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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The mirror is old and ornate

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

IMG_0149To keep up to date with my progress and receive a copy of my newsletter, send me your email address.

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Nice Girls Swallow. Sensible Girls Spit

Life is complicated: the choice of potential options, vast; the possible pathways, many, meandering, overgrown and steep. Just thinking about it is daunting. Trying to affect our fate – making more than taking, succeeding more than failing, smiling more than crying, is overwhelming in the extreme and more than some of us can endure. It’s no wonder there are so many miserable people, so many hiding in their beds. We see a mountain and we run, reacting as if it were a spider. Maybe we have already climbed too many? Maybe we just don’t have the right kind of legs? Perhaps we have a fear of heights, an aversion to vertical? Whichever… whatever…: we are all doing the best that we can with the tools that we have; with what we were given when we arrived, when we came out. If we are lacking, if we are struggling, if we have given up sooner or not travelled as far: it’s because the appliances weren’t there at the start. They either got left behind, left inside; or they were never presented to begin with.

My house was well-furnished and my box is fairly full. I have equipment. It helps. Heaven knows, I have needed it. I still do. If I had a pound for the number of hills and mountains I have encountered, the rivers and seas I have crossed: I would be a wealthy woman by now. Alas, it doesn’t work that way and I am as poor financially as the day I arrived. I owe my existence to benefactors and generous souls. But I am rich in other ways – in heart and in mind, in spirit, if a little disappointed, broken and sad. Trying and not getting; hoping and being denied, taint the image. The picture fades. The paint cracks. The brilliance is dimmed. I am older than I should be and upset by that. The mirror no longer presents a shiny object. I try not to look, and I look away. I go out with ink marks on my cheeks, toothpaste around my mouth, sleep in my eyes. People eyeball and I have no idea why, I have stopped caring. Or at least, I pretend to. In reality, there is no switching off, no numbing. Opinions hurt and I cannot help but be affected by them. I am only human.

Maybe that is why I spend so much time and energy on my art, on creating? Am I trying, perhaps, to make up for the lack in other areas? If I shine on the page, on the canvas, will others be more forgiving; will they remember me for longer; will I mean more, have more value? It’s not a bad theory.

Then again: creative people are characteristically hard on themselves and mostly unhappy, their glass having a tendency to remain empty in the realm of life; Life (the bitch) taking out as many drops as ‘they’ (the individual) puts in. It’s a long road and it’s bumpy. There are challenges. But without these challenges, we wouldn’t grow and growth is vital for creativity, for art. The brightest flowers come from the sparsest of gardens, the thickest of nights, the heaviest of storms. We cannot fight this: it’s the price of the gift. And we cannot knock the horse: what’s given belongs and what’s there is there: full stop, end of story.

So let’s all be thankful for that which we have and make the best of what we possess and wish for less and expect as much. That way, we know where we are and won’t be tripped up.

That said, here are some rules to live by. Take them or leave them. Digest or deny. Think me wise or consider me a fool. It makes no difference… I write as I see. I live as I encounter. I rule as I see fit.

1. Tackle what is beyond you:

The best protection is to be working on hard problems, that way you are always moving forwards and aren’t so easily distracted. And when you succeed, conquering a hurdle, facing something odious that cropped up, you feel great. There is nothing quite so powerful, so healing, so cathartic, as a conquest you can attribute to yourself. Carve up your bedpost. Make your mirror heavy with medals. Fill notebooks and sketchbooks with the stories that you write. Immortalise yourself.

2. Be curious:

View everything as an opportunity to grow and expand. Act like a kid. Probe and question. Reach out and touch. Grab onto and take with you. Sign up and attend. Dive in, go swimming, explore… Discover, find out… Be in charge of what goes in and take responsibility for how you interpret that. Be the captain not the victim. Write your own beginning, middle and ending.

3. Study the sky:

Count stars. Collect clouds. Become an expert at weather prediction. Take time each day to look around you. Absorb your surroundings. Be grateful for beauty and appreciate ugliness. Unsightly is also pretty. Sometimes, it’s exquisite. Think of an old person’s face and the stories it conveys, the life it reflects, the people and places. Think of a ruin, the history contained in what still remains, the things it once stood for, what it has survived. Be mindful in the moment and see the world for the magnificent thing that it is: big, chaotic and complex; incomprehensible, all-knowing and wise; multi-faceted, unpredictable and proud. Do this and do it often and live your life from it. Swallow don’t spit, unless what you savour offends.

by Rebecca L. Atherton
imageTo keep up to date with my progress and receive a copy of my newsletter, send me your email address.

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