Από κάπου να ξεκινήσω

Πρέπει να ξεκινήσω να γράφω ελληνικά. Έτσι μου λένε. Μου λένε πως δε γίνεται, ελληνίδα, να γράφω στ’ αγγλικά: μόνο; γιατί; Ελληνίδα, και με μπαμπά ποιητή. Μου λένε για την ομορφία της ελληνικής γλώσσας, αυτή τη μελωδία που ‘χει, τις λέξεις που δεν έχουνε οι άλλοι, μόνο εμείς. Εμείς; Τι ελληνίδα είμαι; Μπερδεμένη.

Δεν ενδίδω. Εδώ και χρόνια λέω όχι. Όχι, με τα λίγα λόγια που ξέρω, γιατί είναι στ’ αλήθεια λίγα, και σκονισμένα. Σκουριάζουν κι αυτά, αλλοιώνονται, αν δεν τα χρησιμοποιείς. Αν λες τα ίδια και τα ίδια, στους ίδιους ανθρώπους κι ανάμεσα, όταν δε θυμάσαι τη λέξη, λες την αγγλική. Με τα λίγα λόγια που ξέρω προσπαθώ να δώσω εξηγήσεις, ελληνικές, ευκατανόητες. Να εξηγήσω κάτι που δεν το καταλαβαίνω ούτε εγώ: γιατί δεν είμαι ελληνίδα όσο πρέπει, γιατί δε μου φτάνει; Γιατί δε μου κάνει αυτή η αρχαία γλώσσα των ποιητών; Ποιο είναι αυτό το αλφάβητο, το ξένο, που για χάρη του απαρνιέμαι το ελληνικό; Ποια είμαι εγώ που δε μου φτάνουν αυτές οι λέξεις, οι μητρικές, για να εκφραστώ; Μπερδεμένη. Αθηναία πρωτευουσιάνα ξενιτεμένη μετανάστρια. Ξένη εδώ, ξένη κι εκεί. Αλλά άμα ζεις τη ζωή σου στα ξένα, με ξένες λέξεις εκφράζεσαι. Και ξένες γίνονται οι μητρικές, οι πιο λίγο οικείες, όσο περνάει ο καιρός. Δε μεταφράζεται η ζωή στο Λονδίνο στα ελληνικά, δε μεταφράζονται οι σκέψεις που κάνεις. Η νοοτροπία που έμαθες εκεί, όλα αυτά τα χρόνια, δεν προσαρμόζεται στο εδώ. Κι εδώ, που θα ‘πρεπε να ταιριάζω γιατί η ταυτότητά μου λέει «ελληνίδα», δεν έχω λόγια για να εκφραστώ.

Αυτή την ταυτότητα, την ελληνική, δεν ξέρω πως να την υποδυθώ. Δεν έχω τα λόγια. Υπάρχουν πολλά, πάρα πολλά, που δεν έχω κάνει, δεν έχω πει ποτέ στα ελληνικά. Δεν ξέρω πως. Πως πληρώνεις λογαριασμούς; Πως καλείς ταξί; Πως λες ότι λυπάσαι που κάποιος πέθανε; Πως μιλάς για έρωτες; Πως μιλάς για τον πόνο; Πως ξεκινάς μια σχέση; Πως χωρίζεις; Όταν σου λεν «βοήθειά μας», πως απαντάς; Μιλάς κατά τη διάρκεια του σεξ; Το λένε σεξ; Τι λες όταν γνωρίζεις κάποιον για πρώτη φορά; Τι λες όταν δεν ξέρεις τι να πεις; Από κάπου πρέπει να ξεκινήσω, αλλά πως ξεκινάς;

Δεν ενδίδω, κι ας λένε. Δεν είναι αυτός ο λόγος που ξεκίνησα να γράφω, τώρα, στα ελληνικά. Είναι που, ξαφνικά, κάτι νιώθω: μια ανάγκη. Σαν κάτι ν’ άλλαξε, χωρίς εξήγηση, χωρίς να μου δώσει χρόνο να σκεφτώ, να ερμηνεύσω, να προσαρμοστώ. Σα να μη μπορώ πια να κοροϊδεύω τον εαυτό μου, να κρατάω το ένα πόδι σ’ άλλη όχθη, σ’ άλλη χώρα και να στέκομαι εδώ. Να ζω εδώ μα να κρατιέμαι, με μια κλωστίτσα, αλλού, να μιλάω με λέξεις μεταφρασμένες για εμπειρίες εισαγόμενες και όλοι να γνέφουν με το κεφάλι αλλά να μην καταλαβαίνουν, γιατί δεν έχει Λονδίνο εδώ, δεν έχει how do you do. Αυτά που ξέρεις ξέχασέ τα αν θέλεις, όπως όλοι, να βρεις κάπου να σταθείς. Και θέλω: αυτό νιώθω. Θέλω να σταθώ εδώ. Κι αν θέλω, πρέπει να σταθώ και με τα δύο πόδια. Πρέπει από κάπου να ξεκινήσω, από τα λίγα λόγια που ξέρω. Αυτές οι λέξεις που με ξενίζουν να γίνουν γνώριμες σιγά σιγά, για να μην είμαι πια ξένη. Να μη μεταφράζομαι πια στα ελληνικά, να μην εισάγω τον εαυτό μου από αλλού: να είμαι εδώ.

