Low Resolution, High Resolution ~ New Year Thoughts

Low Resolution, High Resolution ~ New Year Thoughts


I considered calling this article, The Last Post, because it will be the last one to appear in 2013, but then I realised that this might sound as if I am giving up blogging. This year has been a huge struggle to keep going with lots of things and I confess that making sure I post a new piece once a week has sometimes been quite a challenge.

That makes me wonder who I am blogging for and why.

Blogging is almost by definition confessional, personal and yet very public. I share my thoughts because I believe that they are worth sharing, that those who read what I write may find it interesting, helpful or challenging. At times the conviction that this is so is shaken; a former colleague made various attacks on me on Facebook indicating that she found my outpourings tedious. It upset me more than is reasonable and made me question the worth of my writing, especially my poetry. In the end, I chose to ignore that viewpoint based on the torrent of support I received.

I wasn’t sure I had anything I could offer today as a hope-encrusted gem, making the best of the year gone by and projecting desires and wishes for the year to come. I don’t generally do the whole New Year’s resolution thing, not since teenage years when it usually consisted of one muddled wish to be thinner. Yet, here I am in middle-age, fatter than ever. Nothing ever works out quite how we desire it to.

2013 has been a hard year for me. I had to fight to get diagnoses of two conditions, one life limiting, the other life limiting AND life threatening. I knew there was something very wrong, and yet getting through to medical professionals with it has been terribly tough. I can’t help thinking that had I not been who I am, I might well be looking at a grim future and an early death. While I accept that neither condition is easy to diagnose or well-known, it seems criminal that blood test anomalies had been ignored and glossed over probably for some years. I have now seen my enemy on an ultrasound screen. 8mm by 5mm doesn’t sound that big but given that the gland the tumour grew from should be no bigger than the head of a pin (or thereabouts) it’s colossal. I’m hoping that the removal of it will give me new life. I’m sick of pain, sick of the fogginess and memory fuzziness, the feeling of being significantly impaired, of being woken 8 times a night because of the polyuria, of having a permanently dry mouth that means I need to sip water to stay hydrated. I’m tired of being tired, and of all the other nasty symptoms that doctors were originally ascribing to depression. I’m fed up of being sad and being unable to feel good about things. My real hope for 2014 is that I can start to live again.

The writer’s block I have wrestled with for as long as I’ve been blogging may well turn out to be a direct result of the malfunctioning parathyroid. It’s hard to carry ideas, plots, characters, dialogue, settings and descriptions when your short term memory is peppered with tiny holes. Much of my writing is brewed in the subconscious layers of my mind, but is filtered through the conscious strata and ordered by the logical, methodical processes that are affected by the illness. The continuation of writing during this long illness is something I feel I should be proud of, yet I fear that perhaps I’m actually a crap writer who’s burned out all her good stuff years ago.

I did some of the things I aimed at doing this year. I published The Moth’s Kiss, got it and The Wild Hunt out in gorgeous peachy-skinned paperbacks. I reviewed and re-uploaded the Kindle version of Strangers & Pilgrims, cleaning it of the typos that had marred it. You perhaps cannot imagine how very difficult and painful that was for me, or how cathartic it was. I spoke at the TAP conference in March. But I didn’t get The Bet out in paperback, and I didn’t put together the book I intended to release of the top posts from this blog, or the ones I wanted to do of my poetry.

I began a new novel in January, which has been hard work to write and I think I am roughly half way. I’m about half way through the story I began originally here as a serial, Lost. I’ve written some short stories, some poetry, and I’ve managed to blog here at least once a week, all year. It’s none of it been easy.

Things I want to do next year include delving ever deeper into the Grail lore I’ve been studying and writing about, mostly privately. I want to write more for myself. I’ve realised that while I have a niche for my writing, and I have a lot of wonderful readers, I’m not going to ‘make it’ as a best selling author, selling tens of thousands of books, or even millions. To have even one person read, enjoy and benefit from my writing is success. I’d rather stay small and stay myself than be lured into chasing the will o’ the wisp of commercial success. I can remain resolutely amateur and while I wish to present my work in as accessible and attractive a manner as possible, to invest money I don’t have in let’s say,cover art that aims to seduce the potential reader (and other stratagems) I’d rather be original and myself and risk being deemed ‘unprofessional’.

I do want to get my poetry out there and also the compilation of the best posts from this blog, but I don’t want it to be something to pressure myself with. I know now I am quite ill and the last thing I need is to stress myself with foolish self-imposed deadlines. I’d rather have the pleasure of using my clearer moments to write things, and enjoy writing, than spend the time on things I don’t enjoy. If my hopes for this illness are borne out, then once I begin to recover, then tasks I have hitherto found as hard as tap-dancing in quick drying cement, may flow more readily and take up less energy.

