Author: Angelina Kalahari (page 2 of 5)

SHORT STORY – THE DOOR

 

As her consciousness shifted, the sounds from her dream slowly morphed into day sounds that she recognised. She kept her eyes closed. The sounds – birdsong mostly – beckoned her with the promise that today could be a good day. But how could it be good when she felt so emotionally disturbed. The presence of the dream lurked. Its tentacles, as always, reluctant to let her go. She pushed the duvet aside. Drenched in sweat, her body displayed the evidence of her struggle to get away from the dream.

She opened her eyes and sighed.

Daylight poured through the sheer yellow curtains. She had always liked yellow – such a happy colour. The curtains matched the accent wall opposite her bed. She wished she could match the happiness that the colour represented. But the darkness of the dream still clutched her close to its sinister bosom.

The alarm’s shrill call announced the day’s urgency. Simultaneously, her phone vibrated on her bedside table. It was a text message from Mary.

U still up for lunch? Xxx

Was she? Was she up for anything? She had to be up for work – no choice there. So, why not lunch.

Sure, see you there xxx

Send.

Her weekly lunch meeting with Mary had worked itself into her life with as much insidiousness as everything else she had allowed. It was one of the things she didn’t regret. A good old chin-wag was often the antidote to an assortment of anxieties and hang-ups. Perhaps it was just the act of sharing things with another person – someone you could trust – that did the trick. No need for scientists to fiddle with your mind when you had such a friend as Mary. Hopefully, Mary got as much out of their relationship as she did.

Outside, the day seemed friendly enough, unlike her fellow commuters who, no doubt, hated this part of their lives as much as she did.

At five minutes to one o’clock, she switched off the computer and tidied her work into her to-do basket. She grabbed her handbag from the bottom drawer where she kept it out of the way and walked around the corner to the tiny restaurant to meet Mary.

Mary had already secured their favourite table at the back of the restaurant and waved to her as she walked through the door, indicating that she had already placed their lunch order. A few other regulars sat at small tables but mostly, tourists who could not believe that such a quaint little place existed, made up its daily clientele.

Mary smiled at her as she sat down. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you look like you could do with some more sleep.”

“Not so much more sleep – more quality sleep.”

Mary leant forward, concern in her eyes. “Oh, no. Not again? Did you try writing it down, like I’d suggested? Has it helped?”

She shook her head. “No, I haven’t managed to write anything down yet. I’ve got the pen and paper ready on my bedside table, as you suggested, but unlike you, I don’t remember much when I wake up. There’s only the sense of danger and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. It’s really beginning to get me down.”

Mary nodded. “I can see that. But it’s not true that you don’t remember anything. You’ve told me about the door before. I take it you had the same dream again last night?”

She sighed.

“Yes, it was the same dream about the door. I don’t even know why it’s so terrifying. I mean, it’s just a door. The door itself isn’t scary. It’s actually rather beautiful – an ornately carved wooden door. I think it might be because it’s so old. I get a sense that it’s truly ancient and that the secret it holds must not be revealed.”

She sat back in her chair, flipping her hair out of her eyes. “It sounds so stupid when I talk about it. I can hear myself say these words to you and it sounds like it’s nothing.”

Mary’s eyes continued to show her concern for her friend. “Well, it’s clearly not ‘nothing.’ If writing it down hasn’t worked, and talking to me hasn’t worked, perhaps you should see a professional.”

“Like a shrink, you mean?”

“Yes.”

Their food arrived and neither spoke while the waitress put the plates on the table.

When she left, Mary continued. “Maybe there’s some deep-seated something you need to let go of. How long have you been having this dream did you say again?”

She finished chewing a mouthful of mashed potato before answering. “Ever since I can remember… It must have started when I was very young – maybe five or six?”

“And there was no trauma around that time?”

“My dad died. But I was too young to really know what was going on.”

Mary sat back in her chair, a satisfied smile on her face. “Well, there you are, then. It must have something to do with that, don’t you think?”

“Maybe -”

But before she could continue, Mary interrupted her. “I know what you should do. Tonight when you have the dream again, you should open the door.”

“What!”

Mary nodded as she munched on a tomato. “Yes, you should open the door.”

“But that’s what I’m scared -”

“Remember that it’s just a dream. You can’t really be hurt. If I were you, that’s what I would do. Confront your fears head-on. My mum always said when you do that, you’ll find the lion turns into a kitten.”

She smiled despite herself. “You mean you want to use me as a guinea pig to see if your mum’s words of wisdom are true?”

“Sure. Why not?”

In a way, it was a relief that Mary wasn’t taking her dread of the recurrent dream too seriously. It was just a dream, after all.

The afternoon dragged. She could hardly wait to get home to try Mary’s advice. Mary had inspired her to feel excited, rather than scared, about going on the adventure to find out what lies behind the door. Why had she never thought of opening the bloody door herself? Just the thought of taking action made her feel a hundred times better about the situation. Her feelings of hopelessness were almost completely gone.

That night, she took extra care when getting ready for bed. She made sure that the pen was lying on top of a blank page, ready to be used. She squished her pillow until it felt comfortable and then switched off the light, ready for whatever the night and the dream would bring.

This time, when the door appeared, it came with the knowledge that she was dreaming. She found herself moving closer and closer to the door, as always. Its massive size rose above her head and towered over her, shrinking her to the size of an ant. She had to stand on her toes as her hand reached out to touch the massive black handle above her head. So far, nothing was different from what had happened in the dream every single time before. But this time, instead of withdrawing her hand, she willed herself to stay. She knew this scenario usually ended with her running away as fast as her legs could carry her, even though she could never get away from the door – that was the horror of it.

Slowly, very slowly, she turned the handle. The door started to move inwards. On the other side of the door, only darkness met her eyes. She nearly lost her nerve then. Her breath was coming fast and high, her heart was thumping in her chest and she knew her body was drenched in sweat. The scream that usually accompanied her efforts to get away from the door sat in her throat. Her eyes felt as though they were on stalks as she stayed alerted to even the slightest movement that might spell danger.

The door moved further inwards and she went with it even though everything in her wanted to scream and run. She squared her shoulders and clenched her jaw in determination, instead. This time, she won’t be beaten.

The door stood wide open. The space in front of her was in total darkness. She remained in the doorway. Just as she was wondering if it was a good idea to go inside, light flooded the room. It was massive. Maybe that’s why it had to have such a big door. Her heart still thumped in her chest, but now it was with excitement. It was the most beautiful room she had ever seen. Every wall, from floor to very high, ornate ceiling, was filled with books. Rows and rows upon rows and rows of books…

The room drew her inside. As she walked, she glided her finger along the spines of the books. Each spine displayed only one name at a time. So many names – a different name for each book. Sudden insight flooded her mind. The names – it was their stories. Their lives…all our lives…they’re just stories. That was the door’s secret. She wanted to remember that. She wanted to write it down when she woke up. And she had to tell Mary that her mum was right; the lion, when faced, turns into a kitten. Except her kitten was the most beautiful, exotic sort of kitten she had never expected to find.

THE BEGINNING – EXTRACT FROM THE SENSE OF OTHER

Something is wrong. I know it straight away. I know it with the knowingness when you just know something, and you don’t know how you know it. The knowing lives inside me, without pictures, without words. But there are sounds. Mother’s sounds. Her voice. And other voices, deeper, scary. Mother is scared. Her heart is beating fast, thrumming in my ears, her breathing faster.

