Unforeseen Obstacles


 
The person I’m meeting isn’t there;
which is quite normal, in Mallorca,
where time moves slowly,
is fluid,
has no consequence.

Standing in line at the bank,
in a shop:
you wait…
for conversations to spin out,
attention to be ministered.

by Rebecca L. Atherton


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Tree Monkey

In summer, the tax nomads come to town,
rich from their time at sea.

I watch as they fill my favourite places
swapping one form of confinement for another.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Green and gold

I have nearly completed my Christmas tree and I’m so proud, waxing about her as if she were a newborn child. Given the brevity of time before me and the new terrain, the landscape of ‘different’ in which to source from, she’s a work of art. A patchwork of randomly sourced objects, lovingly put together with an attention to detail and adherence to certain rules – like each additional adornment must be serviceable all year, for life not just for December…, she presents a whole that even I with my obsessive need for perfection cannot readily unpick.

There is a velour cat with a bubblegum pink ribbon; a perspex diamond accommodating two mis-adventuring mice (one, with her purple jacket and hat, reminding me of my grandma) a child petting her pet, who just so happens to be a beautiful chocolate-brown spaniel; a hippo in a tutu attempting a pirouette; a moose holding a snow-clad tree – tiny in comparison to his rotund self; an eccentric giraffe displaying, in his outstretched hand, an umbrella (perhaps to remind me of England and all of the rain I incurred there); a felted tiger straight out of ‘Where the Wild Things are’, a similar felted fox and kangaroo, part of a matching collection; a terracotta angel painted Mallorcan style; a ceramic squirrel with a hollow centre and a rabbit carved from local wood. All that’s missing is the star.

Sitting at the very top, visible from every angle… the star cannot just ‘do’, she has to outshine. So while I’ve seen passable solutions and the occasional ‘blow me away with their beauty but also with their price’ attempts at twinkling joviality, I haven’t yet seen anything that works without breaking the budget (which is also one of the rules!) apart. But I believe… : in the solution, in the ‘right’ one, in the five-pointed declaration that is made specifically for me. When the Universe is ready (as like with everything else), she will extend her palm and yield. And if for some unforeseen reason she will not explain, she, the universe and all of the powers that accompany her… deem I am not to have a talisman, a gem to shine in the night, to ward off the darkness… then so be it. There are reasons greater than me.

And maybe it’s about being flexible in the face of restriction. Or happy amongst the uncompromising walls of limitation. Or about only seeing what you want to see.

Living from the one hastily-packed suitcase, a sitting room full of boxes it would be unwise to unpack; making do with another’s curious ornaments and furniture – a glass bowl full of plastic fruit, a black sofa with rose embellished cushions, threadbare rugs that house more beach than dust, a table and chairs with green velvet seats (seriously?), a kitchen that supports the making of tea but actively dissuades the creation of anything else, appliances that make their grievances known, usually throughout the night; bedsheets that itch and towels that scratch, tiles that bear the mark of generations and shift beneath passing feet: there is a lot of accepting and reimagining involved.

But like with boxes and randomly placed objects; unfolded clothes, decaying flowers and unwashed cups: all manner of unwanted but immovable things… After a while they cease to exist, the eye cleverly distorting what the mind lacks the conscious desire and active need to see.

imageSo really it’s just my tree that stands out, projecting beauty, colour, positive energy, fun, enchantment, love and pride. Greeting my return like a faithful friend, she adds a little warmth and welcome to an otherwise cold and inanimate space.

Close to my chest

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Reacquainting with old friends,
I stand confused,
unsure of who I am greeting,
twin locks of gold spinning before my eyes,
almost identical in nature.

And yet, there is a discrepancy –
of gender, of age –
if only I could see fit to figuring it out.

Picking my words carefully,
I say ‘hello’ from a distance,
one step removed,
waiting for those on the other side
to take the lead.

by Rebecca L. Atherton
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There’s no place like home

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It’s the 2nd of December and all of a sudden Christmas is just a handful of days away, or that’s how it feels. I have been in Mallorca since Friday and am slowly settling in – adjusting to the temperature, the scenery, the way of life; putting long held things down and letting go of things that are tight. The people are friendly and I feel welcome wherever I go. The sky is blue and in the centre of the day it’s warm enough to sit outside. The streets are quiet, empty… and I do not have to clean my shoes each time I go out. There is less pollution. Whites stay white. Food is cheaper, fresher and mostly organic. Apples taste how apples should taste. Seafood is common and it is possible to eat out often without guilt. I am eating out. I do not feel guilty. I feel restless though and I am finding this hard to accept. I cannot sit quietly or do what I usually do; there are fears and thoughts filling my mind with the kind of things that go bump in the night. 

