an elegy on loss

***

She wakes early, showers; plans her day. Granola, with berries. Tea. There is a lot to do. A lot for her brain to do. It’s oppressive. She works for ten minutes, lies on the bed. It shouldn’t be this hard. It shouldn’t be this hard. To escape she seizes the much-loved novel, escapes to Italy, a different time, a similar heart. Her mind is struggling to impose order on things; she hears the kindly voice that lulls her to sleep, tells her it’s okay, if she’s sad she can work tomorrow, it’ll pass, I promise, I promise it will pass. Her brain needs rest, anyway. Better to fall into the warm embrace of sleep. Sleep seems to her a respite. She hears another voice: the voice says that something inside her is broken, fundamentally, and it always has been, and she will never overcome it, because of it she is just too …. for this world. The voice taunts her for lying still. You don’t love your work, someone else would love it more than you, enjoy it, you’re supposed to be enjoying it, why aren’t you enjoying it, you’re an ungrateful brat. You have everything but you can’t see it. It’s not enough for you. You will fall behind and fail. No one will love you for who you are. There is something about you. Something broken, unattractive. Repellant. Fat, actually. You treat your body with no respect, no love.

How can I love myself when you’re whispering evil things to me all the time? How can I create anything when you cripple my attempts by laughing at them? It’s not your fault, says a third voice. It’s not your fault. You didn’t choose to be born, much less to be born like this, with this paralysing desire for love. You can’t change your nature. Everything has already happened. You’re a mound of cells. Wired to have babies and be lumbered with them, struggling to love them, no power over what they become, not really.

Come on. You’re better than this, you have a fine mind, an acute sensitivity to things, feelings, people, you write sensitively, you’re eyes are a gift to the world. You’re healthy and strong and robust. You have endured so much. It hasn’t been fair. You’ve done the best you can. All your decisions make perfect sense. You are a wonderfully supportive friend and sister. You have got here, you were smart enough to get here, you can do this, it’s fine that you didn’t feel up to it today, there are people who have never betrayed you. There will be someone who makes it all worthwhile, who sees your acute vulnerability and comes to know you and also to learn how unbelievably easy it is to make you ecstatically happy, and that will be the most fulfilling thing in the world for him, and he will value your mind and the depth of your love more than anything else in his life. It’s a dark world. Full of mystery and horror. People are the threads that shine us through. The things we can hold on to through whatever chance might throw at us. There are a lot of people depending on you. I – I love you more than anything. We’ve come so far. Lived, fully. You are a relentless force. There is so much more to live for. It will be a thousand times more than what you felt when he was a possibility, when some part of you always doubted it. And even more so with him. Your mind and body sense this, they are waiting, they know it is what you were made for. But there is no point in compromise, you know it will only bring you grief. These weeks and months being single are hard. You’re not built for them. But that doesn’t mean they’re a waste. They’re part of the big picture, they set up the contrasts, the dark moments are the shadow, there are still wonderful bright moments of light. How brilliant that the best is yet to come. All that can be done during this period is to do your best on a daily basis. Look after yourself. As best you can. You’re in the best position anyone could wish to be. But it’s also okay if you can’t feel that always. Taking things for granted is part of the human condition. I love you.

 

***

A.R.A

February 2016

untitled poem

and finally the longed for arms, longed for eyes
are here with me and all
effort flies free it is easy as breathing
we sit and look at each other and the fear
The fear of not being known falls away
our June voices stretch though the
haze of darkened memories, darkened time
breaking through, sun
kissing a plant after a long time kept in the dark
***

A.W.

 Spring, 2017

On Mindfulness

I have sorta wanted to write an article about mindfulness ever since I did the university course in Michaelmas term of my second year, but I hesitate; this is mainly because mindfulness means different things to different people, and one of the greatest joys of it for me has been creating my own version of it, tailored to me, and exploring it on my own terms. So I am wary of prescribing what it is, and I am sure that there will be many things I have taken from mindfulness that other people haven’t, or that other people have picked up on but I haven’t. I am writing nonetheless because I think that it could do a lot of people a lot of good, really; it has done me a tremendous amount of good, and at this stage I feel the compulsion to share this goodness.

 

So what is mindfulness? At the heart of mindfulness for me is the practice of compassion. It starts with yourself. In a mindfulness meditation, you take the time to concentrate on all the physical sensations available to you, starting and ending with the feeling of the breath moving in and out of your body. You pay attention to the way it feels to be sat on the chair or lying on your bed, focusing on all the places your body makes contact with the bed or chair beneath you, and feeling the ground beneath your feet. This process is called ‘grounding’, because the practice of feeling the earth beneath you grounds you physically and mentally. Feet on the ground, bum on the chair you are safe, the earth holds you, and that physical security translates into mental security.

