What am I waiting for?

What am I waiting for?

For the winter to be over?

For Spring to arrive?

For my life to start?

For something to give a little, to feel that sudden shifting that says something is going to move soon?

For the stars to move into a favourable conjunction?

For better times?

Till I am grown up enough to understand the world?

Till my prayers are answered? Till I am strong enough?

Till I am better?

Till I can love myself enough?

Till someone rescues me?

Till the conditions for growth are better?

What am I waiting for?

Is this inactivity simply a lull, a pause in proceedings or is it the preface to a slow decline?

Is each forward step I take that is met by a sliding backwards, a waste of effort?

Am I just clinging on to stop the current, the fierce force of the river, sweeping me away?

I feel like an actor, hiding in the wings, waiting for my cue to step on stage, take my place and speak my lines.

I feel like the crown princess waiting for a crown that never comes without the grief of losing the one who wore it last.

I feel like a child who cannot grow up.

I feel like the eternal Miss Havisham, trapped in a soul that gathers more cobwebs and mould each unkissed year.

I feel like the buds brought in too early that dry and wither on the branch, never to open and flower.

I feel like a treasure hunter who only has half the map; the half where X marks the spot is lost to me.

I feel like the hero of a book, the one where  the reader knows his fate but the hero does not.

I feel like I have lost my way; I’m sitting on my luggage at Paddington station and hoping someone with look after this bear.

I’m scared I’ve missed my moment.

I’m scared I have missed my cue, and the rest of the cast have had to muddle through without me.

I’m scared that I’m in limbo, stuck in a dead hinterland of nothingness where I wait for an eternity for a moment that never comes.

Have I dithered too long about destiny?

Have I failed to make my choices, waiting instead to see what happens?

Has it all passed me by while I stand, frozen by fear and by self doubt?

Or is this instead the patience to wait for the right moment, even without knowing what that would look like?

Is it the rightful caution of someone whose bones know where she should be going, even if her head does not?

Is it the wisdom to wait and not try to force the world into a shape it’s not ready to move into?

Is it the silent knowing that tells you that this is not IT, that mystical something you’ve been waiting for?

That inner certainty that something right for you is there somewhere?

Is it that sane assessment that tells you that while the frying pan is hot, the fire is hotter yet?

What am I waiting for?

I do not know.

But chasing intangibles will not bring it faster.

The myth of permanent growth ~ or what goes up must come down

The myth of permanent growth ~ or what goes up must come down

Recent news reports on the British economy have been pretty depressing lately. I really don’t find either politics or economics even vaguely interesting but I was struck by various things recently. The concept of growth, for example.

Some years ago, I was asked by an editor at one of the big publishers to put together a proposal for a book about the decline of the Church of England. Short version of this is that after six weeks of research I submitted my proposal and a few weeks after that had it turned down on the grounds that the committee didn’t think there would be enough people interested in buying such a book. That was that; I wasn’t even much disappointed. I’d written very little non-fiction at that point and wasn’t sure I was capable of it. The reason I mention this was because the research I had to do for the proposal involved looking at publicly available information concerning the finances. Even without a financially astute brain I could read the spreadsheets and see there was a fundamental flaw in their projections at this time. With the average age of contributing parishioners rising and the number of younger people joining falling, I could see that the income levels being predicted were fatally flawed. Sooner or later those increasingly elderly people would either pass on, or they would themselves begin cutting back their giving as the economy squeezed their pensions till they squealed. The secure future for Church income was not as secure as the forecasters seemed to think. As the ratio of male/female priests also began to skew heavily to middle-aged women working without a stipend, it became clearer that the church was planning on relying on more priests working without being paid. Since this relieves some of the financial burden on parish giving, I did wonder why this was not mentioned in the reports (perhaps it was and I missed it) but since then, I have continued to wonder why this trend has not been more openly explored.

Growth is an odd thing. Many years ago when I worked on a nature reserve as an education officer one of our visitors with a school spent some time talking with my boss about some software programme he’d been playing with. It basically was intended to map out and chart a graph of growth based on entering certain figures for known and probable growth of certain plants. He used the example of an oak tree. My boss listened patiently and then carefully told him why the programme couldn’t work. Too many variables: oak growth is dependent on issues like rainfall, overall temperature, pests and so on. The teacher said, well, it’s only a rough guide, if you can put the data in it’ll give you a figure for 200 years ahead. I started to walk away at this point because it got quite heated, my boss trying to point out that while you might be able to do this for a long-lived being like a tree, it was impossible to be accurate and also somewhat pointless. “We already know how high an oak tree is likely to grow,” said my boss. “Daisies, then,” said the teacher. “You can put the figures in for daisies and see how tall they’re going to grow!” “But we know that. You don’t get constant growth for 200 years. They grow so tall and no more. It’s in their genes.”

By this point I was too far away to hear.

But the upshot of it is that things have inbuilt lifespans for both life and growth, whether they are oak trees, daisies or economies. Things that boom often go bust just as quickly.

Sustainable growth is what we need to aim at. Growth that is essentially maintaining a healthy level of activity. Not just in our global or national economies but in our personal growth. What can you achieve that you can hope to maintain, come high days, holidays, slumps, sickness and the rest? What things can you aim to achieve that are not one-hit wonders, that once in a lifetime marathon but the brisk walk every day? What can you guarantee to be able to keep at even when the momentum is lost?

