At The End Of A Difficult Year

The new year is almost here. Time to reflect, I suppose. [As if not all posts are reflections, really..]

This has not been an easy year. In fact, it may actually have been one of the hardest thus far, so I hope the new year will bring a bit of happy change. One of the things that I have been really struggling with this year, and which very nearly pushed me over the edge, is something I haven’t really shared on here. I am hoping that as time goes on, this too, will become something I feel comfortable sharing here. I mean, considering the things I do share, there really shouldn’t be much of a problem, but for whatever reason, I’ve just not quite found it in me to write openly about it so far. Too painful, somehow, seeing it in black on white..

I remember myself at this time last year, on the verge of a minor break in therapy, which I knew would soon be followed by a seriously major break; my therapist’s maternity leave, and I can still feel that horribly cold, hard lump at the bottom of my stomach, which would turn every time I thought about it. The horrendous abandonment issues I was battling with and the separation anxiety I was trying to keep under control. I remember desperately trying to come up with ways to convince myself that I would indeed be able to survive this break, and although I can’t say I truly found any one method that worked wholeheartedly for me, I did make it through. Was brought to my knees a number of times, for sure, but somehow I managed to get back up again.

I think the thing that helped me the most was doing what I have always done when things get tough: writing. Writing this blog, or even just thinking about what I might want to write on it, should I find the words and the energy, helped a lot. And more than that, your lovely emails and comments.. well, I couldn’t even begin to explain how much they have meant to me. To have someone who has never even met me, reach out and show that they care. That’s really something.

Then there’s that other kind of writing. The writing I do when I need to completely escape; working on my book. That’s been useful, too. To allow myself to go to another place, to think about someone else’s problems, to focus on someone else’s daily comings and goings, trying to paint it in words. Still, as I said to A. in my most recent therapy session, although in the moment it feels very much like escapism, when I read back later on – even years later – I can often see that I was working something of myself out through the characters I create, only it happens in a way that is somehow more free, less constrained by the emotional red tape I may put on myself.

And, in the midst of really struggling with near constant flashbacks, I finally found something that helps me with them; my beloved Rubik’s cube. Yes, I’ve turned into even more of a geek than I was at the beginning of the year, but, hey – if it works, it works. I’d much rather look like an absolute 80s retro nerd on the tube, than not being able to go out at all. Now, of course, solving a puzzle like this, no matter how many times you do it, it doesn’t solve the puzzle of your Self, but – honestly – it really has made a difference to my life this year. It may not get to the root of the flashbacks, but it does help me get through them, and sometimes that’s all you can ask of yourself; to get through.

And, of course, faith has got me through, too. Even when it’s felt impossible to look ahead, there is this space inside where I can go to, where I can be still, and just breathe, and know that whatever happens, there is someone who is looking out for me.. And it helps. I can’t explain it, it just does.

Sitting here, thinking back, I am – as always – struck by how lucky I am to have the friends that I have. Not to mention my absolutely amazing sisters, who I could not manage without even for a single day. To be surrounded by people who are there for me, to whatever extent I feel able to let them be. People who won’t give up on me, even when I myself have. That is a true blessing.

So, as hard as this year has been, there are also many, many things for which I am grateful.

Thanks for staying with me this year.
Hope to see you in 2013.

xx

Once again, a favourite quote at the end of the year..

“..and it’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass..”

A Long December lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

PS. If the world does indeed come to an end tomorrow, could someone please let me know, as we’re an hour behind most of Europe here..

Chapter A – In Which No Introductions Are Made

*

“So tell me a little about what brought you here.” Followed by a smile. It was a warm smile, but not quite warm enough to make Lia feel entirely comfortable, not quite warm enough to reach the eyes in fact, she noted, shooting a quick glance across at the woman opposite her before immediately looking away, fixing her eyes on some undetermined spot on the white wall, slightly to the left of the woman’s shoulder. It was as if it was a rehearsed warmth, and it had got stuck somewhere along the way – the throat, maybe, Lia thought – certainly the tone was warm enough mixed in with that slightly sing-songy Europeanly accented voice. But it just didn’t go quite all the way. It was a good effort as far as warm smiles go, but it didn’t feel.. what? Real? Genuine? That’s it. It didn’t feel genuine. It felt like the kind of warmth you may afford someone you don’t really know and haven’t decided if you like yet. Not an anti-smile as such, not the kind of transparently false smile you would aim at someone you really didn’t like but felt you ought to be smiling at. You know, the kind of smile you might have found plastered across your face when you were fourteen, greeting one of the popular girls who you couldn’t for the life of you understand why they’d been deemed so bloody popular in the first place, with their glossy blonde hair, carefully applied and re-applied make-up and overly aerated brains.

