trying to keep up with a large group of people who were walking fast. I couldn’t see who was leading the group or where we were going and after a while I found myself lost. I went into a cafe and tried to sort out my belongings, which were in a small case, but I couldn’t find what I needed.

The dream shifted then and I found myself visiting a house I lived in seven years ago. I didn’t recognise features but I knew it was the house we lived at in Darkest Norfolk . It was empty of furniture and of people and as I walked through it, I became aware I was dreaming. This moment of being lucid within a dream is something quite common for me and no longer catapults me out of the dream. I walked through into the next room and found a structure that resembled an igloo in shape. I was surprised to find it there, not just because the snow is now gone from England but also, who would build such a thing in a house. The structure was dome shaped and seemed to be built out of grey ice or snow, but I had no sense of coldness. I walked round it to find the entrance but when I did, I saw that someone had filled it in.

  The doorway was blocked with fresh new snow, which was far more like the snow I experienced in February in Austria than English snow. It was soft and light and when I touched it, the whole barrier fell away like the ghosts of cold feathers and vanished. I walked in. The room inside was not like an igloo though the floor seemed to be covered with melting snow and towards the centre there seemed to be a sort of grating in the floor. Sitting over the grating was a figure I at first thought was my mother but soon realised it was not. I thought she was trying to light a fire and again I saw she was not. This ancient figure was sat crosslegged on the floor(she didn’t seem to be getting wet) and I saw that what she sat by was not a grate at all, though the meltwater was seeming to drain into it and vanish but instead it seemed to be a brass or gold plaque or inset.

I came closer and spoke to the old woman and she told me that the plaque was all that was left to commemorate the tribes of the earth and as I looked I saw that the plaque was actually made up on smaller shapes, that fitted together and each contained a symbol. I could see now they were made of worn and ancient gold and not brass as I first thought. I asked how many tribes were there, and I looked and perceived there were twelve symbols. I tried to see and remember the symbols(I was still lucid at this point) but I couldn’t. The images seemed to swirl and change as I looked at them; she told me then that I belonged to the last of those tribes and that she guarded the symbols.

Her hands were gnarled and curled round like the claws of an eagle as she sat and I woke feeling I had seen and experienced something of great moment and yet, now I do not even begin to understand what I saw.

Cross of nails

This is a favourite piece of jewellery, my cross of nails. It’s three silver nails twisted together to form a crucifix. I saw it at an exhibition some years ago and ordered it. I’ve worn it more than any other piece of jewellery since with the exception of my wedding ring.

Now, I am to part with it temporarily. The designer has found herself in a bit of a spot;  she no longer has the original to take casts from and mine is the only one traceable.

I’ve agreed to send it back to her but I already feel bereft. I don’t think any item of religious bling has ever spoken to me the way this did. It’ll only be for a few weeks and it means that the design will be available again to the wider world, which is a great thing.

But I will miss it greatly. It’s only a bit of silver but every time I put it on, it holds such power for me.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I expect to be attacked by vampires when it’s gone. It was just a part of my ready-for the world ritual every morning.

We all need a comfort blanket some times; this was mine.

Edit: just to add that it has no been sent and I have been in dialogue with the silversmith. She is in the process of setting up a website for her creations but in the meantime should anyone wish you order one, please write to:

Susan Bayliss: c/o Centrepoint Christian Centre, PO Box 2156, West Bromich, West Midlands, B70 6HA, United Kingdom.

I will put up a link to her website when it’s ready.

a morning

Tea, in bed. Who could wish for more? One of us usually has to get up earlier than the other so the rule is, Up first, you make the tea. Himself often gets up at 5.45am to go for a run, then back to do kungfu training in the garden and then make tea. Over the winter, this has lapsed a little. Weather has been severely unkind and so running has been sporadic.

Today, the sun shines. I drink tea, go and turn on my pc, still nightclad and towsled. I need to see my emails, check the blog, almost before I wake.  The cats mumble around us, wanting cuddles before settling down in the ruins of our rumpled duvet. I seldom get a chance to make the bed before they’re asleep and inviolate.

The dog emerges, looking sheepish and slightly embarrassed like a party guest who has woken to find they have outslept their host and the cunning plan to slip away unremarked has failed. I don’t know why she looks like this, but she does.

We drink coffee in my study. The study is the tiny third bedroom, that serves as occasional guest room. You have to like books and not feel oppressed by the sheer weight of them on every wall to sleep well in this room. We discuss the day, laugh and then bid farewell as his lift to work arrives.

I head for the shower, and emerge a few minutes later, hair in a towel and get dressed. I can dress casual today as I am just supervising sports this afternoon and not teaching. Jeans, then, t-shirt that looks vaguely French. It’s the blue and white stripes, I guess; all I need is a beret and a string of onions.

Now downstairs. The living room smells of jasmine from the flowering plant that opens starry blooms and pours out sensual sweetness. I let the dog out and pause. I light a little incense with my brief blind morning prayer that is without words and wait for the dog to scratch to come in again.

    I need a stamp; there’s a letter to post. I trip out to the row of shops a few dozen yards from my front door, hair dripping and no mascara yet. The locals know me, I don’t have to pretend. I buy a stamp, post the letter and the odour from the baker’s shop lures me in to buy. He’s a clever chap, our baker; he gives me samples of new cakes he’s devised or is experimenting with and asks my opinion. I buy cake to go with my second coffee.

Home:  the dog wants her breakfast. I feed her while I make more coffee and take my cofee and cake upstairs to the computer. The cake is still sitting on the top of my printer, waiting for me to eat it. I chose farmhouse fruit cake, kidding myself it’s at least got fruit in.  

I’m procrastinating, I know this. I’m putting off the moment when I open my documents and begin from where I made myself stop last night. I made a decision late last night to stop writing and go to bed. I knew there was a point where if I continued to write, I simply would not sleep at all and at about 11.15, I wasn’t sure if I had passed that point. I promised my husband that I would get up and start again if I stayed awake past a certin point. I fell asleep about an hour after I went to bed.

When I am like this, I exclude everything around me. I don’t hear things or notice anything in the house. I do the basic tasks at the core of running a home and I do them in automatic pilot. When I have finished a book,  whether it takes three weeks or three months, I wake up from the dream I have been dipping in and out of and see what I have not done. I am lucky, in many ways because my family seem to take up the slack and do the vital tasks that I tune out, like feed the animals and water plants, but the finer things, like tidying and dusting…well, no.

I come home to Briar Rose’s castle at least in my mind; hung with cobwebs and with ivy sneaking through window panes and the mice playing on the hearth, made fearless by my absence. It’s only my guilt that notices the things I didn’t do. Many I don’t do anyway. I gave up ironing years ago as it is such a waste of time and energy.

I put off the final moment when I sit and return to what I enjoy best, because I am so scared that one day I will start and I won’t be able to stop when external reality calls for me to stop. I tell myself I am honing my ability to multi-task, to compartmentalise. I’m not. I’m deferring becoming enslaved to my addiction. 

Time to eat that cake. The coffee has gone cold.

Untouchable Face

I don’t know about other writers but I often find I get a certain song with lyrics that strike me as powerful stuck in my mind when I write. It’s a kind of litmus test for the kind of prose I am working on at the time.

I’ve found this song curiously inspiring for a number of years. The emotions it paints with such feeling are at the heart of obsessive love. I’m working on something right now that this could be the theme tune for a central part of it.

Please be aware this song contains strong language. This song would turn the litmus paper bright vivid blood red….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc4eYOhNnU8