Εδώ, στη Σίφνο. Ξένη πρωτευουσιάνα Αθηναία περίεργη. Σιγά σιγά όμως: η Δάφνη. Που ζει στον Ελεήμονα. Που γράφει βιβλίο. Που περπατάει πολύ, Απολλωνία-Καμάρες, σχεδόν κάθε μέρα. Που έμεινε εδώ το χειμώνα. Που κάνει παρέα με τον τάδε και τον άλλον. Αυτή. Από την απόλυτη αδιαφορία του Λονδίνου, από την ελευθερία εκείνη την παράξενη και τους απέραντους ορίζοντες, στη Σίφνο τη μικρή που θέλει να τα ξέρει όλα. Τίνος είσαι εσύ; Τι κάνεις; Τι είσαι; Μπερδεμένη. Αλλά έχει κι εδώ ορίζοντες, έχει έρωτες, έχει τραγούδια που τα ξέρω. Έχει θάλασσες και βουνά και φίλους καινούργιους και παλιούς και άγνωστες λέξεις τους τις μαθαίνω με τον καιρό. Έχει εμπειρίες που είναι μόνο εδώ, και λέξεις που τους αντιστοιχούν. Οι φίλοι μου στην Αθήνα, στο Λονδίνο, δεν καταλαβαίνουν. Γνέφουν τώρα κι αυτοί μ’ εκείνον τον τρόπο, αλλά δεν πειράζει. Θα προσπαθήσω, με τα λίγα λόγια που ξέρω, να τους τα πω. Πως είναι να είσαι εδώ. Πως σ’ αυτό το νησί που θέλει όλα να τα ξέρει, μέσα σ’ αυτό το καλοκαίρι που δε λέει να ‘ρθει, δε λέει ν’ αποφασίσει, δεν ξέρει τι είναι – κάπως ταιριάζω. Πως βρήκα κάπου να σταθώ.

Πήγα μια βόλτα πριν λίγο, να περπατήσω, να σκεφτώ. Κοντά στο τέλος, στις Αράδες, στην παλιά παιδική χαρά, σταμάτησα να κάτσω για λίγο, να καπνίσω ένα τσιγάρο πριν πάρω το δρόμο προς Καταβατή. Έκατσα σταυροπόδι στην άκρη του τοίχου, πάνω απ’ το δρόμο. Μπροστά μου θέα το σχολείο, πιο ‘κει στα δεξιά τα Εξάμπελα και περά η θάλασσα και τα νησιά. Σχεδόν σαράντα χρονών, με τζην σορτσάκι και παπούτσια Vans, σκαρφαλωμένη σ’ ένα τοίχο να καπνίζω. Πέρασαν μερικοί. Κάποιοι δε με είδαν. Κάποιοι με χαιρέτησαν. Κάποιοι με κοίταξαν, περνώντας, και κούνησαν το κεφάλι: να η Δάφνη. Σκαρφαλωμένη σ’ ένα τοίχο. Θυμήθηκα ένα τραγούδι του Ξυδάκη, «κοντεύω τα σαράντα κι ακόμα είμαι παιδί». Το άκουγα μικρή και μου φαινόταν τρελλό, αυτός ο αριθμός, αυτή η ηλικία. Και να ‘μαι τώρα, εδώ, τριανταεννιά ετών με μαλλιά σχεδόν ξυρισμένα και ν’ ασημίζουν στα πλάγια, σκαρφαλωμένη ψηλά να κοιτάω τα νησιά, και να μου γνέφουν σα να με ξέρουν. Και να νιώθω μια παράξενη ελευθερία, εδώ, στη Σίφνο τη μικρή που θέλει όλα να τα ξέρει, και οι λέξεις να μου έρχονται στα ελληνικά. Λίγες, αλλά οικείες. Χωρίς μετάφραση. Και να νιώθω την ανάγκη να τις πω.

Ποτέ δεν ξέρεις τίποτα. Αλλά τα λόγια βρίσκονται, σιγά σιγά, με τον καιρό. Φτάνει από κάπου να ξεκινήσεις. Και μπορείς να ξεκινήσεις όσες φορές θες.

In the meantime

In the meantime, I have to live my life. Isn’t that what you always tell me? Isn’t that what you say, to live for now, in the present moment? But there’s that word: present. Where are you?

I went away, but I took you with me. I thought you wanted to come. I thought I knew about you and me and now, the insignificance of time and places, the perfect continuum of our unbreakable bond. But I didn’t know there was a meantime. I thought now was a constant thing, stretching endlessly from moment to moment, seamless. But nothing is unbreakable, and something broke. And maybe there will come a day when we’ll put it back together, with seams of gold to remind us of our history and everything we’ve overcome, like the Japanese repair their broken things, and it will be beautiful. But now is the meantime, and I’m slipping through the cracks.

How long did I think my imported love would keep? How long did I think it would translate, in this land of foreign words? It’s a different alphabet here: some of the letters do not correspond. Some of the letters are orphaned; they don’t make it across the transition, the divide. There are too many gaps where the words used to be; there is no shoulder to rest my head on. I’m falling through the cracks, and you’re letting me. You’re letting me slip away, but you won’t let me go.

You are my phantom limb and you cripple me with the ghost of your presence. I’m always there, you say, and I know you are but I can’t see you and there’s a twitch where you should, you ought to be. And when I reach out to touch you: nothing – just the echo of our untranslatable words. Love is a blessing, in all of its forms, but my fingers need skin to slide across, my head needs a shoulder to rest on. My body needs a body to click into. Is that too commonplace for our extraordinary love? Is that too physical, too tangible for our higher concepts? Higher up, our bond is unbreakable, but down here, where I place my feet, I am made of flesh and dirt and desire. There is no common place for you and me; not here, in the meantime of now. But this is where I need to be.