Suddenly, an enormous squeeze clutches me. It’s too tight. More follow. They feel claustrophobic and angry, unlike the warm, fuzzy rubs and hugs from Mother when she is overcome with love for me. The squeezes are much stronger. They feel serious and not loving at all. They are getting even tighter now, and more frequent. I want them to stop, but they do not stop. Why don’t they stop? It’s hurting now, and one follows the next more and more rapidly. Mother’s sounds are loud. Has something happened to us, something bad? The squeezes are even tighter. Mother isn’t stopping them. I want to stop them, but I don’t know how.

I’m moving now, moving away from the warm weightlessness that is my home, down a very narrow place. It’s slippery, and I can’t stop moving no matter how hard I try. My shoulders are squashed up towards my head. Many other, unfamiliar voices join mother’s. They sound scared or excited. I can’t tell which.

My body moves even further down the narrow place. Somehow, I don’t know how, I’m sure I’d see Mother’s face soon. I’m happy about it, looking forward to it. But as soon as I relax, rough hands grab my head and pull me quickly through the narrow place. My body gulps air. My legs and arms flail without my permission. A bright light hits my eyes. I can’t focus on anything, but I know the skin I feel beneath me belongs to Mother. Her sounds are nearer, clearer and happy. She is making cooing sounds. Her soft hands touch me all over, as though she is checking that all of me is here, that I am safe. Just as I am getting used to her hands on my body, her skin beneath me and the bright lights around me, other, rougher hands take me away from her. I feel instantly cold, then.

Peculiar, pungent smells are all around me. I can hear a strange sound and realise it’s coming from me. I am crying, yes, but it’s shocking. The actual sound of my crying, makes me cry even louder. I don’t remember being able to hear it before, and I’ve cried many times before. I wonder if others can hear me, too? If Mother can hear me? Will she come to me?

Mother doesn’t come. But another someone – like her – but with a different smell and sounds, come. She picks me up. She makes soothing sounds and gently sways me from side to side. It’s comforting, and I stop crying. I look up at her and see she’s smiling.

In her eyes, the thing that’s wrong with me recognises me in the reflection and smiles back. It’s much bigger than me and I’m glad it’s here. I feel safe now. It likes the nurse’s smile and smiles wider.

I focus on it and hardly hear her whispered words but understand that she has misunderstood my smile.

“You’re a lovely little boy, aren’t you? And so bright, I see, already smiling, and you just born. But poor little thing, your ma’s just a little baby herself. I wonder what’ll become of you?”

***

“Jesus, Conor O’Reilly, take this fekkin child away to the other room. His constant screaming’s doing my bloody head in.”

Mother’s words are about me. The sound of her words slices my ears. Her words spear my heart. But a painful, gnawing, empty feeling inside me hurts far more. I cry harder.

I don’t understand why Mother doesn’t help me. I know she can take away the pain. But she’s been lying on the small red sofa for days now. Conor and Mary have tried to take care of me as best they can. Mary, especially, often cries with me. But Conor is always quiet. He never cries, or laughs, or speaks.

I’d been sitting in front of the telly playing with the empty bottles until one broke and a shard of glass cut my finger. It hurts, but less than the empty feeling in my body. Red liquid is everywhere. It’s coming from my finger. Conor puts his mouth over my finger and sucks the red stuff into his mouth. I stop crying and watch him. Conor’s blonde hair is standing on end, matted and dull. His blue eyes, like Mother’s, are closed. His face is screwed up in concentration. He sucks hard on my finger, clasping my hand to his mouth. But each time he pulls my finger from his mouth, blood flows again from the small wound.

Next to me, Mary has also stopped crying. Like me, she’s watching Conor. As though she suddenly remembers something, she gets up and waddles down the hallway. Her nappy hangs full and low down her little legs, and her dark hair is bunched up from sleeping on it. I watch her go, wondering when I’d be able to stand and walk, like her. She isn’t much older than me. Conor pays her no attention and goes back to sucking on my finger.

The only sounds in our small living room are the telly and Mother’s soft snoring. It’s incredible how she could be so cross one moment and fast asleep the next. I wish I could do that. But the empty, gnawing pain in my stomach often keeps me awake.

Mary comes back into the room with a tiny piece of toilet paper. She offers it to Conor. He takes it and carefully puts it around my finger. A big red mark appears on the white paper, but at least it doesn’t flow down my finger anymore. Mary sits on the floor beside me again and holds my hand while Conner goes to answer the doorbell that won’t stop ringing.

Uncle takes long strides into the room with Conor following behind. Uncle’s face wears a dark frown.

“Jesus, it stinks in here,” he says and opens a window before moving to Mother. He shakes her shoulder, but she doesn’t wake up. She just grumbles in her sleep.

Uncle brought the cold, fresh smells of outside into the room with him. The sharp smell of fresh alcohol stings the air. But the food smells make all our tummies rumble. Uncle’s dark hair is short and clean, and his blue eyes wild with an emotion I don’t understand.

“Conor,” Uncle says, “take those babies into the other room. I wanna talk to your ma. And change their nappies.”

Conor picks me up, and Mary follows as we make our way down the hallway to the bedroom we share with Mother. The room is much colder than the living room where the small heater lives. Conor puts me down on Mother’s bed. The sheets and blankets are cold against my back, and they smell funny of old sweat and lack of life.

Conor changes my nappy quickly. I’m warmer in my dry nappy at once. While empty feeling in my tummy still hurts, now I can tolerate it more.

Mary knows it’s her turn next. She comes to stand next to Conor. He lifts her on Mother’s bed, so she lies next to me. She’s quiet, clutching her teddy in one hand, her other holding mine. As soon as her new nappy is on, Mary draws Mother’s sheets and blankets around us. She lies close to me and I feel slightly warmer. Conor doesn’t wear a nappy any more.

Conor leaves the room, and I know he’s gone to put the nappies in the bucket in the bathroom. But he comes back quickly, the nappies still in his hand. His face is white and frown sits between his eyes. He says nothing, closes the door, puts the nappies on the floor next to Mother’s bed, and goes to sit on his mattress against the far wall of the small room. He sits with his back against the cold wall, his head in his hands on his knees, he’s drawn tight against his body.

Mary and I are quiet. We are watching him. He doesn’t move or look at us.

We listen to the sounds coming from the other room. Uncle’s voice; loud, demanding. Mother’s voice; speaking fast, rising as if she’s trying to defend herself. Sounds of a struggle, Mother screaming, something breaking, probably more bottles. A rhythmic banging sound and Mother’s low wailing, followed by Uncle’s sudden loud, piercing cry. Then, silence. Silence for a long time…

I cry as I wake up. The gnawing in my body is excruciating and making me feel ill. Mary wakes up and starts crying, too. Conor is still on his mattress, but he must have fallen asleep because he’s lying under his blankets. He gets up quickly when he hears us crying. His eyes are red and swollen.

The door flies open. Mother is standing in the doorway. She is swaying slightly. Her hair is a mess, and she has a blue bruise on her eye and a raw swelling on her lower lip. Behind her, Uncle appears. His eyes aren’t wild anymore. Instead, he’s smiling.

“Here he is, my little man. Just look how much you’ve grown.”

He pushes past Mother into the room and picks me up.

“We’re all starving, Moreen. Go. Order food. My little man’s hungry. What do you feed him these days?” he says as he tickles my tummy. But it just makes the horrid feeling there worse, and I cry more.

Uncle carries me on his hip and does a little dance down the hallway.

The heat in the front room pounces on me and invades my body. I stop crying.

Mother is at the door, collecting boxes of food from a delivery man. She’s put plates ready on the table.

It feels like a feast day, all of us sitting in the warmer living room. Mother is on the sofa with me at her breast, Uncle on the beanbag with a big slice of pizza on his plate, and Conor and Mary side by side at the small table in the corner. I know they’re enjoying themselves because they’re swinging their legs as they eat. Mother’s plate sits next to her on the sofa. She takes small, careful bites now and then.

