La Traviata!

The world – the one around me now – has stopped. This is my photo-still. This is my fragment in history. Placing one deliberate foot in front of the other, I walk calmly on stage.

Arrayed in front of me are the thousands of egg-shell faces, neatly packed into their velvet rows. A glaring veil of light separates me from them, smudging their features and smearing the details of everyone beyond the second row. Although I cannot see them, I can hear them. There’s a thrumming force pulsating outwards as they wait for me to begin; a sound like a distant vacuum presses against me as they breathe as one. From behind me I sense the stage hands who, plugged in to their headsets like excitable droids, have stopped unnaturally in their tracks, waiting.

They tell you to breathe when you panic, as if the simple act of inflating your lungs will quiet your nerves. You see it countless times in television dramas: a brown paper bag is cupped over the mouth of a startlingly red-faced victim, crumpling in on itself before expanding again at a comedic rate. The ruddy face drains of harsh colour as calm is restored, an embarrassed smile apologises to the screen, and the world is reset.

There are no paper bags here.

Nervous air judders past my lips and my chest heaves – but then I spot an old man in the front row with wrinkles around his eyes so deep that they look like two balls of crumpled tissue. He isn’t looking at me: in fact, his eyes are closed and he is resting his head against the back of his seat, as if he is about to fall asleep. The only reason I know he is paying attention is because of the soft smile twitching at the corner of his lips. The rapid panic ebbs away and filters through my veins; now it is a mere tingling in my fingertips. I raise the soft palette, imagine a cavernous hall in the back of my throat, and open my lips to inhale. The air slips down my throat with the cool silky touch of water, trickling into every limb and blossoming in every muscle.

This breath and the breath of the vast crowd before me is like the ocean: an endless, surging, effortless tide that washes over and in and around. There is a magnetic reflux to it, tugging and releasing, rising to crescendos and dipping to pianissimo in silent unison with the moon. It is an unthinkable act, inconceivable in its very existence. We suck in the salt water of the air and crash it onto private pink shores.

Just when I feel full, I inhale a fraction more. The breath burrows deep into my lungs, nudging at the diaphragm, inching it into expanse, and I am ready. I am pregnant with air from my collar bone to my womb.

The familiar grip of the rectus abdominus provides the foundation, setting like a well of cement in the contact with oxygen. I am buried in the slatted stage; I can feel the tactile reaction of it against the balls of my feet, feeding strength up and into my softened knees. From the waist down, I am solid, steely, pushing outwards and downwards. The breath squats like a bunker deep underground, anchoring the store of oxygen in a concrete box that fastens the balloon breath billowing out the rest of my body. Slowly, I begin the release, and feel the air rising in me, a warm cloud waiting for transformation.

Up to the diaphragm, this arched dome under my lungs where the air sits like a rubber ring around my waist. It is grazing against the sacks of my lungs; I can almost hear a grating squeak as they rub together. Sque-eze. It is a drawn-out, exhaustive movement that saps the strength from me and squashes the air into a concentrated flow, steering it with purpose. Drawing on the lift from the bunker store below, it funnels the air higher up towards the larynx, the colour of the muscle pinkening, before releasing duties over to the lungs.

They are still fat with oxygen. The branched bronchioles bulge against the air sacks as if seeking more, greedy for the sweet taste; the main store in the lower lung is a sunken treasure trove, rich with product and pompous in its surety that soon it will be in demand. The ground beneath them shifts: this is their cue. Reluctant to let it all go at once, a slow release ensues, a battle of control as all three litres of air whistle back up the bronchi and into the trachea in a victorious race for freedom.

In a wild rush, the air flirts past the vocal chords, revelling in the journey’s disturbance, twanging on them like guitar strings and pocketing the vibrations on their way. Atomic couriers, they whizz through the vocal flaps on humming mopeds, one note clinging to the exhausts in an anxious state of pre-delivery, before re-entering the cavity under the soft palette.

This place is now huge, rounded. It opens up through the nose and billows out the throat; externally, a new chin has appeared. It is like a rouge ballroom, the tongue as rough flooring, the palette a soft, gathered ceiling. The couriers delight in this place, dancing around the pearl columns, gathering each atom into a mass of sound ready to dance their way across the tongue to freedom.

A slit of light bursts into the space as the lips are parted. The mass is released in a perfect, smooth stream; vibrations fill the mouth, tickle the tongue, swirl around each tooth, and burst with triumph into the world. An A, two octaves above Middle C. It pings in the listeners ears, a crystalline drop in the vast ocean of opera.

The old man in the front row, his comforting tiny eyes gummed shut with old age, grins.


Watching Night

I lie awake at night. I close first one eye and then the other, testing my vision. I can see the sticker stars on my ceiling with my right eye, crystal clear. My left eye is blind and I panic.

I heard somewhere if you lie still and do nothing for fifteen minutes then you will fall asleep. It is a fact, apparently. Your body simply gets the message that it’s time to shut down. I try it. As the hand ticks past those fifteen minutes, I sigh. I close first one eye and then the other. Still half blind.

