Whither do I wander

26/10/2013 at 14:22 (Anorexia, Personal, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


I wasn’t going to post an entry this weekend, nor yet write for Monday Blogs. All the fierce colour has gone out of my mind recently, a prelude to something worse I fear. I wish it were only ‘flu, but it’s more likely a case of the Blues.

Emily Haines knows what I’m talking about.

“Doctor Blind, just prescribe the blue ones / If the dizzying highs don’t subside overnight / Doctor Blind, just prescribe the red ones.” The life and half-life of an addict – lights going out, one by one. Friends and family, falling away.

That has been my time. A rip-curl ride of reds – stark love, stick-tears and falling in a heap at the feet of those who had no need of me, but I gave too many ideals to bother looking for what they meant. Oh, I’m an eventuality, a cause without a rebel; ever a slave to my own passions. I believe too much in one thing, not enough in the other – truth and love so rarely go hand in hand. That summer of long heat and gold shadows and finding my feet walking unknown paths, is almost done. No, it is done; the baleful eye of the sun winks brass light at me these days, while leaves the exact same shade as the polished beech carvings on a market stall, go skirling along the pavement like ashes. The wind is not yet raw. I anticipate a bad fall. Depending on what side of the pond you sit right now, you can take that as many ways as you like.

The way I see now, is a darkening tunnel of light. I pull away from those who would care; run after those that don’t. So it’s always been – an addictive personality, forever craving what I can’t have. Blue pill, red pill, sometimes I’m skyhigh on both while burrowing down in a screaming soul’s night. I woke on Friday morning at dead on 4.15 with tears pouring down my face, mouth open on that silent cry; a wicked memory, a nightmare perhaps, though both are footloose in my mind. I can’t recall what sparked it off, what spared me the end result. So it usually is with those falling dreams; you wake, before whamming into the pavement. The city lights and skyscrapers and blue-black night fly past, your hair and fingers sing through the wind, and you watch the ground come up to swallow you whole –

Shutter out.
Let the Doctor soothe your brain, dear.

I live on snatched time and aching limbs, rum and a cheap equivalent of Red Bull. So much caffeine, so many lip-salve kisses on a glass. I raise one to the world each night, then another, with the hopes of sleeping far more than I should. Reality and fantasy, I want them both, and too often they evade me with the same chevron smiles of the geese, long gone now over the autumn sky. God, I miss their passing. The lake is a little more bare, a little more cold, each time I walk through the park. Some remain, to be fed by the mirroring gaggle of humans, with their bags full of bread and sticky rubbish. The upshot being that the poor overweight bastards (the feathered ones) can’t fly away with their healthier, wiser fellows – their wings are shot, all broken off due to disease inflicted by scooping up great mounds of their own shit with the food thrown out to them in the same patches around the water’s edge. Overcrowding, overfeeding; malnutrition and crossing of wires, as they’re stoked on the same sugar high-crashes we seem to run the gauntlet of every day, out of office and gym and carpark and pub.

Who says we’re not intrinsically linked? I beg to differ. I’d like to do more, but there’s the point of my mouth being sewn shut lately, out of weariness and a slight aversion to Self. Yes, we’re in that thin-ice spot again, where I find ribs as old friends; am frightened by my reflection and embittered by my voice. It’s getting a slight metallic rasp, like Lecter. I’m not lonely, no – far from it. Something else creeps up, a black dog with large silent paws.

It’s the time of year for it, so people tell me. I was stronger at the start of the year, and altogether more naive and unappreciative. Now I know time, its hard tug on others like a hook through the navel – I know what it means to care, to love, to shred your heart into tiny pieces and let them fly on the wind, hoping they’ll reach every poor fucker you give a damn about. Some get a surplus, while others get nothing at all, for days or months on end.
It’s a capricious wind, sorry to say.

