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.

What it means to be good

From 100 days of solitude , Day 88 (December 2014)

There is political drama going on in Sifnos, and Christmas is being cancelled. The Christmas Village will be a refugee camp and the village square a no man’s land of empty benches and the ghosts of Christmas lights. The weary travellers will have to find a different Bethlehem and the Three Wise Men another star to follow, and another place to deposit their gifts. Santa will not be visiting, because we’ve not been good.

This Christmas tale is set in the present, but it began many years ago, in 1958, when the local Mavromatis family donated the thus far privately owned square in Apollonia to the people of Sifnos for the erection of a World War II memorial. Legal reasons meant that the space was signed over to the Sifnos Association rather than the local government, but it was the donors’ intention and everyone’s understanding that it would belong to the residents of the island. It was soon established as the village square and known to all as Heroes’ Square, in remembrance of the fallen. Like village squares everywhere, it became the hub of the community: a place to meet and a place to rest, with small children kicking pine cones and balls around, older children loitering, old men taking strolls with their arms folded behind their backs, and lovers holding hands on the benches. The Municipality of Sifnos kept it clean and lit up and everyone was happy, and for the last three years running, a makeshift barn has welcomed Jesus, Mary and Joseph and a variety of farm animals, and the stars suspended from lampposts and trees have led the faithful, the uncertain and the wise, the people of Sifnos, to the annual Christmas Village.
    Not this year. This year the square will not be visited by Three Wise Men bearing gifts, but haunted by the Three Ghosts of Christmas. This year, the Sifnos Association decided, in the spirit of Christmas and community, to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. As preparations for the Christmas Village began, the president of the Sifnos Association sent a letter to the Municipality, stating that the legal documents establishing ownership of the square had been interpreted in bad faith and that the square itself, which is the legal property of the Association, could henceforth not be used by the Municipality (and, by extension, one might surmise, the people themselves) in any way without prior written permission from the former, and threatening legal action if a violation occurred.
    The Municipality argued, reasonably, that the property in question is the island’s main square and belongs to its residents, as per the donors’ express wishes, as it always has. They would not be bullied, and the Village that hosts Christmas would be built in the Heroes’ Square, this year like all the years before it.

Picture the scene: a small village square in a small, quiet island. A mellow Thursday afternoon in December, low breeze, thin clouds, a pale and patchy sunshine. A handful of people gathered together, laughing, making jokes, as they work to put together the structures that will turn the square into a Christmas Village, where children will meet the baby Jesus and play games and sing carols, and their parents will drink wine and catch up with their friends, and a few loners, like me, will wander around and look at the lights and think that maybe Christmas is not so bad, after all. And Santa might visit, they say, if we’re good.
    But we’ve not been good, because what happens next in this Christmas fable is a lawsuit against the Municipality. The Sifnos Association now casts itself in the role of the Grinch that stole Christmas, and the local police are forced to play the villains and arrest the Mayor at the square, as he oversees the work. He is taken to the station and held for four hours, whereupon he is released by authority of the Assistant District Attorney, remotely, from the island of Syros. The court in Syros issues a temporary injunction against the Municipality of Sifnos, forbidding any use of the square pending a final decision on the matter, on December 12. But the Mayor will not be bullied; he won’t give up, he tells the court, he won’t back down. Heroically, but I don’t think he wants to be a hero. There are no heroes in this story, except the ones remembered in the square.

The Christmas stars still shine but they don’t lead to Bethlehem. The square is haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the Ghost of Christmas Present lingers in the skeletons of the structures of the would-be Christmas Village, left behind. The Heroes are lonely; none of us are allowed to visit them. We come, the faithful and the uncertain, the people of this island; we follow the stars and stand on the perimeter of the square we cannot enter. We don’t sing carols. We don’t bring gifts. We stand in silence and wait for the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, if it comes, if the court in Syros decides to let it through.
    The stars still shine but there are no wise men. There are no heroes in this story, yet. And there should be no villains, either, no Grinch, no Ebenezer Scrooge, no ghosts haunting the square. There should be no Municipality and no Association, just people of this island with nothing to divide. And men would be wise to remember what this is all about: not politics, not ownership, not even Christmas, but community, and a good faith that has nothing to do with contracts or which god you believe in. They would be wise to look at the stars and see some sense. There is still time for a Christmas miracle, and if the men stop behaving like fools there might be heroes yet, and the Christmas Yet To Come will not be a ghost but a village square dressed up in lights and tinsel, where the faithful and the uncertain, the families and the loners, the heroes and the wise will all come together and sing carols and remember what this is all about, and what it means to be good.


This is Day 88 from 100 days of solitude. Click here to view the book on Amazon. It’s on a Kindle Monthly Deal and only 99p throughout December.

