Writing about kittens

imageEvery day it gets colder – November creeping towards December, autumn slipping away. The temperature falls and my emotions correspond, obeying digits I had forgotten all about. On clear days, it’s alright; the sun, although weak, better than no sun at all. Today, wet, it’s different: my body literally freezing, my fingers and toes numb. Fumbling for things I can no longer feel, tripping over feet that have forgotten how to operate: my heart aches, pining a climate that’s suddenly so far away, it gets harder to recall.

Stealing clarity from my eyes, my head bleeds distorted images: featureless faces, blurred silhouettes. Signposts are ink splats. Information boards, written in a foreign script – their difference familiar, only this time my mother tongue escapes me.

Rain, clouds, puddles, people. A broken umbrella, a wet hat, damp feet. Shopping bags, pushchairs, rucksacks, elbows: in my face. Arms breaking, legs aching; feeling invisible. Everywhere I go: open doors, insufficient heating; traffic, crowds. Finding somewhere to sit and work: nearly impossible. Heat: hard to come by. I’m beginning to understand what it must have been like for the bards of yesteryear: the pains they had to encounter, the sacrifices they would have made. Not that it’s been easy up until now, but there have been seasons, consecutive, where circumstances were favourable. Coming back is a shock.

Looking to the future: I picture a warm flat, a comfortable chair, a large table housing a steaming pot, a lap accommodating a small dog, carols on the stereo, a body humming happily (industrious) in the kitchen; privacy, security, home-sweet-home. Rose-tinted and chocolate-smelling, it’s the ‘any day now’ to which I cling.

Winter is always difficult: I miss the light, mourn the sun. But it has its benefits… Christmas is the season to be jolly – if you’re in the right place, at the right time, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of material activity with a pound (or several) lining your pocket and time (plenty) to spare. There are markets, concerts, services, carols… Colourful window displays. Overhead lights. There’s panto and parties. Mulled wine and minced pies. Gingerbread men, candy canes, chocolate in boxes. Flowers, wreaths, decorations. Paper hugging assorted gifts: good, bad; pretty, ugly. And while it might be a superficial fix – attached only to the moment, the month; irretrievable once it has run itself out: it’s no less effective for it, proving as competent a plaster as alcohol, coffee and cigarettes.

In addition to that: writing about kittens, sketching snowmen, knitting Christmas trees… tiny pleasures that help.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A vegetable with limbs

imageI keep a journal and have done for years – more than I care to remember, certainly more than I can name. I carry it everywhere, always. It lives in my bag; or rather, it has a special place there, regardless of practicality and space. Even when I am weighed down – which (often) I am: with shopping, with iPad; with wallet, keys and phone; with dog and dog paraphernalia, etc. – it is still there, just in case. For to need it and not have it handy, to be full of words with nowhere to put them, is bad, leading to all manner of catastrophe – catastrophe with consequence, catastrophe with fallout, catastrophe with limbs, ones that extend far beyond the confines of literary waste.

The problem is that for weeks, maybe longer (like months), I haven’t written a thing, or hardly, and when I do, what comes out is stilted and forced: it physically pains me to put it there and it is hugely disappointing to read. Which then wreaks havoc with my self-esteem, chipping away at my already depleted levels of self-love and inner worth.

More fickle friend than faithless ally, writing is a tricky beast – inflating then dashing, furthering then sabotaging, all nib adventures and inky dreams. I preach its benefits, for done therapeutically it is capable of wonderful things: pulling out and extracting badness; reflecting innate truths; revealing deception, both personal and circumstantial; problem solving, untangling, translating, etc. What is revealed can then empower, inspire, fuel and motivate, gently encouraging our damaged and shy selves into action, activity that maybe we have or would have otherwise avoided. Used for gratitude, gladness, it, our written word, reminds us to be thankful and to see the good in our lives, the things we have that maybe others haven’t or the things that, in bad times, hold us up. As a vessel, it can be a potent tool, vital as a spousal relationship, familial support, like-minded acquaintances and friends, the right therapist. Depending of the severity of one’s malaise or life malady, it can even be a substitute for drugs (although it should not, ever, be self-prescribed).

I carry my journal anyway, even though I am not currently using it, even though I cannot write right now, refusing, stubbornly, to give up. I take it out each time I work, seating it by my side. It accompanies me on the bus, the train… It sleeps in my bedroom by my head. Given the choice, I would pick it over most other things. Despite the nature of our friendship, my loyalty does not waver. Nor does it question or doubt. In time, the words will come: I know this, because they always do. What I don’t know is when and how.