Popular girls. Popular girls? Did people even call them that any more? It had been a long time since Lia was fourteen. And yet it didn’t seem that long ago. Didn’t seem like the life-time ago it really was. Oh, get a grip, Lia! she scolded herself. You’re not here to reminisce about your school days. Or popular girls. Or whether or not people still called them that. What was the question again? Something about what had brought her here.

“Well, I guess..” she began but then her words dried up before she got to the end of the sentence, overcome by a sudden feeling that she didn’t want to tell Miss Opposite Her any of the real reasons for why she was there.

Miss Opposite Her in every way, Lia thought to herself. With her abundance of dark curls and trendy red – no – bordeaux glasses, sitting almost at the tip of her nose, giving that casually deliberate I’m rather clever impression. Miss Opposite Her – she had a name, of course she did – but for the time being Lia decided that she didn’t want to use it – Miss Opposite Her had surely been one of those popular girls. And if that was the case, and Lia now felt certain that it must be, how could she ever understand where she – Lia – had come from? Lia who had been so utterly grey she hadn’t been either popular or unpopular. And the very fact that that invisibility wasn’t even a remote part of the reason why she was there, well, she’d never believe that. Lia was convinced Miss Opposite Her would insist that it was, that it must be, because how could anyone go through school, barely existing in the eyes of the popular girls and not be permanently scarred for life by the experience? Lia decided to stay silent for a little longer in sheer defiance of Miss Opposite Her.

Miss Opposite Her shifted ever so slightly on her seat, an über-stylish probably-but-not-definitely fake leather armchair which very nearly matched her glasses in colour. Was she getting impatient? Lia toyed with the idea of saying absolutely nothing for the entire fifty-minute hour just to see if Miss Opposite Her would eventually, openly, allow her impatience to shine through.

She discarded the idea as easily as it had come to her. She wanted to be here, she reminded herself. She had been waiting for a long time to get here. There were things eating her up from the inside out and this was the way forward. Time to face those little monsters and demons in her belly head on.

Just because Miss Opposite Her didn’t feel like a perfect hand-in-glove fit didn’t mean that she wasn’t. That she couldn’t become a good enough match. A good enough pseudo parent.

Oh how Lia hated that concept. Good enough. Why should anyone ever have to settle for something less than ideal? This good enough psycho babble malarkey, surely that was something someone had come up with only to cover for their own inadequacies? Who was it that had come up with it anyway? Freud? No, Lia was pretty sure this was one Freud couldn’t be blamed for. No, it must have been a woman. Klein? Could be. She had certainly had enough reasons to wish to cover up her own less than shining parenting skills. Or maybe it was a man who thought he had women and motherhood nailed? Oh yes, that’s it. Winnicott. That’s who she should address her letter of complaint to.

Lia made herself snap out of her intellectual endeavour even though she would rather have liked to linger for just a little bit longer. But there were other matters at hand. Like coming to grips with Miss Opposite Her. This was only the first time they’d met. Her first ever therapy session, in fact, or at least the first one she herself had wanted to go to. Surely Lia wasn’t so judgemental a person that she would discount another person just because the warmth of her smile didn’t quite reach all the way to the eyes and across the room to where she was sitting? That would be unfair, and say what you like, unfair was not a quality Lia would allow attach itself to her person. So she mimicked Miss Opposite Her and also slightly repositioned herself on her chair and tried again. This time the words slid out of her as easily as if she had greased her tongue; “I suppose I’m here because I couldn’t get any further on my journey just sitting on my own in my room”.

“Could you tell me more about this journey?” Miss Opposite Her looked pleased Lia thought even though she wasn’t even looking at her, but just as she had known before looking over that the warmth of the smile didn’t reach the eyes, she just knew that this time the pleased look would be there on Miss Opposite Her’s face, and Lia had to repress an urge to say “l take it you’re one of those shrinks who repeat everything in the form of a question”. Except, of course, she wouldn’t say shrink. Shrink wasn’t her word, wasn’t the way she spoke. Shrink sounded tacky and American, neither of which fit Lia, even though she had in her past life been mistaken for an American before she had arrived at her now reasonably perfected British accent. No, not shrink. Therapist. That was the word she would use. It was a word she liked, one she felt fond of, even. Therapist. It was a word that tasted good in her mouth, precious somehow. Precious with a hint of some exotic spice, because it had that lovely th-sound at the beginning which her own native tongue lacked. Therapist. Psychotherapist. Psycho-therapist. Psycho, The Rapist. Psycho, psycho, psycho, the emotional rapist. Lia smiled to herself, and then realised that she was also smiling at Miss Opposite Her, and felt she ought to somehow explain this inappropriate smiling – one of her least favourite traits, and one which her mother loved to pounce upon whenever it reared its ugly little head.

She didn’t.

