I’m sat on a spindly-legged chair in a yoga studio turned concert hall for the evening. A Christmas tree is standing in the corner, covered in nothing but soft white fairy lights, there are jars with sprigs of pine on the tables. I have a mug of tea in my hands, bigger than my face and am warming cold December-fingers on Turkish apple and cinnamon.
Christmas concerts are like being invited into someone else’s Christmas; into the music they turn up on the radio during ginger bread house construction, the songs they sing while toasting marshmallows in the kitchen fireplace of their family home.
You can hear the care and the love that people weave into their Christmas shows. No song is a coincidence, the set is list curated with northern stars and candle light. You can feel the Christmas pyjamas and woolen jumpers in the air on more quiet, cosy songs, and the wind against your cheek as you rush down a snowy hill, rolling, tumbling, on songs that embody more fun.
I’m not sure what songs I’d put on the set list of my own Christmas concert. There are too many songs to choose from, unless you want to keep the audience seated from today and right up until Christmas morning.
I wouldn’t know how to show someone else the smell of my parents’ house during Christmas, how to convey the sounds of my family home in celebration, of the quiet excitement, the chatter and the peace of Christmas eve in our house hold. How do you make people feel the weight of that one knitted blanket that accompanies every Christmas film, or the chess square cookies my mum always bakes?
The good thing though, is that most likely, everyone else have got that too. They’ve got their own songs, their own smells, their own tastes which makes Christmas Christmas, and come to think of it, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
So I think for now, I’ll hold onto my mug and sit back on my spindly-legged chair, and stay seated in someone else’s Christmas for just a little longer. I’ll listen to the Christmas the musicians on the stage wants to convey, and even though it’s not my Christmas, it’s a very beautiful celebration, indeed. I’m so excited to go home to my own, to travel towards Christmas and my family which I haven’t seen for a while. To travel to where I know what Christmas sounds and smells like, and where I know exactly how the New Year will be rung in.
I’ll go back to where the feeling is bottled in those jars we bring out every year. I’ll be home for Christmas.
I am attempting NaNoWriMo this November! I’ve got 20 865 words, which is a bit behind schedule, but as I’m doing it at the same time as I’m preparing for my exams and as I’ve got work, I’m quite proud of those almost 21 000 words. I don’t think I’ll reach 50 000 words, but my goal is to at least cross the 30 000 mark. My story is a fantasy, magical realism-esque narrative about Mira – a young girl who is part of a circus that appears at dusk and leaves before sunrise. No one has ever seen the circus travel in closed off carriages across dusty cobblestones, it appears like magic, exactly where it’s needed every night. All the coincidental bystanders can remember of the purple tents and the silver eyes looking at them from the various booths and stalls, and through their own dreams and illusions, is a carnival appearing on the rooftops of the grey and dusty city.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted any sort of prose-form creative writing on this blog, so here’s the first few paragraphs of the draft I’m working on for Nano!
The Cinerous Circus
No one had ever seen the Circus travel, not even the crew that travelled with it. Mid-movement, mid-laugh, and sometimes even mid-sleep, the crew of the Cinerous Circus would feel that little tingle in their fingers, that smoke-like sensation of having themselves dissolved into the powers of the Circus as she decided on a new route, a new destination, a new home for the night.
Stood by the foot of her bed, arm raised towards the book case on the wall, as if she had just been interrupted in putting back a book, Mira came to. Her fingers were still curled around a paper spine, but the book was on the floor. She shook her head for a moment, before letting her hands quickly pat their way down her front. Arms, legs, coat. She had everything she needed. Good.
She reached a hand into the soft, worn lining of her dark grey and purple coat. Her hand came back up clutching a card. The back of the card was adorned by green sprigs of ivy that seemed to be alive, moving, wrapping around themselves, accompanied by a spatter of stars, gathered in unfamiliar constellations.
She looked at the card. A lone figure slinking away from peering eyes, away from crowds with their backs turned on her. Seven of swords. Thief? The feeling of being watched came over her and made the hairs on her arms stand on edge.
“A girl is quickly flitting through an unfamiliar street. She has stolen something which belongs to her. She has stolen something which has been hers all along.”
Mira’s tarot readings always read like stories in her head. She simply opened her mind and let the stories find her, let them linger in that space between her consciousness and her memories, that space she was starting to realize that not that many people could reach for. This reading made no sense. This was a new city, a new rooftop –- why on earth did she see stories of thieves stealing what was already theirs? Why would thieves steal what was already theirs in the first place?
She turned to look over at her mother’s bed. She was there, black and blue hair shining in the light from the bulb hanging on a single string in the ceiling. It was a shy little light source, with a black cast iron frame. It looked heavy, but Mira knew it wasn’t. A lot of her mother’s possessions looked like something they weren’t. A lot of Circus looked like something it wasn’t.
