A Self Portrait

We are always told that to objectify someone would diminish them; that by labelling them as an item, be it material or not, we would be stripping them of their identity.

But can’t it be seen as the other way around? Would it be entirely impossible that an object should lead us to understand ourselves better than we did before?

By taking a step back from ourselves and observing with an abstract point of view, we can learn things that we never knew, having spent our lives with the obvious cloaking our vision. It’s like doing a self portrait. When we pick up that pencil and put it to paper to mimic the lines of our faces, the tilt of our gaze, we notice intricacies of our face that we had never picked up on before. (Because, well, who looks in the mirror and sees themselves as a sketch?) Suddenly you notice that your wrinkles are deeper, your left eye slightly droopy, your nose just that little bit off center. But when you’ve finished the drawing, it is still beautiful. The imperfections are what makes it so brutally honest and so very…you.

So I tried to do this with words. I tried to objectify myself through an everyday item and project an essence of myself into it. Despite not being the best poet in the world, the words came smoothly when I managed to truly detach myself from them. I realised there was a whole other ‘me’ with a voice inside that I had muffled for years.

I hadn’t even known it was there.

* * *

Pure stark snow is my stage:

host to black ink scars and grooves that map out worlds

much brighter and more fantastical than bland existence here.

The hand that guides me

 – that prints me out in robotic stammers  –

is but a tool of the trade.

          Beware of the blatant twists and lurid magics,

          for the truth is in the bitter-sweet taste on your tongue

          that lingers after a tantalising kiss.

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Simplicity

Simplicity is often what we are lacking in life.

When chaos reigns and disaster strikes…or even just when we can’t summon the energy to get us through the day…our feelings mutate and take hold. Suddenly your shoe finds every pothole in the road, casting you to the floor. Every task you set yourself goes wrong and rage gripes at your throat in a chokehold of unavoidable frustration. Every word spoken to you has layer upon layer of meaning, laced with insult and accusation.

Nothing is simple. Nothing is easy.

But the days when we can step back and watch others from afar as they stumble through this maze of Life are the gifts to us all. They are the tiny gems of wisdom and clarity; they are the pinpricks of light in the dark.

Though we may not always remember the beauty of them in the midst of sadness, they are always there within us, a cloudy pearl of distant beauty. And then when the day comes when you emerge out of the clouds once more, it is like returning home. It is as though, just for this one day, simplicity rules.

And on this day, potholes cast you into the arms of friends.

On this day, unspeakable rage vanishes in the reassuring smile of a stranger.

On this day, just three words can speak more truth to you than any others.

Just a simple three words.

What the eye wishes to see

We are all creatures of mistake. From day to day we manage to create chaos from order; trials from triumphs. Often, we fail to see what is actually in front of our very faces because we assume the worst. We see sadness in life when all we should be seeing is happiness; dark gloomy clouds when if we would but turn around we would see the sun bursting through the grey. Unfortunately, our expectation of the worst is sometimes all we need to make a situation dire.

It was this thought that led me to my most recent piece of creative non-fiction:

How can a writer communicate a familiar event in an unfamiliar way?

The answer: misguide the reader. Lead them down a road only to make them question if the road they took is the one they recognise.

…After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

* * *

Beneath me, my fingers stroke the smooth wooden bench, sticky with varnish and faintly gnarled with age. I am uncomfortable in this place: the flagged stone floor seeps cold into my toes, the dust from its cement folds scratching under my feet when I move. High arches span the ceiling before marrying with strong pillars that clunk to the floor. Set into the aged stone walls are panes of coloured glass, casting a soft pink glow about the place, and picking out the glint of an earring, the proud shine of a ring. An altar is set at the front, adorned with candles and sharp incense that insults my nostrils, but I do not spare it much more than a glance. It is not my table of worship.

To my left is a young girl, pale but smiling, admiring the flowers around the cavernous room and twisting the soft fabric of her dress into a tight knot. The promise of beauty is in her plump cheeks that are dusted with rose; frailty in the paper thin blue of her rounded ears. She has grey eyes that cast their gaze around the room with more Life than one her age should have to shoulder.

