The drugs don’t work

Zoloft for depression

Three decades ago, in the mid-90s, my friend and I managed to get our hands on a prescription for Prozac. A single box, I don’t remember how. We were giddy with excitement, sweaty-palmed and flushed-faced, and trying to arrange our features in a suitably sombre/casual expression as we handed the script over to the pharmacist; we had a whole elaborate backstory ready to deliver if challenged – but nobody paid us any attention. The reason being – apart from a slightly liberal attitude to the dispensing of drugs – that a single box of Prozac, even in the hands of impressionable and rebellious teenagers, could do no harm. No harm and equally no good. It was the stuff of legends, pain-ridden songs and cult movies and cutting-edge literature; it was the wonderdrug that defined our generation – Generation X, generation Prozac Nation – but it wasn’t a drug in the sense that we imagined, and a single box of Prozac, especially split two ways, could have absolutely no discernible effect on our psyche. We split it, regardless, and swallowed a couple of pills.
    Perhaps we thought we were depressed, perhaps we aspired to be: depressed was synonymous to interesting, in those days, and a happy disposition clearly meant you hadn’t understood how heavy a burden this life truly was. We idolised the troubled souls of the grunge and indie rock music scene, and our own souls were reared on complicated emotions that we weren’t yet ready to understand, but we knew all the lyrics by heart, anyway, and the pain we felt was real enough as we sang them, as we swayed clumsily in damp, sticky nightclubs. When Kurt Cobain killed himself, we mourned him as a hero; nevermind the example he set, nevermind the wife and daughter he left behind: that devastated, heroin-chic look was made for Courtney Love. She was a style icon to many of us, nevermind that she was actually a junkie. There was glamour in that, the dark lure of really terrible lifestyle choices, scary-attractive, because the world was fucked up anyway and, as Cobain put it in his suicide note: “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”. Also: Trainspotting. Also: Pulp Fiction. I mean, come on.
    While all this was taking place in LA and Seattle and the mean streets of Manchester, in middle class Athens we had to make do with warm vodka and orange, cans of Heineken, and rumours of ecstasy tabs with the original smiley face stamped on. We gathered in parks and smoked Marlboro Reds and bad weed that made us throw up in the bushes. While teenagers in the enlightened land of America had therapy to deal with their existential angst, we had curfews. While they bravely bared their souls and got prescribed antidepressants, we got a slap around the face and told it was our hormones. Nobody understood and it was all so unfair. So to get our hands on an actual box of Prozac was really something. It would have been better, of course, to be prescribed the thing, to have a professional acknowledge our pain, legitimise it with his signature, but failing that, fuck it, we would self-medicate. So we took a couple of pills each, and told each other we felt changed. And, being slightly nerdy rebels, we had studied the enclosed leaflet of side effects, and reported a few of those, too. Our serotonin levels, I am certain, remained blissfully unaware.
    The point is, as The Verve sang over and over again and nobody listened, the drugs don’t work. Not the way we imagine. Not the way popping an ecstasy tab works, or even drinking a cup of coffee. They do work, but in their own, slow time, and there is nothing you can do to rush them. What I found out, three decades after swallowing 40 mg of fluoxetine and expecting it to change my life, is that when you’re prescribed antidepressants, you are also prescribed patience. And if you’ve ever been depressed, you know that patience is one of those virtues you don’t have a lot of. When you come to a psychiatrist begging to be saved, when you submit to taking a pill to make you feel like yourself again, even though that sounds inherently, fundamentally wrong, you do not want to wait. It’s a fucker. But then again, no one – except teenagers in the 90s – said depression would be fun.
    My teenage self would be delighted: she’s finally had her wish. Three decades on, I have been prescribed antidepressants; I have been found, legitimately, in need of medication. Funny that I don’t share her joy. Not funny, no: I can’t find joy in anything, hence the drugs. But I’ll admit, there was an echo of her when the doctor told me I’d be taking Zoloft, and I felt a tinge of disappointment that it wasn’t Prozac. I allowed myself a small, ironic smile at the thought, before it fluttered away to be replaced by the thump of gravity: this is serious. But I am grateful, really – or I would be, if I could access that function (time; patience). I am grateful that it isn’t more serious, and that Prozac – shimmering magical wonderdrug – isn’t called for, because Prozac is a much stronger medication, whereas Zoloft, I am assured, is just like taking painkillers for a headache.
    If the headache were a black, swirling void that kept growing until it swallowed you whole. And the painkillers took two weeks to work.
    I have been prescribed patience, and 50 mg of sertraline daily. This is day seven, and it’s clearly a case of things getting worse before they get better. I didn’t read the side effects this time. Being depression’s plaything is hard enough; I have no interest in adding hypochondria to the mix. My survival instincts may be dulled, but they are still capable of sidestepping a trap as giant as that one. But experience quickly makes up for lack of knowledge, and it seems depression is just as eager to survive, if not more. It’s come under attack, and it is fucking angry. It would amuse me, if that function were available to me, to imagine the battle taking place inside my brain, depression growing darker and thicker and more monstrous and roaring with rage as the noble (if unsung) Zoloft builds its army of sertraline soldiers, one 50 mg dose at a time. It would amuse me, if it weren’t for the devastation it causes. But the landscape of depression is actually very mundane, and I won’t bother describing it. Suffice to say, yesterday I congratulated myself for putting on clothes.
    The drugs don’t work – until they do. And it is slow, it is relentlessly slow, when you’re desperate to be saved, when you’ve just about accepted, so reluctantly, that you need to be. But I have to hope – though hope is another thing depression doesn’t hold with – that they will. That by day twelve, thirteen, fourteen, my sertraline army will be strong enough to make its presence felt, and the black, swirling void will subside, and I’ll be able to see my way to getting better. And that I’ll know, once again, that smudged mascara might look good on some people, but there is nothing heroic about choosing to die, and that, actually, Kurt Cobain’s iconic last words make no sense, because both options are just as bad and living is the only possible choice; once I know that for a fact, only then will I begin to contemplate the implications. Of balancing my brain’s chemistry from the outside, of needing a pill to bring me back to who I am. The fundamental wrongness of it, and why, at times, it may be right.
    I have to hope.


P.S. For the sake of clarity, and so my parents don’t get blamed, retroactively, for neglect: my teenage self was not depressed. She was a teenager. And she grew up to be an adult of a (mostly) happy disposition, despite being aware of the heavy burden of this life.

