Time Piece; Time Peace

I have fractured time

Taken it apart into a billion little pieces

And scattered them into the winds.

Where once I could chronicle

the beginning

the middle

the end  

Now time is everywhere and nowhere.

Now there will never be a ‘right time’

And we will never ‘run out of time’.

It had to be done:

The tick tock of days passing  

unrelenting

unrequited

Tested my sanity

And my patience.

When? When? When?

Not now. Not now. Not now.

So I took time apart

Deconstructed the regimented cogs

And made yesterday a tomorrow

And tomorrow a today

And never always

And some day a certainty.

I dwell in the spaces of fractured time

Remembering: we have already met.

[photo credit]

Intimacy During Isolation

An alternative way of thinking about intimacy that isn’t reliant on bumping genitals or swopping saliva…

Two years ago my best friend and I learned a new form of intimacy. She had just been diagnosed with cancer; I lived in another country but made the promise to be with her for every week following her chemotherapy sessions.

The word ‘intimacy’ is generally associated with sex. In fact, it’s even used as a euphemism for it. Because of this, we often think of intimacy as being reserved for our sexual relationships: they ­are the people we get to know intimately, genitals and all. Except it’s not always ‘all’. Sometimes the only thing we really know about our sexual partners is how they like their genitals touched (and sometimes we don’t even know that). If we do the work in the relationship – you know, the communicating, listening, and understanding-each-other work – we may also get to intimately know their beliefs, their values, and their heart. But it’s not guaranteed. It’s all too easy to assume you know the person who is lying naked beside you and whose body was just joined with yours. But even that depends on whether the sex was a performance – being the person you think they want you to be – or came from a place of true, mutual self-expression.

Yes, sex can be an incredibly intimate act. But what happens when sex is taken off the table?

Not since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s have we had such an abrupt disruption to our sex lives. (It is worth noting that, although medical advances in the treatment of HIV have been great, nearly a million people die of the virus each year: our sex lives should still be cognisant of the risk.) One of the key differences between the health guidance relating to HIV and that relating to the COVID-19 coronavirus is that we now find ourselves socially isolated from all physical contact: during lockdown, if you don’t already live with a partner, or if you live with a partner who is symptomatic, opportunities for hugging, kissing, and sex, have been taken away.

What does this have to do with my friend and me?

Well, I want to offer you an alternative way of thinking about intimacy and, in doing so, suggest that we use this period of social isolation to deepen our connections in ways that aren’t reliant on bumping genitals or swopping saliva.

I found my best friend when we both nine years old. Only three years later, my family moved away, and we became penpals-by-necessity. Fast forward another ten years and we were living a mere 50 miles apart. But only for a short while: she then moved over 3000 miles away. We continued to stay in touch by letter, and then email, but the gaps in between got longer and our knowledge of each other’s lives became increasingly less current.

By the time she was diagnosed with cancer, the distance between us had narrowed to the present 400 miles: too far for a day trip, and certainly too great a distance to support her through her treatment. So I travelled, for a week at a time, to help with laundry, cooking, and companionship. Suddenly we found ourselves with all this time and no outside distractions. We had shared history from childhood but, now in our forties, we didn’t fully know each other as adults.

Over the next few months, we told each other the stories of our lives from the intervening years. The heartbreaks. The dreams. The moments of despair. And those of renewed hope. We reminisced about our childhoods, and I discovered she remembered so much more about that time than I did and could tell me things about my younger self that I had long forgotten.

Story by story, we became fully-formed characters in our own lives, and in each others.

Also during this time, when she was too ill or too tired to talk, I wrote. The first draft of my memoir – Desire Lines – took shape from an armchair in her lounge, and occasionally a table in a café when we just needed a bit of space from each other. My stories brought me to a deeper place of self-knowing and understanding, as well as giving me practice at being seen by others: one definition of intimacy is “into me, you see”.

By the end of her treatment, there was a new level of intimacy to our friendship. We had seen each other at our lowest (I had a particularly harsh bladder infection during one of my visits; she hadn’t had anyone clear up her vomit since she was a child). But, more importantly, we knew more of the stories that made up the tapestry of each other’s lives.

