Tag Archives: grief

Giving it Grantham

If you’re not watching Downtown Abbey, you might snooze through this post. But my guess is that you are watching Downtown Abbey because almost EVERYONE I know is. Across the board. Transcending gender, race and age. Downton appears to span every dividing line with a compulsive finesse. Many of us wait with a hungry anticipation for Sunday night, so we can lose ourselves in a world that is completely different from ours in every way imaginable.

Or is it?

Why do we have such a craving for this show? For these characters?  Because at the core of each episode is a web of tangled roots consisting of age old themes of which we are all familiar: family, relationships, sibling rivalry, love, lust, money, shame, humour, hierarchy, transformation, grief, rebellion, prejudice, power, conflict, loyalty.

Downton Abbey may be set in the early 1900’s in an exclusively white community, but in fact it provides us with an uncanny mirror to our very own existences. Strip us of our smart phones and our laptops and I reckon any one of us will find a character or a scenario in Downton that we see ourselves reflected in. Edith’s struggle to individuate. Thomas grappling with his sexuality. Mrs Hughs confronting her mortality. Lady Grantham questioning her marriage. Mary facing issues of infertility. Lord Grantham resisting change and feeling redundant in his 50’s.  Daisy dealing with her low self esteem. A family in grief.

We may not be wearing corsets and crinoline, but it is the common humanity displayed in these characters that draws us to them – that compels us to fall into their world and long for it again when the credits have rolled.

This week my husband was having a bit of a sulk because he felt that the kids and I were ganging up on him over something. He was ‘giving it Grantham’ – big time. When I pointed this out to him, he laughed, recognizing how true my observation was. It’s a relief to be taken back to a simpler age, but also a relief to feel while we are watching, that we have a shared understanding – a heart and soul connection with life as it was lived almost a hundred years ago.

Downton’s popularity may well be a knee jerk reaction to the excesses in our culture – over sexualisation saturating the media, celebrity worship, shrinking attention spans, mindless violence sold as entertainment and mind numbing reality TV.

Call me old fashioned, but whatever the origin of our fixation – I personally think it is a welcome and soothing balm.

And it appears that many of you do too.

I only have to see the backside of that lolloping Labrador and my pulse begins to regulate. I know I am in for a treat. A window to a world long gone, and yet one that is still strangely very present.

Question: Are you watching Downton? Which character can you relate to?

Writing prompt: Choose one of the broad Downton themes from the list above and write into it. Narrow it down, starting with a wide angle lens and zeroing in. This is an excellent writing practice – finding a rhythm between the universal and the personal.

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A Small Window

When I first started writing ‘Playing Along’ I did so as an antidote to the heaviness of my ‘other’ work. I had recently completed my masters degree in psychotherapy and I was working with individual clients – adults and children – all with a range of emotional hurdles and difficulties. I saw a six year old child for a year who was a ‘selective mute’. He had stopped talking in public having lost his mother at an early age when his language was first developing. I worked with that child for a year and he never said one word to me. But he always smiled, and we played together, and we drew together, and by the end of the therapy, he was writing pages and pages of story – conveying his pain and confusion through imagination – engaging with me in the only way he knew how.

I saw children whose parents had all but abandoned them, adults who were wracked with phobias, women who had suffered sexual abuse. The work was extremely rewarding and could also be extremely draining. Psychotherapy is never a quick fix – it’s a long and often arduous journey.

So on the days I wasn’t seeing clients, a sweet, lighthearted, romance, was unravelling on my screen. It was my tonic. A salve to sooth the darker aspects of my work. An opportunity for me to escape into a world where lead singers fall in love with their fans and destiny trumps reality.

I needed that space. It helped me to be more present for my clients. And my clients helped me to be more present for my characters.

Despite the fact I was writing a ‘breezy ‘ read – I still wanted George and Lexi and all their family and freinds to have dimension. I wanted them to be people that you, as the reader, could relate to and might want to know.

News wise this has been another oppressively desolate week. We are all asking ‘could things get any worse?’ and we don’t want to hear the answer. We share a collective grief which is washing over us in waves. Rightly so we are becoming involved in dialogues about gun control, mental health care and accountability.

My heart is beating at home, moving through the motions of my day, but my heart has also travelled to Newton, where it sits silently with all those bereft, sending out love and solidarity.

I questioned whether today was the day to post an excerpt from ‘Playing Along’ and I decided for all the reasons above – that it was.