She didn’t explain what the inappropriate smiling was about, nor what had really brought her there. Instead she made her face all neutral and disconnected and served Miss Opposite Her a sort of half-open half-shut version of why she had ended up there, opposite Miss Opposite Her. She gave a bullet point run-down of all the major defining moments of her pathetic little life thus far. Only she left out The Big One. She left out the real reason for why she had come here. She just couldn’t go there. Not yet, not until she had thoroughly tested Miss Opposite Her to make sure she’d be able to handle it. It. The Truth. The bare naked truth in all its hideous ugliness. Most people couldn’t. So far in her life the exact number of people who had been able to tolerate The Truth had reached a grand total of exactly zero. And that included herself.

At least she was honest enough to tell Miss Opposite Her that there was that one Really Major Thing that she was leaving out, to which Miss Opposite Her responded by firing off what Lia could only assume was meant to be her reassuring smile, only, Lia noted immediately [because this time she happened to be actually looking in Miss Opposite Her’s general direction] that smile, too, didn’t quite get to where it needed to be, to do what it was supposed to do.

Lia wondered if perhaps Miss Opposite Her had a collection of photographic index cards at home, pictures of people smiling, neatly labelled warm or reassuring or accepting. Snapshots marked encouraging or concerned. Maybe she used to stand in front of her mirror perfecting this tool of her trade? Maybe she had voice recordings, too, so she could work on getting her tone of voice to match the chosen facial expression? Maybe there were even special therapist workshops or seminars where Miss Opposite Her and her colleagues went to learn how to fine tune the way they came across to their clients at any given moment?

And there it was again. Her very own smile. The inappropriate one. No index card needed for that one. She had it down to a T.

Lia left that initial session determined not to allow first impressions keep her from giving this a real shot. She would give Miss Opposite Her an honest chance. And, most importantly, she promised herself, she was going to give herself a chance.

Exactly eight weeks later Lia closed the book on Miss Opposite her, having got no closer to telling her of that one momentous moment when everything changed.

She was back to square one. And it wasn’t even a nice smooth square, it was a raw and rough one. One which she was desperate to get away from. And fast.

Only things didn’t ever really happen fast. Not in her life. And so it wasn’t until a full two and a half years later Lia finally found herself in the right place at the right time – with the right person – that she managed to get her voice to speak of that hideously ugly truth:

When she was nine she killed her younger brother and sister.

*

COMMENT:

I’ve been toying with this idea for a little while now; posting a little something of what I write [other than just my usual blog rants]. And a few people have asked me to, too. So, what you’ve just read, is a small sample. A teaser. It’s from the project I’m currently working on – possibly the prologue in its rawest form. I’m probably somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way through this project, pre-edit. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll end up being something readworthy.

Thank you for taking the time to read!

xx

Sisters, Study-Avoidance & Melting Crayons

So I’m back from my trip to Sweden, and at the moment it feels like it has done me a world of good. It was simply great to spend a whole week with my sisters and their little families and just enjoy being alive. The weather was great and although we all took turns taking ill, all in all it was just really nice to hang out. We basically ate, watched my youngest nephew run around and ate some more. That is, that’s what my sisters and I did. The boys were busy digging in the garden, planting a hedge around it. And in between that we managed to watch a film, teach my sister’s dog to go on the slippery-dip and get my youngest sister and her man to understand how to solve the first two layers of the Rubik’s cube intuitively.

Oh, and my sisters and brothers-in-law gave me the super-awesomest prezzie ever; the new iPad [which I am, incidentally, using as we speak, in conjunction with my bluetooth keyboard].

I feel that this trip has really helped to reset my brain. I feel so much happier than I have in the past several months, and although I am still having flashbacks it’s nowhere near as bad as it was, pre-trip.

Since I’ve been back I’ve started a new course, and – true to form – I’ve excelled at the art of study-avoidance. I am feeling a bit unhappy about having chosen the course I have; a very basic psychology course about stuff I pretty much already know, but just want to get on paper that I do in fact know it. It’s very hard to motivate oneself to read material about stuff you already know, when the main focus ends up being trying to remember sources for future reference, rather than actually learning. That said, of course anything psychology related will always push your little grey cells into action, and you’ll realise you have thoughts and ideas you might not have had when you originally read about a specific study. In short; once I actually open the book, I do get quite into what I’m reading.. it’s just getting to that point of opening the book, which holds me back. There are always a million other things I feel I need to read; blogs, news, tweets, facebook updates.. You know how it goes.. And that’s before I’ve even got to the various iPlayer programs I simply must catch up on, not to mention the millions of YouTube clips I feel will enrich my life to no end..

I do slightly regret that I didn’t decide to do the course on the autistic spectrum which was also on offer. I would really have liked to have been reading that right now. But, I’m trying to use it as a carrot of sorts. If I manage to get through this course [ie find a way to utilise good days of fewer flashbacks, days when I have a reasonable level of concentration] then I’ll be allowed to do the autistic spectrum one after.