I’m not sure if we’re a real family, or not. I’m not sure I like Uncle. But at least Mother is awake now, and the sicky, empty feeling in my stomach is disappearing. I don’t want any more milk. Mother puts me down next to her on the sofa and picks up her plate.

My eyelids are heavy. But I don’t want to sleep because I like the sounds of my family around me and I don’t want to miss anything. The warmth of the room and the lovely full feeling in my tummy lulls me. I close my eyes and listen to the voices of Mother and Uncle talking as they’re eating.

“So, what are you going to do with the older two?” Uncle asks. “You can’t have them all here. I can’t support all of them. They’re not mine. And you better be right about Lee being mine because if I find out otherwise…”

Even though I’m sleepy, something in my mind registers the words and the meaning behind them, somehow. The thing that’s wrong with me, stirs. It feels like me, but not like me. It feels big, bigger than Uncle, bigger than our home, and powerful and dark. It peeps out at Uncle.

***

Mother is on the phone. She is walking back and forth in our small living room. Her hair is standing up even more than usual. She runs a distracted hand through it every now and then. She seems so alive. She is by turns talking very fast and then being very silent, listening to the other person speaking. Something is wrong. It has something to do with Uncle.

I am sitting between Conor and Mary on the red sofa, watching telly. Mother said we could watch cartoons. Conor and Mary are watching cartoons, but I prefer to watch Mother.

Something bad has happened to Uncle. He’s died. Mother’s conversation on the phone goes on for longer than I’ve ever seen. She cries and yells and then becomes quiet, watching us as she continues to listen to the other person talking. Her eyes move over us again and again, as though she is thinking about what to do with us. Conor and Mary don’t look at her, they’re watching telly.

When the phone call finally ends, Mother goes to sit on her chair at the table, resting her head in her hands. Her shoulders are shaking and I think she’s crying, but she’s quiet.

The front door buzzer goes and Conor gets up to answer it, his eyes staying fixed on the telly until the very last moment. Mother doesn’t move, nor does she look up when Grandmother walks into the room. Grandmother is bigger than Mother, but they look very similar. Grandmother’s hair is longer but just like Uncle’s, it’s a little curly. She seems angry and unhappy.

“Jesus, Moreen,” she says, “look at the state of the place, and the kids. Don’t you ever clean up?”

Conor walks past her and gets back on the sofa beside me, his eyes already glued to the telly again. Mother looks up. She looks like she has a cold.

Grandmother’s hands are on her hips. “Why are you so upset? He wasn’t your son. He was mine. I should be crying like you. But I can’t, can I? No, because I have to come here to sort you out. He tried, you know. He really tried to help you, but you’re such an ungrateful little cow, aren’t you? And now he’s gone, my beautiful son. Why he came here last night I’ll never know. What happened here? Did you fight with him, as usual? Why couldn’t you just love your brother.”

I don’t like the sound of Grandmother’s rough voice. The big darkness in me awakens again and stirs, but it doesn’t come out this time.

Mother doesn’t say anything. She’s looking at us, her eyes moving over us again, as she did earlier. She’s become like Conor; quiet, distant, drawn into herself.

Grandmother sighs and sits down on Conor’s chair at the table.

“Right, let’s get the kids clean first of all. Do you have hot water in this godforsaken place?”

Mother gets up. She moves slowly. She leaves the room. Moments later, the sound of running water comes from the bathroom.

Mother comes to stand in the doorway.

“Conor,” her voice sounds strange and soft, as though she’s lost a great battle. “Time for your bath.”

Conor gets up and follows Mother from the room, his eyes again remaining on the telly until the last moment.

Grandmother comes to sit in the empty space Conor has left on the sofa. She picks me up and gingerly holds me on her knees, staring at my face, unsmiling. Her eyes are sharp, like Uncle’s, but now she is squinting at me and only now do I see how shiny they are through her lashes. Suddenly, she turns me this way and that, really looking at me as though she’s seen something interesting on me. I can’t imagine what. She’s still not smiling, so it’s not something funny. Then, abruptly, she turns me around so that I’m sitting on her knees, facing the telly again.

Conor comes back. He takes Mary’s place as she slides from the sofa to follow Mother to the bathroom. Conor smells of clean soap. His face glistens and his wet hair has been combed neatly back, the longer bits tucked behind his ears. He’s wearing clean clothes that I have never seen before; a white T-shirt under a red hoodie, and jeans with proper socks and trainers. The clothes look new. I wonder where he got them from. He watches the telly again, fully absorbed as though he’d never left. I can feel Grandmother staring at him, but he doesn’t return her examination of him.

When Mary comes back into the room she, too, is clean from head to toe. Her hair, still wet, has been braided into two long braids that hang beside her head. Her face is gleaming and her eyes are sparkling. She’s dressed in pink tights under a pink dress with a grey woollen cardigan over the top, and white trainers, similar to Conor’s. She smiles and comes to sit beside Grandmother. I can’t stop staring at her. She looks like an angel.

Mother walks over and takes me from Grandmother’s outstretched arms. Grandmother is offering me as though I’m something foul. We go down the hallway to the bathroom. I already know I’m not going to like having a bath. I didn’t like it at the hospital and I was pretty sure nothing has changed since then. As always, I’m astonished to hear my own voice. As always, it’s piercing and loud and it hurts my ears, so I cry even louder.

Mother offers no sympathy. I’m unceremoniously stripped and dumped into the bath. Thankfully, the water only just covers my legs and it’s immediately lovely against my skin. I stop crying as Mother scoops the warm water over my body while holding my head upright with her other hand. I love the feeling of the soap suds on my body but when she tries to wash my hair, my loud voice erupts again and startles me into a crying fit. She ignores my loud screaming and finishes washing my hair. Then, she lifts me out of the bath and wraps me up in a big towel. I like the feeling of her attention on me, of her arms around me. I stop crying. She’s holding me close and making soft cooing sounds, whilst gently running her hand over my back. Even with the towel between her hand and my body, it’s a wonderful feeling. Her wet tears in my neck add to the warmth.

“God help me, help us, my darling Lee.” Mother’s voice is soft and sad, for my ears only. “I did love him. I really did, but I’m grateful he’s gone. Is that so wrong of me?”

SHORT STORY – REJECTION

“There’s gold in that voice,” my singing teacher said.

She was talking to my mother. I’d first seen that smile on my mother’s lips when I was around two or three years old. It happened when the adults around me had identified the noise I made as singing. Now, at the grand old age of six, I couldn’t remember a time without my voice, without singing.

My parent’s encouragement had made itself known in a small, pale blue, miniature baby grand piano that waited for me under the Christmas tree one year. It was perfect. I was delirious with excitement. A toy, with real keys that I could individually play, I adored that piano. Hours blurred one into another as I sang along to my heart’s content. The noise must have driven everyone around me insane. No wonder then that the piano disappeared one day, never to be found again.

I don’t know where the urge to sing came from, but there it was. Only much later did I discover that my grandmother also sang. Her grandmother was an opera singer in Europe somewhere before they’d left to make a new home in Africa, where we now lived.

We lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was a big deal when guests came to visit. As the distances between farms were so huge, visitors would typically stay for a meal – either lunch or dinner. I was the entertainment. My mother would dress me up, brush out my long hair, and I would be summoned to sing for the adults after the meal. I can’t remember what I sang – it might have been hymns. Afterwards, I would receive applause and my mother would give me sweets to share with my sister as we were sent away from the adult company.

