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.

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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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

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

Not taking it personally

This is another philosophical post. And the question I’m pondering this morning is: what the fuck? In fact, for the sake of clarity, let me be more specific: what the actual fucking fuck, please?

I don’t believe in bad luck. I don’t believe in the world turning against you; the universe (or whatever you want to call it) is neither good nor bad, and it certainly isn’t out to get you. I have no tolerance for “poor me”, in myself or others. But I don’t believe in coincidence, either. I don’t deny there’s an element of random in the events of our lives, but still, somewhere, on some level, there’s a connection to be made, an understanding to be gained. The law of attraction is real, and what you perceive as your reality is constantly readjusting itself to match your thoughts and your beliefs. What you dwell on, you get more of; what you put in is what you get back. Your attitude shapes your experience.
    Which brings me right back to the profound philosophical conundrum of what the fuck. Because not taking it personally is all good and wise but this, in list form, is my one-thing-after-the-other in the space of three short weeks:

    Multiple powercuts (island-wide)
    Telephone pole going down in my actual back yard (personal, plus collateral damage)
    Total failure of septic tank (personal)
    Sudden death of washing machine (personal)
    Unprecedented acute asthma attack (as personal as it gets)

That’s quite a lot of things, but wait. I’m not done. I thought I was done and yesterday I gave myself a stern talking to, performed a ritualistic sage-burning tour of the house, and declared whatever the fuck that was over. And then I changed into yoga gear, pulled my bedroom door shut so the cats wouldn’t climb onto my bed, and rolled my mat out in preparation for a long overdue, restorative yoga session. I remembered I’d left the light on in the bedroom; I tried to go back in, and slammed straight into the door. I tried again. I turned the handle and pushed. The handle turned, but nothing happened: the door remained totally unmoved. I threw myself against it half-heartedly a couple of times, but all I got out of it was a dull thud and a sore shoulder. I was locked out.
    And – praise my attitude – I laughed. I thought you are fucking kidding me, but I laughed, and then I went out in leggings, vest top and bare feet (all my things were in the inaccessible bedroom) and knocked on my neighbour’s door.
    ‘Please help me,’ I said. ‘I have no shoes.’
    ‘What happened?’ Manolis asked at the bedroom door.
    ‘Nothing. I just shut it.’
    He jiggled the handle; he twisted and turned it. He pushed and pulled and tapped and frowned a lot, while I stood beside him and laughed at every failed attempt.
    ‘I don’t understand,’ he said. ‘From one moment to the next?’
    ‘From one moment to the next.’
    He went away and came back with tools. He picked and poked at the handle, took out a screw, twisted it back in, as tight as it would go. Nothing.
    ‘It’s having none of it,’ he said, scratching his head. ‘It makes no sense.’
    I laughed again, and brought out the electric drill. A hole in the door and a lot of fidgeting with three separate screwdrivers, and the catch finally released, throwing Manolis halfway across the room. I applauded as he straightened up, apologising for having entered my bedroom.
    ‘You are a hero,’ I told him. So many people have deserved that title lately; too many people have had to come to my rescue.
    Manolis smiled. ‘Just don’t tell your mother we put a hole in the door.’
    I wedged it open as Manolis gathered his tools. ‘It still makes no sense,’ he said in parting.
    I shrugged and laughed, and my open bedroom door was a happy ending.

But wait, not yet: it still isn’t over. As I smoked a cigarette and snorted intermittently at the ridiculous events of the last hour, I noticed that my dehumidifier, which had been humming away contentedly, keeping the house relatively warm, had stopped. This isn’t unusual: it’s on a setting where it turns itself off when it detects a certain level of humidity in the air that it deems acceptably low, and starts up again when it rises – same as a radiator with a thermostat. So I don’t know what made me pay attention this time; I don’t know what made me get up and go over there and check. The hum and pause of the dehumidifier is the background noise of my daily life. But I checked, and I saw that its power light had blinked off. Baffled, I pulled the plug out of the socket – and nearly dropped it in shock: it had actually melted. The air instantly filled with the unmistakable, acrid smell of burning plastic and imminent electrical fire. I stared at the mangled thing in my hand, blinked, and laughed. But there was a bitter edge to it this time, I admit; this time, for all of my unfaltering positivity, it started to feel like one-thing-too-many.