 

Grounding achieved, the idea is to continue focusing on the physical sensations available to you, as these ground you in the present. Of course, this is not the easiest thing in the world, and inevitably thoughts will arise, positive or negative, as they tend to do. The idea is to accept these thoughts as they arise, listen to them, and return to focusing on the breath when you can. The key is rather than getting frustrated with the lapse in attention you are wholly accepting of your tendency to get lost in thought, and respond by gently guiding your attention back to your breath and corporeal presence but only when you remember to.

 

One of the tenets of mindful practice is that thoughts and feelings are there to help you. Anger, sadness and anxiety exist not to just make you feel horrible but to highlight unmet needs, so that you are looking after yourself, body and soul, as well as possible. A useful image is to see these feelings as guests knocking on your door, whom during a meditation you take the time to lovingly welcome in, give a cup of tea, and listen to.

 

This is not an easy thing to do. Often our gut reaction is to reject sadness, anger, fear and anxiety. But by welcoming them and seeing them as things that exist to make us happy we can do ourselves a world of good.

 

One mindful practice that makes this easier is changing the way we think. Rather than thinking ‘I am sad’ we isolate the emotion within our psyche and think ‘part of me is sad’; this image is hugely helpful, because we are able to remember that the rest of us is available to embrace the sad part of us and give them the love and attention they need.

 

The more we are able to master the practice of self-compassion, the more we can feel compassion towards the people and things around us, starting of course with those closest to us who gain a great deal from our love and attention. With the ability to love ourselves generously comes the ability to love other people generously. Understanding your own needs gives you a great deal of insight into other people’s, and you are more able to respect other people’s needs and love them for exactly who they are, rather than just for the good things they bring to your life. During formal meditation, another tenet of mindful practice is to take a moment to think of those closest to you, hold awareness of them in your heart, and send love in their direction.

 

Having compassion for all other human beings is the next step. Sending love to those closest to you comes naturally; it is not as easy to extend love to everyone else in the world, but again, from empathising with your own needs comes the awareness that everyone on this planet has their own internal universe, their own worries and joys, and they are as deserving of love as yourself or your boyfriend or your best friend.

 

To make a slightly more questionable next step I would say the ultimate move is to extend your love to all the other living beings in this world, including the animals and the trees and the lakes and the mountains, respecting their own individual beauty and loving them for themselves, not for what they can do for you.

 

Not that loving things for what they can do for you is an impulse to be ashamed of. Shame gets in the way of compassion. Selfishness is a natural thing; it is about self preservation, really, and as such serves its purpose. Like every other emotional impulse, it is something to be accepted.

 

 

varium et mutabile, semper femina

 

This is a repost of the introduction to my previous blog, which I started in April this year, and can be found here.

***

Varium et mutabile, semper femina is a quotation taken from Book 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid. It roughly translates to “fickle and ever-changing is woman.” In the context of the poem, it is meant by Mercury (who is referring to Dido here) as an insult, designed to prod Aeneas into abandoning her on the island of Carthage as quickly as possible because goodness knows what she might do with her volatile woman brain! (As it happens, she does pile up their marriage bed and all his clothes, set them on fire, and stab herself through the chest with a sword, lying dead as the smoke from the flames curls up into the sky for Aeneas to anxiously watch as equally heartbroken he sails away to fulfil his destiny of founding Rome. This is tragic, and deeply upsetting for Aeneas and the reader, but it is also a beautiful, cathartic, piece of art, that entails Dido expressing her grief in a way that symbolises its depth.)

I fell in love with Classics when I fell in love with Aeneid 4, during a Year 13 Latin class in which we were reading this very part of the poem as a group. I remember this quote well because it sums up a male perspective on women that we see a lot: “Oh women, they’re so unstable! Always crying! Too volatile, in fact, to be given political or social responsibility.” It is a male impulse that lies behind every time a man has told me to “calm down” or “not to get so worked up all the time.” This always lighted an anger in me that I found hard to understand; was what they were saying really that wrong?

My sister was told by her first boyfriend (poor guy tbh I hope he never reads this) that sometimes she “emotionally overreacted to things.” She broke up with him quite soon after that. Again, it has taken me a while to understand why this caused my 17-year-old self such anger and an exceptionally fiery, defensive compassion for her at the time, but I think now I do. It is because when someone tells you to “calm down”, they are effectively saying that your emotional response is disproportionate to whatever has happened – that is, ultimately, that your mind and body are not working properly. That’s why it entails such an affront.