I rarely sleep anymore. The night holds too many dreams, both bright and bitter. I want too many things at once, while my brain times itself out. Days become gluey on caffeine and thoughts of what might be; evenings are nodding off over the laptop, when I should be writing the novel I had high hopes in the year’s first blush, of editing up to scratch for an agent. It should’ve been finished by now, this draft. I’m so far behind, on this personal invisible timetable of mine – the one I’m sure you can relate to in some way, that burning desire to please yourself if not others. It’s more than half the reason I force myself to keep up the blog, the writing, when what I want to be doing is somewhere over the grass and up in the sky.

We forget ourselves in writing. It’s a deceptive charm. How many times have you felt guilt for actually daring to walk out the door and live your life, as a human being, as opposed to strings of words and a profile picture or four? I know I have, oh so many times this year. Truth is, we compel ourselves to feel the burning rush, the appreciation, the Win-All of accomplishment. It’s an addictive serotonin buzz.

Until the dizzying high subsides. The weariness whams back in, for me at least. Walking more than ever, realizing all too soon how complacent I was, reliant on my ex and less outgoings. Now I have a higher rent and a workload to match it. The brain is close to a whiteout, as experienced the other day at work, when I fell to the gum-tacky carpet and bruised my ego more than my arse. No one was there to see, thankfully – but it put my situation into a blender. I’ve pushed things too far again.

For those not in the know, I have experienced anorexia nervosa / athletica since age 16. My body’s a little diminished from the after-effects, and while I weigh more than a decade ago at inpatient admittance, there are less reserves to compensate for overburdening. I’ve pushed out articles, fiction, gym, all with the undercurrent-turmoil of being pushed pillar to post this whole damn year. My heart gained a lead gate.
What a cliche. Let’s try that again.

I’m burning out. Unable to heed my own advice, as per experience. It becomes too easy to lose myself in the Everyday – forgetting where I’ve come from, how it can still impact on my dreams. I can’t achieve all I want to, if I don’t back off a bit every now and then. March was the last time I took a holiday of any kind.

It’s been a case of Waiting for the Other Boot to drop, all year. Now I’m in a relatively secure place, I need to make sure my head’s in a safe one too. This means backing up. I recognized the propensity for addiction in my personality a long time ago; the responsibility comes with not only identifying but acting upon it, to reduce the car-crash. The same could be said of many I’ve spoken to this year, on and offline. If you know it’s in yourself to be triggered – to feel emotionally harmed by something someone has said, whatever the context – take yourself out of the scene. Don’t dig nails into a raw wound. If you’re tired, serotonin levels drop dramatically – you’ll feel blue, out of sorts, angsty, more likely to feel and cause pain.

I know what my own triggers are. Numbers in a competitive state; certain words related to eating disorders. I’ve seen them bandied around a few times on social media sites, and while it’s no one’s fault that they appeared, a little contextual grounding has to be put in place. I know in myself that these things will cause me pain, so take myself out of the situation. It’s not fair to expect the world to walk on eggshells; they’re only as fragile as your mindset.

If I don’t feel like talking about writing because my own flags, out of apathy or weariness, I won’t hang around those that do. Nor will I respond with a pithy comment to someone’s #Amwriting tweet; we’ve all been there, felt that burning rush to express the golden glow of triumph, that perplexing sunburst of emotion that accompanies a Really Good writing session. No one deserves it more than writers, for we put ourselves through a lifetime’s hell of loneliness (while telling ourselves we are but introverts, but come on, believe in me, I speak as one myself – we’ve all known it, that guilt for stepping out the door while a narrative bays in our ear.)

But as well as being on all sides and spots of the world, we’re all in very different emotional and mental states. As much as writing is Give and Take between creator and audience, so too is social media a format based upon tact and an alliance of good manners. If you know you’re not in the mood to respond in a decent way to someone’s joyous outpouring (of any kind, I use writing as a personal example), don’t jeopardize the friendship with a sentiment you’ll likely regret when in a better frame of mind. I know I’ve had to bite my tongue a few times.