But was it? Was it the last thing? Is whatever the fuck that was over, or should I brace myself for more? And if I brace myself, if I anticipate it, will I be inviting it? Will I be shaping my reality to accommodate more of the same? I live my life expecting good things to happen, but it’s been one-thing-after-the-other, and I’m not sure what sense I’m supposed to make of this, what I’m supposed to understand. I can keep laughing my way through it, keep focusing on the positives – powercuts don’t last too long; telephone pole replaced and vertical; septic tank drained; brand new washing machine; asthma attack a one-off; hero-neighbour and a wide open door; plug pulled out just in time – but perhaps there’s a place where it all connects. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing. For every single thing there’s been redemption, a hero, a solution, a way out or back in. Yes. A happy ending, every time. But still, seriously, what the actual fucking fuck? I’m close to the end of my philosophical tether, and I wouldn’t mind some guidance, please.

So I’m making this post interactive, and opening the conundrum up to general debate: what the fuck? Go.

Fuck you, I’ll be happy anyway

Certain fundamental things that we’d come to rely on – the safety nets of our “civilised” societies – are coming apart, and it now seems that anything can happen, and it can happen to us. The paradigms are shifting and the safety nets are full of holes: anything can happen. And where does that leave us?

There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.

(Some thoughts on happiness)

These are strange days we’re living in, and the general consensus is that everything’s going to shit – to put it philosophically. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re looking around and seeing a world that you don’t quite recognise, a world that makes increasingly less sense. Most of our countries are in crisis. Certain fundamental things that we’d come to rely on – the safety nets of our “civilised” societies – are coming apart, and it now seems that anything can happen, and it can happen to us. “They won’t do it,” I said about Brexit, but they did. “They won’t do it,” I said about Trump, but they did. The paradigms are shifting and the safety nets are full of holes: anything can happen. And where does that leave us?

It leaves exactly where we’ve always been: responsible for our own sanity, our own attitudes, our own happiness. In charge of who we want to be in this world, and what we choose to put into it. There’s enough misery around; enough fear, despair and negativity. We are inundated with it, daily, on the news, on the social media, on the streets. And forgive me if I’m wrong, forgive me if I’m insensitive or naive, but I just cannot see how adding more negativity to the mix, how perpetuating it will make the situation any better. When we can choose, instead, to be as happy as possible despite it, when we can be aware of the shit that’s going down but still find happiness and positivity where they can be found. Because they can be found. It really is a choice that we make, for ourselves and those around us. Because happiness is cumulative and it spreads. And that’s a small way to make this crazy world a slightly better place. Where anything can happen.

So when everything around me is falling apart, when people are crying and dying and blaming each other and living in constant fear of darker tomorrows and I post photos of sunsets and horizons and mountaintops and talk about happiness, I’m not showing off; I’m not being insensitive or oblivious. I’m trying to remind myself and anyone who sees my posts that happiness still exists in these things. That peace can be found, even if momentarily. I’m scared too, but then I look at the place where the mountains meet the sky and for a moment everything is OK. And those moments add up, and they become an antidote to the fear and the despair – if we let them. So I’ll keep looking at mountains for as long as there are mountains to look at, and I’ll keep talking about happiness for as long as I still have a voice. Because yes, I know everything’s going to shit, but fuck you, I’ll be happy anyway. How about you?

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Let the darkness have this day

December 21, 2015

Today is one of those days, and that says absolutely nothing about what kind of day it is.
    On the outside: it’s the 21st of December; a Monday. It’s cold, drizzly and dark. It’s just gone 4 pm and the sun, such as it was, is long gone. The world has turned away from it, too fast. It’s the Winter Solstice: the shortest day, the longest night of the year. The world has spun into darkness.
 such   But flip this thing around, and there are only longer, brighter days ahead. Get through this day, the darkest, because tomorrow, bang in the middle of winter, is when summer begins. Is there consolation in that? Is there comfort? Is it enough to get you through?