Female creativity, and female sexuality, have been repressed from being publicly expressed for thousands of years. That is not to say they have not always crept out in our personal lives – volumes of notebooks, hummed songs, the way we dress (everything is art if you think about it) and I am happy to observe that there have been thousands of women who have been able to wield political power and have a public outlet for their creativity. But in general, our instinctively more empathetic tendencies have meant that we have often felt solely responsible for and good at childcare, which involves absolutely endless time, love and energy, limiting the time we have to explore and express ourselves. It is incredible now that we have so many female artists in the Western mainstream media that weren’t there in such numbers before: actresses, poets, singers, dancers, visual artists, filmmakers, the list of artistic media goes on. In my opinion, the fact that, generally speaking, our sexuality is less constrained and more freely expressed has a direct relationship with the fact that worldwide our partners, brothers and fathers are increasingly seeing our public expressions of creativity as something to celebrate rather than something to police.

In myself, I have after various experiments with hormonal contraception (which unfortunately I am too sensitive to use for now; I have recently opted for the copper coil, which has been a dream) noticed the relationship between my menstrual cycle and my creativity. I feel most creative when I’m at the peak of fertility (my body literally yearning to make things) and most depressive in the two days before the catharsis of my period. Then the cycle begins again.

With this blog – entitled varium et mutabile, semper femina, an insult which I am choosing to reclaim as something that points up what exactly what I think makes women valuable and unique – I intend to contribute my thoughts on whatever I feel is important. It is likely to be mental health related for now, as that is where my energy is at the moment, but I place no constraints on its evolution: hopefully, it will be whatever it wants to be. I will also share pieces of art that I value; poems, books, paintings, plays, in case anyone else likes them too. Thanks for reading.

On music as therapy

Dear readers,

I have just come across a lot of kind messages about my blog (especially the one about social media and self esteem) that I didn’t know I had received until about five minutes ago. Thanks all for your kind words, I appreciate positive feedback hugely, as I don’t particularly expect people to read my stuff! This is a repost of a piece of writing I wrote in April but given recent events I think music is more important than ever. Love, A x

 

***

 

I did not have a huge variety of music played in my house when I was growing up. It was mostly classical: my father is a talented pianist and has been playing ever since I can remember, he himself falling in love with Chopin and Beethoven at a young age. I used to take the piss out of him for listening to recordings of HIS OWN piano playing in the car, but now I totally understand that impulse; how lovely to listen to recordings of your own take on somebody else’s beloved work of art, a moment otherwise exclusively irretrievable through memory, something that fades over time?

 

I enjoyed classical music as a child, but the first time I remember feeling profoundly moved was when I listened to Dido’s album No Angel. I was five or six; Dido worked in my father’s office so my mum said that it was only fair we give her album a listen. I listened to that album, and Life for Rent, into my early teens; and even now for me they capture an innocent longing. I had the dimmest sense of what love and heartbreak were, but even then, my heart swelled with emotion at certain lyrics. These lyrics from her song Life for Rent were the ones I sang to myself most often when I was little:

 

I haven’t ever really found a place that I call home

I never stick around quite long enough to make it

I apologize once again I’m not in love

But it’s not as if I mind

that your heart ain’t exactly breaking

 

It’s just a thought, only a thought

 

But if my life is for rent and I don’t learn to buy

Well I deserve nothing more than I get

Cos nothing I have is truly mine

 

Looking back, It figures that as a child I sought this freedom, this independence: yes mum and dad were always right, and I shouldn’t cross roads without them or eat tooooo much cake, but the longing for personal autonomy is something that I feel is natural to us even at a young age. Thence Dido.

 

But possibly the most important musical epiphany I had was this one. I was in the car, driving up and down some hills in the Brecon Beacons with my mum and my dad and my sister, listening through my headphones to Bulletproof Heart. I felt the warmth of elation in my veins as I listened to the lyrics:

 

Gravity

Don’t mean too much to me

I’m who I’ve got to be

These pigs are after me, after you

Run away, like it was yesterday

And we could run away, if we could run away

Run away from here

I was 14. There was nothing in my life that I had a particular desire to flee from. Or was there?

 

I didn’t think about anything apart from My Chemical Romance for the entirety of the next two years. I wasn’t really interested in starting relationships with the young boys growing into men around me. I didn’t think deeply about my appearance, about what people thought of me, about sex, which seemed like a hazy but exciting promise waiting for me in my latter teenage years. Other musicians entranced me at this time, sure. The purity and honesty of Taylor Swift’s voice; Paramore, Green Day, Beyonce, Shakira, Eminem. But they were nothing on this band, who I felt I knew as deeply if not more deeply than the people around me.

