The things that stare at me

Huddled amongst dust bunnies and cobwebs, I claw at the things that stare at me and shy away from those that bite. It’s cold and I wish that there were others: spirits, perhaps; and fairies and angels. But the part of me that believed, that believes, is struggling to reach out, bereft of clarity and energy. Behind closed eyes lights dance, colours come and go and I know it won’t be long now until I am ready.

The days pass and October dwindles. Soon it will be November and then the end – of fast, of angry, of sad, of lonely, of cold and damp and grey and black… of disrespected and disconnected and struggling to keep up… of tension tight in my neck and belly and not being able to relax… of constant traffic and constant people always rushing past… of feet above and feet below never letting up… of grimy windows and oily floors, slamming doors… of pushing and shoving and phones that swallow, umbrellas in the way… and tomorrow a carbon copy of today.

The page grows heavy, the uncomfortable inside climbing out. A hand finds my arm, a head my neck, thighs grip my abdomen and press. The baby in my belly complains. As usual it is unhappy.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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It’s my party

imageGrey clouds, wet sky, drizzle; me, soaking it up – Uggs beyond saving, coat part-drowned, hair flat. On any other day… not so bad; but today: tragic.

I should have known there would be a rapid deterioration from here: therapist hiding behind an opaque veneer; eyes slip-sliding – mentally absent, disinterested in me; subsequent drawing consequently traumatic, submerged beneath layers of ink: shop assistants attacking, pedestrians snapping, the tube packed… Only the ‘should’ I ought to have been aware of was in hiding and I wasn’t aware of anything until afternoon turned up.

Black and blue from too much walking, talking to myself, I wander and search, visiting every known bolt-hole for a place to write. Gradually conceding, giving up; admitting defeat…

Hours later – slipping limply into a dark interior, bedraggled and worn out – I borrow a chair and invest in two cups; one’s cold and disastrous, the other’s delightful and hot.

A failed attempt at writing, and I reach into my bag, realising there is nothing for it but to bring the ‘thing’ out. Twisted and tangled, it’s grumpy and upset, anxious to be loved and lonesome without it.

Ballpoint braced, I revisit the page: pen dancing and glancing, mind whirring and incurring, repeating the lines I earlier, under intimidation, made.

A girl appears: unhappy, young; hair streaming, eyes leaking, mouth a crooked O.

Then words appear: ‘chaos’ incorrectly spelt; ‘cry’ back-to-front; ‘help’ upended. And, finally, I laugh, the irony catching up.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Sharing space with a stranger

imageMimosa Mawson, Rebecca Kokkonis, Ellen Freeman, Jon Donaldson; Church: a cold room, comfortless. And yet… abandoned by the other half, sharing space with a stranger: I find something. And even as I warm my frozen hands up sleeves that wish to be elsewhere; feet sharing similar sentiments, blocks of ice: I am glad to be here.

Yesterday: damp, dreary… dragged. Today, will be shorter. But the speed in which it travels will be determined by events whose course is currently beyond my control.

Submissive to the kind man manning speech at the altar, I ask silently that the Lord he invites us to pray to, in turn listens and, hears my prayer.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A drowned rat

imageYou know the phrase: “the best laid plans?” Well, today is a bit like that: high expectations, no air. I guess I should have known, what with it starting on a deprivation of sleep. My partner snoring and coughing, my dog snorting and shuffling, trying to get comfortable but for some reason failing to do so: I rested not a jot. Watching the clock, I forced sheep over fences and pushed cows into pens; only my cattle were words and my constructions lines. I’m not sure how much I wrote or if it was any good. Not that it matters… I can’t remember any of it.

At 10am, I chose to vacate my flat, ignorant to the day’s disposition and my very-soon-to-be-entrenched response. It was quiet out. Wet too… and grey, with very little light. I acknowledged the temperature and the lack of pedestrian traffic, went to a new place, sat by a fire, drank hot coffee and wrote. Admiring the walls – metal moulds shaped like hearts, houses, eggs, hens – I snapped and posted until my enthusiasm was satisfied. In the space that opened up, I then transcribed, starting with my most recent diary.