I wrote the book in the first place to provide a small window of escape. Even in our darkest hours, carving out space for lightness and humour can be a soothing reminder of hope. So if you need a break from reading the news or watching the television, take a few minutes and get to know George and Lexi. They helped balance me out when I was searching for relief.

(If you want to skip the excerpt and save yourself for the book, please scroll down to the writing prompt at the bottom!)

PLAYING ALONG

by Rory Samantha Green

THEN

GEORGE, 1st November, 1994, Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire

“Your brother’s grown up a bit, hasn’t he?”

George holds his breath when he hears these words swoop past his bedroom door. He’s thirteen, but his sister is two years older and her friends are an enigma.  They smell like grapefruit and cigarettes and layer mascara on their lashes until they look like pandas.  Most of them have boobs.  Big ones.  He’s fascinated by the divide.  George’s sister, Polly, has maybe said one word to him in the last two weeks and that was muttered in disdain when he had mistakenly knocked her make-up brush off the counter and into the toilet.  It had floated forlornly in the bowl like a drowned rodent.

“Arsehole!”

But now there’s a chance of redemption.  Despite his skinny legs and spotty rounded face, it seems as if one of the awesome grapefruit girls has noticed something in him.  Something unique.  He reckons it will take a very special woman to appreciate his nuances.  His love of Grover from Sesame Street (so underrated – why did Kermit get all the limelight?) and his adoration of the most amazing music the universe has to offer – Bowie, U2, Portishead, Dylan, New Order.  The woman who takes his heart must take his record collection as well.

“My brother?” replies Polly in dramatic shock.  “Yeah, you could say he’s grown up – into a first rate troll.”

The grapefruit girls giggle and their laughter snakes under his door and rings painfully in his ears.  George bites his bottom lip, scraping his teeth against peeling skin. Another nervous habit.

“And listen to this… he claims one day he’s going to be in a famous band and be on the cover of NME and have groupies.  What a joke!”

George, prepared for the inevitable cackle of mockery, grabs his headphones and his CD player and presses play with an urgency.  “Fools Gold” by the Stone Roses floods his brain.  He turns up the volume as loud as it will go and hurls his notebook across the room where it ricochets off the wall and slides under his bed.  The notebook is filled with songs.  George has been unpacking heartache from his sensitive soul since the age of ten.

His sister’s harsh words are never as brutal as the words he calls himself.

He knows what he wants, but he’s pretty damn certain that a boy like him is never going to get it.

LEXI, November 1st, 1994, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California

“I’m psyched about the game tomorrow!”  Andrew enthusiastically polishes off his second burrito, gazing longingly at Lexi across the table.  She smiles at him mischievously knowing that she drives him crazy with her Juicy Fruit breath, her shiny brown hair, and her legs which have conveniently slimmed out and toned up since she started diligently attending an after school kickboxing class.

“I’m excited too,” she replies, playfully nudging his size twelve basketball shoes under the table.  “I hope you win, so we can celebrate.”

Lexi and Andrew are the couple at Pali High.  Just embarking on their senior year, they have been an item since the eleventh grade.  Andrew first kissed Lexi on Zuma beach with the waves lapping at their bare feet two nights after passing his driving test.  His parents had given him a convertible Mustang for his sixteenth birthday and when he drove her home, one hand on the wheel, the other holding hers, Lexi had a sweet taste lingering in her mouth and salty wind in her hair.

“So unfair,” her best friend, Meg, had complained the following morning.  “It’s not supposed to happen like that.  He’s supposed to drool, or run out of gas, or step on your toe or something.  Why is your life like an Audrey Hepburn movie and mine like a bad TV sitcom?”

And Lexi certainly didn’t want to be smug, but there was some truth in Meg’s observation.  Things just seemed to go her way.  Her parents had raised her to believe in herself and face life with a positive outlook.  Not that she was syrupy or self-obsessed.   She worked hard at her studies and had an excellent Grade Point Average.  She volunteered at a local homeless shelter, fingerpainting with vulnerable kids after school.  She’d started up a current events debate club in her junior year and persuaded many of her friends to join.  They now competed nationally.  Oh and of course, she kickboxed and played on the girls’ volleyball team, and thankfully had the sort of hair that didn’t frizz on damp mornings when the fog rolled in off the coast.

Lexi had lost her virginity to Andrew on the floor in his bedroom on a Sunday afternoon while his parents shopped at Target.  He had lit a scented candle stolen from his mother’s bathroom, and the smell of orange mimosa flooded the room.  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by UB40 was playing on his CD player.