Many blogs for example start off well, taper off and then die because the level of commitment needed to keep going demanded too much from the blogger. It’s the same with writing books. There must be a million partially written MS stuck in drawers, real or virtual because their authors simply couldn’t keep up.

And then there’s sales. It’s a bit over 6 months since I first got a book out on Kindle and I have seen sales climb, and that’s wonderful. But just as things can go up, they can also go down. I see plenty of Indie writers whose sales figures make my jaw drop to my chest with amazement, and I take my hat off to anyone who is making real money this way. It’s the dream of most writers to make a living from their writing. Yet even though I’m doing OK, there are two spectres that haunt me. One is that however hard I try and however hard I work I’m extremely unlikely to pen a book that screams best-seller; literary fiction rarely gets into those sorts of lists. The second spectre is that the hard-won growth is going to be destroyed and tail off into nothing. The situation is precarious. Thousands upon thousands of authors have signed up for the Select programme, which means they are able to give their books away free as promotion. I’m not criticising anyone who has chosen this route but today I had confirmation of something I’d been wondering about.

My good friend Andrew commented that a friend of his wife’s had refused to shell out the £3 or so needed to buy his book, on the grounds that they thought they shouldn’t have to pay for e-books at all. There are so many books out there now that are free to download that many folks simply don’t buy now; they wait till the author puts the book on promotion and grab it then. I know money’s too tight to mention, I know we none of us have much dosh right now. But think about it. A book someone has laboured over for months or years is surely worth a few quid. If you’ve read the sample, and liked it, then why turn up your nose because the author is asking for some recompense for their work?

Too many are doing just this. Too many are stuffing their e-readers full of goodies that are being given away by authors who hope that by doing so, the reader will come back and buy their next one.

At present, I have no plans to do this. It is for me counter-intuitive and in terms of my growth, both as a writer and as a person, it’s more like herbicide. But if there is a reader who genuinely cannot afford to buy one of my e-books reading this then contact me and I may well gift you a pdf of it. It’s not that I refuse to give my work away; I’d just prefer to be able to do so to someone who will truly value it.

That way I have a hope of continuing to produce good work and not be overwhelmed by despair. That way I have a chance to create a sustainable pattern of growth for my soul and for my writing without the all-or-nothing grand gesture my diva-ish nature sometimes prompts me to demand.

Doors within Doors ~ deciphering the dreaming

Doors within Doors ~ deciphering the dreaming

Last year I found myself taking lots of photographs of doors and doorways, some open, some closed and some even bricked up.

 The best ones (visually anyway) were ones that were taken from the inside looking out. The view is framed by the doorway and the view is enticing.

The real reason I am fascinated by doorways is not merely aesthetic but symbolic. I dream a great deal about doors; often in the dream I try to exit a building only to find that the doorway is somehow far too narrow to squeeze my bulk through. Or I dream that my door to the world will not fully shut and remains stubbornly open and vulnerable to intrusion by the exterior world. Or that I am unable to open a door to escape from a house. Many of my dreams see me exploring, often fearfully in darkened rooms and corridors, a great house, vast in size and packed with rooms full of wonders and terrible things. I go up stairs that never end, trying to find a way off the exhausting ascent. Often stairs are for the trigger for realising I am dreaming and then I can take some control and enjoy “lucid dreaming”.

A common door dream I have at regular intervals is one where I find a secret door in my home, that has been there all along but I have forgotten about, and which leads to a series of rooms that are hidden but somehow familiar. I discover what amounts to a second house, annexed to the main one, and I explore that avidly. I wake feeling disappointed that these extra rooms are not really present. The extra rooms have the feel of having been recently inhabited but I never meet anyone there.

But the dreams that end up haunting me most are the ones where I am trapped within a building and cannot find a door that takes me out into the open air, and into nature. Sometimes I go through doors that seem to take me outside but in fact they turn me back to the inside. I often wake distressed and claustrophobic from these.

About a week or two back I had one of these dreams but it had a rather interesting twist. I was in a caravan and I wanted to go out. The door was there so I opened it. Behind it was another door. I opened that. It went on, opening door after door without ever revealing the way out. A voice, just off camera, said to me, “This is a spirit door, it is there to confuse the spirits.” It made perfect sense and within the dream I seemed to remember some Tibetan practise of putting in fake doors to trap evil spirits. I lost the dream a moment after that but I do recall I may have tried to exit via a window and the dream went elsewhere.

I woke with a sense of having been given a clue.  A door is not always a door; sometimes it is a trap. In the last novel I wrote (not yet named or published) the main character ended up in a catatonic fugue state, as a result of extreme stress and trauma but the final straw was moving through a gateway in his own garden. Now previous to this, he had experienced a deep shamanic trance state where he had met and talked with his dead mother herself stuck in between worlds, and captive by her own choices in a moment frozen in time in that same garden. Their conversation finally freed her from this self-imposed imprisonment and the son acted as a kind of psycho-pomp for the dead by allowing her to pass from the garden into the next world via a seldom-opened gate in the garden wall. His own desire to escape from the travails of his life meant that the next time he passed in reality through this gate, it sent him back into a limbo world like that timeless night-garden and trapped him in a non-responsive state.