At 11.30am, I made my first mistake, packing up and leaving instead of deciding to stay. Wandering the streets; window shopping, popping in to talk to shop assistants when the mood took me, loneliness descending like a cloud: I carried my sorrow until, heavy, I had to put it down. Then, leaving it in a doorway, I went to find a length of yarn to tie around its neck and subsequently dragged it behind me, where it became increasingly irate.

It’s now 4pm and I have only just sat. My hair is flat, my coat is wet and my nose won’t stop running. Sitting on an uncomfortable chair – wooden, slatted; what is it about London these days and the obsession with impractical chairs: doesn’t anyone realise they are totally unholistic? – I’m self-medicating with my keyboard and tea. By no means perfect: it works for now. And even if everything I am writing is a miserable waste of time, at least I feel semi-productive.

Time lags. Light fades. Background chatter rises. I want to get off, but there’s nowhere to go.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Concrete flecks, tarmac lumps

imageNew Year’s Day: January 1, 2015: time to start over, forcing my complaining body all the way back until it hits the beginning and shoves me back. I shudder… With 2014 only just in bed, I’m not sure I can bear to get up and join just yet, especially with an unfamiliar partner.

14 was the biggest dick; worse than 12 and 13 combined. I suffered; I wept; I was beaten. Eventually… I turned black. His breath sour, his mood cruel: his hands were tough. Already weak from subsequent years, the result of an assortment manifesting and then landing, I slipped, falling to the floor where (vaguely comfortable) I stuck.

Examining the surface: concrete flecks, tarmac lumps, the smell of winter; dog pooh, tramps’ piss, restaurant trash; crisp packets, beer cans, chocolate wrappers… this place is dirty. I miss the meadow: flowers, trees, shorn grass; a small pool full of clear water. Searching for my body beneath the layers: I am unsure if it still exists. I imagine shunning clothes, stripping off, slipping naked and getting wet; extending arms, flapping feet, propelling stomach and chest; travelling…

What if 15 proves to be more of the same…? What if he’s worse? Do I really have it in me to face another one down? And how many times can I court and connect, consecrate and pledge, only to then be rebuffed?

Sitting in an unfamiliar chair in a friend’s kitchen, surrounded by the aftermath of last night (torn tablecloth, scattered chairs, dirty floor; sticky counters, stained glasses: wine, cocktail, shot; plates and cutlery; sweaty cheese, dry biscuits, dehydrated stew…), I’m struggling with vertical, failing to stand up.

Drinking slowly, minimally; sticking to red; rejecting gin, vodka, champagne… a pot of chamomile by the bed: I presumed myself safe. With the departure of youth, the hangovers get worse… Things hurt: liver, kidney, gut. The pain isn’t worth the disturbance. I live in fear and drink with caution, preferring to sip like a sparrow rather than lap like a cat. And yet, somehow, I have ended up with a thick head and a swollen stomach and I can’t seem to wake up.

Dragging my legs onto a train, stealing my eyes tight shut, I hold my dog gently: stroking, drifting… Dreaming of an island, scanning the landscape for familiar things; missing people, places: I visit with friends… : Peter and Jane, Uncle Jack. Scared, uprooted, restless: it helps.

Unsure or where I am, what I am, how I am going to do it… I long for a routine. But where the hell is home these days? And what happened to feeling grounded and connected?

Bereft; left: I am all alone.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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imageI’ve decided that 2015 is going to be my year; the one in which I do everything that I’ve been intending, imagining, talking about, planing and wishing for, for as long as I can remember. It’s going to be a busy year, like every other year – only with more arriving and accomplishing, less stagnating and stalling.

