Theo: ‘Technology only came out, like, 20 years ago’.
Call your friends. Let them sit with you (they don’t care about the state of your house, truly. No one cares. Your mess is endearing. You’re human. It happens.) Talk about stupid shit you used to do. Tell all your favourite stories, the ones that make you laugh. Remember how far you’ve come.
Kiss your pets. Water your plants. Repot that one you’ve been staring at as it slowly declines over the last month. This plant is not a metaphor. It’s just something that benefits from care. Just like you.
Throw out that mug you hate. Put flowers on your bedside table. Ask for help. Remember you are precious.
Stay off the internet for a minute. Read a book. Meditate. Even if it’s just taking 3 deep breaths.
Remember that one day at a time is a real and powerful thing. Remember that it won’t always be like this. And there’s comfort in that. And there’s something to treasure in that. Rest. Restore. Recover. Remember that it takes 72 hours after a triggering event for your brain chemistry to restore. Be patient.
Have a plan for when you’re feeling low, or anxious, or manic. Let folks close to you know what your plan is so they can support you. Support people: keep texting, calling and showing up. Even and especially when you don’t hear back. Consistency is key.
Remember, we’re all just walking each other back home.
Eight years I’ve been trying to capture time. In photographs. In epitaphs to a moment past.
To hold something bright burning just a little longer. To string-together all the moments I’ve held you, but those are the ties loves strength made stronger.
I’ve never been more significant to another. I’ve never been more myself than since being your mother.
Happy heart, my surest shore.
You’re the one I was waiting for.
Love, Mama x
On the night we met I was running away. It was mid winter. A night like a hunt. Full of tigers. What had we killed to be here?
Our eyes met across a crowded room, as they tell you they will, if you believe in that sort of thing. And so often, what you believe in ends up happening to you.
I used to live in a faux fur coat of questionable origin; wide lapels of deep cream, a swing of a thing. The outfit your ghost would wear, if you could be bothered to come back; if you hadn’t decided where to go; if you hadn’t yet remembered what you believed in, depending on how you went.
I was drinking whatever beer you could find sold for less than a dollar and locked into an argument about Beat Poets, as was the style of the time.
He was a poet, too, then. Though anything you once were you often are forever. Now I know we’re all poets at heart. I’ve met enough people and heard enough stories to know that’s true for a good hundred years. But he said he was, promised it into something greater than himself.
I’d said I was a writer once. I’d hoped to direct my life down that road, not knowing yet that life knows where it’s leading. It wasn’t as true as that I wrote. That’s the funny thing about bravery. When you say: I don’t feel very brave, but I try very hard.
Something answers back: What’s the difference?
I fell in love with him twice a day for 6 weeks. We had the same songs in us. That was enough. Until it wasn’t.
Years later, someone asked me why I thought anyone would want to talk to God. I said; because people have questions they don’t want to have to wait for life to answer.
When I was 17, my mother went to our favourite bookstore and handed the owner my list of birthday requests. I only remember Tender Buttons and a very dry Susan Sontag essay collection being on there, and that they didn’t have either, but the staff we’re impressed. Later, I’d kiss a boy who worked there; once or twice, but meaningfully, and he used to bring me Italian Vogues with the covers ripped off, which I enjoyed the high/low glamour of a great deal the summer I was 19.
There’s this Gertrude Stein quote; “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”
I’ve lived that quote in different ways as its meaning has evolved for me. What I see in it now is that it takes time; allowing your head, or your heart, or your soul – which ever is the loudest in you, to make itself heard. It takes time to know yourself. Whenever you get there, there is no there.
There’s so much push to bring what you want to spend your life on into focus. But remember what you want to waste it on too. The internet sucks your creativity. We’re all on the internet looking for ideas instead of giving ourselves space to have them. Waste your time on something that restores you. Sometimes you just have to sit in the sun in as much luxury as you can muster and read things you don’t understand. One day you will.
Look at people that you love; a lot of success comes from being who you are, from that thing you love in your own quiet. What it draws out of you. It helps to only do things you believe in. That you believe that there’s a future for. And to slow down. Slowing down allows for perspective, in real time. Put trust in the things that you love; that they’ll love you back. And let them when they do.
Theo. I live in the love I have for you. You took who I was, at one time, and where I was going, which was nowhere, and drew the map. Some days you are an island, and I am the ocean. Trying to stay calm; to be still enough that you can see your own reflection in me, immovable and at the center of something I can only look into though I surround you. I would walk out of this water to be with you. I’d be the fish that wished for legs and willed them true. Sometimes you cast your line out for me only to draw it in at the first sign of struggle. Sometimes you catch me just to burn me before I can nourish you. Sometimes we swim together. We are happiest then. When everything is cool and clear.
Some days you are the ocean and I am the island. Trying to defend myself from your relentlessness. Knowing only that the tide will rise and fall. Standing in the shallows, where we are equal. All the days spent trying to find where you stop and I begin. Staring out at your changeable beauty. Needing to build my own fires, away from you, to keep something in me alight. So that I can remember all of my elements. Not only the one that makes up who I am for you.
Mabel. I am holding life open for you, my feet on the earth and my hands in the stars. Making space so you can take shape; become whoever you decide you want to be, once you are ready. Until then, and after, casting a protective circle around you. Some truths brought into existence must find further ways to be true; a once literal thing now delivered some other way. Your mother the force field. Holding the world up. Holding it back. Making better what I can, bringing it to you, explaining its parts and how they can work. I am trying to help the world work for you. I am trying to help you work the world.