The mattress is cold, flat, vast. I am spread out like a starfish, like butter over bread. I am enveloping the mattress in an empty embrace, but tucking my hands and feet away from the edges. Nothing else is allowed in. I swallow. The noise is wet and ugly in my throat. I don’t want to hear it so I count. I count how long the light shadows of the stars on the ceiling pierce through my blindness by closing one eye, and then the other. One, two, three, gone.

There is a scraping on the wall – the neighbour trying to to find a plug socket. It sounds like rats. I imagine rats crawling up under the bed sheets, their scratching claws catching on my skin, slowing them down. I don’t move. I stare at the poison carriers. First with one eye. And then the other.

I turn to fantasy, try to invent my own world to catapult myself into Dreamland. I am in a doctors office, with a kind face smiling down at me. The chair I am sitting on flips backwards and I am lying flat, strapped down and vulnerable as a scalpel slices into my eye lids. I scream. No more dreaming. I feel for blood on my cheeks, blink away the moisture leaking from those orbs that hold the universe. I blink first with one eye and then the other. With one of them, I see.

I see a figure, hunched over in an effort to be absolutely silent. Hush. He’s holding a finger to his lips. He looks at me in the dark and sees my lonely embrace, the rat scratches on my skin, the trickle of blood running past my ear and into my hair. He curls up next to me, tucking his knees into mine and pressing his face into the back of my neck. I can feel the thud of his heart and the tickle of his breath.

I tell him I am half blind. I tell him that I can see with one eye, but not the other. I ask if that’s what it’s like for everyone in the dark. Hush.

With the tips of his fingers, he slides my lids closed and strokes my cheeks. He tells me this is how it is in the dark.

Everyone is blind.

Everyone is lost.

Everyone makes it to dawn.

Exploring and Dreams and Smiles and Sun

This morning, I had a dream. A horrible and beautiful and terrifying dream.

It was the kind of dream that completely altered the mood I was prepared to wake up in. I was planning to be happy. The sun was shining, I could feel it sliding through the slits in the blinds, bathing my eyelids, and I was going to be smiley all day. I was going to grab my man’s hand, and hoist him out of bed to go exploring. I like exploring. We found the cathedral of the city we live in the other day. Took us a year of living here, but we found it. And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to take my man and my smiles and go exploring.

But then I had this dream.

I have a problem with the word goodbye. Give me the most heart-wrenching scene in a film or a book or in real life, and it won’t have the slightest affect on me until I hear the word goodbye. Then the tears come, and the tissues are pulled out, and the cheeks start to burn as I realise how silly I’m being.

This dream though, was ALL about the goodbye. It tugged on about every heart string you could have, from every which direction. You barely had time to gasp for breath before the next PUNG and you were fighting for air again.

Oh, it was a horrible one. A horrible, beautiful, terrifying one.

It stayed with me when I opened my eyes. I rolled over to say good morning in the most terrible grump. Frown on my face, impatience on my lips. Not a happy camper to say the least.

The thing is, it got me wondering why. Why one would dream do that; chemically alter a person with three short seconds of story…unless that dream was a special.

My favourite creative writing tutor once told me that we all have a story within us at any given time. It is nestled in your subconscious, you may not even know it’s there – you may ignore it if you do. But these stories, he told me, are the ones of real grit, real truth. These are the raw imprints of yourself on a page. Let your story come to life.

So that’s what I’m going to do. But I made a decision that I wouldn’t do it today.

No, today, I went exploring with the man I love. Today, I took my smile and showed it off in the sunshine.

We went to the Aquarium

We went to the Aquarium

And found a beach

And found a beach

Walked past a pretty harbour

Walked past a pretty harbour

And got very excited when we saw a very BIG BOAT.

And got very excited when we saw a very BIG BOAT.

All the while, smiling in the sun <3

All the while, smiling in the sun ❤

What did you do today? I hope you all had days shiny and bright and new and exciting.





I cheated on you

Last night, I fell asleep next to you. You held me for hours, not even the slightest twitch of movement away from me. You were safe in the knowledge that you loved me and I loved you…

…while in my dream I cheated on you.

* * *

It is horrible when this happens. You wake up in a horrible mess of sweat, confusion and guilt, hoping to the skies that what seemed so real to you just seconds ago won’t be displayed all over your face.

Unfortunately for me, I am about as subtle as an anvil when I feel guilty about something.

The second my partner rolled over to say good morning, he was greeted with a shrill: ‘Have you ever cheated on me in your dreams? Just tell me if you have, I won’t get mad.’ (Not even a chance for him to breathe. Told you. Subtle.)

Startled, he replied in the negative and narrowed his eyes at me. ‘Why?’

Now, this could have got out of hand really quickly. It can be upsetting for some people, knowing that their partner was thinking about another person, even when asleep. I’d certainly feel a bit odd about it. But why? We are not in control of our subconscious, and at the risk of me getting all Freudian on your asses, we all have desires that we aren’t fully aware of. Just because these desires have been embodied by someone else doesn’t mean our feelings when awake are invalidated.