Instead of just working in isolation – sitting at home: writing, knitting, sewing and drawing; I will also be publishing, exhibiting, teaching and healing, stretching all of my skills to their full extent. I’m not a ‘one-trick’ pony, even though I’m inclined to feel like one; it’s time to ‘man-up’, defending my honour against everything and everyone that has (in the past) made me feel unworthy. I’m susceptible and weak by nature; permeable by design. The shield that protects those who are strong, fails to protect me. Like a mood that is delicate, my smile can be turned by a glance or shattered by a glare, my bounce stopped in mid-flow by a careless remark. Except for when my spines are up and I’m spitting like a cat, I’m vulnerable.

Step one in this ‘master’ plan is to transcribe my book, copying up the pages of handwritten text from the notebooks I have filled. Over the years I’ve bought, loved and completed many, spending a fortune in money and time; some years writing vicariously, others less so. For now, I’m sticking to last year and the book I’m calling: Writing the Monster out of my Head. It’s the book that saved me. Aimed at other writers and artists, as well as those who would consider themselves sensitive and pensive souls, it’s a story of trying and overcoming, an insight into the trials and tribulations of me.

Step two is to proof, edit and lay it out in a PDF; then to design a cover, write a dedication and export it as an ebook file.

Step three is to upload it to Apple and Amazon, for sale over the internet.

Step four is to market myself and sell as any copies as I can, trying to get local and national support along with recognition and praise.

Step five is to offer a hard copy option so that those who are tactile, who want to hold, smell and touch it, can: nothing quite beats the old way, even in this modern world; some things need to be treasured, respected, kept. I have boxes of books in storage; they are among my most prized possessions. Reading the titles on a shelf, back when I had one to gloss over, transported me back: 2, 4, 7 – Spot, Meg and Mog, The Wind in the Willows; 13, 14, 17 – Watership Down, Forever, Wuthering Heights; 21, 22, 23 – The Great Gatsby, The Bell Jar, Ovid; 30, 31, 34 – Beloved, The Bloody Chamber, Cloud Atlas, etc. So many adventures, so many experiences, so much knowledge… so many highs and lows. Books have kept me company throughout my life. I hold them amongst my closest allies.

Book down, we move on – to my poetry, prose and art. It’s high-time I got all of it out, there’s enough, and I’ve been sitting on it for years; a lot of it has never even seen the light, what with my writing it before the advent of the internet and the existence of blogs. I submitted it to various publications and managed a degree of success, but then, like so many others, I gave up – when the rejection letters outnumbered the acceptance forms and the money paid by publishers to secure copyright for first print failed to cover the postage and submission costs. It was same with competitions; I ended up spending a fortune, earning a pittance in return. I knew it was hard to earn a living as a writer, I did my research, but I never knew it was that hard and that painful. I think my average income over the span of five years was £30, which isn’t bad when you consider that most payments were in the region of 30 pence. Still, it’s not very many coffees; I spend more than that on securing my writing space each week.

At the same time, along the lines of income and earning some, enough to boost my self-esteem and confidence, there’s revision and study: polishing up on my EFT and Matrix Reiprinting, extending my skills in Reiki, gaining a certificate in Meditation, joining a practice group or groups, finding a room to practice out of, buying a massage bed for use with clients, and seeing actual clients themselves. I also need to work out what I want to offer, who I want to offer it to and how many hours a week I want to work. These answers will come along the way, growing as I grow, solidifying as I become.

I’m sure there are other things… But for now: the above is enough.

So as not to be all talk and no action: I’ve placed two ads on a freelancing site and been in talks with those who have submitted proposals. I’m looking for a template designer and a transcriber, ideally in the UK. I’ve started typing up my notebooks, too, in case I struggle to find someone I can afford and trust: there’s a lot of text and hourly rates are higher than I would like.