When it was over (slightly painful, but not nearly as uncomfortable as she had imagined), he leaned on his elbows beside her and whispered in her ear, “I can’t help falling in love with you…” One year later, sitting opposite him watching him wipe guacamole from the side of his lips, Lexi feels in her heart that she loves him too.  In fact she is sure, along with almost everyone else at Pali High who either knows them or admires them from afar, that they will most likely end up getting married.  Lexi’s mother has saved her own wedding dress for the occasion, wrapped in delicate layers of archival tissue in an ivory box on the top shelf of her cupboard.  “It’s just waiting, my beauty,” her mother has promised.

Lexi can picture their home now (a cozy New England style house, a few blocks from her parents, with whitewashed floors and shabby chic couches), two or maybe three kids (she really doesn’t have a preference for boys or girls) and most definitely a dog, a black Labrador called George.  She imagines a fulfilling and creative part time job as well, maybe a teacher or an art therapist, something that leaves her with the freedom to be a hands-on mom.  So what if she is only seventeen?  It’s just a dream, but life has already proven to Lexi that dreams do find a way of coming true.

NOW

GEORGE, 1st November, 2009, Greenwich, England

“George… I love you!”  On certain nights this professed love is yelled out a hundred times from men and women alike.  Most nights it disappears into the roar of the crowd, but at some gigs a single voice will miraculously separate out and hover above the throng of faceless fans and George hears it and needs it to be true.

George is at the piano finishing the final chords of “Beyond Being,” a poignant ballad based on his teenage existential musings and a lyric which popped into his head one day as he polished off a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  The audience sways in time and cell phones punctuate the blackness like rechargeable flames.  George hangs his head as the song comes to a quiet end, his voice wavering with a sad clarity.

Thousands of fans cheer and whoop in adoration and George looks up shyly with his trademark grin.  “Thank you very much for coming.  We appreciate you might have better things to do with your Saturday nights, like watching X Factor, and the boys and I really enjoyed playing to you tonight…”  This, as intended, whips up the crowd into an even louder frenzy as George and his band mates lope off the stage with a schoolboy charm that has captivated fans across the world from Denmark to Chile, and every destination in between.

George has come a long way from the corner of his brown bedroom.  His band, Thesis, stormed onto the music scene with an unstoppable force after his best mate and guitarist, Simon Ogden-Smith, persuaded George to start up a Myspace page and stream some of their music. George, Simon, Simon’s cousin Mark, and Mark’s sister’s friend Duncan from Australia, had been playing local pubs in Islington and had been slowly building up a loyal fan base.  But the Myspace page catapulted them into a whole new stratosphere, and with a swiftness which at times found George’s throat closing with unprecedented anxiety, they burst onto the alternative music scene and made their mark.  Three months after being signed by a record company they were flown to Los Angeles to record their first album, Twelve Thousand Words.  George Bryce, still a sweaty lonely teenager at heart, found himself surrounded by attractive, fawning women called Claudia and Agnes and Nell.  They willingly offered their breasts to him without any pleading involved and he indulged in a whole new adolescence at twenty-two.

The band’s first big hit was a rocking anthem called “Grapefruit Girls,” an opportunity for George to get his revenge on those elusive females who had inducted him into the hall of shame.  George became an unlikely heartthrob, a self-deprecating lad who wore T-shirts with Grover on them and gave interviews about obscure comic books and rare vinyl.  His boyish looks, lopsided smile and thick shaggy black hair, once his greatest insecurity, suddenly became irresistible.  Even America, notoriously hard to break for an unheard-of alternative band, lapped up the accents and the awkwardness.  Critics either loved or hated Thesis and George made a point of reading every review, because no matter how famous they became, he never stopped caring about what people thought of him.

COMING IN JANUARY 2013!

Thank you for joining me on this writing adventure! I began my love of writing by hiding my words. I was a ‘closet’ writer. I’m out now and I encourage you to do the same!

Share something in the comments. Today’s prompt: take ten minutes to write about where you find lightness during periods of dark? Where can you access healthy relief and release?

I am taking a week off for the holidays so until we meet again…  peace, blessings and gratitude from me to you xo

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Incentive

Incentive.

Let the word sit on your tongue. It’s a subtle word. It sizzles in the middle.

Incentive.

It beckons you forward. Encourages you to engage. Dangles a reward.

Or does it?