 

Things changed for me a little bit when I managed to get my heart broken twice at sixteen when I had finished my GCSE’s and I spending the summer with the friends from school who I had had for five years. Yes it hurt, like fuck. I’m not gonna pretend there wasn’t a lot of crying. I’m not gonna pretend I didn’t focus on all of the things I thought were wrong with my mind and with my body for the next five years and, on some level, blame the failures of every romance and relationship I embarked on upon them. There was a lot of loss, that summer, and in the next two years. But during that time, and for years to come, the following lyrics from My Chemical Romance’s 2007 song Cancer constituted the catharsis I needed:

 

Turn away

If you could get me a drink of water

Cause my lips are chapped and faded

Call my Aunt Marie

Help her gather up my things and bury me

With all my favourite colours,

My sisters and my brothers still

I will not kiss you

Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you

 

The you here was at once my beloved school, myself, every one of my closest girlfriends, and the boy who had broken my heart in the knowledge that I would be moving to another school, so he would not have to face public scrutiny for whatever he did. He was involved with someone else at the time. Looking back, he knew me to an exceptionally superficial degree, and I him. I hadn’t given any of my precious self away, or received any of his, so the healing has taken a while but I got over it fairly quickly.

 

I remember thinking, mere hours after having my heart broken, listening to music alone, that nothing could truly harm me if I always had my music to soothe me and express the anger and hurt I felt in a nonviolent way. Yes I was angry. But I had no blueprint for the expression of anger that could be damaging to other people; it bled out safely through my headphones, when I was alone, or dancing around in my friends, or at the top of the 210 on the way up to the places where I spent my teenage years.

 

My Chemical Romance broke up on March 23rd, 2013. I cried solidly for six hours. I’d loved every song on every one of their four albums and the knowledge that the people I felt so close to had decided that they needed not to make music anymore broke my heart more deeply than any breakup I’d had up until that point. I still think of that awful rainy day as the end of my childhood.

 

But somewhere I understood. If they no longer wanted to make music as a group, it didn’t feel true to them, they had every right to withdraw, every right to end that artistic union. That was special about MCR was that when you listen to the music you can feel how deeply they have all been in pain and the strength with which they have fought and are fighting that, and learn something yourself about the sheer strength you get through suffering.

 

As I get older, I feel more and more resistant to the term ‘pop music.’ Pop – short for popular – comes from the Latin populus, meaning simply ‘the people’, as opposed to the non-elite. At its root meaning, all it means is the music of the people. Something to embrace, rather than something to look down upon. I think the difference between, say, the supposedly ‘popular’ Taylor Swift’s earliest albums and MCR is simply the nuance of emotion.

 

We hear millions of lovesongs and breakup songs. Yeah okay, love is painful and hard and you’re always afraid of losing it. I have needed these songs very badly in my time. But I have also needed to feel anger, sadness, envy, resentment, joy, fear, in all their different and infinite combinations, and that’s what MCR gave me, and that’s what I take from Frank Turner, Lana Del Rey, Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, Bon Iver, Jeff Buckley, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Vivaldi, Chopin, Debussy and even the genuinely glorious and life affirming piece of art that is the La La Land soundtrack. Part of me is always gently pissed off when someone comments on my musical choices with anything but absolute respect. I think it’s clear why. Own what you love. My Chemical Romance was never cool. That’s what made it so cool.

Without You & Knocking on Heaven’s Door

 

 

Hello dear readers. I am sorry it has been a while; I have now done three finals out of four, but I am really struggling to focus on Classics this week when it seems there is so much conflict spiralling out of control in the world around me. I was babysitting my baby cousin on Saturday night not far from my home in London when the terrorist attacks hit London Bridge, Vauxhall and Borough Market. My parents were out, at a party with my aunt and uncle; my sister and I had a painful half an hour waiting for them to text us back and confirm that they were all right. I went back to London for safety and a bit of peace; I have never felt so vulnerable inside my own home, and so worried for everyone I know and love.

Music is the one thing that, without fail, relieves and expresses my anxiety about the vulnerability to disaster of the people around me and the beautiful world I find myself in. I have grown up never for a second doubting that I am fundamentally safe, and violent conflict has until the last few years seemed as distant as it could seem to anyone; that is no longer the case. I hate violence, and I am gently coming to terms with the fear I have been made to feel. I have no answers, but this recording of Without You (which transforms into Knocking on Heaven’s Door) is proving a good salve for worry at the moment. Beaming love; look after each other.

***

Come Home (Cardinal Pell)

Angry with the establishment? [Read: angry with the Tories?]

***

But your ethical hypocrisy
Your intellectual vacuity
And your arrogance don’t bother me as much
As the fact that you have turned out to be such
A goddamn coward

You’re a coward, Georgie
(You’re a coward, George)
Come and face the music, Georgie
(Face the music, George)

You owe it to the victims, Georgie
(You owe it, George)
Come and face the music, the music
Hallelujah, hallelujah

 

Coachella – Woodstock on My Mind

 

 

 

 

‘Cause what about all these children
And what about all their parents
And what about about all their crowns they wear
In hair so long like mine
And what about all their wishes
Wrapped up like garland roses
Round their little heads
I said a prayer for a third time

‘Cause what about all these children
And all their children’s children
And why am I even wondering that today
Maybe my contribution
Could be as small as hoping
That words could turn to birds and birds would send my thoughts your way

***