Turn back the pages – March 2010

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Brush up your windswept look
No need to hide those tear-prone eyes,
Darkness will descend over the lake
And its wave-ridden waters
Before you know it.
Only the haunting howling
Will be left.

It’s make or break time,
Maybe you’ve built something strong –
But even then, you never know
Where the next gust’ll come from.

 

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Never again: Selfish.

There are words that hurt. Selfish is a destroyer for me. And it’s taken me a long time to understand why. While I am a generous, sometimes (borderline) sacrificial person, I think this makes me strong, and so it’s not what shapes my pain at the root. It actually runs deeper and earlier.

As a child, I was denied individuality. Motions to do things for myself were swept aside, seen as signs of weakness. If I expressed a desire to sit out of a group activity, it was made clear to me that then leaving me alone was punishment, exclusion. It was proof of my selfishness that I would rather have time alone than join in. Lila, the selfish one. That is how, through instances of punishment for individual thinking, the mechanism was installed.

Since then, I have been acutely aware that my duty is to others, to the family unit. Wanting something, anything, for myself is only a weakness, punishable, to be silenced and hidden at all costs. I have therefore developed a disregard for myself, my needs and desires; as a result turning me into an efficient family/team/couple member, always putting others first. But that game ends up with me in pain, feeling repressed and unworthy. 

So now that I understand, why don’t I just move on and be an individual ? Guilt. Guilt is the answer. Guilt and fear that I’m letting others down, that I’m being selfish. For standing up for myself, for being honest, for having emotions, for expressing them. Because now, in my head, there’s always a voice, a cycle of thoughts that’s ashamed of my individuality, at the imagined cost of others’ comfort and joy.

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I’ve started a process of recovery. I’m in the early steps. Of removing that voice, acknowledging it’s not mine but a childhood fear, that I can leave it behind. I’ve started to feel how rich a person I am. How the woman I am becoming deserves her own space, her free time, to have her voice heard, to not be scared.

So when you call me selfish, or self-involved, I cringe, I hurt, and scramble to self-efface, to have my presence forgotten because the voice inside says I’ve failed at my duties again.

That’s why I sing. That’s why I ask – where’s the room for my self love? Wouldn’t I do well to put myself first? Shouldn’t you, who are by my side, celebrate that?

Selfish is a word that hurts, and I hope now you understand. You wouldn’t tell me I have too much self love, would you? 

Portovenere (2011)

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As rain starts to fall on the town of Portovenere, the scene is set for a suspense film.

The town is walled in by ancient battlements, keeping watch over port, streets and tourist-weary natives. Once passed the gates, tall houses tower and stairways loom at every turn. A porcelain-white cat sits ever patient, not a turn of the head as we pass by. Nor do we acknowledge its presence with more than a word; my left wrist bears the trace of its now-hidden claws – I’ve learnt my lesson. The air weighs down on us as we climb step after step. Only fallen flowers catch the eye as we walk. Laundry hangs white above our heads, out of prying eyes’ reach. A little bowl left out for pigeons is the only reminder of an old mumbling woman we saw the day before, out pruning her plants. In a plea to lessen its burden, the sky finally releases a few drops of rain. Far in the distance, a dull sound echoes.

(As I sit to write, the day’s carillon rings out its irregular tune:  sinister, kitsch, jarred and devoid of melody, it uselessly announces the fourth hour after noon.  Inside the house it is answered by an exasperated groan).

At first the rumbling sound resembles the one heard non-stop as motorised boats cross the Golfo. From dawn till dusk they send dull vibrations into the air, amplified as they travel from island to mainland and back again. Only this time the sound is more insistent, getting closer, covering up the aria of an opera seeping through a first-floor window in the silent, deserted street. For a moment, the woman and the helicopter fight for their voices to be heard until we turn a corner and they both accept defeat. More stairs to be climbed, more “buon giorno”s left unanswered or perhaps unheard. Flowers are still in bloom in this summer afternoon that is yet spring. Cacti point the way and, at the turn of a corner, my eyes level with the view offered at last: the bay, the sea and the island we’ve just come from. As I turn back where we are heading, my mind floats to the castle, up there. The image, fresh in mind, of faded photographs showing two old friends dressed against the wind, walking the old path of polished slabs, pointing at something in the distance, a long time ago. My mind then goes back to a face I’ve only now seen for the first time: that of my grand-mother, my mother’s mother.  Mum in who’s face I now recognise the past they maddeningly fight over. I climb the final steps, pass the wall in pink bloom and enter our shelter, just in time. As the rain starts to fall in earnest, the scene is finally set: white cat, bodiless opera voice, a labyrinth of stairs, helicopter swooping low and a family tragedy waiting to be told…

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