I wrote about the Winter Solstice last year. It was one year ago today, and it was Day 99 of 100 days that I spent living alone on a small island in Greece, that I called 100 days of solitude. 100 todays: 100 days of finding something to write about, each day; of finding something, in every day, worth writing about. Of making every day count, for today, as I counted up to a hundred. Of never wishing a day away, as we tend to, when we have one of those days.
    Like today. Today is one of those days. The darkness outside matches the inside and it’s too dense for my little sparkles of happiness to penetrate; like damp matches, they give a spark and fizzle out, almost straight away. They give out a sharp, sour smell, of hope that’s failed to ignite. It’s no consolation. It’s the shortest day of the year, and the darkness wants it for itself.

It was one year ago today, on the penultimate day of a solitude very loosely defined, that I met a new friend. We don’t meet a lot of new friends in our late thirties; it seems that, sometime in our twenties, we shed the ability to open up enough spaces in ourselves to properly let new people in. We don’t give them enough space to settle, which is what friends do: they settle inside you, and claim a corner for themselves so that they can be with you, always, no matter where you are.
    I didn’t know he was a friend at the time although, as I left the café where we met and drank coffee and chain-smoked for much longer than I’d planned, with a present from him in my bag and my pockets full of all the excuses I hadn’t needed to pull out, I did have a feeling, a sense of something good that had just begun. And today, on the Winter Solstice, he wrote to remind me that it was a year ago that we first met.
    And I cried. Partly with gratitude, for this friend who’s now far away but still close. Partly with melancholy, for that day, one year ago, when the warm, bright lights of the café cut through the darkness inside; for the fact that, today, there’s no light bright enough to do that, and I don’t even know why. Partly because the weight of this day is pressing down onto my chest, and something needs to give.
    I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the Winter Solstice; because we are not separate, and there are things that happen on the outside, and we take them in. And maybe it’s just one of those days, when damp matches are all you’ve got. And at some point you need to learn to save your matches for when they’re dry, instead of striking out, desperately, for even the smallest hint of a spark. Not all days are meant to be lit up. And good things, sometimes, begin in darkness, on the darkest day of the year.

So let the darkness have this day; let it have its little party in my soul. Let today count, for that, for itself, for being a day of darkness. Let today be one of those days. Because tomorrow, when it comes, will be today again. Let that be all the consolation we’ll ever need.
    And flip this thing around: one of those days means absolutely nothing. Every day is today, and there’s no telling what kind of day it will be. Let that be all we need to get us through.

Taken from collected: essays and stories on life, death and donkeys. Available on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.

Not #yogaeverydamnday

This has been building up for a while, and I can contain it no longer: I really resent the #yogaeverydamnday hashtag. I don’t know why it riles me up me as much as it does, but I’ve properly taken against it. It hits a special nerve in my head, the one that sets off my neon BULLSHIT sign, and it flashes on and off and sounds a loud alert and I just can’t make out anything good about it through the din. It’s irrational, and probably very unyogic of me; every time I come across it, it gives me feelings akin to rage and rage, as all good yogis know, has no place in the #theyogaworld. If I were a good yogi, I should have the grace to namaste this thing with a respectful bow of my head and wish it well on its travels through a million facebook, twitter and instagram feeds, but I can’t. Because: why?

I confessed this resentment to my sister. Tentatively, because I know she’s used the offending hashtag more than once. She was very diplomatic.
    ‘Oh,’ she said, and cleared her throat. ‘You know it was started by Rachel Brathen?’
    I didn’t. I didn’t know who that was.
    ‘Look her up,’ she said. And I did, and she seems like a lovely person. And many others who use her hashtag in their posts, they’re lovely people too; I know, because I’ve met them. They’re my sister; they’re my friends. But still – why?