I’m scared. But not of your dog. (A fear-shaped Britain)

Are you scared? Would you readily admit you’re scared? Openly? Or hesitatingly, in a quiet voice, half-hoping no one heard? Would you confide in someone, eyes down and face turned away, your mouth forming the words – I’m scared?
    I don’t. I don’t say it. I don’t let the words take shape, because once they do they come alive. I muzzle them, I muffle them, I drown them out with other words like faith, because faith smoothes the edges of fear enough so it doesn’t take that shape that keeps me up at night. But I’m awake at night anyway, because I’m scared.
    The fear is Britain-shaped. It’s a fear-shaped Britain. It traces the borders of an island kingdom that was once my home. Borders that were, then, nothing but lines on a map, the broken lines of a gentle guide, with spaces in between so you could come and go; borders that are now lines drawn against me, telling me that my place is not within. Wherever my place is, elsewhere, it’s not within. The broken lines that now mean “cut here”.
    A cut, that’s what is feels like. Being cut away, cut off, cut loose.

My friends in London, on the inside, when they ask, they say When are you coming home? I’ve been away because the guidelines said I could, the gentle borders told me I could come and go. But now there’s hardness and what scares me is I don’t know what I will find when I return. What boundary lines, what barbed wires, what broken things. Like Odysseus returning to Ithaca: that island doesn’t know me. Like Odysseus washing up finally on the shores of home, without a trace of triumph, no fanfare, no confetti, no loving wife to make the shape of welcome with her open arms. Only a loyal dog to wag his tired tail in recognition. But what dog will greet me upon my return? If it’s the British bulldog, that’s a guard dog, not a pet. It’s not the bouncy puppy that you adopted as your own, the one you fed treats all these years and trusted not to bear its teeth, the one that grew to know you. It’s a snarling beast grown fat on hatred and fear, whipped into a frenzy and straining against the boundaries that it was reared to protect, and it’s been groomed to go for the heart. It will rip your throat out but first it will break your heart.
    Home is where the heart is, but where is the heart in all of this? Broken, like the lines we’ve crossed. The lines that once connected the dots; the lines that now divide. Cut here.

And me and you are all of us who are scared, we’re just dots. Cast adrift, unable to connect and make a shape. What shape would we make if we connected? Would it look like Britain, or would it form another picture entirely? How hard would its edges be, how flexible its boundaries? Would it be a shape that soothes or feeds the fear? Would it contain us? Would it define us? Would it set us free?

That island doesn’t know me, but I thought I knew. I thought I knew my place and that puppy that I trusted not to hurt me when I held my hand out for its paw. What good is faith when it turns against you, snarling, and rips your home to shreds? But no, fuck you: you might turn me out, but you won’t turn me faithless. I’m scared, but not of your dog. I won’t drift away, unconnected, to elsewhere, to anywhere but within, just because of the lines you’ve crossed. I know I can find my island again. I can find my way back. And I need no fanfare, no confetti, no recognition, no brass band to welcome me home; I just need you not to break it while I’m away, and the space to come and go.

Draw your lines where they matter. Give that dog another bone to chew on. And fucking say it, that you’re scared, let your mouth form the words, let them come to life and dance – I’m scared – but don’t let the fear shape you. Don’t let that be the shape that defines us all. Connect the fucking dots.


This is the last of five essays written in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June 2016. The first four were published as Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant. Click here to download the Kindle version of the book for free on Amazon – or read part one, part two, part three, and part four here.


And before anyone else rushes to point this out: no, I no longer live in the UK. And yes, in a way, Brexit won. It drove me out. I left London, the place that I’d called home for 20 years, and moved to an island in Greece. But not without sadness, not without regret, not without looking back. I look back all the time because, no, I still haven’t given up on the United Kingdom that I love. And yes, in a way, I still identify as a Londoner. And I’m lucky in that I had other options, but I’d still like the option to come back.


Let it not be lost. (The United Kingdom that we love.)

From Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant

The longest day of the year has been and gone. So has the worst. This is what I declare today, on the 27th of June, midway through the year: enough. Let this be the worst of it. Let the second half of 2016 be an opportunity for figuring our shit out, and healing.

I say healing – not licking our wounds. We are not wounded, even though we are in pain. We are not wounded unless we choose to take these wounds on, to let them break our skin and our spirit. Unless we take on the mentality of the wounded, the injured, the put-upon. And then what? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression? Retaliation? Self pity?

We are in pain, but we are not wounded. We are grieving. Some of us are grieving; some of us are rejoicing, celebrating an outcome that we think is for the best; some of us are confused; some of us riddled with regret. But I say us, did you notice? All of us are us. The Leavers, the Remainers, the in-betweeners, even those who only thought of googling the EU after they’d voted, even the ones who decided, on the day, it wasn’t all that important to turn up, even people like me, who weren’t given the choice at all: they are all us.

It’s not easy to say this. I feel no connection to core of the Leave voters. I feel no connection to those motivated by racism, xenophobia or nationalism. I feel no connection to the ignorant, because ignorance can be cured or, at least, ameliorated (perhaps by doing a google search on the EU before voting to leave it) and it is not – as demonstrated by all of those declaring themselves devastated by the outcome of their actions – any kind of bliss. I feel no connection to those who hold on to a past, a time before, that can never be recreated, who voted for the ghost of Great Britain instead of the living, breathing people that make up this country today.

It’s not easy to say this, because some of these people want me out. To some of them, I’m not the collateral damage of a decision driven by loss of faith in European politics; to some, I am the problem. They didn’t vote for themselves, they voted against me. It’s not easy, in the face of people rejoicing in the fact that they’ve voted me out, to not feel wounded. But I have to try because to give into this is to perpetuate the division that I’m fighting against, in my heart and with these words. To give in is to legitimise it. And that’s when they’ll have truly won.

Trying to take in the world, today, makes me feel a little nauseous. It reminds me of dystopian fiction, a reality that looks vaguely familiar, but not, and makes your stomach turn. The Leavers and the Remainers have already become terminology; they have taken root, they have taken hold. They are used as if they’d always been around, as if we’d always been using them. Already, in the space of a few days, we cannot imagine there was ever a time when that split didn’t exist.
     Dystopia: the Divided Kingdom. Where Leaver and Remainer are the only available choices; where there are no more classes, and no more opportunities, only two factions at war. Where you have to wear the government-issue yellow or blue armband at all times, so that you may be instantly recognised as one or the other, and no one has to waste time talking to you to ascertain where you stand. Endless queues at specially-converted clinics, blue or yellow, where they brand your identity – Leaver or Remainer – onto your skin, and secret, back-street places popping up, where you can have the mark burnt off, for those, unthinkably, who want to switch allegiance. And later, branding babies at birth. And later, coding it into your DNA. And somewhere, out of sight yet too much in-your-face to be tolerated, the unmentionables, the identity-less: the EU citizens. Cast adrift, segregated in special ghetto housing, and knocking on unmarked doors for black-market papers, so that they, too, may be branded, and belong.