I’ve battled with this desire to escape, escape from myself and my life and who I am for a long time. I think this is what fuels these dreams of doors and doorways and why my unconscious plays these tricks on me.

I somehow feel that perhaps within my dreaming I have been so focused on going through doors I have not considered (like the hero in my novel) where they actually lead. Do they lead to the open air, the wide skies and freedom or do they lead like the gateway in my hero’s journey to a limbo land of nothingness and waiting?

I do not know.

Last night though I dreamed a slightly different dream. Without conscious action I moved within a dream from an interior setting to an outside one. I had no awareness of the transition from being at a computer holding an instant messaging conversation with someone who will probably never communicate with me again, to being outside and at the foot of an impossibly steep hill. Others (I don’t know who) were with me and while I thought the hill too steep to ascend, someone showed me that it was only the first six feet that were hard, and suddenly, I was hauling myself up onto a path that was far higher up than I expected to be. It was a hill that seemed to have been a sort of ancient hill fort that had been built upon and used for a long, long time and once I was past a certain point, I was able to stand at the low walls and look out across a vast and brightly lit city below me. I wasn’t at the top, but I was a good halfway and the rest of the climb didn’t look that hard at all.

The following lines are from T.S Eliot’s East Coker, in the Four Quartets

You say I am repeating

Something I have said before. I shall say it again.

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,

To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,

You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.

In order to arrive at what you do not know

You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.

In order to possess what you do not possess

You must go by the way of dispossession.

In order to arrive at what you are not

You must go through the way in which you are not.

And what you do not know is the only thing you know

And what you own is what you do not own

And where you are is where you are not.

It seems to be about a form of conscious unconsciousness. Maybe like my hero in that novel, I need to go through a form of dispossession of self.

Guesting elsewhere today ~ balancing peripheral characters with main characters

A few weeks back, I was asked if I would contribute my thoughts to Thea’s wonderful blog. The subject she wanted to me to tackle was how to stop peripheral characters in a story usurping the main ones. “Oh,” I said. “You mean how to stop Side Show Bob murdering Bart Simpson?” and the post was born.

Enjoy (oh and be sure to check out Thea’s books while you’re there too!)



Analysing the creative process~ part 2 by Marc Nash

(This post came from an email exchange between Marc and I after I had been worrying about losing my creativity. Marc was happy to have his process shared here)

I’ve read books on the sources of creativity, mainly by psychologists & analysts. None really clinch it for me. You’ve probably got your own ideas on it. Mine are hardly scientific. In a way it’s akin to the dreaming process, which is apposite since much of my “creativity” seems to emerge from that same unconscious realm. I may not be working on a piece of writing, but a solution to a writing problem, or a conjunction of ideas previously not made, can come to me at the most surprising of moments. Usually when I’m trying to empty my mind in preparation for dropping off to sleep, that space where what has been held at bay throughout the rest of the workaday hours of life, now free to be invaded by that which emerges from the deepest core of me, the writer.

Creativity seems to me to be akin to dreams because it is not logical. I don’t know what you believe of all the dream theories, but to me it partly represents the brain trying to process all the irregular bytes of information that it can’t slot into easy niches of its synaptic RAM. That’s why dreams always have such surprising associations and juxtapositions of people/images/events that we would never consciously associate together. The brain is almost trying to wedge them into a flush dovetail join, just like a toddler with one of those shape toys, who is failing to ram a square brick into a crescent shaped hole. I think creativity, in making the associations we just don’t foresee is similar. What underpins the things brought together is most likely to be an emotional or affective feeling. That’s why I think no matter how currently blocked a writer may be, the block will shift. Those emotional states are there. Those images & experiences are there. We are constantly working on them at a very deep level and in time they will be unlocked. The feelings and experiences can’t disappear. Writers are people who are prepared to be open to these experiences and feelings, to work on them and to utilise their output. Psychoanalysts work with the same experiences and feelings of their clients, but they would kill them for any writer in the way they are worked on, not least because they are refracted through a very rigid lens of psychoanalysis which clips the wings of these rich and diversely interpretable experiences.

What we may lack is the stillness for the results of our deep level ruminations to come up to the surface. Real life and emotional states may preclude it. But they are there. The work is continuing apace. A writer never loses that process. The physical impediments to it surfacing are unlikely to remain in place for ever. Once you have laid down the processes that produce these richly creative associations you are a writer. And even if temporarily blocked, those processes are still laid down. They don’t disappear. They don’t wither on the vine. You have to trust to yourself that they will resurface, when circumstances allow.

And that’s kind of how my process works. I get the germ of a novel. Usually a central image and a voice (not character, but voice, which to me contains character). The association of those two things that normally one wouldn’t necessarily bring together (the mysterious source of creative thought as discussed above). In the case of my debut novel, it was the idea of a gangster’s moll (and accordingly the voice) and being holed up in a Club 18-30 holiday resort. How? Why? When? I have no idea. I’d read the odd gangster’s autobiography. Been struck by the role of the wife and the relative lack of voice for them in such a world. Watched those dreadful programmes with jaw-dropping awe about young British tourists abroad, like ‘”Ibiza Uncovered” and “Holiday Reps” and now “Sun, Sea & Suspicious Parents”. While I was consuming both these strands, presumably I was consuming lots of other input from TV, radio, books, conversations? And yet these were the two that knitted together somewhere in my addled brain. My current work sparked off the physics of Einstein’s theories on relativity and the notion of observation as conducted by a private eye.

