A poem: who owns my shadow?

While you’re that shadow under the tree

out there,

you own me.

While you’re the road rage in that car

over there,

you own me.

While you’re that person who snubbed me

back then,

you own me.

While you’re that mess in my cupboard

upstairs

you own me.

While you’re that bilious resentment

in my heart,

you own me.

While I blame everyone else

for my own faults

you own me.

But take back all that stuff

and make it my own?

Stop the blame.

Retract the same-old-same?

Well, maybe day-by-day

I will start

to own myself.

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A poem to the mother who battered me

As you swing your hand against my chin

my babyish bones rattle within;

your palm so swift, so hard, so grim,

against my freckly, guiltless skin.

 

I bow my neck, cover my head

with foetal fingers that seek to protect

my sacred centre, locked from view.

But a curled-up child is always your cue

to parade your power, your strength, your hue

that bitterly, darkly claims its due.

 

Inside my head is light and free –

that’s the place you can’t reach me.

 

So, as thunder rams upon my skull,

and in your righteous fury I sense no lull,

I retreat to a place that’s barriered and safe

against which all love will lean and chafe.

 

I first published this poem as part of my MA Creative Writing project: Inktuition – Healing Through the Written Word. It feels appropriate to re-publish it for NaPrWriMo’s Day 12 prompt on saying things I’d like to say, but will never be able to say, to my mother. She is terminally ill with Pick’s Disease, an aggressive and early form of dementia.

 

Why some kinds of grief never die

My father died 14 years ago this evening: 10 minutes to 10pm on Thursday 11 March 1999. I don’t think there’s been a day gone by when I haven’t thought about him.

It’s worse in the early days, of course, when the thought flashes across my mind that I want to make that phone call to him to joke about something funny I’ve read in the paper or heard on the radio. And then I realise with searing pain to my heart that I can’t. Because he’s gone. Fourteen years down the line, the urge to speak to him is the same, and the pain of loss around his anniversary is almost as keen as when he first passed away.

I remember three months after he died, a so-called ‘friend’ said I should be over it by now. Be over what, exactly? The tears, the numbness, the inability to accept that such a mighty man had been snuffed from my life?

After the shock and all the fuss of the funeral and the sympathy cards, people’s interest wanes. Their life gets back to normal. But for a bereaved daughter there is no getting back to normal. There’s only the day-to-day getting through, and the renegotiating a life whose volume has been dialled down several notches. Whose colour is a few shades faded. Whose fabric of hope has been ripped to shreds.

So I don’t believe in ‘getting over’ grief. Yes, there are ‘stages’ of grief to be ‘worked through’ and the loss to come to terms with. Eventually. But I defy anyone who’s lost someone darling and dear to them to say that one day they’re completely ‘over it’.

Grief will always have a grip on my heart. But perhaps by remembering my sadness, by honouring my grief, I am keeping alive my father’s spirit within me.

The ‘write-rip-throw’ approach to ditching negative thoughts

Negative thoughts making your life a misery? Well, rather than ruminating on them and giving them oxygen, there’s a simpler way of getting rid of them. Just write them down on a piece of paper, rip them up and throw them away.

Write your bad thoughts down and let them go to be free of them. (pic: istockphoto.com/AnikaSalsera)

Write your bad thoughts down and let them go to be free of them. (pic: istockphoto.com/AnikaSalsera)

Sounds too easy? Too free of angst? No use if you just can’t let go…?

Research begs to disagree. It’s people who hold onto their negative thoughts who preserve them. Physically binning them – rather than just imagining you’re throwing them away – takes away their power. Here’s how… Continue reading

Expressing your fears takes their power away

It’s something therapists and writers have known for years, but now psychologists have confirmed that naming your fears stops them having so much power over you.

Giving a name to something, or expressing exactly how you feel, means you don’t have to deny the feeling or keep squashing it down. Sometimes the energy needed to keep it at bay is more painful and stressful than just talking about it anyway. Writers use that technique all the time: expressive or reflexive writing puts into words their feelings and stresses, and therefore externalises what’s going on inside and helps to process feelings and look at them objectively.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) did some tests on people who are afraid of spiders, asking some of them to approach a tarantula, and to experience and label their fears. For example, to say: “I’m anxious and frightened by the ugly, terrifying spider.” People who were able to express their fears were able to get closer to the tarantula, and had less of a stress reaction.

Michelle Craske, a professor of psychology at UCLA and the senior author of the study, said: “The implication is to encourage patients, as they are exposed to whatever they are fearful of, to label the emotional responses they are experiencing and label the characteristics of the stimuli — to verbalise their feelings. That lets people experience the very things they are afraid of and say: ‘I feel scared and I’m here.’ They’re not trying to push it away and say it’s not so bad.”

The crucial point is this: “Be in the moment and allow yourself to experience whatever you’re experiencing.”

when it’s time to let go

Thirteen years ago right now I was whizzing to the hospital to see my dad who had just died. We’d only just him and been home a few minutes when we got the call.

It’s one of those moments that will always stick in my mind, for obvious reasons.

Question is, for how much longer will I stay stuck in that moment? Every year it gets worse, not better.

Why am I holding on? And why can’t I let go?

I want him to rest in peace. And I want to live in peace.

Why can’t I come out of my writing shell?

How can I crack open my shell to reveal the pearls within? (pic credit: istockphoto.com/Kasiam)

Ask any writer – a real writer – why he or she writes, and they’ll reply that they’re born to do it. It’s their destiny, and it’s a dream that they’re not prepared to let go.

I’m one of them, but I’ll only admit to that in writerly circles. While I make a living from writing – from journalism, commercial writing and copywriting – I’m kind of shy about the fact that I harbour ambitions to be an author. Of a novel. Preferably in print, displayed prominently in the front window of Continue reading