When it came time for school, I joined all the other shy, unsocial children from the surrounding farms. We stared at each other with big, curious eyes, but had learned that children were to be seen, not heard. We were an obedient, quiet bunch. Talking in front of each other was a struggle. Singing was out of the question. So, when the teacher wanted to test us for the choir, she devised a cunning plan. Square windows at the top of the wall that divided two classrooms were left open. In one of the classrooms sat all the students in neat, quiet rows. In the other was a piano. After being taught a song altogether, one by one, the students were ushered into the room with the piano. Being unable to see the classmates encouraged each young singer to utter sounds that indicated they had at least remembered the song. But in some cases, the tiny voices were so quiet that only the piano could be heard as the teacher softly played the accompaniment. Despite the awkward situation, the teacher bravely continued to search for new members of the choir to replace those who had left to join the secondary school.

My turn came. Being a seasoned professional, I sang as I usually did in front of our guests on the farm. After a few bars, the teacher stopped playing. I stopped singing, worried that I had done something wrong. But her hands were clasped in front of her mouth, her eyes were smiling at me and silent tears ran down her cheeks.

At home, I handed the letter from the teacher to my mother. She wiped the flour from her hands, untied her apron, and patting me on the head, took the letter from my hand. We sat at the kitchen table, my legs swinging in anticipation.

After what seemed like ages, I realised my mother was reading and re-reading the letter. But I couldn’t read her face when she finally looked at me. She folded the letter and put it on the table in front of her.

“You have not been selected for the choir, Annie. I’m so sorry.”

My heart stopped wanting to jump out of my chest from excitement and instead, stopped from the tidal wave of disappointment that flooded through my body. The tears that spilt from my eyes made my voice sound small and tight.

“Why? I did my best. I sang better than the others.”

My mother put a warm hand that smelled like flour and cookies on mine, but she didn’t smile. Her eyes looked as sad as I knew mine were. Singing was all I ever wanted to do. I was only going to school so that I could sing. Mother had told me that I could join the choir and I could hardly wait. Now, this. It was so unfair.

“You did sing better than the others, darling. And that’s why… Your voice is much louder than theirs. You won’t be able to blend in with the others.”

She patted my hand.

“We’ll think of something…”

I was still crying on my bed when I heard mother’s voice talking on the phone that stood on the small table in our long corridor. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but she was using her firm voice.

The next day after school, I started singing lessons with a singing teacher. But I carried the rejection from the choir deep in my heart.

After a month or so of lessons, my teacher entered me for an Eisteddfod, the annual singing and performance competition. It was my first performance in front of a hall filled with people. My mother thought I would be nervous. She held my hand as the chair beneath me shook from my uncontrollable trembling. But once I stood in front of the audience and the judge, a well-known operatic tenor, I loved every second of it.

Only when I won my first Eisteddfod as a soloist, did my six-year-old heart begin to feel hope that I could still sing even if it wasn’t with my friends in the choir.

Fading…

 

Fading…

Some days, she was herself again. Some days… What happened on the other days, the days that she was gone, she had no idea.

On the days of clarity, it felt as though she had been away on a long journey, only coming home now. She loved the feeling of coming home. It felt good to be home. It was such a relief. She felt as though she could breathe again. She wanted the feeling to continue, so this is where she would start. Here, where she was sitting in her living room, with her things around her. Here, where she felt safe.

Music lived here. It had lived here for many, many years. She would play, and they would dance and sing. Well, in the beginning, when they were too young to sing, they danced. She would be over there, by the piano, playing. He would be here, sitting on this sofa, watching them, his little family. They would be dancing: her little boy and his two younger sisters. They made up their own steps and danced with such joy, such abandon, such enthusiasm, as only small children could.

It was love at first sight. She had been around six or seven, and she knew immediately, irrevocably, that music lived in her soul. She did not know how she knew it, but she had been certain of it. As certain as the sun that smiled on the exotic, yellow African Daisies outside her mother’s bedroom window. As certain as the music that poured from the record player in the corner of the room.

The first time he had heard her play was when she was twenty years old, petite, and quite beautiful. It was a knowing within her then, her beauty. Not something she ever shared with anyone else. It was enough that it belonged to her. Like her music. But unlike her beauty, the music wasn’t hers alone. It had to be shared. She remembered well the feeling of sharing it. Of seeing the happy smiling faces around her at the hearing of it. Her feelings of satisfaction.

The beautiful dresses she could choose from, the expensive jewellery. But no rings. She had loved rings. But never any rings. Or bracelets. They clincked on the keys.

The travel: New York, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Paris, Saltzburg, Milan, Rome, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, St Petersburg, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Boston. Exhausting, thrilling, consuming. The audiences. The applause. One performance blurred into the next as she travelled from country to country.

“So exciting, darling!” “So glamorous!”

But it wasn’t. It was work, work, work. She never felt more alive, more vibrant, more herself. Music opened her soul. It allowed her to see for herself, her path ahead. She was doing the thing she had been born to do. The thing that eluded so many others. That caused so much frustration and unhappiness as far as she could tell. But not in her. Each day was a new opportunity to explore more music, to live her purpose.

And her hair… She had been enthralled with her long dark hair. It highlighted her flawless pale skin. Well, it did then. The person staring back at her from mirrors now was a stranger. A stranger she met anew each time she looked into a mirror. She met many strangers these days. Some insisted that she should know them. That she had known them. Others carried that hurtful look in their eyes when she did not recognise them. She had come to know that look well.

Thoughts… Many thoughts. Maybe memories. Maybe dreams. They lived at the edge of her memory, teasing her with their presence. Thoughts of music. Thoughts of family.

When her babies came, she had stopped travelling. She loved her babies. But they never asked that she give up her music. He and her babies and her music lived together. He would stay with them at those times when she played. The musicals, the recitals and concerts. Accompanying other soloists. The huge old pipe organ in church. These had become her outlets for music. She was grateful. Grateful that her purpose still lived alongside her family. These were her passions. These fed her soul.

The organ extended the music. Now there was Handel’s Messiah, too, and Bach’s toccatas and fugues for postludes. Practising in the beautiful old church was an opportunity to dress up, as much out of respect for the church, as for the music. Sunday dresses and the spiked shoes she would remove and replace with soft black slippers that would glide over the pedals as she played.

Some days, she was here. With her music and her young family and him. But somehow, they weren’t here. She could not find them. She was alone. They were gone. It was terrifying. She looked and looked but she was too tired. She felt too slow. She thought about taking a short rest. She would try again tomorrow. Now there were only strangers. What did they know. Of her music. Of her family.

But on the days of clarity her life was intact again. Connections made sense. Then, there were no strangers. Only her family that she loved. She recognised them. She knew them. They were all adults now, of course. And he was there, too. Older, gentler, familiar. It felt so good. She felt good. She would walk to the piano and sit down, her fingers already reaching for the keys.

I Could Have Danced All Night. Isn’t it odd that her fingers played that song in particular. She had not meant to play it. But that’s what came out. She tried again. There was so much music. Classical music. Ah, the Romantic Music she loved so.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID fingers.

Her daughter was here. Beautiful, talented. Her youngest. Christine sang. Christine sang the last song she could play.

I Could Have Danced All Night.

(For Nita, Smitty and Christine)

DIARY OF A LETTER

An awareness of my birth started with the first word. I savoured it even as I didn’t know what it meant. More words were added, and a sense of meaning began to form. The writing – margins and paragraphs, commas and full stops, capital letters and sentences – filled my pages until I felt full with their presence, pregnant with their meaning. I revelled in the feeling of my pages – two of them – pristine, neat and smooth. Ordered lines of writing covered my first page, the message completed on the top half of my second page. The empty white space beneath, a blissful freedom, neither waiting nor pining to be filled with words, at peace with its lot.