I would like to believe that it will be soon and that, when it does come, it will stay, for the thought of going through this transition (which is now imminent) without it, without anything creative, terrifies me. I need my routine. I need to be able to disappear, losing myself entirely, blotting out or reducing everything remotely threatening or external, everything dark and damaging, everything cold and grey.

Yesterday, I had a meltdown. And while it pains me to mention it, I feel that I must, if I am to climb out of the darkness and back into the light. The closer we get, the more unavoidable it becomes, the stronger the feelings inside: fear, frustration, reluctance, anger, pain, heartbreak, doubt… I am stuck in the middle of a road. It has three lanes and the traffic is fast-moving. In the distance, a car approaches, gaining ground. Engine roaring, lights glaring, horn honking, its driver attempts to motivate me. And even though I know that I must move, that to remain would be detrimental, devastating, I am a vegetable, unable to manifest even the smallest spark of life.

I’m sure the living will be less of a nightmare than the imagining, at least this is what I tell myself. And I don’t doubt that, looking back, I will laugh at my cowardice (at least, I hope I will). I also hope that when I get there I will nest, planting roots in places I haven’t even pictured yet. It is my deepest wish to grow, expand, experiment, explore, reach out and collect information and experiences. And while I cannot possibly predict what the future will bring: I know that it is a necessary evil; that progress cannot be made without change, goals achieved without challenge and peace attained without first navigating the muddy trenches of antagonism and conflict.

So while I may not be writing well in terms of literary excellence. And while I may be failing entirely in terms of writing for emotional wellbeing and health. I am still writing here. And here, whether I am brave enough to publish it or not, is a ritual I repeat like prayer.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Laughter

image

It’s not easy to make me laugh; I’m more the reserved type. However, there are some surefire ways, the majority of which are clichés. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t find most of the normal avenues people my age generally take pleasure from remotely funny, but that I do fall for the obvious ones. Like me, my humour never quite managed to grow up.

So what does make me laugh? Tickling my feet always seems to work. As does watching cheesy comedies, stuff designed for kids. Or easily-accessible sitcoms, like Friends, Frasier, A Modern Family, Silicon Valley and, being a bit more adventurous, Curb your Enthusiasm. But I’m not really into comedy as a rule, so tend to avoid it, preferring, instead, psychological thrillers and gritty dramas that challenge my mind and exercise the remains of those little grey cells. If I want popcorn, which is what ‘in my model of the world’ comedy is, I will rent a laugh-out-loud rom-com; that way, I get some romance thrown in with the smiles and a guaranteed happy ending to boot: much better for the soul and the heart.

I’m also helpless inside the walls of a church, especially if I’m attending a service. A silly line, for instance, in a serious hymn (like “the purple-headed mountain” in All Things Bright and Beautiful) and I’m doubled up and choking. The fact that it is impolite to laugh, only increases my need. Jokes don’t do it but funny stories do. People walking into glass doors or tripping up steps also has me in fits, although the guilt that follows finding humour in another’s humiliation or harm is painful to me and these days I try to look away or, if in the vicinity, run in to help.

Off the top of my head, that would be it. But more may surface later. I haven’t had cause to laugh for a while, so I have forgotten what makes me tick. I can’t even remember what uncontrollable laughter feels like and only get close when witnessing it in other people. Then, I watch closely and take notes, gaining quiet pleasure from my voyeurism.

I do, however, smile: at thoughts, at memories, at ideas, etc. As a task, it is easier to accomplish. To make oneself laugh, on the other hand, is a whole lot more challenging, requiring tools I don’t have. I’m also far too serious. If you could climb inside my head and listen for an hour, you would get it. The incessant ranting never lets up: my inner voice is relentless. Last night,I kept myself awake for hours just thinking and worrying about things I have no control over or power to predict. Accepting that would have been far wiser: I could have rested, woken refreshed, been happier.

But this is about laughter in its purest form: laughter that erupts; the kind of laughter that explodes, whether you like it or not. This kind of laughter doesn’t need permission to take: it does as it chooses. Or maybe I should say gives? After all, it is a gift, precious and vital. Laughter heals. Laughter helps. Laughter inspires and motivates. Laughter joins us, befriends us, diffuses negativity in both ourselves and in others. I love laughter more deeply than I love anything. Sadly, at least for now, laughter is yet to love me.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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