With this jumping off point, I then proceed to do nothing for 6 months but let the ideas seethe away in my creative subconscious. Occasionally I’ll make a note or two, but I won’t start writing anything. I may read around the subject, but usually not. What I don’t understand about this stage is how chunks of the work don’t come to me as they do once I’ve formally sat down to write it. It’s like my brain is keeping my powder dry for me, which is a very odd mechanism, but one I think I’m grateful for. Because when I do finally sit down to write it, the build up all comes out. I write as a momentum writer. It often comes out fully formed in parts, even though I haven’t rehearsed it consciously in my mind (my flash is very different, often I have rehearsed that in my mind, usually while lying awake in bed and can write it virtually fully-formed the next morning. At a flesh & blood writing group I briefly attended, I’d forgotten to bring the print off of a flash I was going to read. But was able to reconstruct maybe 85% of it during the recital from memory, because that reconstruction was how I’d effectively written it in the first place, reconstructing it from the mental going over of it lying in bed). When I say I’m a momentum writer, I mean I build up a head of steam which propels the writing along. It’s Monte Carlo or bust effectively, I have to get to the end of the first draft, so there is no turning back & re-editing. The momentum carries me through the plot (such as I indulge in plots). My inability to build up momentum right now is what’s making the WIP such a hard grind for me.

In the momentum zone, I sleep badly, eat badly, neglect the nearest & dearest. I finish writing at about 1am and then lie in bed still formulating chunks of text to set down the next day for at least 2 hours as my febrile brain winds down its activity. The next morning I start by reconstructing that 2 hours worth of work in bed and then press on. This is why I feel my processes aren’t terribly instructive to fellow writers. In this state, the words do literally course through my veins and prevent me from sleeping. That’s how wrapped up my body is in what I do, way more than any mental notions of the identity of a writer.

And that’s it, that’s my process for the first draft. It’s compressed into a relatively short span of intense writing and is largely all knitted up (though not unfailingly so) through the process of letting it lie for those 6 months and working at a subconscious level. This is again why I say the fact that someone is not currently writing, does not portend they’ll never be able to write fiction again. The work is continuing. It will out when it is ready. When the connections and associations have been made.

I’m sure this is of very limited use to you and your processes. But I offer it simply as a way of saying don’t lose faith in your abilities. Your back catalogue proves you possess all the tools and have and can turn a blank screen into a published novel. You just have to trust yourself, even if you can’t definitively say when the next fiction book will arrive on the galleys. You are a writer. You will always be a writer. There may be a question in some cases of a writer simply running out of material to write about. That their store of experiences can no longer yield them fresh associations. Firstly I judge you to be so far removed from such a person, just from our conversations – you have a rich storehouse of experiences, you still pursue fresh knowledge and insight, you are still grappling with the world around you. For secondly, any such person who runs out of source material, probably isn’t much of a writer in the first place, being insufficiently stimulated by the things around them. And thirdly, how many established authors make a career out of rewriting the same limited first book over and over again!

Be in no doubt Viv, the fiction will come back on track. Only you might not be able to determine the timescale, which I appreciate brings its own frustrations. But if you can separate out the fact that it’s not flowing right now, from any illusion that it may never flow again, then you have permission not to beat yourself up about it. Maybe my greatest achievement as a writer, is not to give myself a hard time when I’m not writing.

You can find out more about Marc’s work, his books and his thoughts in one or more of these places:

http://marcnash.weebly.com Website “A,B&E”

http://marcnashNIMN.weebly.com Website “Not In My Name”

www.sulcicollective.blogspot.com Blog

or connect to him on Twitter as  @21stCscribe

A (fairly) light-hearted look at insomnia ~ scourge of my life and that of others

A (fairly) light-hearted look at insomnia ~ scourge of my life and that of others.

If there is one thing guaranteed to get people talking on social media (and we shall exclude certain subjects for reasons of simple decency) it’s insomnia. It’s far from a simple subject, as this article from Wiki shows but when people start discussing it, you really would think it was simple. Don’t drink caffeine, stop worrying, lavender oil on the pillow…. the advice is endless. I’ve doled out enough of it myself to deserve to be punched.

Those who have never suffered with more than the occasional missed night of sleep are lucky. That said, I’d not wish it upon them.

The definition of insomnia is ambiguous too: Insomnia is often defined as a positive response to either of two questions: “Do you experience difficulty sleeping?” or “Do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep?”

Now I’d answer a resounding yes to both questions. Once you start looking more deeply into causes, that’s the point when you realise that it’s not a simple matter of applying head to pillow and shutting the eyes. Insomnia can be fatal (though this is rare) and it is far more debilitating that folks who never suffer can imagine.

I’m going to run through a number of the things I have tried over the years. Some of them work for a while, and some are tried and tested sleep aids. If any of them are things you haven’t tried, do consider trying them.

