Thursday, 25 June 2015


In my bathroom, a bare chested girl combs her long red hair every evening, her scaly tail pinned beneath her forming a comfortable cushion. Seeming both attentive to and distracted from her task, her gaze passes through and beyond me, and yet each day we share a similar moment. Reach across a gap: she looks into my bathroom and I study her in her secret cove.
As she makes a play of combing her hair, I take my daily shower and wonder what it must be like to be seated in a dusky light with the tide washing a pebbled shore beside you. Is she content or benumbed? Has life hypnotised or dulled her? Does being a mermaid have its burdens? And its compensations? I imagine it might be hard to have the head and torso of a woman, the heart of a siren, and the unwieldy tail of a fish. Too many pulls in different directions. Is that too part of being a woman or is that what being human is? Torn, dispersed by brisk winds to any possible path like a bit of paper. Split like an atom under duress.
I make many such assumptions as I rub away the grime of the day under jets of steaming water, as I let numerous rivers trickle to my scrubbed bare feet. The condensation undoing knots, eroding rocks in tight neck and shoulder muscles and revitalising my tired brain. A cascade washes away so much: a foul mood, lassitude and drudgery. As with a cup of English tea everything looks better after a shower.
Lately though the sea nymph has been bothering me in a more forbidden way. I've sensed a subtle magnetic shift as if she's trying to repel me from or entice me to the picture. The effect has chiefly been the latter, despite my attempts on rare occasions to look away. Avert my gaze to my unmasked reflection in the mirror, try to look through the windows to my troubled soul. To find the seeker who's always searching.
But behind my back, over my left shoulder sea Eve taunts me, compels me to spill my secrets with her parted lips; urges me to confide my surface gripes, my inner torments.
And despite my objections to being thus used, I do.
I ramble. Hesitate. Make contradictions. Create excuses and obstacles. Talk myself in and out of new ideas and practical steps. Revisit old ones.
She's an impassive listener and yet she manages to open me as you would an oyster: always hopeful she'll find a pearl of information, and when she does she'll place it in her ever-present collecting dish.
My bathroom has become a confessional: from within the cubicle there's an outpouring of thoughts and doubts, a justification of words and actions which the acoustics throw back at me. I hear my own words for a second time as an echo; a voice that overlaps my continuing vocalised thoughts.
I divulge as I scrub, she untangles her hair with a semi-interested expression.
After, there's no pardoning; no instruction to recite three Hail Marys. No forgiveness for my permanent confused state. The admission comes to an abrupt end as soon as the water's turned off and clouds of steam make their quick escape.
As I towel myself dry, there's a lighter feeling, although often no solution has been reached. Any action that might have been decided upon will be lost by morning, so by evening the unburdening begins over. To a sea nymph. To a picture of a mythical creature that hangs on my bathroom wall.
Why her...? And what does she do with the pearls I give her?
Are they safe? Are they sometimes polished and scrutinised, stored as a treasure; or will they, at some point, be used against me? Will I enter the confessional one day and have no need to speak for my own voice will be replayed to me? To remind me of those idiotic thoughts I verbalised, reported I believed, or even foolishly acted upon.
It's a nightly ritual that, I believe, will go on as long as she wants to wear strings of pearls around her white throat.