Does it sound far-fetched? This is what happens when you perpetuate division. When you legitimise it. This is what happens when you split people down moral lines, with rhetoric and fear. You don’t have to go too far back to fetch an example: do you remember a man called Hitler? Do you remember Apartheid? Have we already forgotten that world, just three days ago, when these were things with which we did not agree?

We are all of us grieving. We are grieving for the United Kingdom we once knew, the United Kingdom we still believed in just three days ago. A country built upon imperialism and colonialism and nationalism and racism, but that evolved. That grew to include us, that chipped away at the divisions to make sure all of us were us. That forgave itself for the –isms of the past, and gave itself the opportunity to grow. We are grieving, all of us, for the country that we loved.

But the nationalists and the racists and the colonialists and the ignorant have always been around. This referendum did not create them, it only gave them voice. It allowed them to identify as Leavers, as opposed to Remainers, and it gave them a leg to stand on when, for so many years, they had none. When their legs would have been kicked from under them, just three days ago, the very moment they gave voice to hate. It placed them in the moral majority, alongside people who genuinely did vote for what they hope will be a better world (regardless of whether you or I agree), and they are piggybacking on these people to gain credibility. But, on their way to a better world, outside of Europe or within it, I doubt many of the Leavers want racists riding on their backs. Let them walk alone, and then be counted. Let them see that they don’t count for much.

Because the United Kingdom that we love may not be lost, not irrevocably, not yet. Not unless we give in, not unless we perpetuate division and legitimise hate. Not unless we allow ourselves to be wounded and lash out. Retaliation? No. Self-pity? No. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression? No. We may be grieving, but we are not trapped. We don’t have to follow the same old patterns, blindly, that invariably lead to the same results. We can grow to include them, these others, to accept them for what they are and still be us. It isn’t easy to say this, in the face of so much hatred, rejoicing in a victory that it calls moral, tainting those around it with its brand. Daring to show its face, all of a sudden – but these people have always been around. They may be in our faces, now, but we don’t have to give in, and we don’t have to carry them on our backs. They haven’t won, not yet. We can show them that they will not be tolerated. The world may be changing, but these are still things with which we do not agree. We can neutralise them, not legitimise them, by being us. In the name of the United Kingdom that we love, we can still be us.

This is what I mean by healing. Skin unbroken; spirit intact. Not like it never happened, but like it happened and we learned.

So let the 23rd of June be the worst of it. Let it be the worst day of the year. Let us not be wounded; let our pain help us heal. Let our grief bring us acceptance. Let us figure out our shit, instead of flinging it at each other. Let us learn; let us grow. Let us forgive ourselves and the United Kingdom that we love; let us still believe in that place that included us; let it not be lost.


This is the fourth of five essays written in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June 2016. The first four were published as Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant. Click here to download the Kindle version of the book for free on Amazon – or read part one, part two, part three, and part five here.


And before anyone else rushes to point this out: no, I no longer live in the UK. And yes, in a way, Brexit won. It drove me out. I left London, the place that I’d called home for 20 years, and moved to an island in Greece. But not without sadness, not without regret, not without looking back. I look back all the time because, no, I still haven’t given up on the United Kingdom that I love. And yes, in a way, I still identify as a Londoner. And I’m lucky in that I had other options, but I’d still like the option to come back.


Image credit: BBC News From the People’s Vote march in central London, March 23rd 2019

This is the voice of the voiceless (Divided Kingdom)

From Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant
Migrants walk to cross the border into Croatia, near the town of Sid in Serbia

I’m not political. I know enough to know I know too little. And besides, politics is often about winning arguments and proving your point, and I have neither skill nor interest in those two things. But there is something stirring inside me, a voice low but firm. It is unsettled and it’s unsettling. It wants to be heard. It is the voice of the EU exile, the resident-turned-immigrant overnight. It is the voice of those who found out yesterday how quickly a right can be overturned; that a right can be taken for granted but it can equally be taken away. It is the voice of all of us who learned yesterday what politics actually means. And it is turning us political.

We are privileged, and we cannot conceive of a world where our right to live the lives we’ve built, where we’ve built them, could be challenged or taken away. But that is the world we live in, and it happens every day. Those refugees washing up on our borders and terrifying us: what do we think happened to them? They had lives, too, that they took for granted, in places they called home. They had rights that were snatched away. And here they are now, at our borders: unwanted, and wanting nothing but to be where they feel that they belong. These things happen, all over this world we live in, but not here. Not to us.

I don’t want this happening to me, either, and I’m not advocating for cynicism or what goes around comes around, though it does. I’m not saying that it serves us right or that we deserved it, this blow to our naïve arrogance, or that it’s a lesson we needed to learn, though perhaps it is. I don’t believe in carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders just so we know how heavy it is. I don’t believe in cross-generational karma or history dictating the present, or inheriting the sins of the past. I’ve done nothing wrong and whatever’s coming around I did not bring onto myself. I am only guilty of taking for granted a right that was granted to me, at one time. I don’t want this happening to me, or you, or anyone, here or in any place. But times change and rights are revoked, and it’s happening: here, now, to us. We are exiled in the land of limbo, with the lives we’ve built in bundles on our backs, travelling in a direction entirely uncharted and we don’t know, when we reach the borders, what we will find.

It doesn’t serve us right and it isn’t fair and we don’t deserve it, but it’s humbling and, perhaps, a little humility is something we need. Along with the shock and the hurt and the indignation that we’re feeling, justifiably, and the strength we’ll need to muster to see us through. Along with the hope that we’ll need to summon if we don’t want to remain voiceless, because it’s only hopeful voices, now, that have a chance of breaking through boundaries, of crossing the borders and being heard. That is our task, now; that is our responsibility: to find that hopeful voice, and let it be heard. Dignified but humble; understanding, at last, that we are not immune. That we are not too privileged to find ourselves outside; to be turned from us to them.

