Tag Archives: loss

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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Ready, Steady, Write #21

Pause

Breathe

Write about the Light

Share in the comments

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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Unpacking

Photograh by Mr Woodnz

My family and I moved from London to Los Angeles almost exactly two years ago. While packing up our lives, I found myself unpacking a plethora of feelings related to change, loss, endings, beginnings, doubt.  I was showered in sadness. I cried so often that looking back it’s hard to believe through those tears I managed to cope with all the practical tasks. I was a soggy mess. Our boxes arrived in Los Angeles stained with my teardrops – a reminder of my emotional confetti.

Moving is incredibly challenging and as human beings we are frequently confronting displacement and relocation in various guises. Moving house. Moving country. Moving school.  Moving jobs. Moving relationships. Many people package up their feelings about these ‘moves’ along with their external belongings. Sadness gets taped up. Fear gets shoved in a side pocket. Anxiety gets filed away in a folder titled ‘UNHELPFUL’. And we forge ahead, still in possession of these feelings, but desperately hoping that concealing them will make them less potent.

In England we call this a ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. But isn’t it true that we have all seen that ‘rigid’ lip wreak havoc in many ways, in many countries, translated into many languages?

Repressing profound emotional states can have major repercussions. Feelings that have been filed away, unprocessed, have ways of finding the oxygen they need. They follow us through life, festering, waiting to leak out like toxic fumes or explode into billowing clouds of anger. Or simply collapse, leaving us in fragile heaps.

I know from experience that people are afraid of revealing too much emotion. Keeping it safely hidden away feels so much tidier. But release can take different shapes for different people. You don’t have to have a personality transplant. Find ways to gently tap into your feelings if they have been locked up for a while. Choose a friend who you trust. Consider talking to a counsellor or a therapist. Buy yourself a notebook and begin to write or draw. Creative expression is boundless and free and is available to everyone. But firstly, you must be willing to explore.

Two years on I feel more lucid and centered. I’m rediscovering a sense of being ‘placed’ internally and externally. Facing, rather than avoiding my grief about leaving, has helped me to arrive in each day, to stay authentic, and to feel empowered by my emotions, instead of endowing them all the power to overthrow me.

How does this post resonate with you? Write about a significant ‘move’ in your life and explore the feelings around it. Write for ten minutes. Time yourself. Share any thoughts or responses in the comments.

 

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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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Once Bitten

Photograph by Chloe Green 2012

My dog, Lilly, was bitten by another dog this week.

Ouch.

The vet stapled her wound shut, and if that wasn’t dismal enough, condemned her to wear ‘the cone of shame’ for ten days. Like any self respecting animal, Lilly was desperate to lick her wound. She moped around the house forlornly. She whimpered. She kept me up for two nights sitting by the edge of my bed staring at me, determined that I would be the guest of honour at her pity party. It worked. It’s ridiculously hard to resist those beautiful brown eyes, even at 3am. The following day I gave in and removed her cone, vowing to watch her vigilantly to prevent her inflicting any further damage. Of course I got distracted.  I have a university degree in getting distracted (with distinction). After a twenty minute phone call, I returned to find Lilly gleefully licking her laceration. She wagged her tail triumphantly, having managed to pull out the staples and open the wound.  Lilly and I spent another hour at the vet.

She was hurt all over again.

We do that don’t we? We feel attacked. Bitten. Injured. Disappointed. And we hold on. Sometimes we find it almost impossible to not keep returning to our wound and reopening it, repeatedly.

I completed a novel last year, succeeded in securing an agent, and like thousands of others who submit full of optimism and sparkle, my book was rejected. Many times.  I spent months, not unlike Lilly, feeling sorry for myself and gouging at my wound. I longed for the life I was leading in the run up to the submission, full of promise and potential. I attempted to begin another novel, but without the validation I had been seeking, my enthusiasm for my craft wobbled and wavered. Eventually, a scab began to form and with the scab new ideas and resolve slowly began to generate. I decided to write about my experience of rejection, as a means of catharsis, but also as a way of fielding the constant questioning from everyone I knew.

Them: “So,what’s happening with your book?”
Me: “Ummmm….”

I sent my ode to rejection to a group of family and friends and it spread from there. The encouragement and support I received in return was awesome. The rally around me was palpable. My willingness to lay myself bare seemed to inspire people.

Suddenly it was clear to me.

I had been contemplating the idea of Write To Be You for some time, but had been too focused on the novel to initiate motion. I wanted to create a community that drew together my psychotherapy training and my writing background. I wanted to design a space for myself and others that didn’t rely purely on external approval. I imagined a forum where I could encourage others to write to make connection to themselves, rather than to please someone else. A bright, luminous lightbulb appeared above my head and Write To Be You Workshopsand blog were born.The ethos: write from your heart and your words will find a pulse. 

My intention, restated, is:

To offer a safe, empathic environment where we can contemplate wounds, reveal scabs and scars, and support one another in not constantly reopening the cuts and watching them bleed. Write To Be You is a call to creative action.  A wish that everyone reading will spend some time reflecting on the posts and writing, even if it is just for a few minutes or a few lines.  I’m showing up here every Monday and every Thursday with an invitation for you to write and to share. All your stories, responses and thoughts are read by me and published in the comments section, where we can weave together common threads, as well as delight in our differences.

If you choose to write, even for just ten minutes, twice a week, in a matter of months you will have a lively notebook. I’m also regularly challenging you to a Ready, Steady, Write… an opportunity to launch your imagination or your thoughts from an image and watch your words as they fly.

So please join Lilly (who is on the mend) and me in this new phase of promise and potential. We both may have been once bitten, but we’ve come to understand, there is little to be gained from being twice shy.

If you’re interested in the piece I originally wrote “It’s good, but…” Reflections on Rejection, it has been published on Single Minded Women. Click here to read.

And now to my readers – what has bitten you and how have you reacted? Have you been picking at a wound or finding it hard to move away from shame? What advice or stories do you have for other readers who are grappling with rejection?  Your responses are welcomed here always…. ten minutes, ten lines… just write…

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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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