Picture Credit: A Mermaid, 1900, John William Waterhouse

Thursday, 18 June 2015


Some people choose to cheat death, whereas I cheated life. I struggle to remember these days a time when it wasn't this way. Before my refusals to play got bolder. Before I dug in my heels; screamed NO at the top of my lungs and replaced the mouse-like squeak. I would not do what others wanted me to do. I would not be someone's puppet.
Except that's exactly what I became. A girl Pinocchio puppet. With strings that my curator uses to bring me to life, but in my free mind I do what I want, when I want. I separate my mind from the act. I use a voice of my own and not the one I'm given. I walk with long graceful strides and not clumsy disjointed steps. I'm able to flutter my eyes or lower them coquettishly instead of my fixed opened, too trusting blue-eyed gaze. I'm no fool if that's what you think. I move with fluidity like a trained dancer and not with the woodenness people have come to expect from a marionette. In my head that is, for of course, I gave up these human rights many years ago. When I was twenty-eight.
Had I known I may not have behaved as I did. I may have complied and given in to others whims. I may have continually forced myself to overcome my reluctance to join in, somehow made the best of these nerve-wracking situations I often found myself in. Found a way to placate my social anxiety and formed an impenetrable public mask. Conformed to all the norms: the aspirations, the peer pressure. Or maybe not...
I might have weighed up the two different outcomes and decided being wooden was better. I don't remember... I can't imagine being anything other than I am, even now.
Why was twenty-eight the magic number? Because I'd tried many times over and each time I felt I'd failed. Failed to convince myself. Lied. Steamed in with another bid to persuade others I wasn't square; deny, deny, deny. A person trying too hard to be a chameleon: to suit and please others. Gain their approval, their friendship, their loyalty. Sometimes it was difficult to tell which personality was me or if my performance had been more awkward rather than creditable. Alone, I thought I saw through to the core, but doubted. In such times, the subject's mind is never reliable.
Living like this was becoming a trial, so in one fell swoop I went to the polar opposite: inflexible with timetabled habits and an unbending attitude. At first, this shift was invigorating and I blossomed like a flower opening up to the sun, but as I got entrenched in routine my body hardened. My spine was as stiff and straight as a curtain rail, my skin grew sandpaper dry and my eyes forgot how to blink; I couldn't squeeze out one measly tear and there was no saliva to wet my whistle. As the transition took hold, I sat myself down, in a propped up position as a growing child might neglect a once favourite doll.
Death seemed inevitable and hopefully short in coming, but no. The locked-in torture had just begun. And it still continues for the damage I've done can't be undone how matter how hard I wish. The Pinocchio syndrome in reverse, believe me, is far worse to live with as there's no end in sight. No exit from this existence. I can be forever mended: glued, rouged and dressed up. Left to adorn a shelf or corner or made to perform. Be catalogued to a cupboard with other similar specimens as a tangible record to history.
When the transformation to wood took full effect I couldn't tell you as by then the days and weeks had melded into one, nor how it was that I got snapped up by an antique toy collector who'd wrongly assumed I was a shabby, ill-used, larger than average marionette. A one-off, a poor copy, a sorry imitation of a popular toy, possibly hand-crafted for a child and passed down through subsequent generations. A fossil, which is to say wood doesn't wear me well.
Oh Pinocchio, tell me why I ever thought that turning into wood could have a happy ending?

Thursday, 11 June 2015


They say when you die your mind conjures up what you imagine. Shows you your idea of God, faith or Heaven; suspends you above the pits of Hell. You create what you want to see whatever that might be at the time of your death.
It might not even be the real deal, it might be just an experience of death: a taster, a close call, a near miss like two air planes without radar or traffic control avoiding collision. An appetiser to take away or whet your fear.
I'd like to think I'd find myself somewhere in nature or standing before Romanesque architecture, or at least feeling a degree of deja vu. A park bench with a far-reaching view; in awe of a magnificent structure; or ruminating: Have I seen this before? Perhaps it will be none of these, but a dizzying reminder of the life I've departed; a giddying reel of imagery with accompanying dialogue. Unforgettable and regrettable moments and edited conversations. I imagine I'll still cringe at the sight of myself or the sound of my own voice. Self-detachment won't occur until after the baggage you've arrived with has been gone through, once the machine that processes you no longer issues high-pitched bleeps.
But of course these thoughts are all speculative. That plane we supposedly go to may be none of these things. And when it happens, at whatever age, I'm convinced my ticket will be one way, and so I meditate upon it now.
It won't be a near-death, it will be game over for that particular vehicle. The time come to absorb those lessons and plan the next one, if I so choose. I may not. Life is learning on-the-job, death is coming home. A resting place for weary travellers. That's how I think of it anyway and I realise that it may not appeal to you. My speaking of it may seem morbid, weird or taboo, but I'm comfortable with it. More comfortable than I am trying to belong, to fit into life. To be a small cog in a big wheel.
To believe we just end doesn't make sense to me nor do I believe in repercussions. Education, but not hard punishments dealt out by a presiding god or an angelic council. I believe we are called to judge our own acts, our thoughts, our intents – be they wrong or right, or what we think those camps epitomise, and then decide what we still have to work on. We're our harshest critics and we devise our own absolution. There are no weighing scales, hieroglyphics or Egyptians.
But then this isn't originally what I intended to write. I was going to write a parody: mock the idea of God as a powerful figure. Place a stone tablet outside his gate which would claim he'd gone travelling, and then a person, undefined, would arrive well before his appointed time and break in. A burning curiosity to know what God's home looked like getting the better of him, which I had pictured as a Turneresque ruined abbey: the roof, the open sky; the ground littered with unfurled parchments. God, of course, would discover the intruder and provide some humorous advice on living life and not cheating death.
However, when I sat down to write the fable I've outlined, it refused to materialise as a squirrelled away part of me had other things to say on the matter and these words had to be released. Like Picasso's famous painting of a dove with an olive branch in its beak, to do so would bring me peace.
Has peace come about? In a way, yes. I feel as though I've attempted to circle the globe and extended the clasped olive branch; said it's okay to ponder or share what the death state might be like: see an afterlife of some description, believe in retribution or atonement, picture a class room or another life. On being questioned or examined closer, none of us completely identify with or reflect the same beliefs, even within a rigid dogma. There are always differences, and no matter how slight, it's important to embrace and not suppress these. It's okay to believe you're a creator.

