Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Depth


“What makes you crazy?”
The question bulleted past my pulsing heart
Into my butterfly stomach.
His eyes flamed to match the candlelight that separated us, 
Lips pursed together but pulled to the side-
(His left, my right)
A smirk both curious and casual, 
Unlike the moisture that licked the tip of my nose, 
Imitating that dripping down the halfway drunk bottle of white wine, 
From which I poured myself another glass. 

First dates typically consist of
Clammy palms and twirling thoughts, 
A melody of nervous foot taps and knuckle cracks,
They’re a chorus of “where are you from?” 
With catchy lyrics about childhood homes and free time hobbies.

Catchy because they repeat themselves, 
Practiced responses that twist off the tongue with ease, 
Answers too empty to fill a second cup of coffee, 
Or another glass of rosé, 
Cutting the whole affair short-
A memory one won’t remember. 

“What makes you crazy?” he asked again,
Rejecting my response:
(“Lateness”)
Not what drives me crazy, 
But what makes me crazy, 
Out of the ordinary, 
Unique, 
What makes me me.  

A swallow of sparkling water 
(Two ice cubes and a slice of lime)
Was followed by a stutter,
A disbelief that he could ever care about my slipper collection, 
Or my orange juice obsession, 
Or my inability to sleep with a single pillowcase, 
Always needing two. 

Maybe if we took more time to ask questions that matter, 
We’d meet others on the inside, 
Date their mismatched socks and unmade beds, 
Eat dinner with their quirks, 
And take their habits to the cinema 
(Good and bad)
We’d have first dates worth remembering, 
Drown in another’s depth
Instead of swimming on their surface.

Wine wasn’t all that warmed my insides that night-
His gaze ignited areas long since abandoned, 
(Toenails painted with three layers of varnish,
Fingernails with two)  
Eyes burning through walls I’d thought were fireproof.

Our candle flickered long after the restaurant’s was blown out. 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Experience


Senior year was a waterfall of university applications and exam preparations, assigned readings stacked knee-deep and writings presented with a prompt. Entire daydreams were dedicated to the books I’d read and the words I’d write the moment freedom kissed my fingertips. Summer was the arms of a hug into which I sprinted, and it hasn’t let go since. And while senior year might be over, life has slid into its place. Turns out freedom hugs tight.  

If I had to pick a word to describe the past two months, I would be incapable. From girly holidays in Mykonos to guy weekends in Ibiza, from pre-planned theme park trips to spontaneous science museum visits, from card game evenings to morning ears still ringing with the soundtrack of the night before. Sleep became a non-existent priority, little other than wishful thinking, while hobbies were postponed for “lack of free time.”

Guilt is inaccurate, as it implies summer’s memories should be stripped of their sun-kissed smiles and buried under a sea of clouds. Although some moments are blurrier than others, none will be regretted. And the sky, as far as I can remember, was cloudless.  

Writing is nothing without experience.

How can an author choose the appropriate adjectives to describe a kiss without tasting another’s lips between their own? What’s the point of documenting an argument if one’s veins have never burned on the brink of eruption? A beach sunrise cannot be captured on paper without one’s eyes having first seen the snapshot in person. If fiction were a flower, the petals would be the sentences – seductive, yet superficial. The thorn of a rose or the stem of a daisy. It’s the roots that keep the plant standing, the invisible yet crucial thought between the lines written. An imagined emotion is just that, imagined.

Fantasy cannot compare to reality.

There are three components to the craft. Reading, to learn from the talent of those inevitably more talented, and to become aware of what to avoid from the books published as a bad example. Writing, to practice the techniques borrowed (or stolen) from others. The third is the most neglected. It’s life - the one that slips in unnoticed between the words read and written.

So notice it.

Say yes to the opportunities that’ll later transform themselves into stories, not the stories that rob you of every last opportunity. Write to taste life twice, instead of swallowing fast and forfeiting the flavour. Seize a spontaneous invitation, surrender your spot on the sofa and go out with unwashed hair and no plan for the night. Laugh until your lungs split (metaphorically) and let your heart decide for you (theoretically).

Life was not meant for hunched backs and numb bums, sitting at one same desk to scribble away about other worlds. Neither was it intended to be lived in solitude, exposed only to the recurring voices inside one’s head.

I want to write. But not without living first. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Lifeless


The 14th of July, 2016. A night to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.

A crowd with firework eyes and faces radiating innocence – a snapshot that will now never be replicated. Eighty four lives – stolen, the thief accelerating without daring to look back. Two kilometres, two thousand metres, two hundred thousand centimetres. Depends on the perspective.