I miss my home with its familiar surroundings – my pictures, my drawings, my ornaments, my Fimo unicorns and knitted mice, my crystals, my oracle cards, my pendulums and lucky charms, a tea for every day of the month, four alternatives to milk; gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, lactose-free products; a wardrobe full of choice, drawers full of excitement, a bed with a mattress and sheets that have only ever been mine, a brand new everything inside an old but renovated space… I miss the bathroom I at first disliked with its traditional sink and cracked white tiles, the floors whose scratches I hid beneath rugs, the neighbour upstairs and his heavy feet, the washing machine whose spin cycle woke everything up. I miss the central heating, the insulation, the open space and tall windows letting in the light. I miss it’s countless memories and the special things I did there. I could sit still and calm in that space for hours, content to be alone. I was warm. I was relaxed and safe. I am a creature of habit. I do not like to deviate from or break with routine; it tortures me, from the centre out, undoing all that I have put in place, unpicking all that I have set down, challenging my beliefs. 

Resisting the urge to rewind, burying myself deep in chocolate, tea and toast, over-sized omelettes and glasses of local wine, I try to love my hat, focusing on the importance of finishing that. But even while the comfortable click and clack of my needles soothes me, the simplicity of the project, the superficiality of its journey after that, fails to really get beneath.

Being mindful, I remind myself of how normal all of this is, how ‘okay’ it is to be a little spikey. In acting out I am speaking for the child within, the hidden part that is most often ignored. Like a dog, all she wants is a warm lap, a familiar space, a routine that caters to her every need and lots and lots of attention. Like an infant, she wants to play, existing solely in a space of love, laughter and light.

Maybe I will buy paper and coloured pens to paint my story out? Maybe I will buy thread and felt to stitch it down? I’d rather go for a walk on the beach, attempt to meditate with the sand on my skin, visit the cathedral, ride in a horse-drawn carriage, peruse the local markets, sightsee, explore, delving into each and every space, feeling, touching, tasting, really getting a sense of it. But I am trapped in another’s routine, rushing and rushing then sitting and sitting, counting the hours, avoiding the minutes, longing only for bedtime when, finally, I can shut it all out. 

This will pass, as everything passes; for there is nothing in life but change. We cannot still. We cannot cling. We cannot stop, no matter how much we might want to. And in the meantime – while I grin and bear and occasionally grimace and growl – it is best to view it as a meditation, the acquiring of a new level of acceptance, patience and self-love. 

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The mirror is old and ornate

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Monday, 2nd March
I’m being tested today. I can feel it acutely. There is a tension in my stomach like butterflies. And my heart is hollow and sad. I keep thinking about what my partner said this morning, returning to the words, the thoughts… and I can’t make it go away. It’s haunting my head in a way that is aggressive and unkind.

I’m also frustrated: I just spent an hour writing something which failed to save. As a writer, this is profoundly painful. Although, for some reason, it’s a lesson I never seem to learn. I should have copied it first, giving myself the backup option of pasting it back if it refused to update. I usually do. I must have been distracted. The writing was intense, the journey deep. And now it would appear that I went there without cause, dragging myself over hot shards when I could have self-nurtured, dreaming of things that would have made me happy instead: like unconditional love and healing hugs, Sunday movies and newspaper fish, new friends, and kittens and puppies, my parents, my relatives, drawing and knitting, unexpected compliments and smiles; making something and then, after, when you’ve finished it, loving it for what it is; it’s been a long time since anything I made brought me joy: I’ve lost the inside bit that came alive.

Anyway, I digress… Ignore my meandering. Instead, rewind. Let me take you on a journey. Slip down beneath your eyes, falling silently. Picture the passageway, the hole; you are Alice in Wonderland. Make-believe that this is a meditation. I am taking you on a journey.