It isn’t fair, because we have been voiceless. Because the citizens of the UK were granted a voice but we were not. Those of us who’ve built our lives upon a right granted in this country, but when that right was challenged, we had no voice. All those who spent the day in a daze yesterday, with heads lowered and heavy hearts. Silent, or only muttering the same stock phrases; who, in many cases, could manage nothing more eloquent than what the fuck.
    It’s isn’t fair, because our British counterparts, the citizens of the UK who’ve built their lives in our countries, were given a voice. They had the chance to protect those lives. They had the right, but we did not. It isn’t fair but it is politics, and that it just the way it works. And this is not against those who rightfully voted, our British counterparts and the citizens of the UK. I want to thank you, the 48% who voted for unity, for yourselves and for all of us, and even those who, infuriatingly, voted to Leave and then changed your minds. I want to thank you for lending us your voice when we were voiceless, and for speaking up for us when we were rendered mute with shock. You have done more for breaking the boundaries between us and them than you imagine, and you must not be ashamed for the choices of the other 52%. Don’t carry that weight on your shoulders; it’s too heavy, and it isn’t yours to bear.

There is something stirring, a voice that had been muted, and it is turning us political. But this is bigger than politics and numbers and the laws that grant and revoke our rights. This is about people, and the voices we use to talk to each other, so that we can be understood. Anger, hurt, indignation are all justified, but we’ve heard those voices before and they never take us very far. This is history in the making; this is when we choose what we bring on to ourselves. If those tightening borders can serve to bring us closer rather than driving us apart, together, we have a voice. Bigger than any number a referendum can throw up. The voice of people, regardless of where they were born or what rights they were granted by the paperwork they carry. Low but firm, dignified but humble, and hopeful: that is the voice that needs to be heard. Positive. Not political, but human. This is what needs to be understood: we don’t want to prove a point or win an argument. We just want to live our lives in the place where we built them, and not carry them in bundles on our backs, camping out at the borders, unwanted, and wanting nothing but to be in the place that we call home.


This is the third of five essays written in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June 2016. The first four were published as Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant. Click here to download the Kindle version of the book for free on Amazon – or read part one, part two, part four, and part five here.


And before anyone else rushes to point this out: no, I no longer live in the UK. And yes, in a way, Brexit won. It drove me out. I left London, the place that I’d called home for 20 years, and moved to an island in Greece. But not without sadness, not without regret, not without looking back. I look back all the time because, no, I still haven’t given up on the United Kingdom that I love. And yes, in a way, I still identify as a Londoner. And I’m lucky in that I had other options, but I’d still like the option to come back.


Photo credit: Refugees walk to cross the border into Croatia, October 2015 © Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Divided Kingdom (The day after)

From Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant

divided-kindom

Brexit gave me a very romantic moment this morning. The birds chirped and the bees buzzed and the sun shone upon me as I picked up my phone and proposed to M by text message. ‘You might have to marry me’, I said. He’s not a sentimental man, but I’m sure there were tears in his eyes when he read it. This is a joke I’m making, on this day when there is nothing to laugh about. Ha ha.

I’m crying as I write this.

All my life, I’ve stood on the funny side of things and found something to laugh about. And I have laughed today, but bitterly. There is a bitter taste in my mouth. Bile. Hatred. Division. I’ve laughed, because you don’t just break the habit of a lifetime from one day to the next, but things are being broken all over the place. And today, I don’t know where I stand.

It’s not about the breaking up of a union that, despite the best intentions that I’m sure were present, somewhere, at its inception, was arguably ill-conceived in the first place. What’s broken is this human race, that looks around and sees only difference, that looks around and fails to recognise itself in the humanity of others, that sees otherness wherever it looks. Humanity: the great equaliser, but it’s the lowest common denominator that’s at play today, and it is fear. In all of our equations, X equals humanity divided by fear. We’re broken, and our edges are jagged; we don’t remember how we fit together. We don’t remember that we ever did. From one day to the next, we forget.

It’s too soon to write this. I don’t know how I feel. Something has happened and I want to talk about it, but there really isn’t much to say. Something has happened, yet nothing has happened yet everything has changed yet everything looks the same. The birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing and the sun is shining upon us all, and I cannot connect this feeling inside, the cold dread, the fight-or-flight tingle in my limbs, the bile rising up and turning my jokes bitter, to what I see when look around. I see myself as other, as others now see me; I recognise nothing at all.

I’m crying as I write this, but you don’t break the habit of a lifetime from one day to the next, and I’ve made jokes today. Like, I’ll be a new Anne Frank and hide in an attic and write my memoirs, ha ha. But it’s a bitter laugh, and powerless: it doesn’t connect. How could it, when connection is to recognise ourselves in others, and we have failed to even recognise ourselves? When the immigrants of yesterday are the xenophobes of today and they see neither irony nor danger in this, and memory only serves as ammunition, to justify the bitterness and the jagged edges we’re pointing at each other, something is broken. It shouldn’t surprise me, that I feel disconnected, but I was surprised by the news this morning, and I no longer know where I stand.

Divided Kingdom, you are broken, and you have broken my heart. And I know how little this matters. I know it matters almost not at all. But today, to me and to another 3 million residents of a land that’s shifting beneath our feet, of a kingdom divided, it matters. From one day to the next you have turned us into other and, no matter where each of us stands, there is no funny side to this. Just sides and jagged edges and that dreadful, chilling tingle in our limbs.

Fear is the great equaliser. That’s what the X seventeen million people drew onto their ballot papers and divided a nation equals; that’s what they chose. But what we fail to see is that we are all afraid. And if we recognised ourselves in the fear of others, perhaps we’d remember how little there is to be afraid of, after all. Perhaps we’d remember that we all fit together, and that division has never conquered anything for long. Perhaps we’d see that there has only ever been one side, and it’s the one where we can laugh at ourselves. And not allow the bile to turn us bitter. Despite the Xs that divide us, we still have that choice.


This is the second of five essays written in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June 2016. The first four were published as Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant. Click here to download the Kindle version of the book for free on Amazon – or read part one, part three, part four, and part five here.


And before anyone else rushes to point this out: no, I no longer live in the UK. And yes, in a way, Brexit won. It drove me out. I left London, the place that I’d called home for 20 years, and moved to an island in Greece. But not without sadness, not without regret, not without looking back. I look back all the time because, no, I still haven’t given up on the United Kingdom that I love. And yes, in a way, I still identify as a Londoner. And I’m lucky in that I had other options, but I’d still like the option to come back.

If I’m allowed to stay (Divided Kingdom)

From Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant

uk border

I am not an immigrant tonight. Tonight, I am a resident of the United Kingdom. But tomorrow: what?

I moved from Athens to London in 1996, at age 18. This September, if I’m allowed to stay, I’ll celebrate twenty years in the UK.