Herbs (teas, tablets and tinctures): usually people suggest camomile for this and it is indeed very relaxing in small quantities. Over use of it produces the opposite effect. Other herbs that are beneficial for sleep are valerian and hops. The downside is that both of these have a depressant effect. Many herbal sleeping tablets contain both. Not advisable if you suffer with depression. Another good herb is passiflora; this works as a muscle relaxant so if you have a heart problem this one is out. I concocted a herb tea made with about 15 different herbs, all known to have relaxing, soothing and sleep inducing properties: wild lettuce, (which was used to treat the Emperor Augustus of a life threatening bout of insomnia; to such effect he put up a statue in its homour) wood betony, vervain, violets, lavender, passiflora, Californian poppies, limeflowers, camomile, rose petals and St John’s wort among a few others. The tea does work but to make up the mix costs a fair amount of money and you make a pretty large amount. You can’t store herbs for very long without them losing their potency, so when certain herbs like limeflowers undergo chemical changes (after two years they produce chemicals that induce the effects of intoxication) after a year or two, making a blend needs to be done in small quantities at regular intervals. This works for acute insomnia but not for chronic.

Sleeping pills: both over the counter remedies and prescribed ones can be very effective for acute insomnia. One of the most readily available brands  has the option of one OR two tablets. I keep these in for desperate measures. On the leaflet it warns against using them habitually and also if you have kidney damage. Those nights I do take them, I find the next day I have significant pain in the kidney area. Prescribed ones I have taken usually produce such a heavy, unrefeshing sleep that takes hours to emerge from that I’d prefer to avoid them.

Cutting down on caffeine: worth doing. I don’t drink any caffeine-rich beverage after a certain time and drink only a certain amount during the day.

Exercise: taking some form of exercise each day does help. However, according to research, too much exercise can increase insomnia. How much is too much? Exercising immediately before bed will certainly not help.

Aromatherapy: there are many essential oils that have soporific effects. Using one of these (lavender, camomile, rose, jasmine etc) will aid acute insomnia. However, in my experience, long term they don’t do much.

Hot baths: this works by relaxing the muscles with heat. However don’t get into bed until the body temperature has returned to normal. The body’s sleep mechanism is triggered by the body temperature falling slightly, which is why it’s best to sleep in a room that is slightly cooler than usual room temperature.

Crystals: no, don’t laugh. Using certain crystals to aid sleep goes back a long way. Amethyst that deep purple gem is often suggested. It’s also supposed to give deeper and more restful sleep. I have a fondness for crystals and I have found using them helpful. Placebo, maybe but don’t diss it. Again, it may help with short term acute insomnia.

Meditation: this helps to come to a kind of quiet space. Used regularly meditation has immense benefits for a lot of people. My problem is finding the motivation to do something that takes discipline and determination.

Music: I have a good dozen cds of music to help sleep. Some are excellent and some I just find annoyingly bland. Once more, they help through an acute phase but long term efficacy is poor.

Flower essences: yes, I know, another one many find flaky. I’ve used them and found them helpful. Might be placebo but if it helps? Again, short term efficacy.

Blue light: I was given a funny little box that emits a softly pulsing blue light. The idea is you match your breathing to the pulsing and you drift off. Surprisingly effective for acute phases, especially when suffering with severe anxiety. It’s battery powered and I keep forgetting to charge the battery. It also may annoy the person you share a bed with.

Incense: burned some time prior to bedtime, smoke stimulates serotonin production in the brain. I use a very lovely lavender incense from Greater Goods. If nothing else, it makes your bedroom smell wonderful.

I’ve tried a lot of other techniques that simply don’t work for me, including the old favourites hot milk, sex, reading a boring book (I just get bored!) hot toddys and many more. Contrary to what people have assumed, I don’t lie in bed worrying. I’m usually not a worrier. I’ve lain there and quietened my thoughts till they are all sitting there obediently being silent and STILL sleep wouldn’t come for hours. This is not about mind over matter.

It comes down to what is causing your insomnia. If you are treating a symptom without knowing it’s cause, it’s going to be far harder. I read through the article of wiki and this line jumped out at me:

Major depression leads to alterations in the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, causing excessive release of cortisol which can lead to poor sleep quality.”

Oh. So we’re back to the Black Dog again. What a surprise.

Is there someone there? ~ a sense of presence



Is there someone there?

I’m almost sure I can feel you there. The scent of roses comes and goes. It reminds me of something long ago.

The hairs of  my neck are bristling. I can feel you. Who are you? Talk to me. Please.


the computer hums softly, the blood in my ears sings

nothing again but the rising of tiny hairs over my whole body. I tingle.

Communicate with me somehow. I jump when the auto-correct turns lower case letters to capitals. Silly cow.

It’s easy to scare myself, imagine things. I make a …well, not a living, but some money from imagining things, so it’s what I naturally do. I take an idea and I let it grow like a weed until I see the form it wants to take and then I tend it so it grows the way it wants to.  I write sometimes like someone who is merely taking down dictation; my best work has always come that way. That sort of writing gives me butterflies and more as I write. I get drawn in and lost in the maze I create, a word-maze, a labyrinth that takes me to a centre somewhere deep inside me  and I find….what do I find there?

I can’t remember.

Who are you? You’ve been here before, months back, touching my hand, my cheek, that little brush like a passing cobweb. Who? Talk to me, let me know you are real and not something from my imagination. Send me a sign. Something I can’t talk myself out of. More than a failing starter switch on a kitchen light. Please.