The clouds do part. The blues fall away, the reds dwindle. The waters let us lie becalmed, to sleep, to dream without waking in the night. I know this will all pass, once I’ve given myself time to build up strength to row. Hopefully this confessional (in a recessional) will allow me to fend off the demon a bit longer. I’ll force myself to step up the defenses.

So if I seem a little strange, well that’s because I am. And tired, unable to keep up with reading others’ blogs lately; for that, I do apologise, but only because I’ve let myself get to the numb stage again. Where does the guilt halve itself and become complacency of other’s understanding?

I’ll take some leave soon, from Everything, to the detriment of the work load and blog hits, novel-progression. Weight gain will probably occur, to terrify and nourish me by turns.
We all need to know this fear and this recovery.
Meanwhile, numb is the new High.

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Opium

23/10/2013 at 12:31 (Personal, Writing) (, , , , , , , )


A blog entry that hit me hard in the heart, as all the best ones do. My affair with Pathos goes back a long way, to a daydream-childhood filled with crushes, into adulthood wherein my frustrated mother forever rags on about me finding The One.
What if I want fantasy? What if I prefer heartache; the fever of anticipation, as opposed to the darkness of reality, dreams met and turned sour?
And then again…frustration often has teeth.
This entry summed it up far better than I could.

Gunmetal Geisha

Heart

The pitter-patter of a pubescent in a grown-up heart is magic.  Give me unrequited love over requited apathy any day.

                                                                                                                                               
≈ Her Point of View ≈

I once had a little burgundy room, with deep red hand-woven rugs, silk purple cushions and Moroccan tables. I called it the Opium Room. In it, my writing desk sat between two windows that overlooked a heart-tugging Tuscan setting — in the Hollywood Hills.

A day came when rain poured violently, draining…

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The Colour of Loss

21/10/2013 at 12:51 (Personal, Synaesthesia) (, , , , )


As someone with sound-colour synaesthesia, I’ve often wondered if moods can be similarly affected by sensory-crossover. This entry more than answered my question. A beautiful depiction of mood-synaesthesia.

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Writing Reality: Pathos across Genres

21/10/2013 at 05:48 (Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , )


My fiction writing grew out of fantasy. That’s a fairly obvious statement to make, given that the format is based around suspension of disbelief, dreams and whimsy – creating either an entirely fresh perspective, or a warped version of our reality. But I tended to lean more towards the former – mythology, an absence of the technology easily accessible today. Magic was a cornerstone, as were epic battles and soul-quests. I’d cast anthropomorphic animals in the roles, since humans – behavioral patterns, beliefs etc – held little interest for me at the time.

Animals proved easier to understand and write about, being governed more by survival instincts and natural tendencies. Even when personified to include materialistic preferences, the characters I’d read about in such children’s fantasy as Brian Jacques’ excellent Redwall saga, and Robin Jarvis’ Deptford Mice series, still lay closer to the ground than mankind. Their lives were far more interesting; it meant I could conveniently leave out such dull areas (how I perceived them then) as money and religion. There was a mental block in place, which meant I truly believed I couldn’t write human characters with inherent / external powers, or have them engage in interesting quests. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.

With age has come not only an increased interest in my race (learning to trust people was a start), but a crucial awareness of suspension of disbelief. It was a revelation to pick up JG Ballard’s High Rise to discover that yes, human society CAN break down in fiction. The book is a bestseller. The circumstances are close to the bone, still somewhat alien, wholly engaging; and – as with any credible work of fiction – it was the characters who made it so.

When I made inroads on adult fiction myself, several years ago, I stuck to my favourite genre; had no problem dealing with landscapes, abstracts, symbolism. I’m more of a concept writer. Magic and nature are easier to identify with, than the ebb and flow of human interaction and behavior. So while scenery dripped with metaphors and genre tropes were played out trick by turn, characters fell over like stacked dominoes, bland and rigid. I just didn’t know how people worked. I’d never bothered to research, in real time or reading across genres.