Her mother was just coming to. She was sat on her bed, hands neatly clasped and placed in her lap, like she’d done this a thousand times before. She had done this a thousand times before. So had Mira, to be fair, but the excitement of waking back up without having the faintest idea of what would make itself visible to her outside of their little tent, always made her too excited to be as calm as her mother.
Mira chewed her lip for a moment. The card she had just drawn dampened her excitement a bit, but she was determined not to let it worry her too much. Maybe just a little bit.
She went to the slit in the tent, the make-shift door that could be drawn. It hushed all the sounds from the outside world better than any wooden door ever could, and any fabric door ever should.
Oftentimes, all she could see were chimneys and rooftop ladders and maybe the odd, very tall, tree. Other times she saw birds and clouds passing in quick formations. But sometimes, oh, the very best of times, she could see other houses. She could see windows, or bridges or clock towers with clocks just striking midnight.
“What can you see out there?” her mother asked. Mira put the card to the back of her mind, banished it to thoughts she were to think tomorrow and focused on what she could see. This was their game. Her mother stayed seated on the bed as Mira slowly pulled the tent slit open, just enough to have a peak outside. She looked out at the town.
“I can see a chimney,” Mira told her mother, who closed her eyes and nodded. Mira could see her left-hand raise and start to move in the air in front of her. “And I can see birds, but they’re not awake, they’re lying on their nests.” Her mother nodded again, hand still moving. She was sketching, her parchment was the thin air and she had no ink or quill or anything to set a mark. But her lines still appeared. Curved lines through the air, drawing up small grey birds that came alive under her hands.
“Tell me about the stars,” her mother
said. Mira peered further out through the slit in the tent and looked up.
“There is a great big one right above us,” Mira said, “and it’s surrounded by three others that makes it look like the stars have gathered for tea. They’re flickering, like they’re dancing.” Her mother nodded, her hands never stilling. The buildings and the roof tops and the chimneys, all existing in grey lines, like the outline of a shadow or the seams of a smoke ring. Mira looked back in through the tent door, watching her mother’s hands. She always struggled with looking away when her mother drew up her images. But she knew they weren’t for her, and so she looked back at the town.
“Oh,” Mira exclaimed, “I can see a
tower! A big tower.”
“Does this one have a clock in it
too?” her mother asked. The last town they’d been in had had a tower with a
clock in it, but the hands of that clock had been as asleep as only a clock can
be in a town of mourning. Mira nodded her head. Her mother hadn’t opened her
eyes yet, but she noticed the nod. Maybe she heard it. Mira had always been
sure that her mother never looked with her eyes anyway.
“And is it about to strike twelve?” her
mother lifted her hands in the air, putting them behind the image she’d made,
framing it, protecting it, making it clearer to see against the colour of her
hands, instead of the backdrop of her dress.
Mira nodded and turned back so her head was inside the tent again, and in that second, the big bell rung. Mira’s mother was prepared, and in a swift move, she pushed her hands in front of her. She pushed the smoke line drawing away.
It kept its shape, and it was as if the
grey birds flew past Mira in a little flock, like the bell tower floated past
her on invisible wings. Mira loved this part of arriving at a new place.
She loved to see how her mother always managed to draw up the perfect rendition of any new town, before sending it on its way, grey feathers floating through the air. Mira never knew where she sent it, but she could only hope it drifted on its way before hitting some poor passer-by over the head.
“Nothing’s ever so good you shouldn’t let it go,” her mother said. She always said that, timed like clockwork.
Then her mother walked over and joined her by the tent flap which was partially opened. She put a hand on either side of the curtain, and with a move of her arms that straightened them all the way out, she flung the curtain open wide.
«A new night, little bird,» she said to Mira, as she looked out at the familiar Circus on an unfamiliar rooftop, «a new place.»
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Or have you done it before? How’s it going?
Her mother threw birthday parties on rationing cards, dressed three children in the living room curtains, and sent them to bed with a kiss on the forehead. Her father lived only in the stories, the captain that went down with his ship, the war hero.
Sixteen years later she stepped ashore where her father set sail, trying steps after crossing the ocean that took him, three dresses and a Bible in a tattered suitcase. Governess by day, she told tales of foreign forests before sending new children off with a forehead kiss, Lady in the evenings, at Dr Flemming’s dinner parties, keeping her kisses to her chest like cards.
When the words for hands and home and country were of no use anymore, they slowly slipped away.
Sixty years later, I get off the plane in the country she no longer remembers. Her memories are smoke signals no one can read, but I look to the sky to try anyway.
When I reach the sea, I put my hand in the water, I feel the cold against my skin, how it circles my fingers, my palm.
In a pocket with fraying edges I’ve still got her rationing card.