That night, the crackle of the fireworks was the shattering of thousands of universes. Leaves sinking through the broken branches of a family tree – ten children robbed of the chance to climb, as lifeless as the plastic dolls that slipped from their hands. Dolls that mimic the bodies they lay beside, the absence of heartbeats deafening. When one’s last word is a cry for help, you know that there was more to say. The echo of the lives unlived will haunt us. All of us.

Celebrations melt into devastations with the fire of echoing screams and sounding sirens. Unprepared hospitals present nurses with wide mouths to match their round eyes. Doctors struggle to inhale hope and exhale doubt. The world takes the same breath, but our lungs have thickened with dust, the aftermath of living in constant expectance of another attack, waiting to see which city will deserve the next hashtag, which flag will follow in rippling through social media. We measure our empathy by the popularity of our internet posts, sizing one life up against another in comparing each attack. Maybe if we stopped seeking differences we’d see the similarities blinking up at us. For I am the Russian student on a graduation trip with her friend, and I am the sixty year old mother of seven. I am the American tourist father and I am his son.

The more I discover about this world is the more foreign it becomes for me. For we have evolved into humans without humanity. It doesn’t take perspective to see that.

Terrorism is not without explanation: a psychological desperation to belong, an economic wound caused by battling sans sword or shield. But no amount of clarification will ever help me understand that one moment. The finger as it tugs at the trigger, the foot as it presses into the accelerator. The instant in which one human chooses to murder another.

Maybe all that goes wrong in this world is the product of a misunderstanding. For what kind of sick species encourages its predators to hunt its own prey?

My eyesight offers little to be proud of, but it doesn’t take perfect vision to notice the grey ahead. For now the misunderstanding has momentum, it’s grown a pair of legs and it can pedal without stabilisers. It’s a monster we’ve created and lost control of. It’s a cage we unlocked and a key we’ve misplaced. It’s a perpetual blindness, a permanent deafness. The world was created for us but we will be the ones to destroy it. 

We’ve already begun. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Electric


When a yacht sails, it leaves nothing behind - cruises through the waters like there is nowhere it would rather be. Its sail directs instead of being directed, tickling the wind as the mast stands straight with pride. We, however, left a part of ourselves on that boat. At least I did –doubts drowned in the Mediterranean, insecurities drifted along with the breeze – those wafts that belong to either late night or early morning, those that stroke our skin and inch us into risks we might have otherwise not taken.   

We were told from the beginning that the yacht would be sold, that caution was required as time was limited. We went for it anyway, warned to leave the place the way we found it. I’m still not convinced it’s possible to leave anywhere as it was found. That boat will keep the breaths I exhaled and the words I dared speak. I tattoo myself over places just as I do people, not leaving anywhere, or anyone, the same. Nothing means anything if it isn’t done with passion.

Maybe we weren’t the boat itself, but that last night on it – intoxicated with the absence of tomorrow, swimming in a storybook plot while we had the chance, all the while our tongues burning with the proximity of the yacht’s sale. It feels wrong to call myself a writer when I’ve never understood the meaning of the word bittersweet until now.

While the stars sketched themselves onto the still ocean surface and our legs dangled over the dock, the words got caught in my throat. I couldn’t say them not because I didn’t want to, but because three is not enough. Neither is two. My sister once asked me what the word paradox means. It’s this: every day together we’re a day closer to coming apart. It’s a tick tock until the inevitable expiration date.

Expire is defined as coming to the end of a period of validity. So, like most of the words I’ve attempted to use to describe this, expire doesn’t quite fit. Because it implies you and I will stop being valid. I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be others later but, right now, it’s the freckle on the middle finger of your left hand and it’s the brown patch of your right eye. It’s you.

They say every writer sprinkles a little of themselves over all that they create. I’ll apologise then, because I can’t involve myself without implicating you too. I’ve always preferred realistic fiction, and this is as real as it gets.  

The next morning, our clothes already sticky with the July humidity and the smudges of yesterday’s makeup circling my eyes, I said a yacht would make a good setting for a story. I smiled as I did so because my mind flashed forward to piles of coffee cups and a desk drowning in loose papers. In the daydream, my thoughts flashed back to that night on the yacht, paradoxically seeking a spark of inspiration. I won’t pretend to predict the future, but I have a funny little feeling that that story, our story, will be written someday. Some things are predetermined that way.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Mykonos is


Sun kissed skin and salty strands of hair that twirl in the breeze of the boat rides – those overflowing with eager tourists and seasick passengers attempting to check every beach off of their must-see list.