Recently, I’ve forced myself to step away from conventions, discarding that which appeals to a target audience, in favour of getting to know people in life and in literature – what makes us tick as a society, as individuals, and typical cause-effect triggers. Turns out that humanity isn’t as boring as I’d first, mistakenly, believed.

Writing people across general fiction, has helped me develop a greater focus on the little inflections that make up a larger picture. All those films and books where seemingly “nothing happens” – they’re a great study of human nature, with little circumstantial distraction. It’s the subtle details that so often instigate events.

As part of the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s three means of persuasion, Pathos is probably the one fiction writers are most familiar with. While genre conventions can work as the basis for certain aspects of writing – in fantasy, the presence of a magical field and casting of spells, mythical creatures; in science fiction, the cultivation of remote planetary settlements, following deep-space exploration – these could be seen more as the fallout, than the actual pivot of a story.

It’s the thoughts and emotional reactions of a mage as a person – one wishing to survive, to countercast, to avenge – that causes them to pull out necessary spell components and speak aloud the words of magic. Transplant this scenario to science fiction, and the reactionary fallout – the magical element, used on the offensive/defensive – can be replaced with weapons technology. Both push the suspension of audience disbelief, working against our reality – but it’s the emotional triggers which make the scene more identifiable.

Or at least, it should be. This is where I’ve been going wrong for some time. My focus has been too much on embellishing the contents of a scene, with little regard for the emotional catalyst, and the character behind it all. It’s their lifestyle and historical context, which govern reactions to each situation, and to fellow beings. From here, plot can advance and narrative can be steered.

Your chosen genre may include fictitious races, with ethos and mentality all their own. But for an audience to identify with their cause, there’s a need for Pathos. Our job, as authors, is to get across to the audience how much they should give a damn about what happens to any one character, whether pro- or antagonist. It’s no good writing a complete badass of a villain, if the reader doesn’t at least have some sense of feeling towards them – even loathing takes consideration. Suspension of disbelief is based upon the audience’s assumption of a pseudo-reality; theirs is a need to recognize, sympathize and perhaps even empathize with character decisions.

Comedy-pathos can work wonders for appealing to audience emotions. Let’s face it, there’s only so much tragedy we can all take, before going numb and perhaps cold towards a character; likewise, constant slapstick and banter wears thin. Handled well, the balancing act between set-up and fall can be heartbreaking as it is rib-cracking. When an author or director invests time in creating and sustaining a character-narrative that’s wholly plausible in its trials and tribulations, the payoff is audience engagement to a bittersweet degree:


“Are you the farmer?”
“Stop saying that, Withnail, of course he’s a fucking farmer!”


“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth.”
Withnail and I, Bruce Robinson

Withnail’s choice of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a closing soliloquy is a double-whammy of pathos. Not only is the theatrical element present, around which his life has been threadily based; the very fact he delivers such a powerful nest of words to air empty of an appreciative audience, speaks volumes in context. The wolves have little regard for his deliverance; the rain, less so. He appeals to the sky, knowing full well that it can’t answer or deliver the recognition he yearns for. The bittersweet smile says it all, along with his choosing the words of the established bard to get across to the audience the exact level of his pain.

For the Dragonlance saga, authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman created the race of kender to act as both fools and foils for hero and enemy. Agile little thieves (though taking great offence at being addressed thus) with kleptomaniac tendencies, an innocent wit and aggravating humour, they’re also blessed with phenomenal luck. This is handy, considering all races on the fantasy world of Krynn are bound by a desire to be as far removed from kender as possible – for the sake of possessions as well as sanity. They are the comedy sidekick, with a nonstop prattle and jocularity that is a light in the darkness of plot events … and a headache for whoever’s on the other end.