I can’t feel or sense anything now and that scent of old roses with a dash of something else is gone too. I write that and a shiver starts along my spine. A breath of something.

What is this, what is going on? Is there something, someone there?

Snow at the shoreline

Snow at the Shoreline

Cappuccino waves crash upon the shore

Spin-drift and snow meet at high tide,

Overlap and kiss across a barrier

Made of iced shingle and flotsam,

Feathers and cuttlefish corpses.

Roar of sea and wind drown out

The cries of gulls and the crunch

Of feet through snow and sand.

Breath snatched from my mouth,

I puff and lean hard into the wind

Struggle to stay upright

Gasp at the slash of snow,

Leap from the encroaching sea

As it tries to steal back land.

A few fishermen fight with rods,

We’re mad,” says one as I pass.

I agree but the words vanish,

Lost amid the tumult,

So I shout, “Aren’t we all?”

He nods, fervently and I move on.

A gull hovers above me,

Riding the storm eagle-eyed for scraps.

I trudge home, hands in pockets

Face hidden by hat and scarf,

My eyes narrowed against the gale

An icy Bedouin stamping in snow,

Exhilarated but wearied by winter.

Sensitive skin, sensitive soul ~ Toughen up or die?

Sensitive skin, sensitive soul ~ Toughen up or die?

Did you know that the skin is actually the largest organ of the body? More than merely a cosmetic layer to hide our insides and hold them together, skin is extremely important to health. It helps regulate our body temperature, excrete unwanted waste products via sweat and it also is our point of contact with the world outside ourselves. Billions of pounds and dollars are spent on keeping it looking good (=looking young!) and keeping it looking healthy.

If you have sensitive skin, you probably react to all sorts of products, in a variety of ways from rashes to spots to full-blown allergic reactions. I loathe the way my skin can react. I’m a blusher too, going red with emotion quite easily and as I have very fair skin, it’s like having a big sign round me neck announcing how I feel. I’d be a disaster at poker. Not only is my skin sensitive to external aggressions like soaps and bath products but also to sensation. I am acutely aware of almost every inch of my skin, most of the time. I can feel my clothes everywhere, not just bits that chafe or dig in, but a constant awareness of the texture and the weight of the cloth. Normal touch often transmits a message of something closer to pain than to anything else. On the occasions where I have been on the receiving end of a blow, whether accidentally or otherwise, the sensation is almost enough to make me pass out.

What a wuss, some of you might think. I remember when I had my thumb broken playing hockey when I was 17, the school nurse barely touched the injured digit before I yelled with pain and she told me off, declaring she’d hardly touched me. She didn’t think it was broken either, but my doctor sent me for an X-ray the next day and the thumb was indeed broken, split right down the middle of the bone through the main joint. I have a low pain threshold, but actually a fairly high level of endurance.

Other senses are equally as sensitive. I can distinguish a vast number of different scent components, and artificial perfumes such as room fragrance can make me ill. I have low tolerance for noise, and dislike both loud and raucous music. In fact, I seldom listen to music because it seems to unsettle my nervous system. Being trapped on a bus where there is music playing can be torture when the music is loud and disagreeable. While my eyesight is not as good as it was, I do observe the world around me acutely and often see details others miss. If I observe a scene, I have at times almost total recall of details.

About two years ago the term Low Latent Inhibition came to my attention and it rang a lot of bells for me. Normally, people tune out the vast majority of incoming information from their senses, not ever becoming consciously aware of it. Those with low latent inhibition tend to find that they take in pretty much all of the information consciously. For those of low intelligence this can result in psychosis and madness; for those of higher intelligence it can result in an outflow of intensely creative work.

Whenever I mention about this hypersensitivity, I usually get people recommending books, therapies and methods of desensitizing the self. I have to take a big step back when this happens because I am never sure how to react. For certain, a lot of the time being this sensitive is quite tough. It’s certainly exhausting at times, debilitating even. And yet, I question whether desensitising is a good thing. The term is for me synonymous with hardening, becoming tough and non-reactive, like the transformation of skin into leather or of the callousing of skin. I’ve survived forty plus years being this way. I’ve been told repeatedly to stop being so thin-skinned emotionally, and while I’ve never managed that one, I am still here. I’m here in an arena where anyone can take a pop at me if they want to. Cyber bullying is endemic to the internet, and I get hurt by the things people say. I was told on Twitter than I had no right to call myself an author because I was self published; according to my interlocuteur, only those who have been vetted and approved by a publisher can refer to themselves as an author. I was made to feel like jumped-up trailer trash, and by golly, it hurt me. But I’m still here.

The thing is, THIS is how I am made. THIS is who I am. Being this sensitive is a gift. It’s a gift I can share too because I can write about what I see and feel and experience. Imagine if you had such brilliant eye sight, you could see even the finest details of a butterfly’s wings, and the shining wing-feathers of the soaring sea-gulls; you would also see the rotting carcass of a rat by the side of the road, and the cancerous lesions on an old man’s face. Would you put on blurring glasses permanently so that you didn’t see the ugly things? Would you damage those far-sighted eyes so that you couldn’t see the pain?