I shared the writer’s excitement which grew as she read and re-read the words on my pages. I was to deliver a message, an important message. I sensed the writer’s anticipation of a response to the message on my pages. Pride rose in me, pride that I had been especially created for this, and a sense of something else…that I was rare, that my appearance would be an unusually pleasant surprise for the recipient, somehow. The awareness came with the understanding that other ways to deliver messages were more usual. That, in part, I understood was the reason that I was uncommon, unique.

I wondered if the words I was carrying determined my personality, my energy, and my worth. I had a sense that it did. Unable to see the words, I could not even guess at their meaning. But it didn’t detract from my happiness. I had a purpose. I had a responsibility that only I could fulfil, and no one else. It made me extraordinarily happy. I was content.

But my tranquility and cheerfulness was suddenly interrupted in a way I could not foresee. I was being folded. Oh, no! My smoothness was being disrupted. One fold. No, two!

I could hardly stand it. How could anyone do this to me? It was clear that the writer didn’t have any remorse. Apparently, she considered this ill-treatment normal. She didn’t seem to understand that I would never be the same again. I had been changed forever. From this day, I would always carry the scars of the folds on my pages. The folds were severe. They diminished my size. I was now a third smaller than I used to be. Paralyzed from the shock, I froze, but the worst was still to come.

I was being stuffed into an envelope. Of all the indignities! My edges were being straightened within the envelope before it was sealed above me. Light disappeared. I stayed as still as I could, wondering what other horrors were to come. Hopelessness washed through me. What could I do? I was pretty sure I had not done anything to warrant such abuse. I had trusted the writer, felt safe with her. This was such betrayal. My thoughts swirled round and round. How long would I be contained in this envelope? What if the writer didn’t send the envelope off immediately and I had to languish here? What if the envelope got lost en route to the recipient? How would I ever escape then? Or what if the recipient didn’t open the envelope immediately, or worse, just threw it away? I tried to stop the suffocating panic from driving me crazy.

On one level, I was deeply disturbed at being forced into a situation I had no control over. But on the other, I realized that my thoughts were not helping my situation. If only I could control them… It was difficult to think of anything other than my immediate dire circumstances. But I had to… I tried to calm myself and look logically at what had happened. Had the folds in my pages killed me? No. Had being stuffed into the envelope killed me? No. All that had happened as a result of those two scenarios was that I’d been changed. But my panic level was still sky-high. My chaotic thoughts, although the truth, did not help me to gain any new perspective. Come on, think. THINK!

It worked. The terror faded slowly.

As I thought about my purpose, about the message on my pages and how I was the only one in the whole wide world that could deliver it, I started to feel better again. I could live with the folds on my pages. Okay, so it changed how I looked but it didn’t define who I was. Luckily, the folds didn’t disturb the words. The message I carried remained intact. My reason for existence, my worth, remained unaffected despite the ugliness of the folds. I was even beginning to think that being put into the envelope might have been a good thing. Perhaps the envelope’s purpose was to keep me and my message safe. Even though uncomfortable, it was a temporary situation and I could see now, necessary, for me to deliver my message in the best possible way.

The writer clearly trusted the process. Why shouldn’t I? But I wasn’t so sure about trust. I had trusted the writer and looked what happened. Forgiving her might be a long process. Change, however, seemed inevitable. I could see that. I understood change, appreciated its constancy. It was all I had, apart from my message. No matter how scary, how painful, how uncomfortable, change allowed expansion, transformation. That was the prize; the shiny new me with a wider perspective, and a deeper appreciation for myself, being reborn again and again.

SHORT STORY: WHEN YOU GOTTA GO!

I look up from my Kindle as the tube stops. Bounds Green says the sign on the wall. The digital message that runs above the windows inside the carriage confirms the same thing.

People board the tube and take the seats of those who had disembarked moments before. Opposite me, a mother and her young son take their seats. Like me, she sits in the first seat, her little boy in the second, next to her. I turn my attention back to my Kindle and pay them no further notice.

I don’t like children. I find their energy too disruptive and parents don’t seem to notice the effect their child’s behaviour has on the people around them. It irritates me. I don’t have children of my own…never wanted any. But if I did have children, I would want them to be considerate and kind, and sit still when they’re travelling on the tube, or eating in restaurants.

The little boy opposite doesn’t sit still. He’s off the seat in no time. But thankfully, his mother doesn’t allow him to run around. Even though she is reading a newspaper, she holds on to his arm as the tube shakes and jerks along the tracks towards central London. He’s about five or six years old I estimate, and a very cute, good looking little boy with a friendly smile. He smiles at me. I smile back. Just because I don’t like children, doesn’t mean I am mean to them. He can’t help being a little boy. But that’s the problem. Small children, I find, have entirely too much energy. His mother directs him back to his seat and he slides onto it backwards, legs dangling. He’s too short for his feet to touch the floor when seated. He’s asking her for something.

“Mummy…”

“Mummy…”

I can’t make out what he’s saying, but it sounds urgent. I continue to read, knowing that the mother would take care of whatever it is the little boy needs. Only when we stop at the next station, do I hear that he’s asking if he can go to the toilet. The mother remains very calm.

“There is no toilet on the train. You’ll have to wait until we get off.”

“But I have to go now, mummy.”

“Where do you want to go? There is nowhere here.”

I can now see why the little boy is getting off the seat. He’s dancing from one foot to the other. Poor little thing. He’s clearly in urgent need of the loo. But again, his mother directs him to sit down and wait for their stop. I am beginning to admire him. He sits quietly for a little while before leaning towards his mother and whispering to her. I can’t hear what he’s saying but it’s clear that he is still talking about needing to go to the loo.

As there is nothing I, or anyone, can do to help the boy, I return to my Kindle. But moments later, a sudden flurry of activity opposite me, makes me look up again.

The boy had wet himself. I’m not surprised. His need to go seemed really urgently. What does surprise me is his mother’s reaction. She seems more concerned with cleaning the seat than she does her son. The little boy is standing in front of her, pee streaming from his shorts down his little legs. But the mother ignores him as she grabs tissues and tries to mop up the pee from the seat beside her. There’s too much of it and she has to give up, eventually covering the seat with the newspaper she had been reading. I decide her actions must betray a sense of embarrassment. Why else would she ignore her little boy to deal with a wet seat, instead?

Apparently satisfied that she had done all she could for the pee soaked seat, she turns her attention to her little boy. She wipes his legs with tissues that she adds to the wet ones already in her bag. I can’t imagine how wet everything else in her bag must be by now or what it must smell like.

I pretend to read but can’t tear my eyes away from the mother and son.

By the way the boy acts, it’s clear that this is not the first time he’s has had to pee in his pants in public. He looks around, and smiles at me and the other commuters who are also watching. I imagine his shy smile covers his humiliation. I wonder if it would affect him later?

Whether by design or because of what happened, they get off at the next stop, and I watch as the commuters around the seat warn others not to sit there. Despite the fact that the tube becomes more and more packed as rush hour on a Friday dictate it does, the seat remains empty. Only the newspaper occupies it.

Now, when I get on the tube, I never sit in the second seat even if it’s the only one available. It will forever remind me of the little boy, of his trauma, his humiliation, and the part of him he’d left behind on the tube.

The Day Of Love – Valentine’s Day

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Tomorrow is the day of love – Valentine’s Day.

I know Valentine’s Day is about romantic love, but being fascinated by the origins of things we take for granted, I discovered that the history of Valentine’s Day is rather obscure, and clouded by all sorts of legends.