Dancing on tables sticky with champagne, singing until your lungs ache and your voice croaks. The same playlist is on repeat - remixes you haven’t heard before, but those that will remain reminders of a trip that won’t soon be forgotten.

Layered hoodies and teeth that chatter when the day’s burning sun veils itself. The sky darkens and the island appears little more than a single lit pinprick in a surrounding sea. That pinprick can feel like an entire world.    

Iced coffee so intense it cures any lingering effects from the night before, but gives your limbs a new reason to shake.

The initial excitement of free shots following meals, and the growing nausea of the sight as the week progresses.

Giving up sleep for 6am strolls accompanied by pastel pink sunrises and still waters. It’s a sight you soon give up trying to capture, a view that doesn’t deserve to be seen through a screen.

A constant melody of “do I have tan lines yet?” and “you’re looking a little red” joined by the scent of sun cream as it’s massaged into muscles aching from water sport days and firework nights.

Quad bikes that speed through the sand, up to deserted lighthouses and down to rocky beaches, all under the starlit blanket of a sky – one that belongs to both late night and early morning.

People with bandanas around their heads and tan lines around their arms, people you’ve never met before and likely won’t meet again, but those who made an impact. You’ll remember fellow travellers as well as you will the natives – the kind hearts and determined demeanours, phoning every one of the limited taxis that circulate the island for no benefit of their own.  

Looking on the bright side, because looking anywhere else would make little sense, or no sense at all.



Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Back then


It was yellow – our Tweenies tent. The one Danielle and I would drag through her corridor and into her square back garden lined with four battered brown fences, the chipped wood splintering our skin. We rejected adult help, believing ourselves to be grown up enough. We weren’t yet, but we would be, long before we’d have the chance to realise. Our bare feet sank into the ever-damp English grass, pale limbs bending in directions they shouldn’t have as we attempted to clamber in. Our giggles kept the nylon fabric upright, never ripping despite the way we tumbled into it. And when we were inside, toys slipping through our five-year old hands, it no longer felt like a tent, but like a world. An effect mimicking Mary Poppins’ handbag, the yellow of the walls blended in with the glimpses of sunshine that managed to peer through the near-permanent British blanket of clouds, and we breathed in the opportunities, the games that could be played, the skits that could be acted, the dances that could be choreographed. The universe tickled the tips of our fingers.

It’s funny how a single memory can cling as tight as the princess dresses we plastered onto our skinny bodies. I always did think she looked better – the blonde waves of her hair stroking far down her back while my hazelnut pigtails spiralled by my cheeks. We sat inside that Tweenies tent for hours on summer days, when the wind was brisk enough to turn a foreigner’s lips blue. We were used to it though, shoulders naked through conversations long enough to earn our “chatterbox” nicknames. Maybe we acted older because we thought that would speed up the process; allow us to use fancy words without getting bitter smirks in return, let us mimic our mothers, sip their same coffee from real mugs rather than the plastic picnic set we relied on. Little did we know the aging process was already quick enough. Within a year or two, layers of dust were licking the Tweenies tent buried beneath mounting boxes in my garage, our childhood becoming a memory we’d smile about one day.

We grew up in the one place that was designed to keep us young. I miss our Tweenies tent.


Friday, 19 February 2016

Florence


Florence - a city with history that stains its walls a deep sunshine colour, a colour that, after our first full day, we stopped expecting to see in the sky. Raindrops licked the cobbled streets all morning, afternoon, evening, and well into the night, the pitter patter a unique Italian lullaby. A city with talent on every street corner - the riverside statues stand casual, but bear as much weight as the masterpieces hung on gallery walls. Also on street corners – umbrellas. Overpriced, but essential. 

Umbrellas we’d be thankful for as we shuffled out of cafes, the taste of real coffee burning on our tongues. A taste that wouldn’t take long to replace, but would take a little longer to forget. Our mouths became havens for flavours we didn’t know existed: smoked mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes and pesto as rich as God intended for it to be. We shrunk into children as we raced round markets to snatch every sample that was on offer, weaving our way through bold Italian gestures and voices layered with a native confidence that was foreign enough to become music to us, a soundtrack to a trip we’d want to put on repeat.

We ate our way through that city, finished every last crumb of pizza with the locals; sipped soup each waiter proudly announced was traditional, widened our eyes as the man with a round face and kind smile shaped the sheet of fresh pasta into spaghetti – a meal we thought we knew the taste of. We didn’t. Our stomachs smiled to match our lips.

A city with our laughter now trapped behind the bars of tower dungeons, our lit candles flickering near church altars, our bum imprints on every sofa in the centre of every museum room.

Arrivederci, Florence. Not a goodbye, but a see you very soon.