If I’m allowed to stay. Can you imagine? Twenty years: that’s more than half my lifetime. That’s my entire experience as an adult; that’s pretty much everything I know about the world, everything I’ve learned about how to conduct myself in it, everything I’ve become. When I come to Greece, I don’t quite know how to make myself fit in. I am awkward, I am strange, I am, somehow, a little displaced. I don’t know how to ask for the things I need; I use English words where the Greek ones elude me. I apologise too much, and hold doors open for people who storm through them, casting me hurried looks of confusion or contempt. I have trouble crossing roads because the cars keep coming at me from the wrong side, and they don’t seem to obey the rules of traffic that I’m used to. I don’t belong here. My passport may be Greek, but I’ve been marked for Britain. I am a Londoner. I’ve never been an immigrant, so far.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never stolen anyone’s job. I’ve never accepted lower than average wages, making it impossible for the British jobseekers to compete with my rock-bottom immigrant standards. I came from a country that considered itself prosperous; I came to go to university, not to survive. I didn’t come for better; I came for good. If anything, my standards were unrealistically high.
    In the early days, in the late nineties when barwork was still cool, my colleagues behind the bar were all British, every single one of them, and we all interviewed for our positions. We were all on minimum wage and we all spent most of our earnings on beer and dancing and late-night kebabs.
    And later, when the EU opened its doors to many more nations, the ratio of foreign to native workers in the hospitality world settled at around 50/50, perhaps even tipping to 60/40 in favour of the foreigners, but it wasn’t because the latter were being chosen over their British counterparts. It was because the British weren’t applying. I know, because I was the one going through the CVs. Having gone off and done other jobs and got myself a Masters in Creative Writing, I wandered back into barwork in the mid- to late-noughties. My own generation had long moved on by now, and the kids, it seems, were no longer interested in serving drinks. I don’t know where they went or what they were doing, but they certainly weren’t queuing up for jobs in pubs and being rejected in favour of cheap Polish (and Greek) labour. Perhaps they were signing on: they were, after all, entitled to benefits; we were not. Because – in case you wondered – no: you don’t just stroll past the borders and sign on, and then sit back and drink cider out of a plastic bottle and have lots of foreign babies to drain the country’s resources. They don’t let you do that. Funnily enough. You have to earn it.

In twenty years, I’ve never signed on. In twenty years, I’ve never applied for or received any benefits. In the twenty years that I’ve been making National Insurance contributions, both through PAYE and voluntarily, through self-employment, I have probably received statutory sick pay twice. In twenty years, I’ve visited NHS hospitals three times, and my GP perhaps ten, mostly to renew my prescription for the contraceptive pill (not a single foreign baby in sight). I’ve had one filling part-subsidised by the NHS. I’ve paid several thousand pounds in taxes. I’ve paid several thousand pounds more in rent to British taxpayers.

I think, on balance, I’ve probably put more into this country, financially, than I’ve taken out. I think, on balance, I haven’t drained this country’s resources all that much. I have earned my benefits, but I have never abused them. And I’ve chosen this country, I’ve adopted it as my own and Britain, in turn, has never treated me like an immigrant. So far. This Great Britain, made up of immigrants and thriving on the multitude of cultures that it’s embraced. Gradually, yes, and with difficulty at first, but bravely and wholeheartedly, for the most part, with the openness that makes this Britain great.

And yet, tomorrow: what? Will I become in immigrant, at last, in this country that made me who I am? Will Britain make me an immigrant, at last, twenty years on?

I think I’d like to celebrate my twenty-year anniversary in the pub. I don’t go to pubs that often anymore, but it seems appropriate. I’ll drink a pint of lager with my friends and later, perhaps, we’ll go dancing. We might even have a kebab on the way home, but a nice one, and we’ll sit down to eat it, with cutlery. Our standards are still quite high.

I think I’d like to do that, if I’m allowed to stay.


This is the first of five essays written in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June 2016. The first four were published as Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant. Click here to download the Kindle version of the book for free on Amazon – or read part two, part three, part four, and part five here.


And before anyone else rushes to point this out: no, I no longer live in the UK. And yes, in a way, Brexit won. It drove me out. I left London, the place that I’d called home for 20 years, and moved to an island in Greece. But not without sadness, not without regret, not without looking back. I look back all the time because, no, I still haven’t given up on the United Kingdom that I love. And yes, in a way, I still identify as a Londoner. And I’m lucky in that I had other options, but I’d still like the option to come back.

A reciprocity of a different kind

I’ve thought long and hard about how to put this. I’ve agonised over it, gone round and round in circles in my head, practised words that never sounded right, stepped back from the circle and put it off, again and again.

Because I need to ask you for reviews, but without making it sound like there’s any expectation or obligation or pressure. I need to ask you for reviews, but without offering anything in return – nothing more tangible than thanks and gratitude – because this isn’t about enticement or rewards; because it depends on a reciprocity of a different kind. I need to ask you for reviews without sounding like I’m begging. Because that word has come up; that word has been thrown at me by trolls, “Look at you, having to beg for reviews”, and it cut me. Deep. I need to ask you for reviews, and I don’t know how. A full four years after I published my first book, I still don’t know how.

Because I want to ask you for reviews without asking, without having to ask, and it’s impossible. Because if you want something, you have to ask. If you need something, you have to ask. And therein lies the obligation; therein lies the dept: you owe it to yourself to ask. To draw a circle and stand in the middle, exposed, for everyone to see, and ask. Knowing that you might be rejected. That you will be. Knowing that rejection is a certainty.

I didn’t know about reviews when I first started out, four years ago, as a “published author”; I didn’t know about them before, in all my years as a reader. I didn’t know what they meant, how much they meant, how much of an impact they could have. I didn’t know how it felt to have none, or to get your first one. I didn’t know how it would feel to watch that number grow, to have a trickle of strangers pick up your book and read it and then return to Amazon unprompted to post a review because they wanted to share what it had meant to them. I didn’t know how a certain number of reviews could affect your visibility and your ranking and your sales, that mad, almighty Amazon algorithm than has the power to make little lines appear on your sales dashboard graph. And I didn’t know about the trolls. I didn’t know that there were people who knew about reviews, and who would randomly, arbitrarily, inexplicably manipulate the system for the express purpose of doing you harm. Who would go out of their way to place obstacles in yours, to belittle you, to discredit your work, to destroy you with a few careful, careless words. I didn’t know any of this then, but I know it now. Reviews matter.