There are twitches of pleasure, here. There is reaching out and touching someone; there is skin against skin. There are words that are said simply, words that correspond to common places and times. There is common ground, and dirt and soil and sand: things tangible, unbroken, well kept. You cannot keep me with higher concepts alone; you cannot leave me alone to see where I fit in the cracks. But no bond is freedom, if it binds.

You are my phantom limb, and I must learn to stand without you. You are my sunrise and the colours that make postcards of the sky at the end of my day, but it is June now, and the days are long. There is a lot of meantime.

Nothing is unbreakable, and broken things can be repaired, with gold and history and time. But in the meantime I stand here, without you, flesh and feelings in a language you do not understand. I do not care to translate them; I am slipping away and I don’t want to be stopped. I don’t want to be kept with higher concepts and ghosts and the beautiful golden seams of a love repaired; I don’t want to be bound to that. I am too alive, and the days are long. I don’t want to wait for postcards; I don’t want to wait for nothing. I want to reach out and touch someone; I want the common ground and the dirt on my feet and the twist in my stomach and the words that correspond to how I feel. I want a tangible love, this time. And you, my love, my higher, extraordinary love: you’re always there, but you’re not here. Where are you? It’s only the echo of your words that reaches me, and I won’t bind you to promises imported from the past. Now, this time, it’s me that’s letting you go, as I slip through the cracks that have yet to be sealed with gold.

Actually, I do care.

Writers are a very strange species. Observe: stooped creatures, often nocturnal, that dwell in small rooms or corners of rooms, hunched over keyboards, muttering to themselves. Gnarled fingers and slit-like eyes as dark symbols appear on glowing screens. If you approach them during this process, if you violate its sanctity, this may elicit a grunt, a growl or a passive-aggressive rebuke. They may tolerate a hand on their shoulder, in passing, but rarely being spoken to. Words don’t mix with words, and they are busy creating spells to summon worlds into existence. They live in their heads, where the words are kept and sown and harvested, and as the words tumble out, as the dark symbols line up on the glowing screens, these creatures, these creators, are all-powerful. The outside world, the one that you inhabit, is merely a distraction, an inconvenience. And yet, it exists. Stubbornly, relentlessly, it exists.

In the outside world, we are as powerful or as powerless as the rest of you. In the outside world, we are exposed. Writers are, in their majority, introverts; it is no accident that we choose an occupation that demands isolation. An occupation that means, for all the support we might have, for all those gentle hands resting, briefly, on our shoulders, we are alone. And it is something to think about, it is almost schizophrenic, that the work we do, if we do it right, results in exposure. Over-exposure. That, by putting our work out there, we are practically inviting dozens of people, hundreds, thousands, into our small rooms and into our heads. To admire our neat stacks of words, to pick them up carefully and examine them, or to trample all over them, as they choose. We are inviting the outside world in, and leaving ourselves no place to hide. The outside world where we are as insecure as the rest of you, as vulnerable, powerless now to control the words that come our way.

And they come. Relentlessly, they come. It is no accident, because by putting your work out there, by saying “here, look, this is a thing I made”, you’re inviting judgement. You’re asking to be judged. Yet none of us, writers and humans, like to be judged. Unless we’re judged worthy; unless we’re judged good. It’s schizophrenic, but there is no way around it: once a thing is out there, it’s fair game. Except it’s not a game. Not to us. Once you cross over from writer into author, you’re no longer playing.

Until I published my first book, I’d never given much thought to reviews. I hadn’t given much thought to anything beyond clicking “publish” and watching my book appear on Amazon, as if by magic. Beyond “look at this thing I made”. But reviews are the words that come our way; reviews are the judgement we invited. And it’s all fun and games until you get a negative one, and the world you carefully constructed in your quiet room comes crashing down, and strangers that you invited in yourself trample all over the ruins. Relentlessly and sometimes – even worse – casually, as if it means nothing. And writers, strange creatures though we may be, are just as vulnerable as the rest of you. There is a person behind the thing, and you can hurt them. And you would think, as writers, that we’d know of the power of words, how they can create or destroy, cut or heal, but no: paradoxically, we step into the outside world unprepared. To be lifted up high by praise or be casually shredded to pieces. Sticks and stones will break your bones? Words are much more lethal. And ratings, like ninja stars aimed at the soft, fleshy parts of our souls.

You’d think we’d know. But we cross over from writer into author, unprepared, and then we have to learn. That the thing we put out there is a target, not a shield; that it’s fair game and people will play by their own rules. That we cannot control the words that come our way. We have to learn not to care. But what inconsistent, schizophrenic creatures would we be, putting ourselves out there to be judged, if we didn’t care? Let me be the first to tell you, if you haven’t heard it before: actually, I do care. I may get better, with time, at picking up the pieces, I may get quicker at smiling and shrugging it off, but I will never not care. Good or bad, the judgement that I invited will always mean something. Just now, I cried at a lovely review that thanked me at the end. I care. This is not a game to me.