Writing is a tough one. Are you enamoured by the process? Do you feel compelled to let words tumble out of your brain and onto the page? Are you bold enough to let those words fly, or play with them, shifting their positions as if they were an enthralling jigsaw? Unless all of these conditions are in place, what incentive is there to write?

Money, fame, fans, accolades?  No guarantees, and if you are writing with these aspirations – may the force be with you.

You’ll need it.

I am incentivized by the potential of impact. I want my words to resonate. When I release these blog posts every week, the words have already resonated within me… and that IS satisfying. But if they then resonate with even ONE person beyond me – that is enormously satisfying.

I have heard from many readers, “I love to read your posts but I haven’t written… or I can’t write… or it’s not my thing… or I’m not very good or, or, or, or, or….

I’m bored with OR! I want to tempt words from you. I want to ignite action. I want you to feel the surge in your soul that can come with digging deeper. Unearthing creativity. Inventing worlds. Exploring expression. I want to incentivize you to WRITE – without fear or judgement.

So here goes…

When I first moved to LA two years ago I was introduced to a lovely woman called Jo Ann Thrailkill. Jo Ann is the founder of The Pablove Foundation– a non profit that raises funds for paediatric cancer research and offers a remarkable photography program, Pablove Shutterbugs, for children lving with cancer. Pablove grew with passion, dedication and care from the dark roots of grief. Jo Ann and her husband, Jeff, lost their son, Pablo, to a rare form of childhood cancer when he was only 6 years old.

Pause here. Let those words resonate.

In the short time since his death, despite the massive unrepairable rupture in their worlds, Jo Ann and Jeff miraculously didn’t lose their incentive. They found a way to keep going. They began to create something that would not only honour the precious life of their brave and beautiful son, but that would also positively impact other children suffering from cancer.

Pablove was born.

If I close my eyes I can picture Jo Ann and Jeff carving a heart into the trunk of a tree. I imagine the birth of Pablove as a pact between them. A statement.  A message. We are still here. Pablo’s older brother, Grady, was fifteen when Pablo died. We are still here. We will continue to make meaning…

Pablove inspires me. Jo Ann and Jeff inspire me. The children in the Shutterbugs photography program inspire me. I never met Pablo, but he inspires me. Hugely.

As part of my aim to inspire YOU and incentivize you to write, I am pledging my continued support to Pablove.

Below is a gorgeously graphic image taken by Diego, 13 years old, who participated in a 2011 Shutterbugs photography program.

I am going to leave this post up for 2 weeks and within that time, for every fictional story, original poem, or memory you share on the site in response to Diego’s photograph , I will donate $5 to Pablove. And if you want to match that donation – please do so here: pablove.org. Let me know if you donate, but remember, your words alone will ensure a contribution.

Do it now!  It doesn’t have to be literal – use the image as a springboard and jump. Remember my ethos – forget about getting it ‘right’ and get it ‘write’ instead!  Share part of you. Share this post with friends and family.  Share the Pablove!  Click on the ‘comments’ button to get started, and if you are reading this via email…  please visit the site directly to respond.

Join Jo Ann and Jeff. Carve your initials and your heart into that tree trunk. Let your words truly make a difference.

I’m here to make certain they will…

From Pablove
The Pablove Foundation is named after Pablo Thrailkill Castelaz, the son of Jo Ann Thrailkill and Jeff Castelaz and
the little brother of Grady Gallagher. Pablo was six years old when he lost his valiant yearlong battle with bilateral
Wilms Tumor, a rare form of childhood cancer. The mission of The Pablove Foundation is to fund pediatric cancer
research and advances in treatment, educate and empower cancer families, and improve the quality of life for
children living with cancer through hospital play, music and arts programs. Pablove Shutterbugs is the foundation’s program to teach
children living with cancer to express their creative voice through the art of photography.For more information on The Pablove

Foundation, please visit pablove.org and follow Pablove on Facebook at facebook.com/pablovefoundation and Twitter at @pablove.

Please also take the time to click below and read a true example of Writing To Be You – a soulful letter written by Pablo’s father, Jeff, on Pablo’s birthday.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE WORLD FROM A FATHER WITH A FRACTURED HEART

What’s stopping you? You donate words… I donate money… it’s sweet, easy and soulful. Please grab this gift of incentive and WRITE! You have until Monday 9th July!

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And Then Again

I spoke to my sister in London yesterday who told me that spring is in in the air.  She works at a school, and she noticed that the children had finally emerged from their thick puffy coats and were running around the playground in t-shirts. Like seeds hiding beneath the frosty earth, they had found the courage to break out and unveil themselves.

