Sails

The wind makes ships out of balconies –
canvas and tarpaulin flapping,
plant heads creaking and snapping;
blowing everything – sadness, anger;
fear, frustration… away.

Like my head –
barely tethered, overly weathered;
subject to a disco of light too bright
for one with so many years.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Multiple layers

imageIt’s so cold outside, I might actually catch hyperthermia. Walking, my whole body has gone into shock. Where is the beautiful sunshine of earlier, the brilliant blue sky overhead? I had such a lovely walk this morning, but, somehow, as the day darkened into evening and the light disappeared, the warmth evaporated too, and now it’s nothing short of unbearable. Even in multiple layers; coat, hat, scarf and gloves: I am shivering. And my shoulders have risen so high, they are competing with my neck.

Hiding out in a cafe, I am waiting for the feeling in my fingers to come back, drinking hot tea to fast-track the warming. I have had a good day though, a reward for persevering with a weekly group. There was a large table: full; new people and old, people I knew and people I did not. I talked a lot. I made a friend. I felt at home… It’s such a change to be able to find things to attend, compared to the isolation of Mallorca, and the novelty of that is still to wear off.

However, group aside, I am drifting: my ability to write comes and goes, and with it my sense of wellbeing. Why is my whole sense of self; my identity, my smile, so tightly wrapped around something I can never hold?

As I try to figure out how to get through each day, how to get the most out of everything – being here, the chances, the opportunities… my boat pitches and I feel sick.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Growing the things that have shrunk

imageFinding a quiet place to sit and work is a challenge. London is always full, especially in the center. Walking from cafe to cafe, I spend longer than I would like, waste hours I would rather not lose, attempting to repair what has come apart. And as each day unravels, giving and taking, making and breaking, I become increasingly aware that I am trapped.

Closing my eyes and rewinding; going backwards in order to stop and process before turning around and attempting to go forwards again: I sense I ought to be travelling; ingesting new sensations and experiences, growing the things that have shrunk.

But I don’t know how to get there or where it is I ought to want to go, and every time I experiment with a different route, pick a different path or take an alternate turning, I end up returning to the place where I began.

Attending meditation classes at a local centre; sitting and listening and attempting to do: something, anything, etc… I am learning. But is it enough?

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Uneven sides

imageWhatever way you look at it: my life is a triangle with uneven sides; wonky, like a tower that is crumbling or a cake that’s not right; a pack of cards stacked, tumbling. And as I attempt to navigate the landscape of my life: traveling across terrain that is uneven, bumpy; brushing up against, crashing into, obstacles that bar the way; incurring wounds and injuries… I am increasingly aware that, with time, instead of better, it gets less and less right.

Good days, bad days; happy days, sad days. Fast days, slow days; high days, low days. Days that are nice and days that are mean. Days that are concealed and days that are seen. Days that smile and days that weep. Days that wake and days that sleep. Days that talk and days that think. Days that lift and days that sink. Days that expand and days that contract. Days that add and days that subtract. Days that love and days that hate. Days that embrace and days that escape. Days that do and days that don’t. Days that will and days that won’t. Days that are days and days that are years. Days that are friends and days that are fears. There are a million ways for a day to play out… A mere traveller on an expansive back, I am fed up with being their victim.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Stone in my shoe


Feeling antsy;
finding it hard to write.
Sitting down’s a mission,
but standing up’s worse.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Wonky triangle