You are in a bathroom. It is warm and light, a radiator pumping out heat, a window looking out onto a quiet street. There is no one walking below. In the distance: traffic, busses and cars. There’s a man showering and a woman brushing her teeth. It’s Monday morning and the air is heavy with anticipation and fear. Neither one wants to leave. As the water flows – hot and cold, fast and slow, intermittently – a question is presented casually. “How about going away in a couple of weeks? I was thinking Mallorca. We could stay in a hotel, something in Palma.” Brilliant. Beautiful. Kind. A lovely idea. Her mind travels… tentatively, returning.

She falls silent. She thinks. She opens her mouth and starts to agree. And then she stops, abruptly, pulling away. To go there now would be to open a box, inviting contribution from things that are better left, opening wounds that have yet to heal. Some haven’t even been inflicted. Some were made today. However, even she cannot stop what happens next, falling down a crack, travelling backwards, landing in a place she misses so acutely she has since sought to avoid all contact, all memory. 

It’s summer. There is a villa with a long drive: palms lining both sides, leading up to the porch; a large meadow surrounding all of that. There is a walled garden too, towards the back, and in it, a pool. It is calm and peaceful; blue. The wind strokes the trees, the crickets stretch, the geckos decorate the walls. The windows are open and she can see inside – to a large bedroom: white, with a dressing table and a mirror. The mirror is old and ornate. She looks, and sees a woman smiling back: toned and brown, healthy and alive. She looks happy, relaxed. There is a flicker of recognition, and then it is gone. 

Further down, following the wall, meditating over brick, there is another window, inside of which sits a sitting room. It contains a sofa and two chairs, both comfy and new, her style, and on the floor, a cowhide secured beneath a trunk. There’s a fire too and next to it a pile of wood. The wood comes from outside, from the trees growing on the land: olive, almond, pine. It’s a lovely room: fresh and airy, light. 

Round the corner, there’s a corridor with a sink. Next to it, a bathroom. The bathroom consists of a tiled floor, a long mirror, a toilet, a window and a shower. Minimal. The shower is open to the floor. When you use it, everything gets wet. It shouldn’t, but like everything else on the island, it doesn’t quite work. The ‘not working’ lends it an air of eccentricity, a quirkiness that she initially resented then grew to love; a bit like the lack of speed, everything taking an overly long portion of time: the Post Office an hour, the bank two, service in cafés and restaurants, bars, half. The first year they were there they weren’t prepared, had no idea Christmas shopping would take days. It’s not like England, London, the rest of her known world. 

The kitchen comes next: open plan and large, the heart of the house. In summer it is her favourite space, the only place where she can comfortably sit. In winter it is cold, and there is always a fire. She looks around, sees the well with the bucket, the worktops and units, the large fridge. She sees her dog in her bed and the cupboard above it, the lines of shelves. She sees the beams and the walls: original, authentic; typical to the area. As a room: it’s almost as big as where she lives now, a place surrounded by people and noise, a place which she has managed to like but will never love. Her heart pulls and she falls deeper. 

There are birds in the trees and sheep in the fields. Because it’s spring, there are lambs: small and white, innocent. Many will die, catching a cold when it rains. There is blossom. There are flowers. There are sunrises and sunsets, some so beautiful she has to stop before she can accept that they are real. They look like paintings. At night there are rabbits in the fields and when she walks up the drive she can hear them scatter. It’s so dark she cannot see without aid. Her neighbours are far away, the equivalent of a street. She cannot hear the road. There is only one place she can walk to. 

Each day she travels to a different village, visiting a different space. She walks, she sits, she writes, always with a backdrop of meadow and mountain, beautiful architecture, sand and sea. Sometimes there are yachts. Some have siblings. Several have helicopter pads. She has never seen so much wealth before. She would like to go on one, just the once, to see how the other half live, but she doesn’t have any friends that are that wealthy, that live like that. She wishes she did. Her favourite places are close to water. She sits outside in the shade. She is warm but also cool. She wears clothes that are thin and light, delicate like petals and diaphanous like dust. She would like to wear nothing or clothes that are almost invisible: it is that hot.

But now there are tears and her heart is torn. She is scared that it might break, that she might not be able to stitch it. So reluctantly she pulls herself back into the present and lands in her chair. 

