A true story where everyone gets maced in the face

 
Diary comic with mace

I know, I know. Two posts in as many days. I'm really spoiling you. Don't get used to it though, I doubt I can keep this heady pace up for long, especially on the tiny amount of sleep I'm currently getting. 

I made this comic as a gift for Moya (top left of top left panel) who is practically family and had a big birthday last year. It's taken me MONTHS to finish but the moment finishing things is super important to me. I'm terrible for starting loads of things and not finishing them.  I get carried away in the giddiness of newness but I get bored really quickly. 

However, I've learnt that completion is a REALLY vital discipline, with each piece of work I finish, I learn so much.  What I don't like, what I love, what I'd like to explore more and I can use all that for my next idea. You probably all knew this ages ago...

Anyhoo. Here is this comic. Several months after I started it but finished nonetheless. 

This is a true story about one day during a four week visit to stay with Moya and Paul in the USA when I was 15. We ate our way around Pennsylvania that holiday and this day was no exception, although it was on the more extreme side of average consumption.

Being maced in the face in this fashion, though deeply distressing for a short time, is genuinely one of the funniest things that has happened to me. 

I hope you enjoy. 

Work in Progress

 
Ilustration of anxiety

You might have already seen this page from my sketchbook on Instagram. If you have, please enjoy it for a second time. If not come join me over there, I've all but given up the other social medias but IG is a warm, safe, pretty place where I like to hang. 

So. I'm 12 weeks into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Emetaphobia and Generalised Anxiety. It's fucking hard this self improvement gig. Christ, I'm so bored of my own thoughts. I sent my sister a text asking her if she also got tired of being herself and she said all the time. So I wonder if it's normal even if you're not completely self obsessed as a result of CBT. 

This week's 'homework' (if you have a phobia CBT homework means doing shit you hate on your own time) anyway it involved watching videos of people being sick. It was truly, toe-curlingly, disgusting. Why on earth people feel the need to video themselves or their family yacking is beyond me.

The most disturbing one was of a drunk man with his face painted like a clown vomiting copiously - Monty Python levels of puke. I sort of found that one funny it was so very dark. His name was Flip Flop if you want to go check it out for yourself. (My youtube suggestions page was a horror show for few days but I've cleared my history now and feel enormous relief).

I think the therapy is working. We shall see. I'm just working on accepting where I am every moment of every day. Sometimes that's up and sometimes that's down but honestly that's a whole other blog post. I'll get to it when I can. 

For now, let's say I'm a work in progress and that my friends is ok with me. 

Resolution

December was long and dark. I lost myself in its timeless, sickly days, shrinking into my head where the voices of catastrophe are loud and dominant.

Each day as the sun sets my hope goes down with it. I light the fire and blow hard on the embers until they catch. Banishing the darkness with flames, finding comfort in its crackle.

 “I don’t even look forward to a cup of tea, even my tea joy is gone, ” I whisper in a tiny, despairing voice, “it sounds small, but it’s not.”


The Universe keeps sending me messages. Telling me not to worry, showing me that I am strong, that life is fragile and uncontrollable so I need to find a way to be ok with that.

Like the storm with the same name as my sister (who is gone) that found us at sea. As the rain and wind battered the boat, the lights of the port rising and falling in the dark, I sang my son to sleep under a table.

You can cope. You are strong.

And at lunch when Bart lost his breath. I watched, helpless, terrified, frozen to the spot as he flailed and gasped and ran. The restaurant door swung shut and I wondered if I would see him again.

Life is fragile. You have so much. Live gratefully.

I am listening but it’s hard to give in, to accept that you have no control over any of it. Over death, over life, over your kids and who they will become, who you might lose and when.

My first, fleeting response to this knowledge is to ask, “so what’s the point?” But I already know the answer to that question.

Life is the point, love is the point.

So.

I need to breathe, to resolve to learn how to live courageously and abundantly in the present. That must be my new year’s resolution, for this year and the year after that and the year after that and so on, until I am not so afraid.

Until the voices of catastrophe can’t be heard over the din of trees blowing in the breeze and the crackle of bread cooling and the sound of my littlest boy laughing delightedly at his brother who loves him and people telling me they love me.