So, I suppose that’s all good. Especially the part where I am actually, actively, looking ahead, into the future. The last few months have been so rough, it’s been very hard to think like that, to imagine a time when things feel different, but right now things seems to have swung around for me a bit.

Also, since I’ve been back, I’ve been feeling a lot more creative. I have been working on my book, which is ever so slowly taking shape, and I find myself curious to find out where the characters will take me. And that’s always a good sign.

On top of that very specific writing, my sister and I also hatched an idea about setting up a collaborative writing site online, the idea being that you could go to the site, read something someone has posted and then take over the writing, or join in. I for one have several writing projects which I have started, but which are now mainly collecting dust on my harddrive. What you could do on this new site is to upload what you have written and invite others to complete it, or to co-write it with you. Or you might want to be someone else for a day [come on, we all have those days].. Well, you could go onto the site as a character and join in some playwriting, adding lines on behalf of your character. This is all still in its infancy, but, I only posted the idea late last night on another blog, and I’ve already had people contact me to say they would be interested in joining or starting writing projects.

Observant readers will have noticed that while I have written about how great it was to be with my sisters and how that’s really helped resetting the serotonin levels I’ve omitted to talk about seeing my father the first time in over two years. This is, of course, not by chance. In short, it was actually really lovely seeing him and his boyfriend, and spending time with them. But, knowing me, I tend to only begin processing these kind of encounters a while after getting back to the UK. So, keep an eye out and there will more than likely be an update on this particular part of my trip to Sweden.

In terms of not having therapy, well, there is no getting around it – that is still really hard. I miss my space to voice my thoughts. Of course I talk to my friends and I do my writing and all of that, but there just isn’t a substitute for therapy. Therapists definitely should not be allowed to have children! [..says the Therapist’s Daughter..] July – or whenever A. in reality decides to go back to work – feels very very far away indeed..

Anyway, me and my new iPad and bluetooth keyboard need to get to the library now, so I’ll leave you here for now.

Do be kind to yourself, and enjoy the utterly ESSENTIAL YouTube video below..

All the very best and more,

xx

I really need to try this, but maybe on a black or gray canvas, 
and just letting the crayons melt organically in the sun..

Pregnancies, Therapy Breaks & A Possible Bin Liner

First post of the new year. Can’t believe it’s taken me this long!

So what has the new year been like this far? Well, ups and downs. And lots of them. On the one hand there are some really good things happening in my life, although as per usual I am finding it hard to entirely trust it that it will last. On the other hand there is a lot of unrest, especially surrounding A.’s impending maternity leave, which is really stressing me out in a big way.

Over our two week Chrismukah break I did struggle, although I struggled more in week one than in week two. I think had there not been an impending longer break round the corner, this break would not have been quite so bad; most of my freak-outs over this period were connected with the knowledge that I have this massive break ahead of me.

A. is now back, and therapy has resumed for the time being. Of course there is no knowing exactly how much longer I will be seeing her before she goes on leave, adding another prickly little layer to an already exceptionally difficult situation. As much as I appreciate being able to go to therapy, I do feel ultra-aware that each session I have is another step closer to the time when I won’t be having them, and I really don’t know how I am going to cope for such a long time. Also, A. looking like she is about to pop at any given moment makes it entirely impossible to do what I usually do prior to an upcoming break; going into solid denial in true ostrich style and pretend it’s not going to happen..

For better or for worse, A. and her ever growing bump completely takes that option away. It also makes me have to think about how badly I want children and leaves me unable to shield myself from the fear that that may never happen.. At least as long as A. is still working, I can talk about all of this [to whatever extent I feel able to].. Once she goes off, I’ll still have all those feelings, but I’ll have lost my safe place to talk about it. On top of the stuff I always deal with during a break, I’ll be left with all the feelings A.’s (and other women’s) pregnancies have brought out. I genuinely hate this non-pregnant state I’m in with a passion, and having all these emotional triggers around can be really really painful. Sometimes I feel convinced that there must be a correlation between how badly you want a child and the number of people around you becoming pregnant. Like a cruel joke on the less fertile ones among us.. I know that’s not really the case, but it sure feels like it sometimes. So, I’m under no illusions that this break is going to be anything other than excruciatingly challenging.

On to something a little more positive..
I wrote in a previous post about the need to find something to help contain my emotions during this break, and the worry at not knowing what that might be. And then one morning it just hit me – and please don’t ask how it could possibly have taken so long to come up with something so utterly obvious.. Of course, the thing that could best help me get through the break is – ta-dah! –WRITING! Partly here on the blog, which I have come to realise is the closest thing I get to therapy outside of actual therapy; it’s a space where I can express whatever I want without having to censor myself for the sake of other people. Blogging also has that key therapeutic quality of allowing me to feel heard, through the comments you post and the emails you send. So, please, do keep ’em coming; they really mean a lot to me. Your comments and emails are what makes blogging different to journaling. I suppose you could say that journaling is communicating your emotions for inward reflection, in a completely private way, whereas blogging is communicating outwardly, to tell the outside world what’s going on. And your comments help me feel heard and also give me a variety of perspectives on whatever I happen to be going through.