It’s when the kender as a whole, start to notice (and care) about shifting world events, that other races realize the dark depths into which Krynn is sinking. The comedy pays itself off in pathos, with Tasslehoff Burrfoot – a recurring kender-character – acting as a particular benchmark:

“The kender peered around as best he could through one good eye. The other had nearly swollen shut. ‘Where are we?’
‘In the dungeons below the Temple,” Tika said softly. Tas, sitting next to her, could feel her shiver with fear and cold… Wistfully he remembered the good old days when he hadn’t known the meaning of the word fear. He should have felt a thrill of excitement. He was – after all – someplace he’d never been before… But there was death here, Tas knew; death and suffering. He’d seen too many die, too many suffer…He would never again be like other kender. Through grief, he had come to know fear; not for himself but for others…
You have chosen the dark path, but you have the courage to walk it, Fizban had said.
Did he? Tas wondered. Sighing, he hid his face in his hands.
‘No, Tas!’ Tika said, shaking him. ‘Don’t do this to us! We need you!’
Painfully Tas raised his head. ‘I’m all right,” he said dully.'” – Pg 288, Dragons of Spring Dawning, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman.

In opposite effect, it’s when the light of pathos is cast upon the darkest personality, that unusual facets shine; capturing a fuller shape for the audience to see, rather than a flat cutout villain:

“David opened his eyes, sweat pouring down his face, and marched towards the bar.
‘I’ll kill her,” he shouted at the row of bottles.
He thought again of the university girl. Today wasn’t the first time he had seen her… Had she recognized him? No. What would he have been to her?
The stupid idiot who had stood dripping water while delivering a pizza.
She hadn’t even looked at him…just passed him the money, told him to keep the change, and closed the door. And he had stood there on the landing, leaning on the door, crying like a baby.
She was his mother back to haunt him. Same little face, same hair, but healthy and clean. Clear-skinned and bright-eyed. No open sores weeping their disgusting liquid. But she didn’t fool him. He knew it was her…She would pay for what she had done… His grandma had tried to persuade him to go to the funeral, but he owed nothing to the silly bitch who had pumped too much crap into her festering arms.” – Pg 52, I Once was Lost, Sandra Bruce.

Even when a protagonist has the ability to read and manipulate minds, to employ sensory powers out of the control of others, they can still be subject to the same emotional quirks and fluxes that erode the best intentions and upset the most carefully-laid plans – or just create a terrible working atmosphere. A flawless character without emotional reflexes makes for a dull read. We all have rough days; allow your characters the chance to experience the same, if only to offset their better qualities, and to create tension. Relationships make a particularly good crossing-point between genres – especially when inherent powers become as much a blessing as a curse.

“‘I was going to ask her Highness to give me a lift home,” Loftus said, “but I dunno now. Got a date with -‘
He disappeared. A moment later, Ackerman could see him near a personnel carrier. Not only had he been set down gently, but various small necessities, including a flight bag, floated out of nowhere on to a neat pile in the carrier…
Powers joined Afra and Ackerman.
‘She’s sure in a funny mood,’ he said.
When the Rowan got peevish, few of the men at the station asked her to transport them to Earth. She was psychologically planet-bound, and resented the fact that lesser talents could be moved about through space without suffering a twinge of shock.”

“The Rowan felt the links dissolving as the other Primes, murmuring withdrawal courtesies, left him. Deneb caught her mind fast to his and held on. When they were alone, he opened all his thoughts to her, so that now she knew him as intimately as he knew her.
Come live with me, my love.
The Rowan’s wracked cry of protest reverberated cruelly in both naked minds.
I can’t. I’m not able! She cringed against her own outburst and closed off her inner heart so that he couldn’t see the pitiful why. Mind and heart were more than willing; frail flesh bound her. In the moment of his confusion, she retreated back to that treacherous body, arched in the anguish of rejection. Then she curled into a tight knot, her body quivering with the backlash of effort and denial.
Rowan! came his cry. Rowan! I love you!
She deadened the outer fringe of her perceptions to everything, curled forward in her chair… Oh Afra! To be so close and so far away. Our minds were one. Our bodies are forever separate.” – Pgs 142/157, The Rowan, Anne McCaffrey.