I do not have the pleasure of dancing to the rhythm of seasons now that I live in Los Angeles. I mourn the cycles that punctuated my year. The buttery yellow swarms of daffodil heads. The sudden rush of vibrant green stems and fields of fresh grass. The papery autumns filled with a thousand shades of orange. The crinkle and crunch of fallen leaves enveloping my feet. Then the starkness of winter. The bite on my cheeks. The bareness of branches reminding me that mother nature so accurately mirrors human nature.  A familiar cycle of moods. Light to dark. Empty to full.  Birth to death. And then again. And then again.

Holding onto hope after a loss can feel impossible. Improable. A blurry destination hovering in the far off distance. Grief is arresting.  Like a sudden winter it descends with a million bitter promises. I will strip you down.  Freeze your heart.  Darken your skies. Disect the sun.  There are no platitudes to brighten the bleakest periods of our lives.  But there will always be the arrival of spring. Even here in Los Angeles the jacaranda trees are preparing to burst out in eccentric purple blossom creating boulevards of bloom.

Loss is permanent, but grief, like the seasons changes temperature. It is hard to imagine this when the chill has just descended; difficult to trust that spring will come again and that somewhere in the world there will be children, peeling off their coats, ready to embrace a warmer day.

Writing about loss is both painful and healing. We often bury the most tender words for fear of unearthing more grief. Ironically, it is when grief is given air that its temperature can change. Share a story of loss… like all emotions, grief is a human connector… a universal experience that touches lives everywhere.
Write for ten minutes.  Don’t aim for anything but pure expression. You have permission to give up your desire to craft. Simply write. To Be You…

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Finding Fortune

My father has been dead for many years, but if I were to glance up and find him sitting on my couch, legs propped on my coffee table, swearing at a Lakers game, I would not be shocked.

He might be physically absent from my world, but he still lives with me, like all the other members of my family.  He occupies a space within.  A space reserved just for him.  And from that space he looks at me with love.  Brings me a glass of water in the middle of the night.  Marvels at the humour and the height of the grandson he never met. Smiles at the wisdom of the granddaughter who keeps a photograph of him on her desk. And tells me, in that way he had of telling me, all the words he still wants me to hear.

His voice is clear. Deep. A Philly drawl sprinkled with twenty years in London. He says things like:
“Did you get a load of that kid?” (usually referring to a forty-five year old man)
“The sun is shining, it’s a beautiful day – what more could I want?” (this after he left London)
“Jesus Christ!” ( loudly under his breath, not worshipping, but condemning any unsuspecting fellow diner who dared sneeze too close to him in a restaurant).

And the one that stays with me the most, like the surprising slip of a fortune that you carry home from dinner in your pocket and tape optimistically to your mirror, “The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best…”

I loved those words.  I still do.

My father repeated those words when I was forced to wear an embarrassing patch over the left lens of my glasses.  When I didn’t get elected for middle school student body president (and he had designed all of the campaign posters). When the short waiter with the limited vocabulary stamped on my heart.  When I was rejected from my first choice university. He didn’t live long beyond my university years, but his words continue to resonate.

For him that tenant was tried and true. His greatest professional failure led him to escape across the Atlantic, where he reinvented himself, fell in love with my mother, and had the family he never imagined he would at the age of fifty – the best.

When a promising opportunity I felt certain would materialise, disintegrated painfully at the end of last year, my father’s words floated into my head.  There he was, comfortable on my couch, chin propped on his hand, reassuring me.  Life doesn’t always take you where you want it to.  Destinies have a way of swerving and revealing views you never imagined encountering.  Stay open.  Stay receptive.  “The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best, kid”.  I know those words inevitably won’t always ring true; life is infinitely complicated and often brutal. But I’m still listening. Still hopeful. I still want to believe for all of us that shadows can shape shift, letting in light where you least expect it.

Do my father’s words hold any meaning for you?

What is written on your crumpled fortune cooke slips?  Whose words stay with you when you really need to hear them, and how have they reverberated in your life?

Be brave and share your stories – they are the fragments that make you whole. Write down whatever arrives and welcome in the person who passed them on.

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Ready, Steady, Write # 2

Found objects are wonderful springboards for inspiration.  I stumbled across this while browsing.  Pick up your pen.

Open your notebook.  Commit to writing at least one page.  Tell this story.

Monday is full of possibility…

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