On a different thread, I’ve also applied to volunteer at a homeless shelter and am hoping to work there several days a week. And I’ve committed to a Reiki training programme starting at the end of January. A day shy of the new year, this isn’t bad.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Dreaming of where next…

imageThe January sales dominate the high street even though technically it’s still December and there are people everywhere. Out from 9am, there’s no avoiding them; unless one rises at some un-Godly hour. Already a victim of ‘doing too much and sleeping too little’, I pass; my 8am alarm, an impatient chihuahua (literally), is early enough. Make the day too long and there is too much space to fill, too much obligation about doing and achieving. In another life, this would have been desirable. Now, what is already difficult would become unbearable. I’m micromanaging as it is. Is everyone this useless in cold weather, or is it just me?

In summer, I can’t get enough of the day: diving in head first; grabbing hold of it with both hands, stretching it out, sometimes even sitting on it to stall it, occasionally digging in my heels and leaning in with my teeth. It’s not unusual either, to begin at 6am and end long after midnight. I see the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane. I notice things to which I had previously been oblivious. Things like the number of lizards in the house, the amount of dust clinging to corners and shelves, the way the flowers open and then curl up, the lines of ants on the drive, the rows of trees in the orchard, the way the pool rapidly empties out. I drink a lot, swim a lot, read a lot and meditate. I write and sew too, addicted to the movement. Life is sweet and I am happy. Or as least, looking back, that’s how I appear to be.

I miss summer. I miss sitting outside with next-to-nothing on; feeling hot, complaining. I miss needing a fan, eating ice, sleeping with a frozen bottle on my chest. I miss people smiling, the sun shining, the temperature being kind. I miss open windows, open doors, the garden and sitting in it. I miss the landscape, the colours, travelling…

London is gritty and grey. It’s also hectic. Everywhere I look there are people and cars. It’s loud, fast. It’s difficult to navigate. I get lost.

Dreaming of ‘where next’, I try not to focus too hard on the future for there is still so much to be had here. But it’s hard. I’m restless and I’m tired of being cold. I can’t feel my feet. My hands are beyond freezing. My nose is red raw. Surely there’s more than this. But is there a place that can offer it without demanding too high a price?

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Contemplating Jesus

Long day: early morning, late night; tired, always… Body struggling, mind malfunctioning; stomach empty and full. Baby crying, adult sighing; both unhappy still. Looking; searching. Finding: keeping. Sitting on and hiding away. Questions. Answers. Are there any? No! The future: heavy and dark. The past: burning and hot.

Talking of which: an enthusiastic oven, a metal dish, a bed of pitta, a tray of bread, a mind distracted by a labyrinth, a hand not paying enough, and suddenly a stigmata: rugged, red.

Contemplating Jesus, I sip tea, a coffee machine purring in the background; overlapping chatter and clatter, the room heady and thick. Regarding fresh toast, tomato, interchangeable eggs, jam, butter, avocados: I’m fighting the urge to steal. But it’s Sunday and God beckons; so it’s coat on and pen away, along with all bad thoughts and behaviour.

Moments later: a red priest, a white chaplain, a group of strangers; candles, incense, holly, baubles; collection packets, bibles, hymns books, service notes; a man playing the organ, another collecting stragglers, tea and cake around the corner – our reward. At the back, a play table – pens, pencils, colouring books… And yet there are no children, just me, longing to reach in and extract. Colour me purple, colour me pink; make me a mess in pen and ink.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Feet snug in Uggs

It’s cold outside, almost freezing. To my summer-accustomed limbs, it may as well be; the few degrees (six) make little difference. Even with angora socks, cashmere tights, feet snug in Uggs, three vests (two of them heatgen), a merino wool dress; a hat, scarf and pair of gloves… the benefit is negligible. Earlier, hiding from the rain in a café without heat, my body temperature dropped and it hasn’t picked up since. Drinking tea like there’s no tomorrow; fidgeting, walking up and down, shaking, jumping, moving around: I try to dispel the inner chill. But, like the sense of doom that haunts me and the hollow ache inside: it is what it is.