The holiday’s roots lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. But Pope Gelasius I changed the pagan festival into a Christian feast day, declaring February 14 the day to celebrate the memory of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr. But which St. Valentine is supposed to be honoured isn’t clear as there were about a dozen of them, the name being a popular one during the fourteenth century. There was even a Pope Valentine.

The festival used to begin when members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathered at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or Lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility, and a dog for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. The matches often ended in marriage.

But, in fact, the medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer may have invented Valentine’s Day as we understand it today. Chaucer did what many historical romance fiction writers of today do – he often placed his poetic characters into fictitious historical contexts that he represented as real.

Around 1375 Chaucer wrote a poem, “Parliament of Foules,” in which he links a tradition of romantic love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day. No record exists of romantic celebrations on Valentine’s Day prior to his poem, that received widespread attention. The poem refers to a belief commonly held, especially in France and England, that February the 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season. His line from the poem, “For this was sent on Seynt Valenteyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” is supposed to be the reason for the invention of the holiday as we know it today.

We know that Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages. But written Valentine’s only started to appear after 1400.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415 following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, wrote a poem to his wife. It is the oldest known Valentine still in existence today.  (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.)

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Today, Valentine’s greeting cards rival the amount of cards sent out at Christmas.

Why is music so important to us?

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Let us begin by investigating where music comes from.

We know that music predates the written word. Scientists believe that modern humans developed in Africa around 160,000 or so years ago. Around 50,000 years ago these humans began to disperse from Africa to all the corners of our planet.

Since all peoples of the world, including the most isolated tribal groups, have some form of music, scientists reckon that music must have been present in those original societies prior to their distribution around the world.

Social bonding for these early humans was crucial when they were more often the hunted rather than the hunter, when finding food was no mere stroll on the plains. It is believed that for them, music promoted a sense of being together in the same situation, facing the same problems. Music therefore became a communication system for the expression of emotion and the forging of group identities.

It is interesting to note that as soon as modern humans got to Europe, one of the first things they did was to leave not evidence of hunting, not evidence of a fight for survival, but a proper musical instrument. It is the earliest known musical instrument, a bone pipe, which dates back 40,000 years. It was found in Southern Germany and suggests that music was as significant to our ancestors as any other aspect of their lives. Of course, the oldest human instrument, in all likelihood, was probably the human voice.

Humans seem to be adapted specifically for music. Music activates our pleasure centres in ways similar to drugs, food and sex. The patterns and features of music are also perceived in special ways by our brains, distinct from ordinary sounds. This explains some of what we find attractive in things like the patterns of notes in an octave, musical harmony and complex rhythm.

Today if music is about anything it is about expressing and inducing emotion.

But let us first of all take a closer look at what music is. We know that it does not have one concrete meaning. That not all people will react similarly to a specific piece of music is obvious to anyone who loves music, but explaining the reasons for these differences is considered by music therapy researchers to be so difficult that the question is usually avoided entirely.

Music certainly means something different for different people. For example, to a musician, music is their life. They eat, breathe and live music. Music is their passion. For others it is a hobby, a pastime. Music is also a means to relaxation for some and a source of great excitement to others. For example, a party would be unimaginable without music.

So we know that music is at least sound because we can hear it, but you have probably also noticed that you are able to feel the sound of music in your own body. Perhaps in the past you have stood next to a large speaker. Or maybe you have felt the rumbling of heavy bass music through a table or a floor. These effects prove that sound is some kind of physical phenomenon. Sound must somehow be hitting you, letting you feel the beat. But we don’t see, or taste or smell anything when we feel sound. There is nothing but air. It stands to reason therefore that we must somehow be feeling the air when we feel sound.

A very simple but effective experiment might shed more light on how we feel the air. Gently place your fingers on your larynx, the tube through which air passes when we breathe or talk, or sing. Now, keep your fingers gently touching your larynx and sing any note for a few seconds. If you are not the singing type, you can also hum or talk instead of singing. You may have noticed that your larynx vibrated, but if you did not, you may need to sing a little louder.

The results of our experiment on sound showed that your larynx vibrated when you made a sound. This means your larynx caused the air to vibrate. We have proved therefore that sound is just vibrating air.

We now know these three things:

1. music is sound, 2. music is vibration and 3. we experience music through some form of physicality, either externally or internally.

This brings us to the next stage of our investigation. It might be very interesting to find out what music is for. Apparently the thought of music and humans fill biologists with trepidation. Its existence and variety in human cultures and the strong evidence that the brain comes preloaded with musical circuits, suggest that music is as much a product of human evolution as, say thumbs. But that raises the question of what music is for.

Darwin speculated that human music, like birdsong, attracts mates. Or, as he put it, prelinguistic human ancestors tried to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm.

Studies in neuroscience and anthropology do suggest that indeed, music did help our human ancestors survive, particularly before language. For example, scientists suggest that language may have been built on the neural underpinnings of music.

It has now been proved that music can exist within the brain in the absence of language, a sign that the two evolved independently. Since language impairment does not wipe out musical ability, it stands to reason that musical ability must have a longer evolutionary history. And because music has grammar-like qualities, it might have served an even greater function.

With music hardwired in our brains, early humans had the neural foundation for the development of what most distinguishes us from other animals, symbolic thought and language.

But for most of us in our day-to-day lives, music has three major functions.

1. Music affects our moods and can make us feel, happy, sad, excited, calm or hopeful.

2. Music adds colour to our lives – without it, the world would be very plain.

3. And music is a creative outlet, a way we express ourselves when words are not enough.

That does not tell us, however, why music is important. But to say that music is important in our lives seems an understatement, given the fact that we spend billions on music each year.

We already know that music affect our moods. Many musicologists believe that music is a form of language or communication that directly accesses the emotions without the intermediation of words and rational thought. If that is true, and I guess we all suspect that it is, then we have to look at all the music around us and its impact on us. It’s everywhere. In our homes. On the street. In shops, restaurants and lifts. Even at the dentist. We cannot escape it.

One thing we do know is that our moods affect our bodies which in turn affect our health. But the use of music and sound to improve health is not a novel idea. Though little thought is given today as to the meaning or function of music within society, the civilizations of former times, were very conscious of the power of music. This was especially true of the pre-Christian era.

It has been easy for modern man, born and raised within a society infused with the philosophy of materialism to fall into the trap of regarding music as a non-essential and even peripheral aspect of human life. But both harmful and beneficial effects of music were recognized by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and Indians.

From ancient China to Egypt, from India to the golden age of Greece, we find the same, the belief that there is something immensely fundamental about music. Something which, they believed, gave it the power to sublimely evolve or to utterly degrade the individual psyche, and thereby to make or break entire civilizations.

Plato and Cicero, like the ancient Chinese and Indians, believed that music profoundly affected the behaviour of entire societies. Particularly in China, the belief was held that the state should regulate the performance of music and prohibit certain types of music because of their potentially harmful effects.

These sentiments might be extreme, but perhaps it can lead us to think about what people living in modern industrialized nations have learned through painful experience, that many of the wonders of technology have deadly side effects. For example, Nuclear power was originally promoted as being a clean and safe alternative to burning coal and oil. And the ubiquitous plastics that promised to make our lives convenient are now recognized as a major hazard to our own and our planet’s health. Could it therefore be possible that music, which many of us take for granted as just background noise, could also have unrecognized effects, both harmful and beneficial.

Let us take a brief look at what happens to us when we listen to music. We all know that our heartbeat and breathing changes with different types of music, and that our eyes’ pupils dilate. Music also affects our skin temperature. But we lose music’s true power by not letting it through our bodies, and by restricting the pleasure and healing power of music, for example by sitting still in a classical concert when our body is aching to move with the rhythm of the music. The body has become so abstracted from music that we do not do the right things with our bodies and end up having not only problems with weight for example, but also with sex, energy and body dismorphia, rife, especially among younger people.