Why every damn day? What bothers me about it is everything. The intention is good, I’ve no doubt. And I can tell this is meant to be bold, empowering, motivating – but all that filters through to me is compulsion. And yoga: I don’t think it should be practised compulsively. I don’t think it can. I don’t think it’s even yoga if it’s compulsive because where is the mind in that? Where is the heart? Where is the soul? It might be exercise, this thing that you do, compulsively, every damn day, but not yoga; not as I understand it. But I may have misunderstood. There are lots of things in #theyogaworld that I don’t understand.
    I might be taking this the wrong way, but it feels wrong. It feels like an imposition and I don’t want anything – not even yoga, especially not yoga – imposed on me, on any day. It’s a statement when yoga, in my mind, is an understated practice. It’s a label, and labels divide as much as they unite. Slap that hashtag on anything, and you’re immediately creating separation between those who practice #yogaeverydamnday and those who don’t. And the good yogi scales tip on the side of the former. And now, all of a sudden, you don’t have yoga: you have competition.
    And that word, damn. It has me fizzling with frustration. What is it doing there? It has no power. It implies a defiance that’s completely unnecessary, a challenge where no resistance has been offered. It’s like putting obstacles in your own path, just so you can kick them out of the way. But nobody’s stopping you from doing yoga every day, if that’s what you want; there is absolutely no need to be defiant, and with such an impotent word. Because I suspect the intention here is to emphasise, to use the shock value of a swearword to reinforce a point, but damn just doesn’t do it. As swearwords go, it’s emphatically tame. No one but the deeply religious – for whom damnation actually means something – ever flinches at using that word. To the religious, it’s offensive; to the rest of us, it’s just one adjective too many. And if there’s an element, too, of “Hey, look, I’m a yogi and I use bad words!”, well: I’m a yogi, and I’m not fucking impressed. And if that makes you flinch, perhaps it’s time to worry less about shock value and more about the values by which you live your life. Perhaps it’s time to rethink your hashtags.

Yoga every day: it’s a wonderful thing. It would make for a better world if we all made yoga a daily practice. But it isn’t about hashtags, and it’s not even about how much time you spend on your mat. There are days when I do yoga. There are days when I don’t. There are days when I wake up longing to do yoga, aching for it, and days when it doesn’t even cross my mind. There are days when I think about doing yoga and then don’t, and days when I just throw my mat on the floor and do it. There are days when I need to be talked into it and days when standing in tree pose just makes perfect sense. I don’t do #yogaeverydamnday but it’s my daily practice, because: grace. I think grace is what it’s all about. It’s what yoga teaches us, and it’s in the way we carry ourselves through each of our days, in how we conduct ourselves in this world, not #theyogaworld but out here, outside of the hashtags. It’s about bringing that grace we’ve been taught into our lives, passing it on to those who cross our paths, without obstacles, challenges or resistance, without defiance or statements or superfluous words. Without any need to make a point, because grace has a way of making itself known, without labels or introductions, and it cannot be mistaken for anything else. Out here, where we’re all doing the best we can, if we make grace the value we live by, that’s the very best that we can do.

For similar posts, please check out This Reluctant Yogi on Amazon. It’s a bookful of yoga rants! 🙂

Shanti om, bowel.


Did you know that it’s possible, in the magical world of yoga, to pass a chair? You know, as in going to the toilet. As in number two. I bet you didn’t. I’ll let you ponder that for a while, breathing deep into your bowel as you do so, and come back to it.

I decided to do a juice detox. I decided this on Friday night, in the midst of a feast to celebrate Katerina’s nameday, and that said detox would take place on the next day, the Saturday. Polyna happened to mention (while we all happily munched on patsitsio, the Greek version of lasagne) a concoction consisting of beetroot, celeriac, lemon juice and honey that’s apparently good for cleansing the bowel, and I latched on to this, and decided to incorporate it. I picked up the ingredients on my way back home that evening, and thus began my haphazardly conceived bowel cleanse juice detox.