Instead of toughening up, I’d like to explore going deeper into this sensitivity. Become more sensitive, to more things. To learn how to not flinch from the pain but to melt with it. One thing I have discovered from the long term pain I suffer with, resisting it can make it worse. If I soften to hurts, the hurting diminishes. Pain is as much a teacher as joy is, and while I would not glorify it, nor will I run so frantically from it as to try and shut down my sensitive nature.

I WANT TO BELIEVE ~ being Mulder AND Scully

I WANT TO BELIEVE ~ being Mulder AND Scully

One of my favourite TV shows of all time was the X-files. I happened upon the pilot episode when it first aired in the UK and I was hooked. Mulder had a poster in his basement office at FBI headquarters which I have long coveted. It showed one of the famous flying saucer black and white photos, with the simple caption I WANT TO BELIEVE.  That’s me, too.

Much of the interplay between the characters resembled what goes on inside my head a lot of the time: the sceptical Scully trying to convince Mulder that certain things cannot possibly exist or happen, and Mulder, with his open and questing curiosity trying to convince Scully that there is wriggle room for belief. The conflicts of evidence that both were to face over and over again meant that each had their preconceptions and dearly cherished beliefs about how the world works not merely challenged but often decimated. It made for compelling viewing.

Unlike many people whom I know, I don’t stand firmly in any one camp over certain things, and while I remain open to the idea of extra-terrestrials visiting us, my instinct is that the majority of the evidence cited in its support has other explanations. Not only that, my suspicion is that should any E.T s be watching the earth, the more enlightened ones will be shaking their heads sadly and saying, “Let’s come back in a few millennia; they’re not ready.” The other sort will either wait for us to destroy ourselves and take what’s left, or we have an Independence Day scenario to face.

When it comes to more terrestrial matters, I’m a mass of contradictions. I worked for some years doing a form of holistic massage, known as Reflexology, where the feet are massaged in a way that is aimed at bettering the health of the whole body. I was, I am forced to admit, really rather good at it. If you sense ambiguity there, that’s because what I studied when I trained did not convince me that the theory behind the practise made any real sense at all. Yet what I did worked; I could pinpoint areas of health concerns and ease them merely by working on the feet. Of course, you can cite placebo effect and also the sheer relaxation of having your feet massaged to account for it. Because of this work, and because of my other areas of interest in shamanic work and spirituality I came into contact with a lot of people working in various therapies and what I saw bothered me then and it still bothers me now. For as many genuine, hard-working and humble healers(of whatever sort) I saw, I saw a great deal more folks who were either misguided, deluded or downright money-grabbing frauds. I saw people who could spin you a really convincing Snake Oil pitch and have you hooked.

One person who springs even now very readily to mind did everything: from Reiki to shamanic soul retrieval to Hopi ear-candling and many others.

(RE: ear-candling I do not doubt that many folks who practise this technique are convinced of its effectiveness; however, if you assess what is really going on, the evidence doesn’t stack up to very much. Some of the explanations given for how it works use pseudo-scientific terms, which seem to give credence to it. I’m not here to discredit a therapy, though, but rather the mind set that builds it into a kind of fanatical belief in it.)

That person turned out to have very little integrity, or honour, and preyed on the vulnerable. I’ve seen too many like her now to assume that anyone is “clean” where once I would have assumed they were until I saw evidence to the contrary. There is money to be made from exploiting the gullibility and neediness of hurting people.

Some years ago, I wrote a novel called Little Gidding Girl. The main character is a young woman whose life was knocked off course by the drowning of her boyfriend when she was 18 and in her mid thirties starts to experience flashes of the life she never had. She works in a rather deadening job, as an assistant in one of those New Age shops with therapy rooms attached. Her boss is a mixture of hard headed entrepreneur and New Age space cadet and to keep the therapy business booming trains in a whole load of new holistic therapies, all with a product line to flog to the clients. For this, I invented a list of therapies:

Japanese Forest therapy: the client lies on a futon, surrounded at each of the cardinal points with a bonsai tree of a certain species which emits vibrations suited to their condition, while Japanese incense burns at a mini shrine and traditional Japanese music is played. (there was more to it than this but this gives you the gist)

Egyptian rejuvenation treatment: client lies under a copper rod pyramid, has face massaged with oils of myrrh, frankincense and lotus (fake) and then rests with crystal pyramids on the key acupressure spots on the face while Isis is invoked. This comes with a complete set of tiny pyramids and oils to use at home. Oh and incense. Kyphi, if you need to know.

Angelic beauty spa hour: using essential oils of the highest vibrational purity and known to be beloved by the angels, the face and neck are massaged very gentle, and your aura cleansed with a pure white feather blessed by the angelic presences. (comes complete with beauty range of creams and lotions, and your own white feather)

Mayan Heart Retrieval: my personal favourite. The theory behind this is that as new archaeological evidence has suggested the Mayans were not quite the peace loving folks of legend and actually practised human sacrifice. The victims were chosen for their purity of soul and had their still-beating hearts ripped from their bodies and burned. Those pure souls have now been reincarnated but lacking the etheric heart, which is still retained in by the eternal souls of the priests who stole it to fuel their immortality. Persons who have their etheric heart held can be recognised by relationship problems, depression and a sense of emptiness at their centre. The priestess battles the demonic priests in a ceremony and returns it to the victim. To ensure the heart remains in its physical shell, the client needs to purchase a Mayan heart  amulet, a silver heart with a chime inside it.