The greatest war-campaign may have begun with the “simple” act of one treacherous heart breaking another; the resultant turmoil becomes both back-story and the ripples to reach out and affect / change many lives. The darkest horror story may have the death of a child at its tragic core. Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black sees the broken love of the eponymous character become a curse powerful enough to affect the local community and visiting narrator Arthur Kipps. No one is left unscathed after contact; though to my mind, the supernatural element pales somewhat in comparison to the pathos of her grief, and the terrible circumstances under which it was born.

woman in black

Allowing your characters the chance to emote fully across genre conventions, can form integral links with the world of the audience. Don’t be afraid to include the small nuances of life, the seemingly mundane details that will flesh them out as people. It’s thought, emotion and memory which make us at once unique, and bound by empathy. Regardless of whether it’s a brave new world created, or a close shave with reality, the result should be an understanding between creator and audience.

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Finding Grace

14/10/2013 at 06:00 (Anorexia, Personal, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Say Grace.
No, seriously. Speak it aloud.
Regardless of context, of religious connotations and concrete definitions, there’s an undeniable pleasant ring to Grace that has spanned centuries; like so many Old French-derived words, it has the crystal phonetics to retain a universal appeal.

Grace can be made synonymous with poise to describe physical movement; it can be the merciful pardon, willing to pass over another’s foibles. It can become the prayer uttered in the sight of one’s God before settling to a meal; the blessing of divine love, bestowed upon a religious following.

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I was asked by James Prescott (@JamesPrescott77) what the word Grace means to me, on a personal level. This is my response.

I am not a religious person; nor do I pertain to be particularly secular in my belief system. As an agnostic, I’m open in opinion and mind to others’ theories and beliefs, but am personally not willing to tie myself to any one creed, having no basis on which to form a steady structure – to be honest, the only thing I’ve come to believe in and respect above all else, is Nature.

This encompasses life and death, the progress and process of what must be. It defines the very paradox of how we go about our lives, in our own time frames, on this planet that’s just another speck in the sky. I’m not willing to believe that this was made so in a completely random act, with no control; nor will I pin a sentient perspective to the fact we’re here, that others have come before and likely more will come in our stead. And when I say “others”, I mean lifeforms in general. We’re all bound up in this, one way or another.

The grace I find in nature, has much to do with its Give and Take attitude – if a living abstract could be assigned an attitude for a moment. Whatever the circumstance, the situation, the fact it’s for better or worse depends entirely on context, and the perspective of who/whatever’s on the receiving end.

A volcanic eruption spews forth ash clouds to blacken the sky, perhaps for months; plants can’t photosynthesize and crops die as a result, while water is tainted. Livestock and humans perish from the smothering heat of Nuées ardentes (“incandescent cloud” / “glowing avalanche”), with their scalding loads of pumice, viscous magma and ash. Pyroclastic flow can wipe out entire cities, as seen with Vesuvius and Pompeii. Icecaps melt, bringing lahars and landslips. That’s even before we get onto structural damage among local human habitations.

But the flipside is fertility, of both natural surroundings and local economy. Soil is enriched with the minerals brought from the heart of the planet. The flooding waters, once they’ve receded, may have deposited an unlikely treasure-trove of yet more minerals, and stones embedded with crystals – both to be sold for local commerce. Ancient civilizations, seemingly obliterated, can be learned from when the pyroclastic flow has cooled and set – a poignant message of the past, to illustrate the volcanic dangers for our future.