Picture Credit: Dove of Peace, Picasso 1961

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Earth Coughed...

The earth coughed one evening. A loud, dry cough that went into a wheeze and which sounded as if its throat was tight and being squeezed. Throughout that long night, the earth gave irregular tremors as its coughing fits led its vast body to aggressively heave in its fight for a shallow breath.
The fresh winds could not cool its fevered surface and the pure seas could not clear the infection in earth's chest. And although the sun wrapped its warmth around earth's girth like a cosy blanket, earth still miserably shuddered and shivered. The symptoms of the disease were so erratic that in a single day any extremes of weather were possible: hot, dry, wet, wintry.
The skies over time darkened and there were monsoon-like rains and hurricanes as earth battled this illness and with it its vexation. A frustration that led to tears and rages; sullenness and childish tantrums. Thunder boomed and cracked, bolts of lightning streaked the sky; hailstones pelted and rivers burst their banks. The seas could be passive, then furious with little warning; the sun could blaze, then suddenly turn cold. The light could one minute be bright and the next a very dull grey. Getting through twenty-four hours was an supreme effort for stricken earth and its ill-fated inhabitants.
Earth was inhospitable, not liveable cried these mortals trying to go about their day. There was more road rage, more traffic accidents. More substance abuse, more domestic incidents. More bullying and belittling in the workplace. More brawls, lewd behaviour and cat-fights. A high rate of theft and knife crime. A wave of unconnected murders in unlinked towns and cities. More fractions broke off from society to protest, riot, strike, or form their own tight communities. The tension and dissatisfaction in the stale air constantly there, palpable.
All earth's creatures felt this strain. Cattle stopped producing milk or young, hens didn't lay, song birds lost their urge to sing, and foxes were tamed by this imbalance. Those beasts, considered tools of this world, were saddened. There were no green fields for them to graze in, no spring-like sunshine to frolic in, just barren plots and feed lots. Cramped quarters with food they were unused to and forced to eat.
Everything suffered more now that earth was sick.
Food prices were high, wages were low. Employment was irregular: unpredictable hours, casual contracts. And happiness was no longer an economic factor that could be measured, but all countries were at least equal. All faced the same problems until they each put different systems in place to combat them. Some grouped together and adopted a single currency; some introduced new benefits and taxes; and some failed to agree which led to mutiny. There was disparity between the masses. And in these uncertain times, people either opposed or rose together. Every life had its own hardships.
What earth had tried to contain had happened. Disharmony had spread. Its illness was the precursor, not the origin. Successful governments had succeeded in penetrating its weakened climate and the disease had raised armies to attack; no defences could have held them back, and besides earth had exhausted any it had long ago. Fatigue had set in.
Overwhelmed by killer cells, earth was aggrieved and revengeful. In a stage of dying. In denial, the symptoms had been suppressed, ignored, fought through; then came depression with its fits of lethargy, crying and black moods; and finally as the disease ravaged its body it was assaulted by anger, which it poured on the population. They were the chief cause of its decay and should be made to bear witness to as well as feel it.
Pockets of change had come, but too late to affect the outcome. Earth stifled a yawn and accepted its fate, despite its population lagging far behind. They were too scared, too ignorant to recognise that this shift could not be undone, it had to happen. Earth knew it would be reborn, but not in what habitable state. It would be a new age, a new beginning.

Picture Credit: View of Toledo by El Greco