There’s books on my hard drive ready to be polished up for publishing; I’m about half way with Square Peg so if there are any of you who fancy being beta-readers or proof readers, I’d be happy to hear from you. There are two sequels to The Bet. And several other tales I’ve maybe never mentioned before, as well as the incomplete ones (two of which I have mentioned already, and another two I haven’t), and a longer short story I’d hoped to have out for Christmas and failed.

Anyway, I have meandered and muddled along through this article and I need to wrap it up by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has read this blog, either as a regular thing or as an occasional dip-in. I’d like to thank those who have bought and read my books: you do not know quite how much that means to me.

May the new Year of 2014 bring you blessings and challenges in a balanced measure, enough to grow and develop and also to have much joy to counter the sorrow that is woven through all of life. 

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

To have lived a hundred years is a remarkable thing,” Elspeth remarked to the girl who held her arm. “But it is a lonely thing, too. There is no one left who remembers me when I was young.”

The care assistant gave her arm a gentle squeeze for Elspeth was well-liked and as the oldest inhabitant in the home was cherished as much for her wisdom as for her venerable age.

Is there no one coming to see you this Christmas?” the girl asked and Elspeth shook her head, though she smiled as she did so.

No, they are all obeying my orders for once,” she said. “I said I did not wish them to disturb their day this time. So I have only myself to blame should I feel lonely today.”

The dining room had been decorated with so much tinsel and bright ornaments that Elspeth felt quite overwhelmed with the shining light that glimmered off every surface. The other residents were all seated, waiting for her as if she were the queen, and she was shown to her place and Christmas lunch began.

The merry atmosphere was added to by the playing of Christmas carols on the radio, and as she ate, slowly and carefully, she cast her mind back over her many Christmases. There was little to regret in a life as long as hers had been, but there were times, like today, when those who were gone, seemed to wave to her from her memories. She had outlived all but one of her own children, all her sisters, a beloved husband, dozens of dear friends and one grandchild. The friends she had today had never known her as a young woman, and there were times when that tugged at her heart. To be a hundred years old, and still mostly in possession of her wits and health was a gift she had never expected.

When lunch was done, she walked carefully back to her own room rather than go to the community room to watch television with the other residents. Inside, she could walk without the aid of a frame, using only a stick to steady her steps. Her room was a little oasis of treasures, the belongings she had chosen to accompany her to this home, and each held great meaning for her, for there was not a lot of room and they had been chosen with immense thought. There was a little fir tree in a decorated pot that her son (her youngest, and only surviving child) had brought for her, and around it were some packages in brilliant paper, decked with ribbons. The family brought small gifts in the week before Christmas, though the joke was often what do you buy for a woman who has seen as many Christmases as she had. She opened them carefully, gratefully, enjoying them. They were predicable, but well chosen: a lovely new nightdress, slippers, some books, some of her favourite soap. She smiled as she opened each, thinking of the donor.

One parcel had arrived on Christmas eve, hastily wrapped in stained brown paper and with an indecipherable post mark and a stamp that looked Arabic. She recognised the handwriting: her great granddaughter, not quite the black sheep but certainly the wandering one. Inside the parcel was a letter and two more roughly wrapped packages.

Grand-mère,” she read. “I had hoped to be home to see you but I think my parcel will be there before I am. I saw them both in one of the bazaars and thought of you. I hope to be in Jerusalem for Christmas so I will light a candle there for you and I will visit as soon as I get back.”

The first of the packages was tiny, and proved to be a vial of dark, viscous liquid that proved to be perfume, woody and musky and exotic and entirely unlike anything you would expect a lady of Elspeth’s age to wear. She dabbed a few drops on wrist and neck and sighed with delight. The second parcel contained a heavy length of raw woven silk in a celestial blue shot through with dawn pink and threaded with fine gold wire. It smelled of incense and mystery, and she wrapped it round her whole body. It felt as if her great granddaughter had somehow caught a whiff of her young self and Elspeth felt her heart race with delight.

The daylight was fading fast, and she had one more Christmas ritual to perform. From the top drawer of her bureau she brought out a little cardboard box, and painstakingly she assembled the device inside. Made from silver-coloured metal, the angel light held a carousel of dancing angels that were suspended from a canopy of slats. The heat from a candle below would rise and set the angels spinning, and their shadows and the glancing lights would pattern the walls and ceiling with their dance.