imageA long time ago, in what now seems like another life, I published a magazine. Aimed at the mentally fragile (people like me), it promoted creativity for emotional wellbeing and self-development. At one point near the beginning, before it had begun to really take shape, before it was much of anything really, I asked my partner if he could help me to think of a name: he works in advertising and writes for a living, or used to before he decided to jack it all in and have a complete career change, and is used to having to brand things so I figured, in terms of heads and two being better than one, that his was probably better than most. And besides… being my other half, he wouldn’t judge or laugh if my own ideas were off. Wonky Triangle was his idea, based on the concept that triangles are supposed to be perfect, all measurable angles and straight lines, all neat and contained; and people, especially fragile ones, are not. Wonky, on top of being impossible (or supposedly, depending on how you view obtuse angles and the like), was all wrong because it was different and broken. Triangles cannot be wonky or crooked: it’s not in their makeup. It also wasn’t in mine to call my magazine after something negative, or to focus on the bad stuff. Inside Out, the name I eventually chose after much deliberation, fitted much better, encouraging individuals to turn their own insides out in order to positively express what was trapped or hidden, thereby bringing new meaning and value to things that were previously challenging or, because of the element of unknown attached, simply too daunting and cognitively painful to contemplate. Containing articles, workshops, exercises, interviews, examples, images and pieces of poetry and prose submitted by readers, it provided a platform for creative individuals to express themselves openly and honestly and to, perhaps for the first time, be seen by others who might not just understand and empathise but also learn and grow by way of sharing. But for me, on the other-hand, it, the ‘wonkiness’, felt quite apt. I am ‘wonky’ and ‘broken’ and kind of impossible; impossible in the sense that I am often my worst enemy, the wall blocking the way. And life tends to get on top of me and pile up: little things becoming enormous and enormous ones gigantic, until it’s all too much and, overwhelmed, I collapse. Like a triangle with slanted edges and angles that don’t match, I present numerous unnecessary challenges that must then be deconstructed in order to be rebuilt.

Today is such a trippy, slippy, bricky, hurdlesome day. In fact: every day, or most days since the beginning of November, have presented as such. And if I’m honest, then every or most days for a long while before that. It has been bumpy few years, in which I have ridden the waves and clung on tight, gripping hard to wooden edges for fear of sinking or falling in, wondering constantly about the location of the horizon and the proximity of land.

The solution for now and the one I have adopted for some time, the one that works as a plaster but fails as a cure, is to write and to make. Expressing how I am feeling, either in word or in image, in ink or in yarn, is cathartic, bringing meaning to the stuff that gets trapped. When I think about other people seeing it, it helps: the isolation shrinks, the dark hole is a little less daunting, the beast that growls becomes quieter and more benign. After all: Beauty befriended hers and look what happened… he turned into a prince. Mine isn’t that accommodating, but he does brush his teeth and file his claws and run a comb through his hair once in a non-too-infrequent while, toning the frightful down a notch.

Drawing for the first time in over a year on Thursday – a birthday treat, albeit one that arguably backfired because the instigator wasn’t quite so accommodating as I had anticipated – I was rewarded with a glimpse of something that had been there but there hiding. It started with an eye, which became a face, which became a disembodied girl with long flowing hair, which became leaves and weeds. In place of her body, there was a hanger; holding, instead of clothes, letters. Her eyes were wide and terrified. Her cheeks were on fire. Her mouth was a startled ‘O’. Her hair was all tangled and drag-you-down weighty, like it was trying to make you drown. And the words spelt out things like ‘Chaos’ and ‘Cry’. It’s a strange image, half intriguing and inviting, half scare you away. I worked on her all day, and ever since I’ve run.

Pulling her out again this morning, laying her on the table before me, sitting and staring, silent and still, I attempted once again to summon some compassion and empathy for this hideous thing that was, by all accounts, supposedly me. We are all of our characters, both in stories and in dreams, in images and in conversations. We are everything that we think, everything that we say, everything that we do. So I am her and she is me and we are meant to love each other. Only I don’t love me and I don’t love her and I don’t think she loves me or herself either. So we are in a fix. And anyway, navigating more than my fair share of turbulent waters and tight bends, I have enough on my plate for now. All I can manage is to carry on and to respect myself enough not to overly antagonise what is already brittle by not forcing things that don’t feel right. I shall draw again. I shall finish her. But I shall not torture myself by returning to the ingracious instigator who, on my birthday of all days, so pained me, because I have better things to do with my time and, already, I have wasted enough.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Lemon Juice

Time hangs immobile,
stubbornly static;
like stagnant air.

A dog at my feet,
a kettle on the hob:
worrying…

An accident with a knife;
a sudden slit:
and blood, everywhere.

Lemon juice smarts
and the day – already grey,
darkens.

With the hours stretching further
than my eyes can see,
and the space in-between longer

than my mind can imagine:
I am not only scared,
I am terrified.

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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