Take my experience, for example. Before falling asleep, my partner and I had had a discussion about our relationship. It was a positive talk, thinking out loud about how to make things better as it’s difficult to stay on track when distracted by little things…like university exams, 9000 words of essays, living.

But then I fell asleep and had a mishmash dream of scenarios that involved past partners saying memorably romantic things to me. Nothing physical happened with them, but what they were saying sounded so perfect and uncomplicated that it was a very attractive picture.

Looking back on it then, the dream was not a negative message about our relationship but instead an escape. It was presenting me with everything I wanted, but with the easy way out. Love isn’t easy, relationships aren’t easy, so when they get that bit more tough, you look for solutions.

It just so happens that my solution occurred to me whilst unconscious.

When you’ve been with someone for a long time, you have to continue to make the effort because it is so easy to not realise what you have, to amble along at the same pace. My cheaty dream was telling me I wanted more ‘wooing’ I suppose, more romance. I wanted that feeling that you get at the beginning of a relationship, those butterflies when someone walks into a room. I wanted all that with the man I’ve been with for nearly two years. And I saw now that it wasn’t impossible. (Panic over.)

So instead of making a big deal about it, I smiled at the man I love. Because by cheating on him in my head, I realised what we had and what we needed to move forward.

Step by step.



I want to be invisible

Yesterday, I was presented with a certain task:

‘Take a piece of paper and write your darkest secret on it – a secret that, even if you were in twenty years of marriage, you still wouldn’t tell your partner. Once you’ve done that, I will ask you to rip the paper up and throw it in the bin.’

This seemed like a strange task at first. What would be the point? But then again, I reminded myself, this is a seminar and for these two hours our pens are at the mercy of our leader.

It was interesting watching the people around the table. Some struggling to come up with anything; some merely pretending to write something down; others finding what they were writing extremely difficult to process.

The problem with it was, I realised, that once something is written down, it has been confessed, it is real once more. There is no arguing with ink on paper, there is no running away from what your eyes can see.

And this is what makes writing – whether it be prose, poetry, plays or any of the other numbers of genres and styles we could pick – so magical. It is a thing that can make the most courageous of us blanch in fear or the most self-assured begin to question our own morality. Around that room, people were feeling a range of emotions from shame to fear; around that room, people were feeling the power of the written word.

Not everyone can appreciate what I mean when I talk about this power. At the end of the day, I am an English student, so my love for the art would be that much more pronounced to the point of obsession than any other normal human being. But humour me for a minute: has there not been one story from your childhood that has stayed with you? Have you not at least once been seen rifling through pages of a magazine or newspaper to find out the developments of a certain article? Are you not word perfect to your favourite song? All of these are examples of the power written word has over us, even from a young age.

Once we had written down the most vulgar representation of ourselves in that seminar, there was a rush to rip the pages up and get them into the bin. In fact, the seminar leader even shook the bin up to ensure the pieces were sufficiently mixed. Isn’t it strange how closely we guard ourselves from others?

He then told us the lesson that I will never forget. He told us that one day, when we know ourselves more completely than we could imagine, we would be writing that secret down in the depths of a story or in the title of a poem. We would be putting that secret out on display for all to see.

But the secret of telling our secret to the world?

We would be entirely invisible when we did it.

‘The Trip of a Lifetime’ – An Introduction

There are books written about it, fantasies dreamt about it and savings accounts struggling to purchase it:

The Trip of a Lifetime.

I spent a few moments before writing this blog trying to discern what people mean when they talk about this ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and what struck me is that a lot of suggestions are labelled as being nearly impossible to achieve – whether that be through expense, accessibility, or impracticality. In fact, there are ENTIRE BLOGS dedicated to the impossibility of fantastical trips.

…Now I don’t know if I’m being naively optimistic, but this feels a bit too bleak for my liking.

Your Trip of a Lifetime may very well be skiing on every available resort on the planet or getting a private helicopter to fly you out to the most remote island on Earth…but, let’s face it, unless you’re a billionaire, you’ll be waiting a VERY long time to save up for something that extravagant.

Personally, I don’t believe in The Trip of a Lifetime. I believe there are trips we go on that become a highlight to life; trips that stay with us, mould our opinions and teach us that little bit more about the people of another culture. You don’t have to spend extortionate amounts of money or aim for a location that’s entirely out of reach. All you need is an escape, with a bit of fun thrown in.

I’m saying this because I recently returned from a holiday that quickly became one of the best of my life – I guess you could call it my Trip of a Lifetime to date – and I want to share it. The following blogs will recount my experiences and tell the stories that I know will stay with me. It may not be much to those of you who still yearn to trek through the mountains of Asia on the back of a Yak, but to me, it was beautiful.

So, in my next blog ‘BECAUSE…PEFKOS’ travel with me to the island of Rhodes and see things through my eyes. Just for a minute.

Then you can go on saving for Asia.