This is no sob story. We reap what we sow, and if we don’t like our harvest, perhaps we should choose another field. But if we insist on growing these crops, if we insist on peddling them to the world, we must do it with as much care as we can muster. As much vulnerability. We must tend to them, relentlessly. We must nurture the soil and tease out the weeds. We must stack up our words as neat as we can, so that they may withstand the judgement, even if we can’t. We must inhabit our worlds fully before we invite other people in. So that when we step out of our little rooms, stooped and slit-eyed, and say “look at this thing I made”, we can be sure that it’s the best thing we could have made. This is the best that we can do: as writers, as humans.

We can’t blame the seeds or the soil or the weather for the fact that not everyone likes tomatoes. Of course, there is something to be said for not going out of your way to trample all over someone else’s vegetable patch, but that’s judging other people by our own standards, which is exactly what reviewers are invited to do. We can’t blame them for the place where they started, or how high or how low we appear through their eyes. We must learn how to come down from the heights where praise lifts us, and how to stand up again when we’re tripped up, or fall. And we must care. Even when it hurts, we must care. Otherwise, we might as well stay in our rooms, playing at being a writer, and growling every time we are approached, and shrugging off every gentle, supportive hand that’s placed on our shoulders.


The above image was created in response to an Amazon review which compared reading my book 100 days of solitude to watching paint dry. I ran it as an advert for the book, with the headline “Cheaper than a tin of paint”. I don’t know if it sold any copies, but it kept me amused for a while. It was my way of shrugging it off.


You are invited to judge me on Amazon, or on facebook.

What does solitude mean to you?

As many of you know, the first book I published, 100 days of solitude, is an account of how I gave up my life in London to spend a few months living alone on a Greek island called Sifnos. It was initially only meant as an exercise in writing full-time, but it ended up being so much more than that, and it opened my eyes to infinite, previously unimagined possibilities for a different, more fulfilling way of life. One that has solitude – the time and space to be with yourself – at its core.

Many people equate solitude with loneliness, and it frightens them. I went to my hairdresser here on Sifnos for a haircut the other day, and she asked me again, as she always does:
    ‘Don’t you get lonely?’ (I have a reputation on the island: that girl who lives alone and walks around a lot – isn’t she writing a book or something?)
    ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Sometimes.’ But don’t we all? Loneliness isn’t dependant on where you live or how many people there are around you; you can be just as lonely in a crowd as you can be on a quiet mountain trail; you can be just as lonely in London as in Sifnos. And the same, in reverse, goes for solitude: no matter what your circumstances, you can get it, the kind of solitude you need. An hour to yourself, to read, or think, or do nothing; a walk in the park or along an empty beach. You don’t have to seek it in extremes.

But there are other people who only respond to extremes, and my version of solitude offends them. They equate it with isolation and hardship, and I have far too good a social life to qualify as a proper recluse. And that’s fine; it’s a fair judgement: I am that girl who lives alone and walks around a lot, but I talk to everyone. These critics and I have a very different understanding of solitude and its purpose. To me, it’s about being more connected, not less. But to be able to forge meaningful connections with other people, you must first be connected with yourself. And that’s what we lose when we make our lives so overcrowded. That’s why I live alone. That’s why I walk. That’s why I write.

I came across an interesting article entitled The Benefits of Solitude last night. It’s an excerpt from a book called Solitude: In pursuit of a singular life in a crowded world by Michael Harris and it echoes, in a much more eloquent way, the thoughts expressed above. According to the book’s blurb: “The capacity to be alone–properly alone–is one of life’s subtlest skills. Real solitude is a contented and productive state that garners tangible rewards: it allows us to reflect and recharge, improving our relationships with ourselves and, paradoxically, with others.” Thank you, Michael.

You can read the article here.

It seems Michael Harris and I have very similar definitions of solitude, but the point is, not everyone does. We all have a different understanding of solitude and loneliness, happiness and fulfilment, and we are all free to seek the latter two in the way that makes sense to us. Not everyone will associate them with solitude but I, for one, will forever advocate the solitary walk as a means for being the person I want to be.

Before I go, I’d like to introduce you to the King of the Solitary Walk, and a man whom I’m tentatively beginning to consider a friend: writer and long-distance hiker Keith Foskett. As he describes in The Last Englishman, Keith has walked the entire length of the US, from the borders of Mexico to Canada (the Pacific Crest Trail), and though there was hardship and isolation and loneliness, he never really experienced them in a negative way. His is an extreme version of taking yourself away from everything to become more connected. His latest book, Travelled Far, is free on Kindle at the moment, and you can also get a free copy of his first book, The Journey in Between, by signing up to his mailing list. I don’t often recommend books, but I’ve read Keith’s work and I do so without any hesitation.

And if you’re curious about my own version of debatable solitude and you’ve yet to read 100 days of solitude, you can now get a free preview of the first 15 days by clicking here.

What does solitude mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me.

(This went out as a newsletter to my mailing list this morning. Click here if you’d like to join.)

Faith and water and love conquers all

I wanted to start this story past The End of the one before; I wanted a happy ending to push off from. It was to be a story about how love, indeed, conquers all; I started writing it last night, in my head. I gave it shape, a happy ending shaped like love; I squeezed it into that mould, but I didn’t sleep easy because it wasn’t an easy fit, and the bits that stuck out bit into me and put bad thoughts in my head.

I’m writing this to chase away the fear; to bring about the ending that I want, to call it down here where I think, rightly, that it belongs.