So, journaling and blogging are two ways to keep me going. But, of course, they are both things that I am already doing, and – as regular readers will be aware – this is not necessarily enough for me to not dip in that rather extreme way I sometimes do. The other way I’ve come up with is to push myself to get back into doing some proper writing. In the past few years I’ve been suffering from a writer’s block of gargantuan proportion, having not really done any real writing at all. Yes, the odd poetry reading, a few bits and pieces here and there, but nothing I would call real writing, only faffing. Fair enough, it’s at times been very useful faffing, but it’s simply not been as emotionally and spiritually consuming as the kind of thing I experience when I’m really writing.

Thus, my brief for myself in the coming several months, is to push myself to take my writing more seriously and to really work hard at it. Not just to do a bit here and there as the wind happens to blow, but to really dedicate some serious time to doing it.

I’ve already started on something, which – naturally – could turn out to be nothing, but at the moment it feels pretty good. I’m not going to go into detail in terms of what exactly I’m writing about, but it feels like it could potentially turn out to be something reasonably readworthy.

I’m sticking to the age-old rule of Write About What You Know, but without making it autobiographic. Of course, there is bound to be a lot of me in what I write, that’s the nature of writing,; the author’s voice will always be there somewhere in the background, spread out in between the written words, but it’s not my story I’m writing, it’s fiction. Or, as I like to call it; semi-fictive storytelling.

And that is what makes writing so exciting for me. That, while what I’m writing is based on what I know, I also have the complete freedom of inventing this whole parallel universe, where anything could happen. And even though the things I write about tend to be fairly ordinary; about how everyday people form relationships and how they relate to one another and so on, it is still all coming out of my own imagination. I always think of writing as the introvert’s opportunity to be a great actor, because, in order to write about people and relationships, you need to put yourself in their place, you need to get into their head and look at the world through their eyes, so that when you’re writing, what ends up on the page isn’t fifteen versions of yourself, but something that feels authentic and congruent for each one of the characters.

Now, of course I am aware that writing also is a form of escapism, a way to get away from my own reality.
I know this. You know this. But, surely, a bit of escapism is a far healthier option to getting those scalpels out, in a bid to get away from what I really can’t get away from?

So, there you are; a possible bin liner.

Do wish me luck.

I may need it.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. I’m receiving a ridiculous amount of spam comments on some of my posts, and so I’ve password protected them. If you would like to have the password, feel free to drop me an email. I have no idea if the password thing will help with the spam, if it doesn’t I’ll take the protection off, but for the time being it will stay there.

Looking Back, Moving On & Holding On To Your Dreams

Once again I find myself packing my stuff up; I’m moving on Sunday. All of about thirty metres down the street. So, in many ways, a minor move. I’m moving into a larger room in what, at least on the surface, looks like a nicer flatshare. Hard to know for sure until you’re actually there. I’m looking forward to moving out of this place. It has, without comparison, been the worst place I have ever lived. And I’ve lived in a lot of places, including spending a night on the streets of London, not knowing where to go next..

So, from that point of view, moving is a good thing. And at the same time, I can’t help but thinking that this is not how I had imagined myself living at age 35. My picture looked more along the lines of a nice flat with my man and my three children. I’d be focusing on my writing, maybe having already had a break or two, literary wise.

Instead, here I am, in a rented room. Utterly single, painfully childless, and my writing.. well, I really don’t know what happened there. So, of course there is sadness in the realisation that there is such a discrepancy between what I had been hoping for and what I’ve got. And of course it hurts to not have those things, to know that I was pretty close to all of those things only a few short years ago.

This is not to say I’ve given up on that dream, that picture. I believe it could still happen. Maybe not in the order I had initially imagined, but still recognisable as an altered version of the original image.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in the last few years. I think had Dev and I chosen to stay together, knowing that we ultimately wanted different things, well, I don’t think we would still be friends the way we are now. I think bitterness may have started to sprout between us. And I would never want that to happen.

Moving into the therapeutic community a few years ago was a big decision and although I’m not sure it was ever really going to be quite right for me, I do feel that I got something from being there, even though I struggle to put it into words, exactly what. Maybe space to grow? Maybe to appreciate how strong my need for independence is? Maybe realising that I can be accepted for me, even without being the good girl, without having the great job, without being the most responsible one? Even the decision to move out, I believe, was a step in the direction of feeling allowed to say “This is not good enough for me, this is not acceptable to me”.