Today, in the sales – Oxford Street heaving, Tottenham Court Road rammed, Regent Street thick with pedestrians and cars – it’s hard to move. Using my knowledge of parallel roads and short-cuts between places, I speed into Gap, Marks & Spencer, Jigsaw and Oasis, looking for a coat. London is crazy: a stark change from yesterday and the day before, when the streets were empty and the shops shut. Then it was eerie, reminiscent of a scene from ‘Twenty eight days later’ or some other post-disaster film. I felt apprehensive and vulnerable. The atmosphere was oppressive. The undercurrent volatile. Take away the people, reduce the number of cars, and you’re left with a container of rage: disillusioned bodies, drunken bones, diseased and depressed, tempers fraught. Fists hyperactive, tongues acerbic: police were visible everywhere, and thank goodness… In the space of twenty four hours, I witnessed three fights. In the previous weeks, there has been nothing, or not that I have seen. Things have been contained, curtailed. And those that did occur hidden or dealt with efficiently. Lessons have been learned. Most significantly: take more care.

With this newfound knowledge, I am wiser, which is a good thing. It’s dangerous for a woman my height and build to be so distracted: anything could happen. Living abroad, I’ve been spoilt. Sydney was well-behaved, Mallorca idyllic. Anything that went on, went on in seedy suburbs late at night, crimes attached to specific groups and gangs. Not being a drug dealer, an addict, a thief, a prostitute or a pimp, I was excluded from it. Living in my shiny shell, a place I lovingly refer to as ‘the bubble’, I saw only what I needed to see and nothing more. Wealth strolled with confidence. Merchandise beckoned with grace. Culture called seductively and, spellbound, I obeyed. Now, here; still attempting to keep a plaster over the facade: I consciously turn a blind eye and keep my nose to the ground. Why rush the illusion when it’s inevitable it will fade?

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Unto us a child is born

imageAching, breaking, feeling fragile; the pain in my side no weaker than it was four day ago: I’m contemplating the ‘walk-in’ on Wardour Street. But I’m scared. Sick people remind me of my own mortality, and it’s not so sturdy of late. Things hurt. Others don’t work anymore. And I’ve no idea whether the hurting and the not working are permanent or temporary. Each time we move, each time I suffer a trauma or am challenged and pushed: I slide, and the slope is dark and dangerous.

Looking up, I can still see the sky: a weak hollow of blue light, diluted and empty. No clouds. No planes. No sun. Just a thin strip stretching from left to right. Some days it’s brighter, more intense, and on days like these I draw comfort from it. Some days it’s dull and dead and on these days I sink to my knees and pray, for I have no energy, no motivation, no drive, and things as simple as walking and talking tire me.

Recently, it’s been up and down, bouncing me like a yo yo on thread. Nausea creeps into my belly to sit and sip, drinking tea and stretching out, acting (for all intents) as if it owns the place – which it doesn’t but which I could be convinced to believe it does, because it is such a frequent visitor I can’t now remember when it last went away.

Sitting in church yesterday – listening to the sermon but drifting, not really there… images of past lives, past people, past things… passing through: rewinding me, reminding me; picking at threads, fingering snarls, thumbing pulls, travelling bobbles; contemplating each and every one as if it were the most intimate, infinite thing: precious, priceless… I have an epiphany. And whether it makes any difference overall, or any sense in a day or a week: the warmth and the strength are a gift. Raising limp hands, separating joined wrists, pulling reluctant arms from lazy legs, I wrap myself around that feeling as tightly and securely as I can, hoping against hope, against experience, against knowledge and thought, that it won’t ever go away.

Only it will, and the only question that holds any importance is when? For if the answer disappoints, I will be devastated.

Today I am tired and the colour of the sky unnerves me. Yesterday there was reason to celebrate, to try to feel positive and upbeat. And I guess there was a break too, from the normal way of things. But now it’s back: the pressure, the expectation, the need… and I’m struggling. Feeling useless, uninspired; doubting my ability: I look at everything I’ve done – now and then, lately and a long time ago – and it all seems so shallow and incomplete.

Doubt descends and I sink: deeper and deeper. And the slope down which I was slipping is no longer just a slope; it’s also part of the sea, and I am drowning too.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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