My little cat, my Little One, is sick. It’s been four days now that he won’t eat, won’t drink, won’t look me in the eye. He isn’t tempted by special cat food or chopped-up steak; he isn’t tempted by toys or almonds rolled across the floor or those rustly bits of balled-up paper that he loves. I cannot tempt him off his chair, where he lies rolled up tight but awkwardly, uneasy, hiding his face from the world and from me. He doesn’t lift his head when I call him, he doesn’t respond when I tell him, softly, that he’s gonna be OK, not when I plead with him to be OK, not when I bury my face in his fur and cry and pray to anything with power to make him OK. He doesn’t purr or bump me with his head or nibble my fingers or lick my face; he doesn’t try to climb on me or follow me around or scream at me when I open the fridge. When I touch him, he pulls away, slowly but definitely; he is saying – I can almost hear it – leave me alone.

And here comes the love bit, because I won’t leave him alone. I left him alone for long enough, save when I raised him up and held his head back and trickled water into his mouth through a syringe. I left him alone; I respected his privacy, I gave him space to get better in his own cat way, but I won’t leave him alone any longer, because he isn’t getting better. And I’ve got nothing to give him except water and love. So: love.

I picked him up last night, peeled him off his chair and put him on my lap as I sat at my desk. This is what we do, normally; this is how we spend our days, my cat and I, when he isn’t curled up tight and listless, and I’m not pacing around, restless with fear. He wouldn’t settle at first; he shifted this way and that, weary and worried, and I thought he would jump off and head straight back to his chair. But he stayed, and he settled, with his head on my belly and his body on my lap. And he purred. For the first time in days, he purred, and when I stroked him, tentatively, he lifted his head up to meet my hand, and he turned to look at me and his eyes met mine.

When it was time for bed, I took him with me, lifted him up gingerly, curled up as he was, and placed him on my bed. I got under the covers next to him. “We’ll keep each other company, you and I,” I told him, and he stood up and climbed onto my chest, and brought his face close to mine and pushed his nose, his hot, dry nose, into the palm of my hand. And he purred.

And I thought, this is it, this is proof that love conquers all. That all you need, all we need to survive, is water and love – that’s all we need to get us through. And I thought about the story I’d write, triumphant, on this theme: about water and love and my little one’s miraculous recovery. But I didn’t sleep easy: the curled up cat was a weight on my chest, and my mind was restless with fear. The story didn’t quite fit the mould, and it stuck out, and it kept us both awake, my cat and I, as we tried to fit ourselves around it and each other.

In the morning, he was as listless as ever. Curled up on his chair, as if he’d never left it. He didn’t purr; he didn’t lift his head to say hello. I called a vet in Athens, a kind lady who didn’t remember having met me, once, several months ago, but listened regardless. She said “drip” and “blood tests”, and I said if not those, what? She said the names of drugs and when and how much and good luck, and the girl at the chemist said the same, but it isn’t luck we need, my cat and I: it’s faith, and water and love.

Faith, in the story that will come after the one before, after the fear, past the fear, in the happy ending shaped by love. The story of my little one’s miraculous recovery; the story of how love conquers all. Because it must, because it has to. Because I’m writing this to bring it down, right here, where it belongs, in faith, in love, in prayer to anything with power; because love has made a mould out of me and the shape that fits my lap is a purring cat.


Please send us some love.

For Now: Notes on living a deliberate life

For Now: Notes on living a deliberate life

What does it mean, to live a deliberate life?

I use that term, but I’m still trying to figure it out. And I think that’s the point, essentially: that we’re always trying to figure it out. All of it. Who we are and where we belong, and whether those things are fixed or fluid, and whether we’re allowed to change. What it means to be alive.

Torn between the two extremes of her personality, City Girl, the streetwise arsehole Londoner who subsists on traffic fumes and black takeaway coffee, and the mellow, nature-loving Sifnos Chick, who has found peace on a small island where there are barely any streets to be wise on, Daphne explores the contradictions that are inherent in all of us, as we strive to find our balance in a seesaw world; to find a life that makes sense to us and a place where we belong.

Written in Daphne’s signature confusion of memoir, reflective essay and travel writing, and as much a sequel to 100 days of solitude as a standalone collection, For Now contains 27 stories of an ordinary life lived deliberately. Stories that could have been told differently or not at all, stories with a deliberate twist to allow for the extraordinary moments to break through the mundane and be noticed, and add up to a meaningful life.


For Now: Notes on living a deliberate life is available to buy on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

100 days / 2 years: a review

Today marks two years since I published my first book, 100 days of solitude. And if writing (and living) those 100 days took me to places I’d never imagined I’d go, the time since then has been a journey in itself, an adventure through unfamiliar (and often hostile) terrain, complete with fairy godmothers, unicorns and mythical, snarling beasts, wrong turns and scraped knees and unexpected helping hands, and storms, and rainbows that are very pretty to look at, but don’t lead to pots of gold (yet).

A brief review of the last two years (facts and stats):

– In its two years in this world, 2,775 readers have bought 100 days on Kindle, 868 have downloaded it for free, and another approximately 400 have read it on Kindle Unlimited. It has also sold about 700 copies in paperback.

– I signed up to two paid courses on book marketing, promotion and advertising, and how to be a better author-type-person overall. I’ve read countless articles, watched hundreds of videos, and exchanged advice, support and the good and terrible moments of this writing life with dozens of other independent authors.