Musa-rectal therapy: imagine colonic irrigation and bananas. I drew the line at this one; I didn’t include it. Some things are just too gross.

In the years since I wrote that novel, I have seen a proliferation of therapies and whatnot and have seen some that bore more than a passing resemblance to my invented ones. As this is an unpublished novel, I cannot take credit for seeding these ideas; I merely fished ’em out of the ether, which just goes to show….

My problem is that I have seen enough phenomena personally to be unable to dismiss all of it as nonsense and moonshine. I’ve probably practised enough weird stuff myself to say that yes, a lot of it is real and it works. What I often object to is the use of a semi-scientific explanation of a phenomena. If that explanation also involves the words quantum, energy, and various others, I tend to take a sharper look, because invariably they are used not only incorrectly, but often in such a way that someone who is somewhat in awe of science will not dare to question it but will then repeat it as fact. This is something the infamous Secret and the so-called Law of Attraction rely upon. It’s also interesting to note that when people have “bought into” a system, they are reluctant to hear or assess anything that may possibly discredit that system. It is one reason why I am glad not to be doing reflexology any more; since then, a lot more variations of the form have been developed, and to go with it, a lot more theories that will probably not stand up to scrutiny.

I find I cannot accept something that has little evidence to support it, and yet, in many cases my own experiential evidence tells me I cannot completely dismiss it. Take dowsing for instance. I was taught to dowse many years ago. The person who taught me had a doctorate in theology, and was employed on occasion by both electrical companies and water companies to find wires and pipes that they had lost. I have read many suggested explanations for dowsing, and I can accept none of them. And yet, I have used it and it has worked (for the record, I don’t use hazel wands. Only time I tried, the thing whipped out of control, poked me in the eye and then split down the centre. It was like holding a very strong lizard).

I’ve known healers too who are 100% genuine. They’re the ones who generally don’t tell you they can heal you. They usually tell you they’ll have a go and see if they can help. I had a friend in one of our villages back in Darkest Norfolk. I’ve lost touch with her since but during one of my dark times, she offered to come and do some healing work with me. She was someone whose integrity I trusted implicitly, so even if I was sceptical about her ability to actually ease my depression I agreed.

She gave off very few indications of being the stereotypical healer-type; her day job was as a high school teacher and her husband ran a garden centre. She didn’t mess about with ritual or much talk. She said a short prayer, I was instructed to sit and try and relax with my eyes closed.

I sat. I had my eyes closed but as you can see light through your eye-lids, I was aware when she moved her hands across my face. I could feel the movement passing my face and then, to my surprise, through my closed eye-lids I saw something.

Each time her hands passed across my face it happened. After a few minutes I asked, “K, are you holding a torch or a candle in your hands, because I can see a light in each hand?”

She paused. “No, I’m not holding anything. Look.”

I opened my eyes; she held out her hands in front of me. They were empty. We continued. Every time her hands passed in front of my eyes, I saw a bright glow in the centre of them, just like you see from a candle if you gaze through your close eyes. The light varied, sometimes becoming brighter and whiter, and other softer and redder.

The results from that session were not a miracle remission, but for a short while the acute nature of my symptoms lessened. Now that might have happened anyway, or it may have been my friend K’s work. I don’t know. One of the things she and I talked about was the nature and origin of my illness and I recall, a little dimly, that she was of the opinion that it was a kind of sacred wounding, something to work through, perhaps for a lifetime.

That’s perhaps why I recoil at many therapies now, because I have begun to wonder if what I have perceived as something to be fixed is actually something that is at the core of my lifetime’s task. What if what I call an illness is actually something that is not a defect/failure to be normal/sickness at all? This is not to say that I do not seek relief but it does perhaps give some context for the fact that nothing at all, from medication to meditation and a lot of things besides, has ever given relief for long.

I started this post with a quote from the X-files and I shall end it with two more. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE. Like both Mulder and Scully, I believe that there are answers to my questions, but they are “out there” and I need to search for them. It’s a kind of grail quest, if you like. I’ve begun to wonder if a lot of soul journeys have become a battle between the perception of a person needing to be fixed and a painful desire for release from suffering. Both of these drive a person to seek help beyond themselves. TRUST NO-ONE. Every one has their own agenda, and therapists (and doctors) do too. Even the ones who are good, honest folks, brimming with integrity and intelligence, have a lot bound up in what they practise; so whatever they do and say in regards to healing comes from this as much as it might come from compassion and care for a patient/client. You as patient MUST be fixed to validate the treatment. Those who offer healing without monetary payment are less pressured by this. (My friend K never charged for her work, never defined herself by success in terms of visible improvement of a known condition. She had herself been healed of a very painful and progressive disease of the spine as a young woman, to the bafflement of doctors.)




Simple, isn’t it? No. But it’s somewhere to start, I guess. Let’s just hope that my quest to reconcile my inner Mulder and Scully ends as neatly as that of the series.

(For non X-files viewers, they married, finally, after years of will-they-won’t-they speculation. That was what some folks watched it for. Not me. Honest.)