Going into therapy? Well, that’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes, I know – I’ve been in therapy before. Some good, some not so good. But this time around is the first time I’ve felt on a very deep level that it’s time to go that extra step, dig a bit deeper, to not run when things get scary, but to stick with it. That, painful and terrifying as it can be, I want to keep at it, want to look at those bits I am most ashamed of, the ones that are the hardest to own, to accept as my own.

So, although I’m not where I thought I’d be, I think it’s been time well spent, hours well invested. And, as I said earlier, those things that I dreamed of; that I still wish for – they could still happen.

I leave you with a few lines from a Dawson’s Creek era song:

“..I’ve got the greatest admiration
for the way that you got through it
couldn’t ask nobody else to do it
better than you do it

stay you
– that’s the toughest thing to do..”

xx

 

Lyrics from Stay You © Wood

Reform Judaism, Conversion & Finding My Own Path

It is now less than two weeks ’til I go before the Beit Din, the Jewish rabbinical court, for the formal completion of my conversion to Judaism. Prior to that I had to sit down and write a statement to the court about what this means to me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

~ * ~

Nearer to two years ago a lovely lovely lady called P. was the designated meeter-and-greeter at the doors of my shul. It was also the very first time I visited a synagogue. I introduced myself to her and openly admitted that I was very nervous as I had never attended service before and was worried about doing the wrong things at the wrong times. Without hesitation, and with what I now recognise as characteristic generosity, P. asked would I like to sit with her and her husband so that I could just copy what they were doing?

I’ve been sitting with them ever since.

These days P. likes to embarrass me by introducing me to people as “their star pupil”, when, really, the truth is that they – alongside the rabbis and my fellow J-Preppies – have been star teachers; have been people I have learned and continue to learn so, so much from. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been befriended by long-standing members of the congregation as well as newbie J-Prep students, allowing me to not only stand on the sidelines, but to feel genuinely part of the congregation and synagogue life. A true blessing.

This past year has been a big year of learning, of spiritual growth and understanding, yet at the same time I firmly maintain that my Jewish journey did not start with the J-Prep course, nor will it end with it. Certainly, this year has been different to any other year, and my life has been truly enriched by it, but rather than seeing the meeting with the Beit Din and the formal conversion as the end goal, I feel that it marks the end of the beginning of my Jewish journey.

I came to the J-Prep course having never lit Shabbat candles, never made Kiddush, never affixed a mezuzah and so forth; I had a very bookish understanding of what Judaism is. I now feel that I have much deeper insight into what it really means to be Jewish, and have discovered that the things I had connected with prior to J-Prep; my faith in the one true God, the Torah as a religious compass and so on – all the things that had brought me to the J-Prep course in the first place – have held true for me and haven’t changed. But, I now also know and appreciate that Judaism offers so much more on top of that. I have discovered that many of the core principles of Judaism hold the same moral values as those passed down to me by my parents; the pursuit of justice, championing democracy, being generous to those less fortunate and being open to those different to myself.

I have been struck by the strong sense of community, the constant strive to make informed choices and decisions – even the freedom to challenge the texts we’ve studied – and they have all added a whole new dimension to my life and to the way I think about faith and religion.

Being Jewish means, especially this time of the year, to stop and reflect introspectively, to take a long, hard and truly honest look at what I can do to better this world through bettering myself. It means doing that very difficult thing; asking forgiveness. From God, from my friends, sometimes even my enemies, and, maybe the hardest thing of all; forgiving myself for those times when I have let myself down. To, rather than simply berating myself for my shortcomings, accepting that I am not perfect and never will be, but also recognising that I have been given the blessing of making a different choice in the future.

Even my choice of Hebrew name – Emunah אמונה – serves as a reminder to keep faith in my mind and to remain faithful, not just through words, but through actions and deeds; through actively doing what I can to help heal this very precious and beautiful world we have been given, whether it be through choosing Fairtrade products over products of unknown origin, making sure I recycle things rather than just binning them, or through taking on an active role in the setting up of a refugee drop-in centre rather than leaving it for Mr & Mrs Someone Else to do. It is a reminder that it’s not enough to just tell people that I am now Jewish. I need also recognise for myself and demonstrate to others that I am Jewish not only when I attend service or say my prayers, light my Shabbat candles or study Torah (all of which are, of course, integral parts of living a Jewish life), but that I am living Judaism in all aspects of my life.

To formally convert to Judaism is the difference between looking at someone else’s photograph album and being alive and present in the very moment that snapshot is taken.

Being Jewish is not just an adjective, it is also a verb.”

~ * ~

Click here to read about my meeting with the Beit Din.

Below is this year’s film from The Movement for Reform Judaism.


Papers, Memories & Being Believed

It’s nearly half nine in the evening. I have a million things I need to do. Sorting, packing and throwing; getting ready for my pending move. Only a week to go now.

I had two goals for the day: 1) go through my various piles of papers to decide what needs to be kept and what ought to be chucked and 2) go through all my clothes, shoes, linen etc with the same objective.