But naked flames were banned here and though she brought it out every year, it had been many years since the angels had turned. She set it on the window ledge, where she spent many hours sitting at the table, reading or thinking. Every Christmas Day since she had come here, she had brought this little toy out and wished that she might light a single candle and see the light and the shadow angels spin and flicker.

Rule were rules, and given the age and sometimes infirmity of most of the residents this was a sensible rule, that kept them all safe from fire. But this one day, she always wished to break the rule and give the angels their annual dance.

She turned on some music and settled to read one of the new books, wrapped tightly in the beautiful shawl, feeling the balance between contentment and wistful longing see-sawing this way and that. Her mind wandered from her book, and she wondered if her great granddaughter had indeed made it to Jerusalem for Christmas. It had always been her habit to light candles, since she knew that it was not allowed to her great grandmother any more. One day, the angel lights would go to her, perhaps.

The sky beyond her window had darkened to indigo, and she could see that a single star shone high above. On impulse she turned out her reading lamp and gazed out. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw more stars slowly appear. A golden glow was reflected off the window glass and she looked down to see that where a candle would fit in the angel light, there was a flickering globe of light, so unlike a candle, that brightened and grew. The tiny metal angels quivered and began to shift, slowly turning as the carousel they hung from rotated smoothly.

The shadows on the ceiling spun too, amid the flashing, glimmering of the magical light and as she watched, her mouth dropping open in wonder, the room filled with the scent of lilies and she felt the brush of soft feathers against her face. She closed her eyes, but the glory of light still filled her eyes, and she knew she was not alone.

When her care assistant came an hour later, she could see from Elspeth’s face that she was happy and not lonely at all as she had feared she might be.

Is that one of your presents?” she asked, touching the shawl with tender fingers. “How lovely!”

From Istanbul,” Elspeth said. “My great-granddaughter was on her way to Jerusalem and stopped there for a short while.”

And some scent too,” said the girl, and picked up the bottle. She took a sniff of the contents and grimced. “Funny. This isn’t what I can smell. I’m sure I can smell flowers; this is musk and sandalwood, surely.”

Elspeth smiled at the girl.

Heavenly, isn’t it?” she said.

The Winter Queen

The Winter Queen

She came softly on the trailing edge

Of fevered dreams and sinking sleep,

Face a mask of opaque ice, her eyes

Blue-bright as a sunlit glacier.

Hair as soft as swan’s lost down

Filled with pearly Honesty and skeletons

Of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Her wreath was of frozen holly leaves

Dotted with berries of bloody red

And dusted with traces of white hoar frost

Like glitter on a Venetian mask.

Her clothes the rags of summer splendour

Faded by the autumn skies

And ripped to ragged ruin

By gales and snowstorms yet to come.

Around her throat withered rowan berries

And rock hard sloes dried to stone

The meagre treasures hanging still

Amid the shaking hedges here.

Her staff a shaft of blackthorn, bare

Of leaves but bearing thorns and buds

Hard and tight as clenched fists

Defiant of the clutch of cold.

Her voice was hoarse with winter storm,

Yet soft as a draught under my door,

Insistent and full of power

Commanding me to obey her words.

The creatures of the wild will need

More food than my late sister did provide,

For my realm and season will persist

Past the time when buds should break.

Take my rowan beads, and hang them

Where the birds will feed

As signal that you will be their friend

Though my reign be far too long.”

I woke. Her touch upon my face

Turned skin to leaden hue like death.

“I told you I was ill!” ~ why those with mental health struggles can die before their time.

I told you I was ill!” ~ why those with mental health struggles can die before their time.

Spike Milligan famously had those words (in Gaelic and in English) put upon his gravestone. His life had been affected most profoundly by what was then referred to as manic depression and is now usually called bi-polar disorder. He once complained that the lithium that stabilised his moods had also flattened out his creativity but those who take lithium are obliged to have regular blood tests as lithium toxicity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_(medication) can occur and patients with bipolar disorder who are receiving long-term lithium treatment are at increased risk for hyperparathyroidism. Elevated calcium levels are found in 15% to 20% of patients who have been taking lithium long-term.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperparathyroidism

There are few treatments for any disorder that do not carry side effects and risks and most people weight up the potential benefits of taking a medication with the potential risks. But it’s not just medications that can create problems. As many folks discover, once you have a mental health history writ large on your medical records, it can be very difficult to get the average general practitioner to look beyond it.

Since mental health problems produce some very physical symptoms, the temptation is for a doctor to assume that any new symptoms are the result of your mental health distress.

Here are a few of the common problems experienced by those with the simplest (HA bloody HA!) of mental health challenges, unipolar depression:


Headaches. These are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may seem worse if you’re depressed.

  • Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may be worse if you become depressed.

  • Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse.

  • Chest pain. Obviously, it’s very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart, stomach, lung or other problems. But depression can contribute to the discomfort associated with chest pain.

  • Digestive problems. You might feel queasy or nauseated. You might have diarrhea or become chronically constipated.

  • Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.

  • Sleeping problems. Many people with depression can’t sleep well any more. They wake up too early or can’t fall asleep when they go to bed. Others sleep much more than normal.

  • Change in appetite or weight. Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods — like carbohydrates — and weigh more.

  • Dizziness or light-headedness. 

Now take a swift glance at the list of symptoms here:


You will see that there are many symptoms in common. If you have been following this blog for a long while you may remember a post I wrote last year, following a total meltdown on my birthday:  https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/why-daffodils-became-the-last-straw-metaphors-that-strike-to-the-heart/  Subsequent to this my doctor sent me to have some blood tests, and they came back with raised calcium levels. Second test, they had fallen. I was to have had a third test but we moved house and I forgot about it. This year, after my other diagnosis, I was getting a slowly worsening pain on my left side, under the ribs, and I went back to the doctor, who sent me for blood tests. High calcium again, then another test, which brought back high levels of parathyroid hormone. I’ve now seen an endocrinologist and am waiting for a date for surgery.

When I first went to see my GP back in March, he listened impatiently to my list of woes, glanced at the computer screen and said dismissively, “Oh it’s JUST depression,” and began to bang out a prescription. I had to fight to get him to refer me to a rheumatologist, who spotted what was up with my body and I am being helped now for that issue. I swapped to another GP, following this and the new chap has been excellent.

But let me say this: the second condition was going to kill me without treatment. It is far from the only condition that has depression AS A SYMPTOM,, and having depression does not preclude a patient from having other life-threatening or life-limiting conditions. I believe that this state of affairs stems from an ingrained, almost unconscious belief that runs through our society that those with mental health challenges are actually weak, attention-seeking losers who are not worth listening to and who are to blame for ALL their own health issues. 

“O why do you walk through the field in gloves, missing so much and so much?” ~ on being still and connecting with life

O why do you walk through the field in gloves, missing so much and so much?” ~ on being still and connecting with life

Last week I had the excitement of going into London to go to a service at Westminster Abbey. It followed on from a week off from usual activities that had originally been intended to be a week away but for various reasons, we stayed home except for one night away.

I enjoy travelling by train because it’s simple and because once you are on that train there’s nothing you can do to get their any quicker. You have to just sit there and wait. I enjoy looking out of the train window and watching the world go by. The late autumn landscape glimpsed from the train was full of wild life and very lovely; snapshots of life flashed by as the train chugged onwards. It’s not a terribly long journey from our nearest station and while we were aware we had to be in the Abbey by a certain time, our attitude was that should we not make it, it was no big deal.

Yet I noticed something about many of our fellow passengers that I’ve noticed before: a total inability to just sit and do nothing. On the return journey was a young man who was watching a film on his laptop, while playing a game on his phone; he’d also been trying to converse with a friend on the phone but got frustrated and angry because of poor signal. The call was of no importance, merely a chat about possible weekend plans and their mutual friends. But his rage and frustration at being obliged to sit on a train for an hour or so without full-on entertainment and company was palpable. Others around us immersed themselves in books, papers, electronic devices of all sorts. Only the occasional child gazed out of the window. A young soldier in civvies opened a conversation with us about half an hour out of London and that half hour passed in lively talk, and exchange of thoughts and a feeling of connection. For a brief time strangers connected and became potential friends. His concerns about a forthcoming interview for a job outside the forces had meant he had sought not distraction but rather connection and interaction. He strode off at Liverpool Street station with visibly renewed confidence.

Everywhere we went that day, we had to dodge people walking along so focused on their smart-phones that they were oblivious to their surroundings. I’m sure some of it may have been important or even vital but surely not all? I spend a significant amount of my time alone at my desk and I don’t get out much these days. I’ve always found long journeys hold for me plenty of space to think and daydream and since until the arrival of the Kindle I was incapable of reading on a bus(and often a train) without being rather sick, I couldn’t lose myself in a book.

It seems that people are terrified of being bored, of spending time in silence and their own thoughts. Every moment needs to be filled with entertainment or work or anything that is not the empty, waiting silence of the unacknowledged thoughts that wait for us to stop being active.


O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

Frances Cornford.   1886-1960

While I understand only too well how frightening life can be and how the desire and need to retreat can overwhelm, I would urge everyone this: Once in a while, take off the gloves, take off whatever it is that stops you truly connecting with life and other people. Touch life and let life touch you.