However, today is not the day for pondering about the girl to your left. It is not a day for contemplation or reflection. As the chattering guests around me are ardently proving, today is a day for celebration. Dressed in their finest, they swish about the church, the clacking of high heels and the tap of brogues echoing faintly. A breeze of exotic scent washes over me as a group of them walk past, asking the age-old question: ‘On which side should we sit?’ It seems such a trivial matter to me, but is clearly one of utmost importance to the woman debating that very matter with her husband in the broad aisle as she embarks on the difficult task of selecting the preferred bench that must be ‘a polite distance from the front, John.’

There is a final flurry of movement before the thick oak doors are thrust open.

Dust mites hang suspended in the air, frozen as though caught on an intake of breath. Every eye is on those doors, every vein thrumming with energy. The call of a trumpet blasts into being, the sound pressing against us. We don’t notice the final thud of the doors closing in the midst of this music, for down the aisle she comes, two children stepping shyly in front of her. She is in line with the bulbous pulpit now, and the sun streaming through the tinted glass sets her features alight with soft blues and flaming oranges.

Words follow. Reverberating around the cavernous space they hold a majesty that leaves me feeling small, as insubstantial as the motes of dust clogging up my lungs and choking me with tears. Hymns dance from my lips, the tune humming on the air until the last notes of the organ fade away, though the words mean nothing to me.

A sob catches in the silence as the velvet curtain falls into place.

Coffee Shops and Melodramas

There is a certain aura about coffee shops in the world of writing; a whispered rumour of the brilliant inspirations that will slip stealthily from the nib of your pen is you but take a seat in a steam filled corner of your local Starbucks.

And perhaps we writers have a point. After all, ‘Life’ doesn’t bustle around you or bump into your elbow at home. If holed up in an office, or your bedroom or wheresoever you happen to write, there is nothing but you and a collection of memory clustered objects. But in a café there are: orders shouted; new mothers soothing their pink cheeked babes; a couple perched awkwardly across from each other on a first date; a businessman taking a seat, a break at last from executive talk and statistic filled folders; and the tinny music coming from the hidden speakers, heralding the imminence of Christmas Day.

by Greg Perry

So it was in search of this ‘Life’ and detached solitude in the company of many that I marched purposefully in on my way home this evening. Confidently, I ordered the Winter signature Hot Chocolate – with a smile, the waitress added an extra sprinkling of cocoa dust. Feeling oh-so-suave-and-mature, I made my way over to a table…

…tripped over my own rather large feet, and spilled the contents of my mug EVERYWHERE.

Not the smooth entrance I had planned. I was now left with an expansive puddle of brown water, and two canvas bags covered in the sticky substance dangling from my scorched arm.

Fantastic.

What followed was the bitter, convoluted mutterings of a woman in a truly foul temper. Why had I thought a coffee shop would be any different to a home setting? Who needs a hot drink? Why didn’t I buy a bottle of un-spill-able water? Why is everyone staring? And for the love of everything holy, why did God only give me TWO HANDS?!

Rage and bitterness led me to pick up my pen and set it to paper. I was determined the trip wouldn’t go to waste.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, I’m left with two pages of writers’ scrawl, telling the story of a novice author who tried her hand at ‘coffee shopping’ a blog out of her weary brain.

It’s no Shakespeare but maybe – just maybe – there might be something in this coffee shop lark.

You tell me.

Here’s to You

Sometimes you can feel lost in the place that you call Home. You can look into the cupboard with all that food you just lugged home through the rain and not know why you bought a single item. The programmes on TV seem to mock you: every channel has a face you don’t recognise – there is no familiarity there. Even your own bedroom seems barren, with sheets rumpled and unkempt and a stuffed toy whose childhood name you cannot remember.

When a blank page scares me, I know I’m not feeling my best. When I don’t see a canvas to be sprawled on with all the colours we know and all of those we can only guess at; when the faint buzz of activity is coming from my computer and not my own brain; when adventure and wisdom is just out of reach…everything I feel that makes me me seems to have run for cover in another corner of my Self.

And not knowing where You are is the most terrifying feeling in the world.

But it’s at times like these when the people around you suddenly become the essentials of existence. They bring to you laughter, and stories, and love, and remind you of the rest of the world that’s waiting for your return just outside the front door. Like that bubble of oxygen that grants you your next breath, they bring warmth and life.

So here’s to the people we love. Here’s to those who feel helplessness and despair as they watch sadness cloak around others, but who refuse to walk away.

Here’s to the people whose touch of a hand can make darkness bright again.

‘Candle Flame’ by Zhenia