I’ve managed to do the first part. It’s taken me hours. Never realised how much paperwork I’ve actually got: bank statements, invoices, council tax paper, student loans etc etc etc. You get the picture.

Now the job wouldn’t be quite so hard if it were only those things to leaf through. Admittedly I’ve got a somewhat compulsive need to hoard bank statements, but even so I’m not really that emotionally attached to them. No, it’s all the other paper stuff that makes this job hard. The postcards, birthday wishes, letters, little notes. Those are the things I struggle to let go of.

I found a piece of paper from some years ago with lots of little messages scribbled all over; the remains of an impromptu game played with my sisters and co some years ago. The words in themselves neither grand nor particularly meaningful, but somehow I still find it hard to make myself throw this piece of paper away, because it’s attached to the memory of all of us sitting in the kitchen passing the paper round and round, writing those little messages, the sillier the better. Precious moments of togetherness.

Then there are papers which I feel I need to keep for other reasons..

Quite early in the day I came across the legal paperwork from the court hearing against my brother all those years ago. The two versions of it. One – the publicly available version – which has nearly all of my testimony and most of his blanked out – and the other, the one only I and my brother have the right to access, where the testimonies remain intact, carefully transcribed by the court clerk.

And, of course, I had to stop and read through them. Couldn’t just put them in the expandable folder without first reading them, despite knowing full well that no good would come from doing so.

I’ve not read them that many times; once when I first got them, just after the verdict was passed, and once again a few years ago when I requested copies of them. And yet, despite this, there are passages in there which I could easily quote word for word.

Having read through those papers I put them away, but – of course – the memory of the court hearing stayed with me. The feeling of not being sure whether or not I’d be believed by the judge. Not knowing how my brother’s repeated statement “I can’t deny or confirm. I don’t remember” would play out against my detailed, if emotionally detached, descriptions of sexual abuse.

The written word has always been very important to me. Ever since I can remember I’ve kept a journal, writing about my life, about the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows. During the court case one of my journals, a small black moleskin note book, was submitted as evidence against my brother. I had kept it hidden for a long time, this secret diary – separate from all my other journals and locked in a metal box so that no one but me would ever be able to read it. In it I had for the first time written down the things my brother was doing to me. It was written in code, a childish attempt at disguising who the abuser was. The code was of course easily cracked once the truth had come out about my brother and read like a memoir of abuse. It had never been intended to be read by anyone, it was just a way for me to try to deal with what was happening when I got to the point where I simply couldn’t keep it all inside, but of course the police, and later on the prosecutors, viewed it as a goldmine of proof against my brother. Some sort of physical proof of things that had happened. A paper trail.

Ever since then my journal writing changed. I still write as much as I ever did, but I write differently. The knowledge that what I write can have such an impact, can hold such power, has changed it. I often find myself noting down where I am or what time it is when I’m writing, almost as if somewhere at the back of my mind, I worry that one day this journal, too, will be read by someone other than myself; that accuracy will be paramount, lest I be thought to have made things up.

I’ve talked about this with A. in my therapy; this self-imposed obligation to express myself in a very precise way, to make sure that I don’t make statements I’m not entirely sure about. The fear that should I be found to have made a mistake it may also be assumed that I might have got other things, important things, wrong.

Of course Adult Me knows that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, that everyone stretches the boundaries of truth sometimes, and that doing so does not mean that nothing she says will be believed, but Little S.. well, Little S still fears that Adult Me might be wrong. And so, every so often, Little S goes to battle with Adult Me, and every once in a while Little S pops up in Adult Me’s journal, checking that there are no discrepancies, making sure that she could never be accused of making things up.

It can be hard, that internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. It can be tiring, confusing and sometimes painful. It’s a constant balancing act, ensuring that Little S feels heard, while allowing Adult Me to move beyond the childlike constraints of Little S’s experiences.

Anyway, it’s time for both Little S and Adult Me to go to bed now.

We have a whole day of packing ahead of us in the morning.

Sleep tight!

xx

Creative Process – Writing Like You Read

Just got back from a very interesting reading / talk at Jewish Book Week, which is underway here in London at the moment. The author, Nicole Krauss, was there to talk about her latest offering; Great House. Having not read the book, nor her most well-known novel to date – The History of Love – I went to this event based on the blurb I read on the Jewish Book Weekwebsite, because something sparked an interest in me, and I was curious to hear the writer talk about her books and writing them.

Being a writer myself I am always interested to hear about other writers’ creative processes and how their particular novels / short stories / poetry come into being. I find it fascinating to find outall the different ways in which people go about their writing. Some seem to very purposefully decide on a topic to write on, do all the necessary research and then set our on their narrative journey. Others, like Ms Krauss, it seems, do it almost the other way around; the writing comes first, then they proof it, to make sure that non-fictious places tally with reality and work within the storyline. Others, still, do something in between, and I suppose that all of these variations, all these different methods, is stuff that falls within the definition of artistic licence.