There’s this Kendrick Lamar track where the fade out is, “You ain’t gotta tell me I’m the one”. Repeated, repeated, repeated. I’m the one, standing in the full gale of you. I always have been. I have grown roots here. A Winter in between Stein and Vogue came my grandfathers funeral, which was a whole and living thing, a celebration. My mother can do that. You always need someone who can throw a hooley. Who can push the boat out. Who knows the words to the songs that need singing. Who can build a fire and dance in the flames. A man rose and filled the room, and when he spoke our hearts stood at attention. He told us how my grandfather was a mighty Totara. How he had the heart of a chief. I come from the forest. I know what it is to be cut down to be made into something useful.
My love is the acorn that will grow you an oak,
Mabel: “Mama, when I have a bad dream and I wake up scared I think about you and that makes me feel better.”
I didn’t have an old man until a few years ago. Some tender moments of wisdom shared with fleeting father figures; with taxi drivers, in hardware stores. Everyone else’s dad always laughing at my jokes. I looked for my dad for years; in hard work, and in shame and in seeking approval. He wasn’t in any of those places. He never showed up.
Fathers day’s a weird day when you don’t have one. When you have a mother who stood up and stood in. Who raised you completely and in spite of how hard it was for your heart to blossom in the long shadow of someones absence. I fell in love with what I didn’t have. Chased that, hard. Trying to cast sparks from stones I could get no blood from. Though every day she loved me. Loyally. And every birthday there was a party and presents and a cake that looked like a pony. And I was sneaking out before the sun, checking the mailbox in secret, in shame, for word from him. Something to say, I’m happy you’re alive. I acknowledge you. But nothing came. Though I checked every hour until bed. And every year until I was an adult. I don’t check anymore.
Yesterday, on Father’s Day, my Dad picks me up for dinner. We couldn’t look more different. His accent tells a story of how far he’s traveled to be with us; how important we must be for him to do that. And we get souvlakis though they’re not the same as when he was young, in Athens. And we talk about missing home even when you’re in it; all those places you can’t return to. The geography of disaster. The importance of garlic. And we’re laughing. When we get home, to the house he shares with my mother, everything he does for her is love, love, love. From where he parks the car, to how he holds her in conversation. Every day he loves her. Loyally. He’s always thinking of her. People don’t realise how special that is, to be in someone’s thoughts. You really feel it when you’re not.
I cut my finger last week, making the lunches. Trying, trying, trying to get everything done. And last night, at nearly 31, my Dad said ‘oh, darling!’ when I showed him. And got up from the dinner table to put a plaster on the cut. To address the wound. To show me he cares that I’m hurting. And I commit this all to memory, the best way I know how. I write it down. These love letters; to myself; to you.
I’m thinking of you.
A happy Father’s Day.
It often goes like this, for example: gets Rubik’s cube for Christmas; immediately solves 2 sides of the Rubik’s cube; fascinated, dismantles the Rubik’s cube; is then unable to reassemble the bloody Rubik’s cube, because, I’m not sure if you knew this dear readers, but they’re not actually supposed to be taken apart (see also: vcr’s; cell phones; torches.)
Your genius will then be inconsolable at the loss and no amount of rational discussion or empty threats/promises (which ever you have more energy for) will rectify this. Prepare to be emotionally exhausted for the rest of your life. For this I have no advice besides that which is applicable to all parents, and should be the only things written in all those bloody parenting books: try not to lose your shit.
All the soft toys in your house will have elaborate names. And phone numbers. And interests. We have a hedgehog here who goes by Mr Prickle Wiggley-Pants. Or Max, for short. Max doesn’t want me to disclose his contact information on the internet, but doesn’t mind if I mention that he was a semi-professional soccer player in his homeland of Spain. He also enjoys sleeping under the couch, because it’s the only place in the house that’s quiet. I have some theories that he may be in political exile. The guy gets a lot of hushed phone calls, you know? Then there’s a lobster named Bubba who appears to have embodied the spirit of James Brown. I could go on.
You will be woken regularly with questions which you have no idea how to answer, but must, because this is your life now. And also, because if you do not answer, the question will just be repeated incessantly until you make something up. I do not advise this, however, on account that one question will invariably lead to 6000 questions and it’s only so long before you will find yourself trying to explain relativism with an orange or concepts of theology on a magnadoodle.
Raising a genius will make you smarter, out of sheer necessity. Nothing will make you regret not finishing your English degree like having to resort to google when in discussion of submerged similes. With a 4-year-old.
Everyone is asleep and I am making your lunch. Buttering wholemeal sandwiches and filling them with ham and cheese and lettuce. Wrapping them in baking paper.
You stumble in, pyjama’d. You’re still warm with sleep. You eat 3 Weetbix for breakfast and drink a glass of water and we sit together in the morning sun that has swallowed the kitchen.
You get dressed in the lounge, in clothes laid out for you the night before; last night’s tomato sauce sponged off your blue jeans. You’re ready to go. I’m only pretending I’m ready.
I hold you in my arms on the front step and we take a photo. I want to commemorate the moment some other way than this; some way that other people do; covering all my bases, preparing for whoever you may become. Trying, always, to plan for all futures. You look so big in my arms we both look like children.
You call back through the gate, ‘Mama! I need a kiss!’, though you’ve had an even hundred already this morning. I have tried not to tell you to have a great day. Tried to keep my adjectives from expecting too much. Wanting you to be able to identify your own experience without it growing from some sense of my expectation. ‘I hope you learn something cool, Bubba’, I say. My cheek to yours.
Your sister insists on waving you goodbye on the street. She calls it ‘waving out’, which, like so many things she does, has a certain sense of propriety, though she’s half in pyjamas. You’re both endlessly charming. The sky is so blue.
She stands by your door and waves a big wave. You roll down your window and she clambers across the gutter in ever-bare feet to high-five you. ‘See you later, Alligator!’ you yell at each other down the street, until you are out of sight.