Day one was OK. I did my work in the morning, dutifully gave myself a glass of juice (which had to be chewed, on account of my blender being a bit of a bargain buy) and set off on a lovely, meditative walk to the port of Kamares, feeling all kinds of virtuous. I arrived at Syrma, Katerina’s cafe on the beach, just over an hour later, serene and glistening with sweat, to be assaulted by the smell of food.
    ‘What is this?’ I demanded to know, in lieu of good afternoon.
    ‘Polyna’s lunch,’ Dimitra supplied. ‘What’s the matter with you?’
    ‘I’m doing a detox,’ I confessed.
    ‘What are you detoxing from?’
    ‘Everything! Except coffee and cigarettes.’
    Dimitra smirked. ‘Coffee?’ she suggested.
    ‘No. I’ve had one already. I’ll have a green tea.’
    Dimitra gave me a look of utter disdain. ‘A green tea,’ she repeated, as if I’d asked for dry twigs to chew on.
    From the kitchen, Katerina sniggered. But kindly.

I took my (unsweetened) green tea outside, where Polyna, her husband and two friends were enjoying a spread of last night’s nameday dinner leftovers.
    ‘Join us,’ they said, but I shook my head bravely and explained my predicament.
    ‘I hate you all,’ I added. ‘You’re bad people.’ I took a sip of my green tea, and was overcome with remorse. ‘I love you, really. Enjoy your lunch. I’m going for a swim.’
    And with that I disrobed, and threw myself into the cold November sea. Resolutely not hungry. Which, actually, was true: this being 2pm, I hadn’t had a chance to get hungry yet. I often skip breakfast and go straight for lunch: my detox, at this stage, was entirely theoretical. Words, and a sour, chewy juice.

Katerina came over in the evening. We were going to do yoga, but she’d had a fall and bruised her shoulder and knee, so we had tea instead. A Fortnum & Mason blend that someone once brought for my grandma, scented with orange blossom and served in my mum’s best, daintiest chipped china. We talked, indirectly, of food; of how it’s a pleasure and a comfort, much less of a need than we imagine, and of the times – the exceptions – when thoughts of eating fall right out of our heads. Acute love, we agreed, and acute sadness. Being subject to neither, I confessed to dreaming of pasta. I showed Katerina the glass of juice that was to be my dinner, instead. We both sighed. ‘Be strong,’ she said.

Day two and I still wasn’t hungry, but I was pretty miserable. The detox headache had arrived, and I was possessed by a strange, manic, desperate energy that did not translate into the desire to do anything. It was pure momentum, with nowhere to go. I decided, nonetheless, to martyr myself to my cause and stretch the cleanse to another day. I distracted myself with making things: I made smudge sticks out of herbs I’d picked the day before; I made jam out of bitter oranges; I made bangles with scraps of vintage fabric. I made promises: to be better, to eat better, to look after my digestive health so I would never again have to resort to such extreme measures for giving my bowel a break. To eat fewer crisps. I made tea from peppermint and lemon verbena leaves and drank it, unceremoniously, out of a mug. The will to juice had gone out of me completely. I made an infusion from wild sage, hoping for wisdom. I went nowhere and spoke to no one; I barely even spoke to the cats but resented them, silently, for the meal of Friskies croquettes that they crunched on. I thought about doing yoga.
    In the evening, I was suddenly taken over by the absolute certainty that I should have a steak. A steak, yes, and a salad, from my favourite restaurant in town, which, gloriously, stays open throughout the winter. I could call them up right now, and ask them to prepare this salvation for me, and I could walk down and pick it up and bring it home and put an end to this madness. A battle of wills ensued, between my virtuous, martyred self who shook her head sadly, so disappointed, as the glutton screamed her petulant argument But I want! The martyr won, assisted by the fact that I had exactly 1.55€ to my name. She settled down, smug and free of desire, with her cup of wisdom tea, and decreed that, in addition to not having steak, I would stretch the detox into the next morning, whereupon I would perform Shanka Prakshalana, the yogic bowel-cleansing ritual. Yes, I thought. What an excellent idea. I was clearly tripping.
    I did not sleep well that night. My head thumped and my stomach churned; I dreamed of crisps.