It’s this graceful and deadly Give and Take of nature that I adhere to – the closest I would come to aligning myself with a religion. I’ve found that it’s not something to follow; paganism and Druidism still felt too formulaic in my youth, for something that – on a very basic level – is just an appreciation and respect for one’s surroundings. The simple acts are, to me, equivalent of uttering and performing ritualistic prayer to return nature’s grace: Not dropping litter; keeping off of flourishing areas of new growth, or taking care to avoid trampling ancient rock formulations that are prone to erosion; climbing trees, without feeling the need to peel off bark or carve initials that leave a mark of oneself, which the tree itself couldn’t give a damn about and future generations of humans probably won’t either. That peeled bark exposes the tree’s flesh, drying it out. A branch can wither and die from this seemingly small act, taking nests down when it falls; cutting off life for those to come, arboreal and human.

Nature is deadly, sure. Seemingly merciless, sympathetic only to its own environmental needs and “cruel” whims. But it’s this continuous cycle that I find so appealing. It’s a grace defined by its own neutrality – the ability to regenerate life, inability to favour any one species, race, trend or ethos. Evolution and nature work hand in abstract hand, and if some fall by the wayside to keep the planet ticking over, that’s as it should be.

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Dialing things down a bit –
When I was a child, I danced ballet. Grace, poise, elegance were words that ran a thread through the training that began when I lived in Germany. My father was stationed at the nearby RAF base, and my poor mother was left to deal with two daughters, 3 years apart in age and different as night and day. She was often exhausted by us, for individual reasons, and by our energy. I’m told I used to regularly make her cry, though not out of nastiness; just an inquisitive nature that somehow got me into the kind of scrapes to cause scrapes …And cuts, bruises, iron-burns, palms slit open on glass I’d mistaken for jewels…

She hit upon the idea of dance. Not only as a way of wearing me and my sister out, but to perhaps instill in us (well, me) a sense of decorum. I think perhaps she had the same misplaced mindset as many others – that ballet is for girls exclusively, can teach an appreciation for all things “girly.” At the tender age of four, I already had this idea in mind, and dragged my heels when brought to the first class.

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(picture courtesy of Gudu Ngiseng Blog)

The funny thing is, the hard work it all turned out to be – routine training at the barre, with pointed toes, bend and flex of muscles, maintaining a perfect circle in a spin – appealed to my rough ‘n ready nature. It calmed my head, already full of white noise, and burned up that excessive energy. It was my sister who would drop out, citing boredom. I continued up to the age of nine, harbouring hopes of becoming a prima ballerina. A fall in school, a bad ankle sprain that still plagues me today, put paid to those dreams.

Still, I find that the training – so like the basic level all military personnel go through in their first three months – has stood me in good stead. It comes back to gift me in adult life. I walk tall, no matter what my mood; it’s second nature to pull my shoulders back, align my spine to the backs of my legs. I’ve won over potential employers with the simple fact I sit up straight, appearing alert even if my mind is wandering. It did get me into trouble on the inpatient unit though, where I spent several months for treatment of anorexia; staff mistook my seeming inability to relax as a “behaviour”. Context is a funny thing.

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I’ll often practice old favourite moves, for the sheer pleasure of feeling how alive my body is. It’s a sensation never to be underestimated, the natural gift of feeling grace in one’s physicality. Whatever your own state, don’t let go of that appreciation of what your body is capable of. The time spent on that ward, I was stuck in a wheelchair for the first week, too underweight to be allowed to walk. There was a great risk of slipping into a coma, as my blood sugar had dropped to subnormal levels; not to mention what was going on with electrolytes, and my heart. Still, the muscles of my legs twitched and trembled with frantic energy, a burning desire to move. Adrenalin can keep an anorexic going for years. It was an itch I wasn’t permitted to scratch for long months. Progression from the chair, was slow – corridor-pacing, to snail-pace group walks under the impartial gaze of staff; and finally, oh God, heady freedom – walking alone around the sprawling grounds of the hospital, and thence to the nearby town.

I will never forget how long it took to relearn how to walk heel to toe. I’d had a punishing control of my stride for so long, it felt natural to push to the point of burnout, whatever the exercise. It was the greatest gift to stride again, unimpeded by staff or anorexia’s whip, with the natural grace and fluidity taught in those early ballet lessons, when we learned how to smile for the audience even while it felt like our backs and hearts were breaking.