– I met hundreds of lovely, kind, supportive, like-minded people, people who have read 100 days or who want to, or who recognised something of themselves in my story and just wanted to chat; people with amazing stories of their own, that they’ve been generous enough to share. I’m lucky to count many of them, now, as friends.

100 days has earned a bestseller badge on Amazon and some awesome reviews (which have often made me cry); it has also made a few enemies, who’ve taken against it quite passionately. No book is for everyone!

– I found out what online “trolling” means, first hand. It isn’t fun.

– It’s been exhausting. It’s been terrifying. It’s been incredible. It’s been hugely rewarding. It’s been the best and the worst time of my life. I wouldn’t change a single thing.

It’s been two years, but the journey isn’t over; in many ways, it’s only just begun. My book and I are still travelling, still stumbling along our path the best way we know how, still trying to find our way. And I don’t know how I’m doing in the author-type-person stakes, but it’s been two years of learning how to be a better human-type-person, and that’s more than enough.

Thank you all for travelling with me.

And if you haven’t read it yet, enter your email below for a chance to win a Kindle copy of 100 days of solitude. Or check it out on Amazon: it’s discounted to 99p for the whole of March.

We are all of us magicians in our realms

My dad called me this morning, 9 am. This is unusual. I was on coffee number one and still a bit groggy.
    ‘Did I wake you up?’ he asked.
    ‘No. I’m having my coffee.’
    ‘Me too,’ he said – then: ‘I need your help. Will you help me?’
    ‘Of course,’ I said. ‘If I can.’
    ‘You can.’
    What my dad wanted – needed – help with was an essay entitled “On Translating Shakespeare” that he was about to send to King’s College, London, for publication. And he wanted me to edit it.
    I said: ‘Um,’ with all the eloquence this poet-father has passed on. I gathered my thoughts. ‘Sure,’ I added. ‘But do you really need me to edit your English?’ The emphasis of incredulity in this sentence being you need me?
    ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘If you have time.’
    ‘I have time.’ I was about to sit down with my book-in-progress and agonise over unfinished chapters but, for this, I had time.
    ‘Send it,’ I said. ‘But I’m sure there’ll be nothing.’

My dad: the poet, the editor, the literature scholar, the man who translates Shakespeare into Greek and then casually whips up a 12 page essay on the topic, in perfect English; this man needs me? I was flattered, yes, and eager to be helpful, to prove that I was worthy of this compliment, this trust. But nervous as hell. Because, seriously: me? Who the fuck am I to mess with this man’s words, this man who gave me all the words I have, who, as far as I’m concerned, is the keeper of all the words? This magician with his pen, reaching into a hatful of words and pulling out entire worlds. How am I even qualified to comment, let alone edit what he writes?

I loaded the document onto my computer, determined to find nothing. Out of respect. Out of fear of disturbing the subtle balance of things, the hierarchy that keeps my understanding of this world and my place in it the right way up. Out of a reverse kind of pride: my humble skills and how proud I am of this poet-dad who far outskills me. It would be hubris to put red marks on his work. I’d do my duty, and find nothing. But we are all of us magicians in our realms.

When your web designer makes images appear at the top of your page like you asked him, that’s magic. When your massage therapist puts her hands on exactly the right spot along your back and eases the pain; when the plumber bends over your toilet and mutters and it no longer overflows when you flush it; when the gardener knows that your soil is too acidic and how deep to dig to sow tomato seeds: those are all magic tricks. When M, my boyfriend, the electrician, fearlessly reaches into a snake’s nest of live wires and makes the lights shine again, he is performing magic. When my sister stands up in a roomful of stressed out Londoners and gets them, with just her voice, to lie down on yoga mats and close their eyes and relax, she’s putting them under a spell. When my dad takes the poetry of Shakespeare – the metre, the meaning, the rhymes – and coaxes it into another language: how the fuck? And when I write, yes, that’s a kind of magic too.

The fact that something has been granted – a talent, an ability, knowledge, a healthy beating heart – doesn’t mean it should be taken that way. Our humble skills, the things we know, are someone else’s magic. Our nothing can be everything if it’s the thing that someone needs. Once we have learnt it, we forget, the time, to toil it took to get there; we forget that we’ve earned this qualification. Once we’ve mastered it, the glamour fades, and we just shrug it off as nothing, as unremarkable as having toes, or making a cup of tea. But we’re magicians in those things that we can do, the wands we wave so casually to make magic happen, like functioning toilets and thriving tomato plants and making words rhyme and finding small errors in a poet-father’s work.

It wasn’t nothing. It wasn’t a lot, but there were little things here and there, a word that jarred, a letter forgotten, an extra space between sentences, a z where an s should be. That’s all: ten marks, maybe, over twelve pages, ten tentative comments in red, the little things my dad had missed. And I had found them: me. The writer-daughter, hierarchically confused but qualified to comment after all. My dad was right. He may be the keeper of the words, but something of his magic has trickled down to me, and I – without noticing – have made it my own. And it’s another kind of magic now, a different trick altogether. I cannot translate Shakespeare but I can help to make an almost perfect essay a tiny bit better. Not casually: I agonised over those marks, just like I agonise over every single word I pull out of my hat to make a sentence, a paragraph, a story you might want to read. Just like my dad agonised over writing this essay that conveys the agony of translating Shakespeare. It may look casual, the way we perform the magic that we own, but it took time and toil to own it, and that’s what makes us qualified. That’s what makes us magicians, all of us, in the things that we know.
    ‘Thank you,’ my dad wrote when I sent him my suggestions.
    ‘It was nothing,’ I replied. But we both know it was a lot more than that. Nothing and everything; as remarkable as having toes.