And we make jokes, those of us who find ourselves exposed to judgement and critique; those of us who, for whatever reason or cause, place ourselves in any kind of spotlight – no matter how small or faint. We laugh, those of us who find ourselves under attack, “Haha, you have a troll; that’s a sign of success!” – but honestly, no: not in my book. Rejection is one thing, indifference another, and you will never please everyone, you’ll never be that person (author, artist, actor, politician, friend) that everyone likes, but the fact that there are people out there so bitter, so angry, so unhappy that they set out to take others down, to deliberately cause them damage, cannot be any measure of success, neither personal nor universal. It is a symptom of a very fucked up society that we’re supposed to be OK with this. That we’re supposed to shrug it off, to toughen up, grow thicker skin, grin and bear it, take the high road, claim the moral high ground.

Speaking for myself, I can tell you that tough doesn’t mean unbreakable, and there are words, perfectly targeted razor blades of hate, that can cut through the thickest of skins, and expose what we all are, underneath: vulnerable. Insecure, frightened, uncertain, and trying to make our way through this life as undamaged as possible. Speaking for myself, I can tell you I never set out to make any claims or take any road except my own, such as it is, as high or as low as it might be. I am prepared to cross a certain number of bridges on my way, but I cannot accept that ignoring the trolls lurking there, being advised to grin as they sink their teeth into me, as they chew up everything I’ve worked for and spit out vicious one-star reviews is any kind of sane response to the situation. Or in any way productive. All it does is foster the troll mentality, set them up in quaint little burrows, wifi-enabled, under their bridges, whence they can launch their attacks in extra comfort. I see nothing to grin about here.

And if we’re gonna talk about morality: speaking for myself, I find the whole thing morally questionable, and highly irresponsible. For both sides. Because, in school- or workplace-bullying, we have at least acknowledged that both parties need support. We do not advise the child who’s had his head held down the toilet to grin and bear it, nor the woman who’s systematically undermined and ostracised at work to grow tougher skin. We do not congratulate them on their status as victims and targets of abuse. And the perpetrators in these situations, those who are driven to cause harm to others, are not simply dismissed as “bullies” and allowed to carry on, nor abandoned to their hatred and unhappiness until they consume them. They are seen as people, probably battling with untold shit of their own, who need help as much as those they victimise. They are not just cast as storybook monsters: they are given a chance at healing, and redemption.

It sounds like I have sympathy for the bullies and the trolls. And, on a human level, I do. There is probably suffering behind their words and actions, and my skin is not so thick that I am untouched by their pain. But when we cross into some fucked-up cyber-fairytale where I am cast as a victim of success and the monsters are allowed to roam free and we’re all ruled by the Almighty Algorithm in the Sky, no: there is obligation here, there is responsibility, and it’s on me. I have to stand up for myself. Amazon is not a kindly schoolteacher or an understanding boss; Amazon is a business. It does have systems in place (more algorithms) to ensure the objectivity of its reviews and ratings, but they can only go so far. Beyond that, it cannot protect me. Amazon is a jungle, and I refuse to be cast as prey.

I can stand up for myself, but I cannot take on the bullies on my own; I need my pack. So here’s what I’m asking of you: to stand beside me. To be my allies, to be my pack. And if you have enjoyed reading any of my books, to say so. I cannot take the bullies down, nor their reviews; I cannot fight the trolls with fairytale swords, but I can fight them with words. Yours, this time. Your words are the antidote to their poison. My words have gone into my books; they are the best, the most I have to give. My books are all I have to say for myself, and I say this in the most unassuming way possible: I cannot do any better than this. They are my best effort to make sense of the world, my best attempt to connect with those whom I share it with. And if I have been successful in that, I am asking you: please say so. Without obligation, without reward, and prompted only gently. By choice. Just like you chose to read my books in the first place; just like I chose to write them, and put them out there to be judged. Knowing that rejection was a certainly but hoping, nonetheless, to forge some ties that go beyond a financial transaction. For a reciprocity of a different kind.

Thank you.


Below are Amazon universal links to all of my books; they should, in theory, take you to each book’s page in your local Amazon store.

100 days of solitude

you can’t name an unfinished thing

This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world

Collected: essays and stories on life, death and donkeys

Divided Kingdom: How Brexit made me an immigrant

Common People

Death by any other name

For Now: notes on living a deliberate life


P.S. Even those books that have, so far, escaped the attentions of trolls could do with a bit of review love. 🙂

We are all hypocrites

A few years ago, my boyfriend and I Acknowledged Valentine’s Day. And before you skip past my deliberate capitalisation of the event and miss its monumental implications, let me tell you this: we were the sort of couple who had relegated terms of affection to acronyms and shorthand, declaring magnanimously, but not too frequently, LY, lest the expanded version, I love you, placed shackles upon our unconventional souls and tainted the purity of our connection. Which, actually, words often do. But anyway.
    I use a sarcastic tone in the telling of this because I am a hypocrite, but I liked it. It was who we were, together. He was M, I was D, and we L(oved)E(ach)O(ther). We still do. But for all the love that was never in doubt, we quite categorically did not acknowledge Valentine’s Day. We didn’t need to. We LEO every moment (we broke life down in moments, not hours or days) and what was V-Day, anyway, but a grossly commercialised blah-blah designed to create feelings of inadequacy in the non-conventionally-coupled and paper over the cracks of millions of broken relationships with loveheart-adorned sticky tape while generating profits for the cold-hearted capitalists who care nothing for our actual happiness, which, no matter how nicely your wrap it, will never be found in a box of chocolates and a mass-produced card stating, boldly or calligraphically, “Be my Valentine”. FFS.
    And yet.
    Sometime in the late afternoon of that particular Valentine’s Day, which I was actively Not Acknowledging and very deliberately expecting nothing, I received two photographs on Skype. (M and I were living in separate countries at the time, and conducting our non-shackled relationship entirely over Skype.) I opened them up and I cried and I had to sit down for a moment, because nothing in all the years I had known M had prepared me for this. Because the man who had once felt the urge to buy me flowers and found it so alarming that he practically threw them at me, had on this day gone to his local café and spelled HAPPY VDAY DAF in sugar sachets. And got the barista to draw a heart in his latte. Because we are all hypocrites. All of us.

So I cried, and typed WTF into our Skype chat, and waited for the dizziness to pass, and then I drew a little V-Day themed comic strip, acknowledging our acknowledgement of the occasion, and admitting defeat. I took a photo of it, and sent it on its way, and imagined the ping on M’s side of the connection, imagined how he reached for the mouse and clicked on the image to enlarge it, how he looked at it and smiled and looked away and looked back and smiled again, how his shoulders sagged with something like relief, a momentary letting down of his guard, and how he felt, how much time he gave himself to feel, how long he allowed that moment to last, before unfolding his long body slowly out of his chair and walking away, into the next moment, into yet another day where there were things to be done, just another day in the month of February, as significant and insignificant as any other.