Monday morning, and as I prepared the mixture of warm water and salt that I was to consume and eliminate in aid of purifying my colon, I thought I might refresh my memory on the particulars of Shanka Prakshalana. I chose one of the many articles on Google, and was reminded how the process involved drinking up to 16 glasses of the saline solution and performing, after every two, a set of five asanas designed to move the liquid through the intestinal tract. After the fifth set, practitioners are encouraged to go to the bathroom and perform the Ashvini Mudra (a.k.a. clenching and unclenching of arse muscles) to stimulate peristalsis of the intestines.
 At which point the writer of the article imparted the following extraordinary piece of wisdom: “If the chair starts,” he wrote, “great. If not, no problem.” You just carry on with the salt water and the exercises, he reassured, until the chair comes. He went on to explain that “the chair will be solid at first, but as time goes on it will be cleaner and more watery”.
    The chair? So frazzled was my brain that I accepted this as some sort of yogic lore, some super-technical/spiritual term that surely must be valid. Nevermind that in thirty years of actively studying the English language I had made my peace my shit being referred to as stool but had never, not once, heard of passing chairs. Solid or not. But it must be true, I reasoned, because the wise yoga man on the internet said so. Chairs would be passed and the bowel would be cleansed. Shanti om, brother.

I passed no chairs, but not for lack of trying. There came a time where I would have been happy to pass anything, any type of furniture at all, for the relief of emptying my bowel of all that salt water. I was drenched in sweat and bloated to fuck and even threw up a little bit (which was cheating, because throwing up salt water is actually Kunjal Kriya, the yogic stomach-cleansing technique). I did my asanas and my Ashvini Mudra and breathed and tried to relax, as advised, but no chair came. The stool did eventually, triumphantly, mercifully – and, on account of the two-day martyrdom that had preceded this exercise, it was as watery as advertised. It came several times over the next two hours. The rest of the day passed in a daze. There was food, which I ate, and there was furniture upon which I reclined. It was all very spiritual, I’m sure.

It is now Tuesday morning. I sit here, at my desk chair, with coffee and cigarettes and the bowel thoroughly at peace, and of clear mind once again, and ponder the lessons I learned during this weekend that, thankfully, passed.
    – A chair is an item of furniture that you sit on, and is not to be confused with a stool whose meaning can be dual.
    – Passing chairs must be avoided at all costs, especially in solid form.
    – The internet is a strange place, its strangeness matched only by the world of yoga. Venturing into either must be undertaken with extreme caution.
    – Decisions must never be made on an empty stomach.
    – When in doubt, eat a steak.
    – If you’re gonna stop eating, do it for acute love. It’s the best reason for everything.

Shanti om.

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Publishing as therapy


I was going to be a young author: that was the plan. I was going to be one of those twenty-something publishing sensations, wise far beyond my years, and heartbreakingly talented. They would come, the men who decide such things (publishers? gods?), to the pub where I worked, humble but trusting in my destiny, and they would tell me. They would say it out loud, for all to hear, and I, still humble but vindicated, would take off my apron, slowly, and wash the beer off my hands, and I would follow the men out of the darkness of the pub and into the bright lights of recognition.

I was thirty-six when I published my first book. Not exactly over the hill, but I could see its top and how it sloped downwards on the other side. Young, but not in any sensational way. Nevermind that in my head I was still twenty-two and entirely bewildered when people referred to me, politely, as “that lady”; the world saw a thirty-six-year-old in Converse All Stars standing on a hill of average height, slightly out of breath, clutching a book to her chest and trying not to think about downward slopes. All around me, people were climbing mountains. The men were not impressed.