Listening to Nicole Krauss and fellow author Naomi Alderman [Disobedience, The Lessons], who chaired this event, discussing their particular ways of relating to their writing and the worlds they create made me think about how I write.

One of the things I’ve always been very aware of is that I enjoy writing in much the same way I enjoy reading; the sense of taking a step out of my day-to-day life, into this parallel world which, although it exists in black and white in a very tangible way, for the most part is created somewhere in my mind, at the very moment of reading or writing.

In fact, I would say that I actually write in the same way that I read; I rarely know what will come next. I may have a general idea of the direction the plot may take me, what the essence is, what the message is, but it is not at all uncommon for one or more of the characters to wreak havoc with my plans by not acting or reacting in the way I had intended. I’ve spent more frustrating hours than I care to remember, trying to find a way around these curveballs, to get back on my track, only to – ultimately – scrap my original idea in favour of allowing the characters to remain true to who they are, to be congruently themselves, through and through, rather than force my own personal morals or thought patterns onto them.

One of the things both Krauss and Alderman seemed to agree on was that readers generally have a deep-seated wish to understand the various characters as aspects of the author, that they inevitably offer some insight into who the person who conjured them up is, and that they [the readers] somewhat stubbornly refuse to accept that the characters were, in fact, borne entirely out of the writer’s imagination, and are not necessarily semi-transparent carbon copies of the author’s own self.

Now, while I kind of get that – not every character has the characteristics of its creator, I must also concede that in myparticular case, most of my characters do carry a fair bit of me inside of them. It’s something that shines through somewhere between the words and the commas and the semi-colons. That is not to say that they are all me to the same degree, but they do have a certain something about them, that absolutely comesfrom me. Even when I write characters who are, on paper, [no pun intended] as different to me as day is to night, when I read back, often years later, I will discover that they trigger a memory of the person I was at the time, traits of my personality that I may not particularly wish to admit to having, but nonetheless it is plain to see that I possess.

Anyway, it’s getting late and I’m rambling – an unfortunate side-effect of writing like I read; I tend to not edit myself in the moment, but just write whatever comes to mind, in rather an insequential manner..

Thus, I must stop here, or I may never stop..

I leave you with a painting I made earlier today. Another illustration of my creative process: the painting is called “Fire” and is about feeling destructive, and so, my way of painting this was to paint in layers.. so, even thought you can’t see it in this the final version of the picture there was actually a night sky and a green luminous tree in the background – before I “set fire” to it..

Be good to yourselves,

xx


PS. I have already packed both Krauss’ The History of Love and Alderman’s Disobedience and I hope to be able to read them over the next few days, when I’m in Gothenborg.

Another Day, Another Blessing – Writing Myself Out Of A Phunk

Another day, another smile. Another blessing. Met up with a friend at a café yesterday, and it was great, as always. I have this café which has become The Café, the one where I usually meet with my friends. And it’s kind of nice. I know the place, the staff, the menu. Very reassuring.

Woke up on Sunday, a day which was ridiculously sunny, and I though, let’s do something nice today. So I decided to try to organise a little get-together for the women from my poetry group. We last met as a group at the reading back in December. We’re overdue a meet. Said and done. Got my phone out and sent a mass-text out, suggesting we meet up. But as soon as I had done that, that little negative voice in my head started making itself heard, and I almost immediately decided that it had been a silly thing to do. People won’t want to meet up, they’ll think I’m being pushy, they’ll have forgotten who I am altogether.

Thankfully the anxiety levels didn’t have time to rise too high before I had the first text back, in the affirmative. Then I had another. And another. Great! People want to meet up, they don’t think I’m pushy – and most importantly – they do remember me.

Next step was figuring out a time and place. Well, a time, at least. The place was basically a given, since most of these women will have shared a hot chocolate with me at The Café at least once before, so it made sense to keep it simple. Time was a bit trickier. As it always is when it comes to finding a time that will suit as many as possible, but after some fiddling and a few phone calls to a few people a time was agreed; next Sunday, early afternoon. Works perfectly for me since I’m basically incommunicado over FriSat, closing down for shabbat and also taking some proper me-time. So meeting up with friends the day after, once I re-connect my various devices, is always nice.

Finished the Maroda book this morning. And as always, it was with a slight feeling of loss. I absolutely love reading books that make me think, both on a more general level, but also to reflect on my own personal situation, and this book certainly did that for me.

As I’m writing this, I realise that this doesn’t feel like a real blog entry. It’s a bit too positive. And, in all honesty, up until I sat down to write this, I really wasn’t feeling all that up-beat; feeling a bit caught up in some sort of greyness, clouding my thoughts in quite a bad way.

But hey, if it works, it works.

Be good and well.

xx