I imagined all this, because we never talked about it. We never said, hey, that was weird. We never said, perhaps we’re a little more conventional than we’d like to think; perhaps we’re defining ourselves more than we know with our lack of definitions. We never said, perhaps all those acronyms aren’t really protecting us from anything, after all. We never said, fuck it, I fucking love you on Valentine’s Day, you complete fucking hypocrite that I chose for the love of my life. We never said. And I can only imagine what might have happened if we had. What sort of story I’d be writing now, and whether I’d be looking forward to tomorrow, to a Valentine’s Day that I was free to acknowledge, albeit with a knowing smirk to indicate my awareness of the grossly commercialised blah-blah. I’ll never know what might have happened if M and I had been brave enough to step through the door we’d opened on that day, because, just like that time with the flowers, many years before, we pretended it hadn’t happened at all. And it didn’t protect us, in the end. In the end, things happen, whether we acknowledge them or not.

We are all hypocrites. And not saying I love you because it’s Valentine’s Day is just as hypocritical as only saying it for the occasion. Not giving a card when you might want to just as empty of truth as giving it because it is expected. Not spelling your feelings out in sugar sachets, not buying flowers when you have the urge, not expecting anything, not crying when you get it, not letting your shoulders sag with relief when you take a risk and it’s reciprocated, not acknowledging your most basic, most conventional need to be loved, fully and openly and in so many words, on any day and every day – none of it will protect you, in the end. Squeezing your feelings into acronyms does not make them any smaller, and not speaking of things because they are implied has implications of its own. And admitting to all of this doesn’t make me any less of a hypocrite because, I can promise you, if anyone asks me, even now, how I feel about Valentine’s Day, I will assume a carefully cynical expression, half-amused and half-offended at even being asked, and dismiss it as grossly commercialised blah-blah that I have no need of. And I will not say how the man who was once the love of my life is now someone whose everyday life I can only imagine, and how little it bothers me, and how strange that feels, how it is both sad and liberating. I will not say how I wish that my own everyday life was such that I could be looking forward to tomorrow as a day that I had expectations of, or that I were in a position to climb to the highest peak of this island I live on and scream, fuck it, I fucking love you on Valentine’s Day, and on any other fucking day in February or any month you care to name, for everyone to hear. I will not say how my careful cynicism did not protect me from feeling this way again, or from making the same mistakes. I will not say how my unconventional soul longs to be tainted by the most conventional simplicity of a love that’s so clearly defined, so straightforward as to be spoken of openly, in all the words. I will not say any of this, and tomorrow will be yet another Valentine’s Day that I do not acknowledge.
    But maybe next year, maybe next time. Maybe next time someone brings me flowers, I will graciously, gratefully accept; maybe I’ll let him see me cry. Maybe I will step through the next door that is opened to me; maybe the next time I find myself in a position to spell my feelings out for all to see, I will. Maybe I’ll bring someone flowers myself, or a card with lovehearts on, on Valentine’s Day. Not tomorrow, but maybe next year, I won’t give a shit about being unconventional, only about being happy. In whatever wrapping it comes.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.



And because I am not immune to the grossly commercialised capitalist blah-blah, let me just mention in passing that both the above books are love stories. And available to buy on Amazon, if the urge takes you. On this or any other day.

New moons and minotaurs and what it all means

New Moons ans Minotaurs

There’s a new moon tonight, and a partial solar eclipse in Capricorn. I don’t know what that means. I know that the moon waxes and wanes and affects our waters; I know that new moons represent new beginnings. I know that eclipses are meant to be mystical; they pull the curtains on that which is no longer needed, and show us the darker side of ourselves. I know that there are a lot of Capricorns in my life and that where there’s a lot of anything, it’s generally been invited. I know a lot of stuff, but I don’t always know what stuff means, and I can only guess at the meaning of moons and eclipses in Capricorn.

I am advised to burn sage and set intentions. Harness the energy of the eclipse and the new moon. The energy of Capricorn. But I don’t know what that means. How can I, timid Gemini, ever get a grip on those mad, wild goats? They trot past me on their Capricorn missions, while I wander in their wake, trailing questions, dreaming up the words to explain them. I get lost in the labyrinth of my emotions that they have no patience for, and all the minotaurs are Capricorns in disguise, bull-headed bastards that they are, guarding the secret of their souls. I, crafty Gemini, hold the thread, I am the one who weaves the tales, but the endings always lead me back to the minotaur. And you’d think I’d know about circles and cycles, the moons and the stars, and that karma is basically a loop, but I don’t know what any of it means.

They scare the crap out of me, these Capricorns, but it’s obvious that I need them. I, flighty Gemini, need something of their firmness so I can learn to stand my ground. But firmness is one thing when it comes to standing, and yet another when you’re throwing yourself against a wall: they can be hard; they pride themselves on being hard. And I, mercurial masochist, am drawn to them like a moth to the flame. Except the flame is a cold, hard wall, with horns sticking out, and I am the words shattered, scattered on the ground by their feet. There’s a lot of collecting yourself when you’re around them – and I, all-over-the-place Gemini, choose to be around them, time and time again. I keep inviting them in. I collect them, like butterflies in a book – but listen to this: they only stay pinned down because they want to; have you ever tried to keep a goat captive? They roll their eyes at my stories, demonstrating their impatience with the labyrinth of my thoughts, but they’re always there, at the end of the thread, and they tug on it as much as I do.

Whatever’s there once the light returns after an eclipse is what is meant to be there; eclipses, I am told, will never take away the things that belong in your life. The rest, however, under relentless Capricorn, is fair game. I’m not sure how I feel about Capricorn taking my things away, or dictating what’s worthy enough to keep. They’re always judging, these Capricorns, and I, insecure Gemini, keep submitting myself to their judgement, to their impossible, implacable rules. But listen to this: even as they dismiss me, they keep a firm hold upon the thread. And for all their eye-rolling, once the darkness clears, they’re always there; impatiently waiting for my meandering explanations, for the tales I unfold to reveal the secret of their souls. We need each other. They teach me how it feels to stand my ground, and I teach them about falling; they learn how to crack, sometimes, if not shatter, while I learn that it’s possible to stay in one piece. To stand before them is to learn I’m not so timid, not so flighty, not so insecure after all; to crumble at their feet is to teach them they don’t always have to be hard. And on it goes, in the endless loop of our karma, or whatever.