Adjusting

 
Family portrait

I am a mother of two. I have two boys. My beautiful boys.

I like to say it to myself, it gives me pleasure in the same way I expect a new bride might feel when she says ‘my husband’ to a stranger. There is a sense of fulfilment in the uttering of the words, confirmation of a dream made real.

I am a mother of two.

I am awkwardly rediscovering selflessness. I am plagued by thoughts of all the things I’d like to do but can’t (read a whole book, write one, go to the theatre, go to bed and wake up at noon, drink an entire bottle of wine).

These things will have to wait, they will come too soon I know.

I am a mother of two.

I survive with little sleep but find that, in the darkness, when I press my lips into the soft, billowing, cushion of your cheeks, my tiredness disappears.

Life passes in slow-fast hours, where nothing and everything happens. Where I perform endless, small, menial tasks and accomplish so little of what I set out to do each morning and yet…I am keeping a human alive.   

I try not to be disgusted by the reality of my body. It is doughy and misshapen but I search for beauty in its soft, swollenness, try to admire what I see in the mirror; a miraculous machine that conjured you from nothing.

I summon energy from the depths of my being to read you your bedtime story, so that at least for a moment each day, it’s just the two of us again.  I make you laugh so you know that I still love you.  (You call out ‘Daddy ‘ in the night now. My heart breaks a little every time.)

I am a mother of two.

A Trade/Something Understood

I've written some more poems. That seems to be the direction my creativity is taking of late, thoughts emerging in words, fragments of enlightenment, observations, confusions rather than clear linear pictures or narratives.

I go with the flow. 

I think it’s because poetry is the best medium for expressing almost inexpressible - Marie Howe describes this really brilliantly.

“Well, poetry holds…what can’t be said. It can’t be paraphrased. It can’t be translated. The great poetry I love holds the mystery of on being alive. It holds a kind of basket of words that feels inevitable. There’s great, great, great prose, you know, gorgeous prose. You and I could probably quote some right now. Poetry has a kind of trancelike quality still. It has the quality of a spell still, you know.”

A Trade

The universe demanded a price for my children

But I did not know until it was too late.

The coffin passed

and you tossed and churned in my belly,

new life and new death, separated by flesh and wood.

 

Two brothers for two babies

A straight swap but not a fair trade,

our joy for their sadness

our family for theirs.

 

I promise lives full of adventure

to match the ones they lived

journeys across oceans,

days spent catching fish.

Is that enough thanks for this huge sacrifice? 

Two siblings for two siblings,

two deaths for two lives.

 

Something Understood

 

It is early Spring in the Norfolk lane.

Daffodils adorn the verge in dense, luxurious puffs of yellow.

We have paused while our sandy haired boy

bends to observe a pebble or bug,

flicking the dust with a stick.

The ‘daffodil trumpets’ catch his eye

and he reaches out a fleshy finger

poking it deep into the centre of every flower

each gesture a reverential ritual,

accompanied by its own fanfare.

 

I meet your eye, 

“People ask why we’re here.

I think this might be why.

Just to be here. This.”

You nod and smile. 

The breeze rustles the poplars.

Here I am. I am ready.

Leonard Cohen’s final album ‘You want it Darker’ is brilliant. 

It was recorded in his living room because he was too unwell to go anywhere. It seems that, like David Bowie, he saved the best for last, turning the experience of dying into his greatest creative effort.

Then there’s his voice…deeper than ever, summoning sound from the depths of his soul, rasping truths into your ear in a way that makes you feel he’s speaking directly to you.

And although as the title suggests, it is pretty dark, it’s also defiant in a palpably vital way. Leonard is not succumbing, he’s actively welcoming death, “so you want it darker? We kill the flame.”

But the thing about this masterpiece that has fascinated me and provoked some serious thought, are the chorus lyrics in the title track. The meaning of the words, "I'm ready my Lord" are clear enough and caught my attention immediately, I was like ok so he's making his peace with God here but I also noticed Cohen sings some words in another language before that, I didn't understand them, they just seemed important somehow so I looked them up.

It’s actually one word spoken twice, the Hebrew word ‘Hineni’ which translates literally as ‘Here I am’. It is what Moses says to God when he asks him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. It is what Abraham says to God when God asks him to sacrifice his only son. It denotes a state of absolute readiness to give oneself, it is an offer of absolute availability. 