When we wilfully restrict our body’s natural movement in response to music, we’re damaging ourselves. We know this because the effects of music on the body can be measured. For example, measurements have been taken of the sensation of music in the human brain. Music can also significantly affect blood cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone, secreted by the adrenal glands. In certain circumstances, for example, competing as an athlete, elevated cortisol levels, easily obtained by playing loud, strident music, is desirable, but it is not usually a good thing. When cortisol and adrenal levels remain high with no outlet, it could cause stress, which could lead to high blood pressure, strokes and even heart attacks.

We should perhaps ask whether certain types of agitating music, such as rock or heavy metal may therefore induce excessive cortisol over extended periods of time which would become addictive, in a similar manner to the adrenal rush one gets from drinking coffee.

A French ear specialist confirmed that the same frequencies and musical styles of Baroque or classical composition that has proved beneficial for plants were also beneficial for humans. Especially those compositions rich in stringed instruments, such as violin, viola, cello and harp.

Numerous other studies from hospitals and medical schools have demonstrated the effects of music on human behaviour and physiology. For example, melodic intonation therapy, which involves speaking in a strongly musical manner, promotes recovery in stroke patients and helps those who stutter.

Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos, specifically, has been shown to reduce total seizure activity in epileptic. And the music was effective even for epileptics who were comatose at the time.

Spatio temporal math reasoning ability in second graders are significantly enhanced by musical keyboard training.

Music has also been shown to help reduce post surgical stress and pain, to reduce symptoms of depression in home bound elderly people, and to aid children who are developmentally delayed by enhancing hand-eye coordination.

Further research has shown that regular vocal toning of only ten minutes a day, is equivalent to taking ten milligrams of valium.

We all know about the proven effects of Baroque instrumental music on our memory and its aid in learning new languages. That is because music and language are inextricably linked through the interconnections in our brains. Therefore, musical and linguistic intelligence are highly correlated.

We also know about the Mozart effect. Yes, it even has a name. It is the theory that listening to Mozart’s music is supposed to enhance deep rest and rejuvenation, intelligence and learning, and creativity and imagination. Claims have even been made that listening to Mozart’s music for fifteen minutes, would improve our IQ by eight to nine points.

And then there is the effect of music on the unborn baby. Although sound is greatly distorted because of the liquid and tissue surrounding the foetus, there is more than sufficient musical stimulation to be heard in the womb. Some studies suggest that prenatal exposure to music, assist infant development and therefore may one day serve to improve certain developmental delays in some children.

Ultimately, attentive and sensitive listening leads us to the music inside ourselves, to the magic in music.

Of course we now know that not only music is composed of vibrations. Supposedly solid matter and all forms of energy, including ourselves, are also composed of vibrations. The only difference between each of these phenomena is their frequency of vibration. Each merges into the other at a certain wavelength, which obviously means, when one gets down to it, that they are one and the same thing.

When this vibratory activity occurs at a frequency of around 600,000 billion waves per second, it becomes particularly interesting and accessible to us in everyday life, for this is the frequency at which our eyes have been designed to sense the vibrations and transmit them to our brains in the form of visual perception of light and colour and sound.

We now know that all matter is made of molecules. The molecules are made of atoms. The atoms are made of electrons, protons, and neutrons. The electrons, protons, and neutrons are made of quarks. The quarks are made of sub-quarks. And the sub-quarks are made of vibrating strings of energy. In fact, scientists have proved that everything is in a state of vibration, by demonstrating that atoms and sub-atomic particles are themselves composed of nothing else but energy in a state of vibration and oscillation. And one of the experiments’ conclusions proved that atoms are harmonic resonators, just like humans. This resonance principle effectively disintegrates the barriers between physics and music. The principle is rapidly establishing the concept that not only the atom, but all sub-atomic particles, can be theoretically considered as being nodes of resonance. In other words, some scientists are beginning to regard the atom as a kind of tiny musical note.

Scientists have also demonstrated that the structure of the atom contains ratios and numbers which resemble to a degree impossible to account for by chance, the harmonic principles of music. The intervals and harmonics of music, mirroring the geometry of the heavens, may also be present in some mysterious way not only within the physical form of man, but also within the patterns of his psychology.

Data thus far suggests that the entire universe may then be based upon vibration, that vibration may be the fundamental nature of each and every energy form currently known to science. The vibrations could be likened to playing a note on a guitar string, then hit a fret and pluck it again. You get different notes. When these incredibly tiny strings vibrate in different ways, different forms of matter appear. 

This opens up a possibility more incredible than we could have imagined. The potential of a grand unified field theory. For example let us note the interesting fact that ultrasonic sound vibrating a glass rod causes the rod to emanate both heat and light, a demonstrable example of sound energy becoming the energies of both heat and light.

And even more astonishing, sound vibration could therefore mean that the entire Universe may be nothing more than a song.

George And The Gargoyle Who Lived In The Garden

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Come and see my guest post about my children’s novel, George And The Gargoyle Who Lived In The Garden, on the wonderful Mary Anne Yarde‘s blog, Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots.

Mary Anne Yarde is the award winning and best selling author of the Du Lac Chronicles – great stories about Lancelot Du Lac’s sons a the time after King Arthur’s reign. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

My guest blog is about the inspiration behind writing my children’s novel, George And The Gargoyle Who Lived In The Garden.

http://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/…/authors-inspiration-a…

Fear, the mind-killer

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I feel with the world in its current state, many of us experience fearfulness. But fear is the mind-killer. Fear paralyses us. Fear makes us smaller than we are. Fear tramples on our dreams.

I am a huge fan of  Frank Herbert’s Dune, from where the phrase, Fear is the mind-killer, originates.

So, I was excited when I came across this blog post by the amazing Kristen Lamb, in which she quotes Frank Herbert, and talks about this topic much more eloquently than I ever could, so I’m sharing her post here. Even though Kristen is talking about fear from the point of view as a writer, I feel it affects us all and is therefore relevant to all of us.

If you want to visit her website, here is the link to her blog  – https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/fear-is-the-mind-killer-in-control-of-your-life/

FEAR—Is the Mind-Killer in Control of Your Life?

by Author Kristen Lamb

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Noemi Galera.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Noemi Galera.

The single greatest challenge you will face in trying to accomplish anything great is FEAR. FEAR is nothing to be underestimated and we need to learn to manage it if we want to succeed. I remember being a kid and Dune was one of my favorite movies. At the age of ten I memorized Paul Atreides’ mantra:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

At the time I just thought it was a seriously cool movie line. It was only when I grew older that I began to truly understand how powerful these words were.

Fear IS the mind-killer. Remember last time we talked about how vital it is to make sure we have our heads in the right spot. Where the mind goes, the man follows and if we are scope-locked on all the stuff that overwhelms and terrifies us? We are doomed before we start. Our head is not in the game.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I find it so fascinating that Frank Herbert called it the “little-death” but isn’t it? Fear is not real. Fear is the work of imaginations and yet those small cracks are what can bring everything crashing down.

I will face my fear.

Words have tremendous power and we as writers are wise to appreciate this. We might be sinking into despair. We are anxious and can’t sleep. We can’t focus and so we say things like, “I am tired” or “I’m depressed” but by using these blanket statement copouts we are only feeding the very thing feeding on us. We need to face it. NAME IT.

It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to give that fear a name because until we know what it IS, we can’t fight back. What is the first thing any doctor does when we come into the ER? He finds the thing’s NAME. Sure our chest hurts and we are sweaty and dizzy and our blood pressure is wrong but that could be anything from cardiac arrest to a panic attack. NAMING what is going on is vital for any kind of treatment.

