My very own wayback machine

gemma-evans-64661-unsplashWhen I was a smallie, I always thought of being a grown-up as a finished state, a perfected art, no more polishing, no more learning. I thought of this in a good and a bad way: The good was that I would feel settled, secure and done. The bad was that this state was unchangeable, and if I happened to cross the threshold into Real Solid Adulthood at a time of sadness or difficulty, that I would be stuck like that to the end of my days, like a scrunched up face locked in place by a vengeful wind. This worried me, Little Me, but I was lucky to have school years that were mostly bearable and sometimes even joyful, twenties that were deeply compelling and interesting, and I always had confidence that far surpassed my abilities, which kept my spirit buoyed.

In recent years though, for various reasons, that confidence dwindled, ebbed away, and distilled itself into a small and ever-receding pool. Youthful confidence is boundless or non-existent, it rarely falls in between the two. I was either crippled by doubt or defiantly steadfast in my ambition and correctness. As age crept up, though, so too did my need to pause and question before an action, and so grew my hesitancy.

A great love of mine, a great comfort at difficult times, was my ability to talk to strangers. Not always in a deep way, but just to chat at a supermarket till or in the nook of a bus shelter on an October evening. Like my mother and her’s before her, I see it as a gift; a love of conversing, of sharing, of offloading. For someone with a troubled heart or mind, it is a moment to break a pattern of constant, compulsive thought. For someone with a happy mind, it is an opportunity to engage joyfully with the world around them. For me it was both. Even now in moments where I feel a need to be alone, to be silent, I never begrudge another the ability to greet me or strike up a conversation on a bus or a plane. I know their need, and it is more often than not one of seeking joy or seeking comfort, and I would deny neither.

In these recent years of confidence-ebbing, I found these moments became less and less common for me. I questioned myself before talking, I found doubt in conversations with strangers, fear in moments that had previously brought communion. Part of it came from living abroad, from feeling unstable in a foreign language or accent, but part of it was also the approach of Real Solid Adulthood, of thinking “this is the way adults behave, and I am an adult now.” Adults have difficult things that happen to them, and they are stoic and silent because of these things. Adults carry on about their business and adults manage their turmoil deep in their bellies, which actually isn’t really managing it at all.

After a job change that was rather a large kick in the arse, and the death of my Dad, which is one of the largest kicks in the arse you can get to be fair, I felt resigned to this new way of behaving. The Alice that spoke to people, who was excited to tell and hear new things, to be open and enthused, that was an Alice of youth, and that time was over now, and I was ok with it. I often pondered it, sat quietly thinking how funny it was that these swathes of our personalities could just disappear but this was what Little Me had prepared me for: That Adulthood would arrive, and the shutters would descend and that would be that.

I became, in a way, stagnant. I don’t mean this as an airy metaphor. I literally moved less. My presence stilled to a sluggish heave. I drank more wine, I ate more food, I became slower, a drawn-out lurch towards hibernation, but this was what adulthood was, wasn’t it? You moved less, you became more proper, you dealt with those things, those huge life-changing things that everyone said you’d never get over and you just never got over them and that’s why I was how I was now. That’s how you were, that’s how people were. Those losses, those pains, those devastating blows, why *would* you get up in the same way after them? I would live now under their shadow, like I always thought I would, but it was funny all the same to see it happen, to watch such a bright colour get erased from my palette.

The good things in life went on, of course, still love, still food, still family and friends, still travel and books and song, but that sense of outreach, that sense of a stranger as a friend continued to wane. More doubt and more anxiety crept in to quiet corners, and I stiffened myself mentally to bolster against it. I was trying to keep the same measures, the same surroundings, and the same reactions and just carry on through whatever was happening, this adjustment to adulthood. No pausing, no stopping, just carry on, keep going and get it dealt with.

Time, (as much as I fucking hate a cliche), truly is a healer, and also an oracle, a beautiful witch, a blessed God. As much as I tried to carry on with my normal way of doing things, I came to a point where I knew that progress was only possible through change, and that for me, change meant a pause, a stop, a calmer approach to life. More focus, more reading, more routine, and more normality. I knuckled down to work I love, went back to studying, and began to move. I ran clumsily again, I did yoga despite not really being able to touch past my knees, and I swam and spent hours in rotisserie level saunas. I dunked my head under water and held my breath, reacquainting myself with my own silence. I began to run faster, and with more ease, my lungs becoming less of an enemy and more of an engine. I stopped drinking, and started to try to listen when my body was high or low or tired or riddled with anxiety. I just tried to be, in me, in that moment, with myself and whatever was surrounding me. I could only do this recently, to have tried this even 6 months ago would have been as unthinkable as flying to the moon.