 “You want it darker’ is Cohen giving himself to God, expressing his absolute readiness for the end of his life. Hineni. Here I am. I’m ready my Lord.

I found this idea utterly beautiful and deeply moving, this expression of a faith so certain, so great that you can hand yourself over to it absolutely. I felt jealous of it in a way, it's such a passionate, selfless, enormous expression of love, it would be an amazing thing to experience and to possess but I don't believe in God so...

Around the same time  I caught Krista Tippett’s On Being Interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama. It’s a rich, compassionate conversation, brimming with wisdom, so much so I’ve listened four times and I’m still not done with it -  it’s a perspective altering piece of audio.

During the conversation they briefly touch on Ó Tuama's favourite poem ‘Lost’ by David Wagoner. They only quoted a couple of lines but they were beautiful, powerful lines, so once again I found myself digging about on the internet, searching for more. Here's what I found:

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

It’s a poem about belonging, about finding your place in the world. Its message is overwhelmingly comforting and reassuring; none of us are truly lost, even when we feel we are because “wherever you are is called Here.’

But in order to be found you have to surrender to that place, the place called Here, the present moment. You must ‘stand still’ ‘listen’ ‘let it find you.” It struck me that this is a form of Hineni, it’s a way of saying “Here I am, I am ready” but instead of making yourself available to God, you’re making yourself open and available to your location in time and space, to circumstance, to the Universe , to whatever life throws at you.

This ritual, the act that the poem is suggesting, is every bit as beautiful and spiritually nourishing as the religious form of Hineni. It still brings you into a state of perfect openness and availability, it’s just that it doesn’t require that you put faith in anyone other than yourself and the moment in which you exist.  

Like Cohen's expression of readiness to hand himself to God, it's actively passive. You have to bring yourself into a state readiness, "Here I am, I am ready" but once you've done that, the rest is out of your hands -  the forest, the place called here, knows where you are, it hears you and it will find you. 

This morning, as I travelled into work, pondering how I might put all of this into words, I put on another episode of On Being, this time a conversation with Richard Rohr. Towards the end of the interview he said something that seemed to me to get to the very heart of this train of thought, “I think the truly human is always experienced in vulnerability…vulnerability transforms you.”

It seems to me to be intrinsically connected to Hineni which, when you think about it, is an ultimate state of vulnerability. A state where the egotistical, desirous-self is put aside in favour of something softer and more yielding, that allows you to be moulded and shaped for the better by the people, experiences and locations you encounter.

Viewed in this way vulnerability isn't weakness, it's a combination of fragility "Here I am" and strength "I am ready" a state where transformation is guaranteed, where we can experience great love, deep relief and a better understanding of what it is to be human and the best thing about it is that you don't have to believe in God to be transformed by it. 

 

The Mirror Ghost

i.
Dense fog grounds planes and creeps into my periphery
blurring edges,
stealing vitality.
I blink away hope
Slowly
Adjusting my eyes to the four o'clock gloom where,
I am insubstantial
a mirror ghost.

I examine my sometimes pink flesh through thin, wet paper

Flesh. Not blood.
But still my heart skips
Expecting its red plush

ii.
"Go to the water"
The water, where twin lines of bladderwrack
meet on the horizon
and the cadence of the tide
matches the breath of sleep

iii.
Here's the smell of blood still
A Rorschach test of crimson and white
It is the shape of broken dreams.

I haunt a red bus
and cross the river,
whispering a private mantra
until I can lift my head
in a smile that permits light-heartedness.

Further downstream
Jacob's ladders illuminate a shimmering pool

On any other day I might take it as a sign.

 

I have good news. I am pregnant and we have reached the milestone of 13 weeks. These three months have been long, sickly and anxiety ridden, I think it will continue to be that way.  I can't quite shake the feeling that something might go wrong. I'm ok with that though, it's to be expected after all that has happened AND there are positives, like the urge to create and the poetry that virtually writes itself. 

NOTES:

Line 12: Cut by Sylvia Plath, Line 8
Line 18: V. Macbeth. Scene i