Nope, it’s most definitely not January, but January might as well have been yesterday. This year is flying by, and I’m both here for it and a little bit worried about it. June’s brought music, it’s brought people, sunny weather and moments I’ve never experienced before. I spent the beginning of June working at the cathedral, the middle of June “holidaying” at home with cups of tea and read-for-joy books, and on the last day of June, my sister had her baby boy and I got to say hello to my little nephew. He was born at 04:35 am, and we got to come meet him at 2 pm. I’ve never seen so small and “new” a baby before, but he was absolutely wonderful. June was also the month I registered my little business, and now I’m officially self-employed in my own one-woman-company that deals with text production, copywriting and translation. What a crazy month.
So, in bullet points, June has consisted of:
Getting all my exam marks back
Having my last day before summer at the cathedral-job
Having my first day of summer at the library-job
Starting up my own little company
Sleepovers and lazy breakfasts with friends
Saying goodbye to a lot of wonderful study friends that are going away on uni exchanges next year
Setting up a summer reading list
Sending 13 postcards through PostCrossing
Making a lot of tea
Getting completely and utterly obsessed with the new Good Omens mini series
Meeting my nephew for the first time
I hope June’s been kind to you, and I’m excited to see what July brings! It’s going to be a good one this year, I can feel it.
I work in a cathedral; I translate and interpret, and function as a guide during the tourist season.
I am not a Christian, but no doubt do I work in someone’s place of worship, and there is something quietly comforting about that. As I wash the pews – soap, water, tools to remove old chewed up gum – maybe left there by bored kids on a Sunday that dragged on – from even older wood, someone is lighting candles for a family they hope to see again soon. While I’m relaying interesting facts to tourists, about the spire that went missing in ’45 and how all Norwegian churches don models of ships, someone is sat quietly in mourning. As I refill the oil lamps in the candles on the altar, I think about how I’m lighting the fire that someone may find their God in today. It is a privilege to work in a place that can bring people peace.
As I find myself in this church for eight hours a day, it is easy to forget the holiness the people that visit will bring to these walls, the wooden domed ceiling, the stained glass windows of old. But for eight hours every day, I get to be a part of people’s journeys. I see them enter through the oak doors, and as the church room reveals itself, I see their reactions; as varied as the people.
Some cross themselves, some take pictures for the annual family holiday album, some just stand. Quietly. Some people enter this room that I put on my uniform and go to work in everyday, and they have to take a second to breathe before they enter.
I’m grateful to be working in this building, with its doors wide open to a bustling city, and centuries of life lived and years passed visible in the wear on the rugged stone steps.Church bells tell me when another day has passed, and on the daily I handle artefacts that have existed more than 200 years longer than I have. Everyday, I work accompanied by organ music, from more than 4000 pipes. This building isn’t just holy because a religion says it is, its holiness lies in its history, in the people who sought refuge in its halls, in the music and the songs that have seeped through the doors and out into the city for generations. It is holy for the children who sees the aisle as too long a straight stretch not to race down, and for the older generations who made these pews their home when they were still so young that their parents braided their hair at night.
This place is holy because of the woman that comes in everyday. The woman who walks quietly in and lights four candles in a little cluster, where others normally just light one. She lights them like a family holding around each other, flickering together.
I’m not a Christian, but no doubt I’m working in a holy place.
I swim through quiet waves of evening, enveloped by lazy currents. I am not afraid of the water.
As a swallow graces the surface, droplets falling from its wing, I think of all the lives lived by this fjord before me. Women wrapping their shawls tighter around themselves, waiting for sails on the horizon, for fathers, for brothers, for husbands to come home.
Young boys who went to sea, much like I went to university, clenched fists and starry night-eyes, who learnt that nothing can quell an unforgiving ocean, not even the children who challenged the shallow shores, those who never returned to their mothers’ lullabies.
Their stories are in every rock, in every seashell. in every tide that swallows the docks. Stories of islanders who read tomorrow in the skies, who knew that red clouds predicted weary storms the type that could orphan their children and starve their homes.
The water still cradles me, there is salt in my ears, my hair flows like jelly fish tendrils around my shoulders. I have no doubt that all the souls lost at sea, the stories and the children and the ocean are resting in these waters.
I’m turning 23 and I’m not entirely sure what that means yet. I’m aware it won’t mean that I’ll wake up taller, wiser or more confident. I know your birthday is just a symbolic notion and that what helps you grow are all the days in between. However, like with New Year’s Resolutions, maybe birthdays can function as a day of reflection, a definite marker of another year passing. Not for everyone and not for the world, but in your very own timeline. What have you learnt since your last birthday? What have you figured out? What new people have you met, and what new paths have you travelled down?
To “celebrate” that today is my last day as 22, I’m posting this little video. It is a poem I wrote for the OctPoWriMo challenge, last year, about all the things I’d love to tell myself at 16. In the original post I wrote “this took a long time to get right, but I didn’t want to post it before I was happy with it. Felt like I owed 16 year old me that much.”
Filmed in my bed, with a comfy shirt on and a cup of tea waiting. It felt fitting to post this on my last day of being 22, as a symbol of all the things I’ve finally figured out, and of all the things I’ve yet to learn.