During this time of COVID-19 and the crucial need for physical distancing, I invite you to share your stories with your loved ones, and to ask them to share theirs with you too. Friends, family, and lovers all have their own stories, and you are one thread that weaves into their tapestry – as they weave into yours.

I know my friend so much better now, but I, like many others, didn’t get to see my mum on Mother’s Day. She’s over 70 and I realise I know so little about her – she’s never told me her stories. My partner and I live together and have 20 years of shared stories, but there is still space to deepen our relationship and to be surprised by facets of her that haven’t featured in our life together. And I have other friends who I cannot currently visit but can call on the phone or video. Once we have each had an opportunity to express our current anxieties and uncertainties about life in the time of coronavirus, there is time for us to talk; time to tell our stories.

An invitation:

Invite someone you know to share a story-telling session with you. Let them know you want to get to know them better and to deepen your knowledge of each other. Ask for their consent to have this kind of conversation, and then take turns at sharing.

If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your stories with another person at this time (because, we are all dealing with the current changes to our lives in our own ways, and intimacy with another may not feel do-able or wanted at this time) you can alternatively deepen your self-intimacy by journaling and writing your stories, for your eyes only.

Some suggested story prompts:

  • What did you most love to do as a child? How does that feature in your life now, if at all? How do you feel about that?
  • Who have you loved? What has that love been like?
  • Ten years ago, what did you think your life would look like now? What’s happened in those intervening years to shape where you are now? Do you have any regrets? What have been the highlights?
  • What is your secret passion in life?

Do you trust yourself?

Somewhere along the line I forgot.
I forgot to trust myself.
I looked to others:
For advice
Validation
Direction.
I asked the same questions over and over again:
Who am I meant to be?
Am I enough?
Where am I going?
But I never quite believed their answers.
So I kept on asking.
And questioning.
Suspended
In confusion and indecision.
Until someone asked me the question:
“What if there is nothing wrong with you?”
And my simple answer was:
“Then I would trust myself.”

The question was raised as an invitation on social media by the very splendid Lauren Marie Fleming. And, as I journaled my response, I realised that the many desire lines I’ve walked and written about are all evidence of self-trust.

A fundamental belief and faith in the liberating expression of choosing my own path.

Which made me think of you, and us, and the question:

“Do you trust yourself?”

Note: None of this is a ‘one-time, done-and-dusted’ thing. We ebb and flow, change and evolve, find our faith and lose it, over and over again. Which is why prompts for self-reflection can be so helpful: those simple reminders to check-in with ourselves, to assess where we are at, and where we want to go next.

Holding it together

Today I am held together by safety pins.

 

There’s the one carefully threaded through the side seam of my t-shirt where the overlocker cut too closely and the stitches are missing. I meant to sew it up but tossed the shirt in the wash and then wore it again having forgotten about the hole. The safety pin is fairly well hidden, and I’ve got a cardi on top too, so I’m sure no one will notice.

 

Then there’s the safety pin that I stuck through my heart last night to help me hold it together while the ghosts of loss tore through me, burning a trail of regret and sorrow. We had company so I wore my fake smile and played the perfect hostess. I plucked at the edges of the hole in my heart and hastily stabbed the pin in to hold them together, still ragged and bleeding, for just a little while longer. Just until I could find some time to be alone and to cradle my grief, holding it close and soothing the tears with the rocking of my body. I’ve not found that time yet and I can feel the pin beginning to strain as my grief swells my heart and makes it leak bloody tears. Soon, soon, I promise myself. But when? When will the hole be mended?

 

There is one more safety pin needed to get me through the day. This one is pierced through my nose. I wear it punk-style: Fuck conformity! Fuck the patriarchy! Fuck being the good girl, the professional woman, the pretty lady! I wear it in the office. I wear it when I see my family. I wear it in the supermarket as I buy toilet cleaner and tissues. However, just like all the other pins I wear, this one is invisible to the world. But I know it is there. I know who I am.

 

I am a woman holding it together with safety pins.