Do we really want a doctor cracking open our chest because we are having a panic attack? Conversely do we want the doctor to recommend yoga when we have a blocked artery?

I will permit my fear to pass over me and through me.

Feel the emotion. Don’t stuff it. No I don’t need a sandwich, a drink, a nap, a trip to the mall, or yet another pass through Facebook. I need to feel what is going on instead of self-medicating or avoiding it. It’s like a squall line. Just let it pass over and beyond.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Here is the deal, fear isn’t (often) real and even when it is? It isn’t permanent unless we permit it to stay. We will still be here.

So why do I talk about all of this? Because we have to face and conquer fear every single day and maybe you are experiencing symptoms of fear but you aren’t aware of it. Time to peer down that dark alley of the soul…

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commonse, via Pedro Rebeiro Simoes

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commonse, via Pedro Rebeiro Simoes

You Don’t Finish

I can raise my hand and attest I am guilty. I have too many things that I start and I don’t finish. Is this because I am lazy? Hardly. Is it because I don’t love what I do? Not at all. If I get really, really honest and make a list of all the things I have left undone, I can often see fear staring back at me.

A quick story to illustrate…

I remember being SO confident when I scored my mega-agent out of New York. He thought I was brilliant and fresh and my book was sheer genius. I was on CLOUD NINE and bulletproof. I was so sure that I’d have a book deal instantly because Russ was that powerful of an agent.

I remember when I signed with him talking on the phone and he said, “Okay, here is how it is going to go down. Once I get your proposal I am going to make a few calls and then things are going to happen very fast. Are you ready for this?”

GOD YES! Put me IN Coach!

So a month passes, then two, then six and all this time my confidence is leaking out like air from an overfilled balloon *Kristen’s ego makes long farting sound*. After a year and a half?

Nothing.

I had avoided talking to my agent because I just couldn’t bear being a failure. Finally, I had to do something so I emailed and he gave me the news I knew was coming but had avoided. NY didn’t want a social media book. They believed my teachings were the tip of the spear and were afraid of it.

And I know all of this sounds seriously weird because every publisher at the time was requiring social media for all of its authors. I had many long and grueling conversations with authors who are household names who’d come to me vexed out of their minds because their publishers wanted to know why they didn’t have a million FB fans. They were desperate for help.

But these same publishers that were requiring social media, didn’t want the manual.

*head desk*

I was crushed. I didn’t want to be self-published. I wanted to be legit. I wanted to be a Random Penguin but it wasn’t in the cards. So, I gathered what was left of my ego and self-published Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World because my ego was not as important as you guys’ futures.

But how long did I sit on that book?

Too long. Too long would be the answer.

I was terrified of failing. I was terrified of being grouped in as “one of those self-published hacks” even though I knew (in my mind) that self-publishing was just as viable as legacy and in many ways MORE viable. My head and my heart just could not get on the same page because I was afraid.

So fast-forward a couple more years and I have finished this AMAZING romantic suspense. I send it to an agent friend and she loved it…but didn’t rep the genre. She told me the book was awesome and to just query publishers direct and she would handle the contract. I got rejected. Then a publisher accepted (then they were no longer financially solvent so I didn’t feel good about signing). Then another rejected. So about this point I am batting 500. 50% love the book and 50% don’t want it.

I couldn’t leave the book unpublished any longer even though it was tempting. All the voices were there.

You teach writing, so if your book sucks you are FINISHEEEEEED.

Why can’t you get a real publisher?

Maybe you should stick with social media.

And what did I do? Again, I sat on a great book…because I was afraid. I was afraid of failure, of you guys tossing digital tomatoes at my work. Even though I know there is NO way to write a perfect book. I have read reviews for every book I adored and thought was perfect and someone else hated it. I knew this. I know this. But I was still scared sh….. witless.

But I have learned that when I feel fear that 1) it is often BS and nothing to really be afraid of and 2) it is generally a good sign I am going in the right direction. So I made some more connections and now my book is with a new and amazing publisher who I think is a great fit. Maybe the book flops. I dunno. I won’t know until I put it out there.

I was afraid of failure but also afraid of success.

What if it does well and it is the only book in me? And I can’t do it AGAIN?

Yeah well we will cross that bridge when we get there.

So if you have things you are NOT finishing, ask yourself WHY? What are you afraid of? Then do it anyway.

You Fixate on What You Can’t Control

I can always tell when I am operating in a place of fear when I pay attention to what is on my mind. What am I constantly complaining about?

***Which first of all, ditch complaining. Complaining alone is a BIG RED FLAG something is wrong.

Often we will fixate on the things we can’t control at the expense of things we can because it offers us a handy excuse if everything craps the bed. If I spent my time moaning about how unfair it was NY didn’t want my book instead of hustling and figuring out how to unleash my book onto the world?

I’d still be complaining. Then, when I never published the book and my career as an expert withered and dried up, I would have someone to blame other than myself. I sure wouldn’t have the single most popular book on branding for authors.

Same with the fiction. I had a choice. Whine about the rejections and shelve the book and hide as a blogger or suck it up and step it up.

Well, I would have been a huge deal if only someone else had done X.

NOT TODAY!

You Can’t Make a Decision

Here’s the deal. No decision is still a decision. But often when we are scared we hem and we haw and we fail to ever decide because deep down we know if we put it off long enough? Someone else WILL decide for us. Then, if it goes badly, we have an out.

Early in my writing journey I bounced from genre to genre to genre. Maybe I was a romance writer, no a thriller writer, no science fiction. Notice how this looks a lot like never finishing. Decide and commit. Do it afraid.

There are a lot more symptoms of fear but these are the three BIGGIES. Remember that nothing great is ever going to happen in your comfort zone. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is doing X in spite of fear.

This business is really really hard and it requires us being so vulnerable and it is super easy to get kicked in the confidence. Rejection sucks. It hurts. But failure isn’t permanent. Neither is success. All of this will pass over us and through us and…

ONLY WE WILL REMAIN.

A huge way to combat fear is like I said, we gotta name it. Then we need to make a decision and if it still scares us? Get help. If you are afraid your book is crap? Hire a pro to look at it, be honest and tell you how to fix it. Heck, email me kristen at wana intl dot com. If branding scares you? Take a class. Got a bunch listed below and anyone who has taken my classes will tell you I move heaven and earth to help you. I can be that big badass sister you need to help you sleep at night.

Get a mentor to guide you.

I have a handful of things on the business side or publishing that are freaking me out right now. Why? Because I don’t yet UNDERSTAND them. Bookbub? How does it work? So what did I do? I called in favors from people on-line, people I have served and asked, “Hey I am freaked out. Can you help a Sistah OUT?”

WE ARE NOT ALONE.

What are your thoughts? I have been struggling with confidence lately. Off my game, out of my groove. I know it is because I am doing and trying new things in new areas where I am NOT the sole reigning diva and that scares me. But I am here. We are here. We have each other.

Do you succumb to your fear too easily? Maybe spend too much time with distractions? Or complain and whine about stuff you can’t change? Hey we ALL do it. No shame here, my kiddos. Write down what you fear. Here, in the comments and we can bond.

I fear that none of what I do matters. That I am really not making a difference and I really didn’t earn any of my success. It was all a fluke or an accident and one day people are going to wake up and see I have no idea what I am doing.

There, got you started 😀 .

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

SIGN UP NOW FOR MY UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! 

All you need is an internet connection!

Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 28th

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors February 10th, 2017

Social Media for Authors February 11th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

Blogging for Authors February 3rd

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on

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