In those formative early years when we returned to the UK from Germany, my grandmother became my confidante. She saw me for who I was – the middle child of three, feeling a bit left out because of the simple mechanics of there only being two parents (neither of which I could relate to as much as my siblings), with too much racing through her mind at once to keep her body still. I got into those scrapes, so she told me, because I didn’t have enough hands to accomplish all that I wanted to do at once.
She’s a live-wire herself, even in later years. But while I’ll only ever be an impatient git, her creed is to bring calm to those about her; to turn the other cheek, showing merciful grace however possible.

Not that she’ll hold her tongue where a scolding is needed. I learned early on that you can’t get a thing past her. Raised by her own grandmother, a Victorian lady of strong traditional values and family presence, my Nanna is a women of conviction. She believes in the good of others. No doubt she will have had cause to doubt this at certain points in her life. But she is a religious woman, upholding a quiet faith in God through childhood years of poverty in Tyneside; being made an orphan by age ten; motherhood with three children, and moving down South to follow my grandfather’s career at the observatory, Herstmonceux.

The great unknown has made up much of her life. Still, she bears it with a grace and dignity I’m forever fascinated and inspired by.

Now in her pale years, she lives with a sense of Self and gratitude for our family. Her ability to find peace when alone – she’s another introvert – was a comforting lesson to a child who felt odd for not being the socialite her sister was. Later, in adolescence and when the actions of my peers left me ashamed for them, her simple elegance was a reminder of who I was, to stay true to what I wanted to become. She’s always supported my writing, has provided a listening ear and ready wit when I needed a spirit-boost. There’s a hard-earned gravity in her words; she won’t say anything without cause, and to be honest some of my best memories of our time spent together, are the great wells of silence when we thought together.

I owe my Nanna a good deal, for providing the core values of appreciation and respect for others that seem to have evolved into empathy. Handy for writing, as well as dealing with the real world. Rather than resort to strong words and actions, we prefer to maintain dignity in the face of ugly manners and disrespect. That’s not to say I will back down, but there’s a need for control in such situations. Loss of it is letting your guard down; a discredit of grace.

It stands that, as an adult, I make my way through the world and fall back on what she has taught me. There are no answers to the questions begged in darkest moments – why people act the way they do, say the things they say, with a cruelty and love inherent of human nature. Some things are irrevocable, left hanging in the air. We’re a chaotic race; there will always be those who give, while others take. I feel that it’s in our best interests and in our power, to carefully govern the way we react to others. I’ll admit to having wished pain upon those who’ve hurt me in the past. I wouldn’t be human if I hadn’t at least entertained such vengeful ideas.
But all they afforded me were brief euphoric sunsets, before the chill nights of despair clawed back up.

Revenge is an easy path to follow, in comparison to the twisting way of merciful grace. There are roots that will twist and tangle about the feet, stones to unsettle every step. Time doesn’t heal, so much as numb certain wounds. I refuse to become another lost soul, wandering the world in a stupor of bitterness and dangling on the claws of one addiction after another. Been there, done that; believe me, the half-life was short indeed.

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Grace to me, is being able to look upon the face of the abuser, the name-caller, the one who broke your heart and beat your face out of “love” – and to turn away, the stronger for leaving them to stew in their own weakness. To offer forgiveness, if it’s in your heart to do so – and if not, to leave without looking back. No regret, no guilt, no more acceptance of suffering or being made to feel the victim by those who still live in fear.

Grace is a byword for elegance and good manners, for respect of others and the world we inhabit together, for better or worse. It’s a means of walking upright, back straight and legs poised, ready to carry us beyond what we thought ourselves capable of.

Whatever your take on the word, don’t be afraid to uphold its truth. Whether offering prayer to your God, or extending mercy to one who has shown you none, remember it as being alike to the subtle truth behind the half-smile on a dancer’s face; one that tells the world, my life is my own.

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