She is in London in a café she likes, only she doesn’t like it much today. And she’s drinking a tea that’s overly milky and starting cool. Her stomach feels heavy and full. It is uncomfortable. In seeking to release something that was trapped, she has woken something that wasn’t present before, adding instead of subtracting. She is missing for the first time, pining what was lost. She wants to go back. She didn’t expect that.  

This is why the weekend is a bad idea, a punishment as well as a treat. In indulging she would only be making remaining impossible and there isn’t a choice. To leave now would be to throw away everything that has been invested, everything that is yet to come. It would make it a waste. She tries to care. More and more lately she has felt like running away and each time she feels it she cares less about the price. Life is for living and she is only surviving, only just doing that.

Packing up, putting away, moving on: she sighs. It doesn’t do to dwell. She mustn’t linger. Already, she has strayed.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Bah, humbug!

imageThis morning I am sitting in a cafe in Covent Garden trying to collect my thoughts, and as I sit here – struggling to filter out the noise of cutlery and people, to shut London out: I realise a change in my environment.

Last week was endless, dragging on and on – days extending, hours stalling, minutes giving birth. I was miserable too: a complete wreck. The smallest things penetrated my barrier: a sudden noise, a busy street, raised voices, the rain… It was hard to cope and I didn’t smile. Clinging to what meagre stability I had – familiar places, friendly faces; my partner and my dog – I muddled through but with minimal success. I stitched, I knitted, I read and I wrote; only there was little enjoyment, anywhere. Life went about its business, the world span on its axis, and the challenges continued to manifest, blocking and stopping all progress in an upwardly mobile direction. I managed to occupy myself with groups and appointments – discovering, uncovering, meeting and making – but – exhausted, cold, overwhelmed and ill – the enjoyment I sought was withheld.

Today, it’s different: although I don’t know why.

Perhaps it’s knowing that the house is being repaired and that we don’t have to continue to worry about it? Perhaps it’s being released from our contract and given the chance to look for a new place to live? Perhaps it’s the viewing we have later on today and the possible solution to the problem? Perhaps it’s my cold finally reducing, so that the inconvenience is mostly just a running nose? Or perhaps it’s me slowly adjusting and accepting my fate?

England was never going to be a barrel of laughs. I wasn’t going to fall in love or jump up and down and declare out loud that I was blissfully happy: not like France, not like Mallorca. But I was supposed to survive without rewinding, and it was supposed to be easier and smoother.

Kicking the chain around my ankles, I curse my stupid suitcase for always following me. Each time I get knocked back, I get back up again; each time I trip, I think more carefully about where I next place my feet; each time I experience a disappointment, a rejection, a heartbreak, I reframe it as best I can: why then, with this repeated good behaviour, this conscious cognitive thinking, this paint-by-numbers approach to the bumps and the barriers, the stones and the rocks, am I still so far-removed from the cure?

Focusing on the positive – I’m alive, I have a roof over my head, a person by my side and a dog who loves me; aspirations, hopes and dreams: I determine to try harder.

And in the meantime, there is coffee, comfort, carols and candles. By no means a magic remedy, but it works for now.

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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Morning has broken

imageLast night’s dinner covered in ants.
The metal contraption that cooks in various shades of black.
Dirty plates, empty cups.
A girl with broken eggshells in her lap.

The snake of uncertainty.
A spider without legs.
A dust mote, a cockroach,
a senile cat.

The hive of a head.
The blue beneath.
Paper birds.
Hide and seek.

Tripping over objects.
Impatient feet.
The man in the photograph.
A final receipt.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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No man’s land

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The stupid little car had a habit of letting her down, right when she needed it the most. Take this morning, for instance: she had an important meeting to get to followed by lunch with a friend, and yet here she was in the middle of nowhere waiting for a man in a yellow suit to show up. It was almost as though someone had it in for her. Although, after everything she had been through, she somehow doubted that.

Perhaps the car was worried she’d leave it behind when she left, the cost of shipping outweighing the cost of replacing it at her destination? Or perhaps the country was trying to keep her, albeit treading water in a halfway, half-real, no-man’s land? The irony had not escaped her. As much as she was reluctant to return to the past, for she had good reason to leave it, she needed this transition in order to progress. Without it, she would be trapped indefinitely, sinking deeper and deeper into a hole she lacked the energy to vacate.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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