But it wasn’t my first book. The book I was clutching that made me an author at last, on the wrong side of young, wasn’t my first. I became an author at thirty-six, but I was a writer long before that, and I wrote my first book at twenty-five. It could have been my sensational debut; it could have been my passage to the lights, my recognition. It could have been, but I stumbled as I made my way up the hill, and I lost my balance, and I dropped it. And I didn’t pick it up again. And the years passed and we aged, my book and I.

Perhaps I should have been more careful where I put my feet; perhaps I should have worn better shoes. Perhaps I should have seen that the things I stumbled on I could have just stepped over. Perhaps I should have known that balance is within, not without; perhaps I could have had the strength to pick myself up when I fell, to pick up my book and hold it high above my head, for all to see. Perhaps, but I was young. So I wrote my book, my sensational debut, four hundred and fifty pages full of words and little bits of wisdom far beyond my years. I submitted part of it for my Master’s thesis and I passed; the men, the gods gave a little nod. I walked on: I finished it and called it Common People and printed it out, all four hundred and fifty pages of it, and sent it off to the men: the agents, the publishers, the gods of this realm of bright lights. The gatekeepers, but passage was denied. Thank you, they said, but no. I stumbled. My friends picked me up; they read my book and said carry on. I gave it to my boyfriend, the man who would have smiled and held me and held my hand so I didn’t stumble and fall; the man who would have devoured four hundred and fifty pages of his girlfriend’s inner world, and handled it gently, for the precious, fragile thing that it was – but no: he smashed it with his fists. For all the men and all the gods and the rejections they delivered, it was this man who dealt the fatal blow, because he took my book and never read it. Cruelly, unapologetically, inexplicably: he never read it. And I fell. And I didn’t get up for years.

Never use your writing as therapy they told us at university, and this is therapy – what I’m doing now. But I understand what they meant. We write from experience, but writers take that experience – the personal, the subjective – and turn it universal. We write from our preoccupations, we write to exorcise our demons, but we need to dress those demons in clothes that other people recognise and have them speak in words that can be understood. Self-indulgence has no place in literature: that’s what therapists are for. Write your shit out first, they told us, get it all out – only then can you write a book. I understand. But sometimes there are things that hold us back and we don’t even know it. There are demons that lurk, in disguise. An ageing girl, an ageing book, a sensational young author juggling pint glasses in her apron and looking for recognition in all the wrong places. And publishing, this time, as therapy.

I no longer need recognition; that’s one thing I learned from climbing up the hill, to recognise myself for what I am. I don’t need vindication, because there was never anything to prove. I became an author at thirty-six, but I’ve been a writer all along, and I just want to write. But I published Common People this week, my sensational debut, time-travelling to take its place in a line-up of six. I published it because I could, and because, although it has aged as I have, it’s still a book of this time, and its time has come. I didn’t publish it as therapy but I can see it now, how it was one of my demons, disguised and fooling me all these years. It didn’t sit there quietly, it didn’t sit forgotten; it was heavy and I carried it, it was a thing I stumbled on, over and over again, and it was taking up space inside of me, a space I didn’t even know was occupied. A space that’s opened up now, all of a sudden, endless and clean and inviting, a kaleidoscope of words and colours and the bright lights that were there, all along, if only I’d known where to look. I didn’t publish it as therapy but I can see it now, how it’s cured me of something, a thing that was finished but unfulfilled, the latent dreams of a young author shaping themselves into regret. But regret had no place here, on my hill; it would only obscure the view.

Publishing as therapy and it’s now that I’ve gotten all my shit out; only now can I move on. My twenty-five-year-old self is a published author. I’ve done right by her and her words; I’ve set her free, and she can make her own way in the world, into the space that’s opened up. And I can make mine, at last, without looking back, because I can see it now, from this place I’ve reached in my Converse All Stars at age thirty-eight: that over the hill are other hills, and also valleys and mountains and forests and seas, and we can go to any of those places. Or just stand still for a while and enjoy the view. Waiting for no one and with absolutely nothing to prove. Trusting in our destiny, humble but certain that we can make our own bright lights.

Common People is available on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.