What does any of it mean? We’re all just guessing. We’re all just as lost as each other, and looking for explanations in the stars, navigating labyrinths of our own making, following threads that always lead us back to the minotaurs of our personal mythologies, our darker sides, the lessons we have still to learn. And if you’re reading this as neither Capricorn nor Gemini and you’re wondering where you might fit, don’t worry: none of us fit. We’re all just as messed up as each other, regardless of what particular configuration of planets we were born under. We’re all just going round our circles, our endless karmic loops, guided or aided or hindered by the stars, orbiting planets of our own making, whomever we’ve chosen to set up as the sun in our skies, whomever we’ve given the power to eclipse us. But when the darkness clears, each time, every time, we’ll still be there. Capricorns and Geminis, Libras and Virgos, and the full moon in Aquarius, and Venus opposing Saturn: none of it means anything. None of us fit, but we all belong. We all need each other.


P.S. This piece was five days in the writing because what’s also happening right now is that Capricorn has stolen Mercury, planet of communication, and the goats are expressing themselves all over the place while the rest of us are struggling for words. Dudes, kindly: I want my planet back.


Photograph by Paul Rysz on Unsplash

You can do things without love

Day 100 / 22 December 2014

100 days of solitude
Me and my book, celebrating our 4-year anniversary of 100 days, on this morning of December 22, 2018. Neither of us have done our hair.

Should there be a drumroll at this stage, or a quiet slipping, like I said, from one day to another? It could be either, and neither feels quite right, and day 100 is not a summary of days, and you can’t bring one hundred days together with words, so that they mean something.

Eleni told me a story that made me laugh. It was about her brother-in-law, John, who, upon tasting his first sugared kumquat, apparently commented: “It is like making love for the first time. You don’t really understand what’s happening to you.” It made me laugh, and then it made me think: about love and making love and the things we don’t really understand.

My first time wasn’t like a kumquat. It was a strange experience but, looking back, kind of tasteless. The act took place at a house party, an hour out of town, in the early summer of 1994; a bunch of us were staying overnight, unsupervised. This was a couple of weeks past my sixteenth birthday, and my boyfriend and I had just celebrated our three-month anniversary. The stars didn’t line up to bring us together in sweet, if awkward, lovemaking on a mild June evening that we would both remember fondly. It was coldly understood that this would be the night. It was about opportunity and the dispatching of a task. So much for the romantic dreams of teenage girls; so much for the endless lines of poetry this teenage girl had written for other, earlier loves. There was no poetry in this, and no romance. I liked the boy well enough and we had called it love. But the truth was a cold one: I just wanted the thing over with and I remember it, if anything, with shame.
    And so it was, a task performed, awkwardly and quickly, on one of two twin beds we had been allocated for the night. I knew what was happening to me; I knew the mechanics of the act and what to expect, and my expectations were met by a mechanical act. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t hurt, as advertised; I grieved a little for the drama that wasn’t there. A trip to the bathroom yielded a single smudge of blood, a private hanging of the wedding sheets. I flushed the tissue down the toilet, returned to the bedroom to get dressed, and went to join my friends, in other rooms, leaving my boyfriend, used up, still and silent on the bed. We both knew what had happened, what we’d done, but neither of us understood. Neither of us said a word.
    He was gone when I returned, out in town with the boys, and I was relieved. This was a private thing, and he was no longer part of it. I found my walkman and crawled into a hammock in the garden and swung, back and forth, all night, listening to a song on repeat. The song was called Thanatos: death. I had been cold on this warm summer evening; I had gotten rid of my virginity and my boyfriend by a single act, and I felt nothing. But I thought I understood that love hurts, and in the absence of love I chose the hurt, and a song called Death with beautiful, heartbreaking lyrics to fill the gaps where poetry should have been.

There has been love since, and poetry, and lovemaking that hurt in the ways that it should and didn’t need a soundtrack, and I still don’t really understand. I can’t speak for kumquats, but I don’t think lovemaking is meant to be understood. There have been times when I have stopped, midway, to say “What is this? What is happening?”, and those are the times I will remember. Wonder, bafflement, awe: that’s how you know something extraordinary is happening to you. It will be a terrible day, a day of mourning, when such a thing as love can be understood.
    I think I understand now that I was mourning something on that night in June. The passing, maybe, of the teenage girl whose poetry amounted to nothing, the girl who thought a mechanical act could be transformed into something meaningful just because you call it love. But I think I learned something, too, about the absence of love; I learned it, on that night, as I swung in a hammock with a song called Death on repeat, but it took me twenty years to understand.

You might get lucky and throw kumquats and love and poetry and death together and make some kind of sense, but you can’t bring one hundred days together with words. And day 100 is not a summary of days, and it isn’t the day that love was understood. But I think I understand, finally, about its absence: you can do things without love. But if you live your life mechanically, performing acts and dispatching tasks in cold understanding, you leave no room for poetry or bafflement or awe. You can’t transform that into something meaningful just because you call it a life. You’ve gotta put in the things you love and leave gaps that ache and need to be filled up with some sort of poetry, whatever stands for poetry in your life. You can do things without love, but they’ll amount to nothing, and you will remember them with shame, if you remember them at all. That’s what I learned in that hammock, and it took twenty years and one hundred days of doing what I love to understand.
    And day 100 is not a summary of days. Maybe it’s like a kumquat; like I’ve tasted something I cannot quite describe, but want to taste again. It’s like one of those times that I’ll remember, and I’m lying here, naked and aching and a little out of breath, and I’m thinking “What just happened?” and I don’t really understand. But there is wonder and bafflement and awe and scattered lines of poetry trying to put into words what you cannot, and I know it was something extraordinary. And it’s like that first time, too, a thing completed as I expected it would, and my sheets hung up and flapping in the wind for everyone to see, one hundred days of word-stained sheets to prove it, and nothing to show for it in private but a smudge of blood and a sense of mourning. Day 100 is both: it’s both a drumroll and a quiet slipping into something else, the day after, whatever comes next.
    Or maybe it’s a drumroll to distract you, so I can slip away, quietly, out of sight, and mourn it a little, in private, the end of a hundred days, and celebrate it, too, because I did it, for love. And then I’ll sit alone, in a solitude no longer shared, and think about love and making love and all the things that I don’t understand. All the things that I cannot put into words, and will keep trying, regardless, for all of my days, because this is what I love. This is what comes next. This is what I call a life. It baffles the hell out of me, and it has a weird soundtrack, but it’s extraordinary.


This is Day 100, the final day of 100 days of solitude, written on December 22, 2014. You can buy 100 days of solitude on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited or Prime Reading (US).