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The conditions for unconditional love


I’ve been thinking about love a lot lately. My sister is getting married this weekend, and I am going to be her witness, and sign my name on a document officially declaring her and Arek husband and wife (or the other way round, as the case may be). And this makes me feel happy and grateful and proud and a little in awe. But, my own role in this event aside, my bearing witness, both officially and unofficially, to what is truly and unequivocally an excellent thing, I cannot help but question the purpose of such declarations. Weddings, marriages, and their necessity in connection to love.

My sister and I are not wedding people. In fact, the mere mention of the topic as it relates to our own lives is likely to cause, in both of us, an almost phobic reaction. In addition to this, we share a – partly justifiable – mistrust of marriage itself, as exemplified by our parents and society at large. The phonecall in which she announced to me the fact of her engagement could be described, without exaggeration, as one of the happiest and most awkward conversations two people have ever had. We have never talked about weddings; we have never fantasised, as other girls, of dresses and engagement rings. This was a foreign land, full of dragons and booby traps, and we circumnavigated these terrors as best we could, to arrive, clumsily, at a mutual conclusion of joy. We weren’t trying to be obscure, or unconventional; we just don’t have the vocabulary for this sort of thing. None of us really do.

And yet we try. We try, with words, to explain why people get married, to define a marriage, to express love. To capture its essence, to measure it, quantify it, evaluate it – demystify it, perhaps, to make it more manageable, more attainable. We are, as a society, entirely preoccupied with love, endlessly producing quotes, metaphors, clichés and contradictions. They’re in our art and our literature, our everyday conversations, our highbrow theories and our pop songs. And, regardless of whether we subscribe to fairytale endings or take the cynical view and reject love and marriage outright, in our moments of elation and of pain we all drunkenly sing along.

And if you turn to Eastern philosophies in search of a more sober perspective, as I have, it gets even more confusing. The teachings of Buddhism encourage loving kindness and compassion, yet discourage attachment, while Buddhist monks are happy to bless a union that is basically a marriage by another name. The Buddha is quoted as having said: “He who loves fifty people has fifty woes; he who loves no one has no woes.” And I don’t understand whether this is a warning or simply a statement of fact; whether those woes are to be avoided, or accepted – welcomed, even – as a part of love.

It is then suggested that we should love, but love all creatures equally. And I don’t think that’s possible, sustainable or even desirable. I can see the virtue in approaching each person and each situation with love; it takes practice, but it can be done, and I call that kindness. But to enact love, to love, as a verb, is a different thing entirely and I, for one, cannot produce that level of emotion for everyone I meet.

And further: love, in its truest, purest form, should be unconditional. And sometimes it is. But the reason it became love, the reason it grew into love is because certain conditions were in place when it began. Conditions as in circumstances rather than terms, but conditions, nonetheless. Does this negate its unconditional nature, retroactively, once it reaches that stage? Perhaps I’m taking things too literally, and this is just another case of our vocabulary letting us down, but it seems to me that for all their dogma, these philosophies are placing conditions on who and how I love.

But love is not possession: this one I can live with. Yet I have lain in a man’s arms and felt, with my whole, entire self: “I am yours. You are mine.” And it has nothing to do with ownership, but with the fact that something in the way this universe moves has brought us together and that’s exactly where we should be. A place where all the definitions of love cease to matter. But when I try to explain it, these are the words that come out. They’re the only words I have.

But what does all of this say about marriage? Does a wedding validate a love? Is placing a ring on someone’s finger a declaration of ownership? Is it, as Beyonce suggests in the eloquent lyric “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it”, all about staking a claim? I think in many cases, in many marriages, it is. I may find the notion of ownership incompatible with my understanding of love, but to many people, the idea of belonging to someone, of someone belonging to them, is an arrival, a homecoming – it’s where they want to be. Just like I want to be in that place of stillness and certainty that I have found lying next to a man I love, and most marriages are lands I never want to visit.

But there are other marriages. Ones where love needs no validation. Where commitment transcends the signing of papers, if papers have been signed at all. It depends on where you place yourself in this equation. You can stand next to someone, or you can follow them, or you can lead the way. You can stand next to someone and place a ring on your own finger, not a promise to anyone else, but a symbol for yourself, for how you feel. You can get married, or you can marry; you can be a passive or an active part of the grammar that makes up your relationship. You can have a marriage where nobody belongs to anybody else but perhaps, if you’re lucky, you belong together. And you can hold their hand, but loosely; if they want to go away, they will, no matter how tightly you grip.

Words, grammar, syntax. Xs and Ys and the mathematical formulas that bring them together. The laws of physics, the laws of nature. Symbols and signatures, rings and vows and altars. Faith, fate, god and endless theories. We summon all these things to try and explain the inexplicable, to express something that defies expression, as elusive as it is ever-present, as abstract as it is tangible, as extraordinary as it is commonplace; something that slips through your fingers like your lover’s hand when you squeeze too tight, but will happily settle in your open palm if you know enough to hold it out, and wait. And it’s the human condition that we keep trying, that we will always keep trying, because if there ever comes a day when we stop trying, it will mean we have captured something that shouldn’t be caught, demystified the mystery that keeps our lives in motion. And that, I think, will be the day that everything stops. That will be the day when saying the words “I love you” will express exactly what we mean, and I cannot think of anything sadder than that.