Three days ago, I went for a run during the day, sweaty and difficult on a freezing North Sea promenade. Afterwards, I stopped for a coffee in a little shop near a circular green lapped by trams. As I sat at the table, my glasses steamed up from the welcoming heat, I began to chat to the waitress, we laughed and pinged snippets back and forth, and when she walked away, a woman sitting in a far corner acknowledged me, and we smiled at each other, glad of our place in a warm and cosy spot on a freezing day. Glad of each other. My gift has come back, my ability to interact, and without even realising it I fixed myself. A chat to a stranger as glorious as a sign from the heavens. A “hello” is a blessing.




We bury our dead

I’ve been working on some side projects of late based around migrants to Europe, and how utterly like us they are. Our losses are their losses when it comes to family, love and life in general. What will eventually become a collection starts today with this piece.

You sit on your couch
Cushions plumped, back supported
A cool breeze comes in from the open window
Your dinner was unremarkable but your belly is full
Tomorrow your alarm will ping you from sleep
Your day will start again and you count the days to your next paycheck

When your mother died, she died in a hospital bed
Her eyes were closed, her mouth easy
She breathed her last with the help of a small drip pulsing small amounts of unbelievable comfort through her body
Your heart broke, but she knew no pain
She was warm, she was clean, and she was in a tight circle of care

When her mother died, she was alone on a road
One gunshot followed another, footsteps ricocheted off crumbling walls
Her mother’s last breaths were gasps, no medicine to temper the gulps
The sun chased them all as they tried to say goodbye

When you buried your mother, you buried her in your family’s plot
She lies with John, with Mary, with Tom
The last soil closed over her and you shared a drink to remember her life

She did not bury her mother.
Her body lay on a road between the school and the marketplace, a pathway for trucks and tanks
She does not know where her mother lies now. She cannot ever visit her again in life.

When your mother died you grieved. When her mother died she ran.
She knew if she did not that her life would be gone soon after her mother’s. She ran to the only help on offer, a gnashing offer of care that was made risky by her skin. Your loss is only welcomed here if it is the same colour as ours and speaks the same language.

You think of your mother a hundred times a day. She thinks of hers the same. You think of how you spent hours together shopping and planning family dinners. She remembers her mother’s recipes for lamb and bread, and the clothes she stole from her wardrobe.

You lost your mother despite wishing that love would keep her here, but you lost her with great dignity. She lost hers knowing that the world had given up on her mother ever having dignity.

You turn on to your right side to switch out the light and sleep. Your mother’s face is present before you.

She keeps her eyes open, unable to let go of the fear of what might be next for her.

Both of your mothers wanted the same for their daughters. They watched you crawl, fall, tumble and grow. They saw your precious energy surge into beautiful life. You saw theirs extinguished.

The love is the same, the worlds are different.

We bury our dead in the way our world allows us to.

The valley of the squinting windows


Seeing as it’s Christmas and I haven’t shared many stories on here about life in The Hague, I thought I’d let you in on a gross little tale that’s been going on in my life since I moved in May.

Much like Luka, I live on the second floor, and directly across from me, in a near identical block of flats, lives a man who, almost nightly, watches what one might refer to as nudie flicks on his extremely large television.

He doesn’t close his Venetian blinds, he doesn’t appear to indulge in any manual vigorousness, he just sits down and watches terrible people riding for hours. And hours. And more hours. I have made complex and laborious stews and eaten them and taken a a nap and when I’m washing my plate he is still just arsing around watching Sasha and Josh bate the sexy heads off each other in a police station. (He is very into police-themed stuff.)

He’s upped the ante since the nights got darker, so now I can’t so much as make a cup of tea after 7pm without seeing a HD fanny a few yards away.

Sometimes he sits at his desk near his window and browses stuff on his computer while the panoramic intercourse takes place in the background. Ordering a few bits off Amazon while Shirley does reverse cowgirl over his shoulder. He must just like the sound of it. Just sitting by the wintery seaside, in a soundscape of moans and seagulls. My very odd neighbour.