Fuck it, and faith: Making a living doing what you love

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The other day I sat down at my computer with the intention of writing a short, practical post on making a living doing what you love, but it degenerated (is that the right word?) into an essay about poetry, and dignity, and my dad. This is attempt number two, and I will try to stick to the point and resist the lure of tangents.
    But, actually, the point, in part, is tangents: it’s how many different directions you can go in, how many different possibilities you can see without losing sight of your path. And how that path, too, can change, and how that’s allowed, how everything is allowed as long as you’re operating within the space of who you are.
    I’m not talking about the “comfort zone”; comfort zones are tight, limiting things, hence all the talk of stepping out of them. Who you are is infinite, and it’s up to you to shape it and define its boundaries: how far you’re prepared to go, how much you’re prepared to do, how deep into this space you allow other people to penetrate – so that you’re ultimately living your life in a way that makes sense to you. Knowing your own shape and your own boundaries is not limiting: it’s freedom.

I believe we’re all here for a thing (you might call it a purpose, but I’m a bit allergic to those terms), and we owe it to ourselves and this world we’re part of to do that thing as well and as fully as we can. Essentially, collectively, I think we’re here to be good and kind people, to give generously the best of ourselves that we can give and to receive, gratefully and graciously, what we are given. But to be able to do that we need to be happy, individually, each of us within ourselves; we need to be living within the boundaries of who we are. We need to be doing our thing. Because we’ve all seen it, how frustration breeds bitterness breeds resentment breeds hatred, and before you know it you’re attacking other people for perceived successes that should, by rights, have been yours, for imagined slights upon your worth as compared to theirs, competing in a game that you never signed up for and that you don’t understand. That’s not a life; that’s not making a living. That’s making a big fucking mess of the infinite opportunities we’ve been given, simply by virtue of being alive.
    Making a living: have you thought about that phrase? Not making ends meet, not struggling through, not getting by; not working your arse off and living for the weekend, not counting down days until the next holiday, the next reprieve. Not working towards, always towards an ever-shifting goalpost, not working to keep up with the stuff, all this stuff we’re supposed to need. Not working at all. “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a single day in your life” they say, and my boyfriend likes to announce to people that he’s a player, not a worker (often resulting in strange looks, and a few glances of sympathy in my direction). But he has the right idea, and work has become synonymous to burden, to obligation, to struggle. Perhaps we could reclaim the word, but in the meantime, how about playing? How about doing what we love? How about making a living that way?

It’s easy for you to say, people tell me, because it looks easy from the outside, now that I’m doing it. There’s an edge of resentment, sometimes, the beginning of that horrible spiral, but most of the time it’s fear of the uncertain, that dark, terrible void of how the FUCK?, mixed in with the hope that I – player not worker for the past couple of years – might have some sort of answer. And I do, and I don’t. And it’s easy, and it’s hard. But it’s possible, because I’m doing it, and that means it can be done. It’s not that simple, they tell me, and it isn’t, of course, but also it is. I, too, had a job and stuff to keep up with and comforts to earn and bills to pay; I, too, had to work for a living, but I yearned for a life. A life of doing my thing. And I had the fear and the how the fuck and I could sense the resentment building up and making me less of a kind and good and happy person than I could be, and in the end the choice was simple, even if its execution is a constant balancing act between easy and hard. In the end, the answer was I don’t know how, but fuck it. Fuck it, and faith.
    Those are the ingredients for playing this game; that’s what you need to bring along. Fuck it, and faith, and – to back those up in times of doubt – the principle of “I don’t need this that much”. That’s the best answer I can give to how, if you’re asking.
    – Fuck it: I gave up the job and the stuff because there was something I wanted more, and I couldn’t have it within that setup of limited comfort. And fuck it, I’ll make it work. Somehow. Each day, I’ll find a way to make it work. Not working, but playing. Going off on tangents and seeing all the possibilities: what can I make? What can I sell? What can I give in exchange for something I need? What skills do I have, what ideas, what abilities? How can I turn them into another day of doing what I love?
    – Faith: that it will all work out. Because it does. The universe wants us to do our thing, and it will back us up, it will help us along once we start moving in that direction. Once you step outside that comfort zone and into the true space of who you are, once you start living the life you yearn for, even if you can’t see the exact shape of it yet, everything will conspire to shape that life around you. And if that sounds too woo-woo bullshit for you, believe me: I can be the Queen of Cynicism, but I haven’t had a “proper” job for over two years, and I’m doing my thing, and I’ve survived. And whenever the gaping void starts screaming how the fuck something comes along and fills it. Every time. It hasn’t swallowed me up yet, because of faith, and fuck it.
    – And “I don’t need this that much”: apply this principle whenever you start to question yourself, because you will, often. Apply it when other people question you, because that will happen, too. Doing your thing is a constant balancing act between easy and hard, between comfort and fear, and it takes time and strength to break away from familiar patterns, to resist the lure of security, of working for a living, at any price. You will be tested, you’ll be offered a thousand ways back to the place that you left behind. Remind yourself why you did that. With every offer, with every opportunity that doesn’t feel like a blessing, ask yourself – do you need it that much? Be open to everything, but respect your boundaries; only let the good things in. Whenever you’re given something that doesn’t fit the shape of the life you want to live, whenever you feel that sting in your stomach, say thank you, but I don’t need this that much. Try it: it feels good.

Happiness breeds happiness, and we’re allowed to go off on tangents to find it. Go find it; do the thing that you’re here for. Make it a living. Make it your life. Collectively, we’ll all be better and kinder people, as a result.


This didn’t turn out to be much of a short, practical post. I’ll have to keep trying.


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