There is no such thing as a universal marriage, just as there’s no universal definition of love. Those are choices we make, each of us, for ourselves, and saying you don’t believe in marriage is not an ideology, it’s a cop out. Love no one. Have no woes.

I still think my sister is very brave, and there’ll be dragons to slay (or approach with love, and convert to household pets), but I’m not worried. I have every reason to believe that she and Arek will have one of those other marriages, the ones that don’t make me want to run away screaming. I think they have it already. Because neither of them is getting married: both are marrying the person they love. Because, at times when I’ve lost my faith, I’ve looked to them and seen that they have built their life in that same place of stillness and certainty, and though they may wander off sometimes, they always know how to get back. Because they’ve shown me that big love doesn’t necessarily equal big drama, and when you’re faced with it, you might no longer need to put it into words.

But words are sometimes all we have, and mine are all I have to give. So this is dedicated to them: in hope, in admiration, and in love. Not equal, but as unconditional as it comes.


Taken from This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world. View it on Amazon, or join my readers’ list and get an e-book copy for free.

I am the storm.


Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, I’ve been standing at a precipice, high over the world, scuffing at the edge with the toes of my shoes, and watching dust rise up and stones tumble down the slope. One, maybe two at a time. I watch them roll down, gaining momentum sometimes, sometimes dislodging a small rock on the way and taking it down with them. I watch them hit the bottom, the impact they make: another cloud of dust rising and settling again. Again, I nudge, pulling another stone from the soil; I get down on my knees, freeing one more with my hands and setting it loose down the mountainside. I watch. I wait. I start again.

I want an avalanche. I want a landslide. I want that magical, inexplicable something that brings my book crashing into the world with a great, rumbling roar. I don’t want it to be a wave, gently lapping at the shore and pulling back again, to disappear into the ocean. I want it to be a tsunami, a great sweeping mass of words and thoughts and joy, rushing into the lives of thousands. Millions. I’m done being waves and pebbles. I’m done being quiet and small. I want the magic. I want that something, that moment when my book goes from selling a thousand copies to selling a million. Because that’s all it is: a moment. A click that sets it all in motion. That’s all it takes: some magic, and a click.

Perhaps literary agents and publishers have the big, industrial machines that tear chunks out of mountainsides and cause landslides that bury the villages below. Perhaps they have massive ships that cut through the ocean, dislodging the seas, turning waves into tsunamis and drowning coastal towns in their authors’ words. Perhaps they do, and it’s not sinister; it’s just the way it is. But I have no such equipment. I am just a girl chiselling away with my hands, but my words are just as big as theirs, and there’s another way.

The world is changing, and we can make our own magic. We can make our own destiny. We always could, but perhaps we have turned a corner and we can see it, now. Perhaps the dust from their big, industrial works is beginning to settle, and we can see it. Perhaps we’re done being told what we can’t do. Perhaps we’re done waiting. Perhaps we’re done being lodged in the ground, calling out for someone to come along and kick us free. Perhaps we’re done being rolling stones in other people’s landslides. There are mountains enough for all of us, infinite oceans of possibility. We can be our own landslides. We can make our own waves.

These thoughts had been building up for a while, but it was my friend Leo who gave me the word that brought them all together. We were having coffee, and I was trying to explain the magic moment, the click. “Avalanche,” he said, and I saw it. I’d known it from before when, in another magical moment, I suddenly understood, on a level entirely separate from intellect and real-world odds, that this book would go far. I’d known it, but I had no visual, and then Leo said that word, and it all came together and I saw it: the avalanche, the landslide, the tsunami. Sweeping into the world, graceful and magnificent; a natural phenomenon, but not a disaster, because it’s words I’m sending into people’s lives, stories to make them better. Because, as pretentious as it may sound, I really do believe that books can change our lives. And this is a book that’s all about changing, and finding your own path, and finding joy. This particular book has already changed my life. And it deserves its own landslide.

In real-world terms: the landslide, for a writer, translates into lots of sales. Money. But it’s not about that. It’s about having the means to carry on doing what you love, and, for me, this book is the way. Because another thing I believe – another one of my pretensions, if you like – is that we all have a purpose in this life, a gift, a thing we are uniquely qualified to do. And this is mine: writing. It’s what I do, and I do it well. And I deserve the chance to carry on doing it; to try. We all do – whatever our thing might be. And the real-world odds can go fuck themselves. There is another world, where anything is possible. And it is just as real as we make it.

There is nothing noble in stoically accepting the odds, nothing admirable in admitting defeat before you’ve even begun. This gift, this purpose: it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It needs to be defended. Suffering for the sake of suffering is such a wasteful way to live. But if the thing that you love doing can fund doing what you love, isn’t that the perfect way for the world to go around?

I am done with odds. I am done being pebbles and waves. I am done being the tortured artist selling drinks and dreaming of words. I have written a book, and I’m standing up for it. And for anyone who’s ever done a thing that meant something to them, for anyone who wants to, for all the pebbles and the waves, the quiet and the small, slowly gathering their strength against the odds to crash into the world. We can be the avalanche; we can be the tsunami. All it takes is some magic, and a click.

Fate whispers to the warrior
“you cannot withstand the storm”
and the warrior whispers back
“I AM THE STORM”.


You can click here to view 100 days of solitude on Amazon and perhaps add another rolling stone to my avalanche, if you like.