Too Much

I fear I am too much for this world. I am all self-indulgent extremes. Ironically, I have been too ashamed of my too-muchness, made an example of by others who have always felt compelled to point out my excesses in disapproving and accusatory tones. For others, I’ve been it all.

I have been too hard – too impatient, too irritable, too aggressive, too ruthless.

I have been too soft – too emotional, too sensitive, too passive, too trusting.

I have been too dark – too sad, too negative, too pessimistic.

I have been too light – too happy, too optimistic, too dreamy.

I have been too much.

Of everything.

For everyone else.

And I’m learning to love myself there because I’m not the only one.

Very recently, I met a girl. She was walking alone along a country lane in Cornwall, wearing her pyjamas and a dressing gown, slippers shuffling along in the gravel, and she was sobbing uncontrollably. She could barely breathe. The thing that broke my heart (again, too much – too easily broken) is what came out of her mouth after she had found her tongue.

‘I just need to learn to control my emotions. This always happens. I’m just too emotional.’

Her boyfriend had already fled the scene with a back pack hanging off his right shoulder. I had heard him yelling at her. I had also seen his cowardly tail slinking away, leaving the girl alone and wailing on the side of the road. She was too much for him, this one, this too emotional woman who clearly loved him.

Even more recently, I arrived at my grandparents’ house in England, the one I haven’t visited for five years. The house is different now, of course. One of my grandparents is gone. She has moved on to greener pastures, but her chair is still there, where it always was, where it always will be, until my Grandad chooses to join her. Even without her body here, her presence is commanding. She fills the space. Her energy envelops the entire house from the foundations to the chimney top. Some would say she was too much. And I suppose she was if I really think about it. But she was too much in all the right ways, all the most glorious and comforting ways. She was too loving, too welcoming, too friendly, too trusting, too loud, too funny, too nurturing.

She was too much, and she was perfect.

And so, I find myself wondering about my own emotional extravagances, and about others like me, others who are too much. Could it be that there’s nothing wrong with us at all? Could we, like my Nanna, be perfect in all of our dazzling imperfection? Because that woman got too much just right. She was loved for it by her tribe, and she was dismissive of the people who didn’t understand it. Too dismissive, in fact. Too cut-throat.

And, as for the sobbing girl from the edge of the street in Cornwall, she was told, unequivocally, that she was not too much. There is no such thing. And if the little boy who had left her alone believed she was, it was not for her to analyse or to fix. The loss was entirely his. That poor, pathetic boy who could not meet this woman where she was at, could not cherish all of the many things she was, could not love her in all of her magnificent too-muchness, was the one who should feel ashamed. She may have been too much for him, but she won’t be too much for a man willing to love her wholeheartedly. She will be met eye-to-eye, in her splendid too-muchness, and she will be cherished for all of her passionate and indulgent extremes.

After all, this is the point, when all is said and done – to love our own superabundance, those of us who are too much, to find other kinfolk who love us just as we are, and to love them ferociously, in return.

Even if it is too much.

Especially if it is gloriously, brilliantly, too much.

Job Done

When I woke up this morning, Karma was not in bed next to me. And yet, here he is this evening. Silent, expectant, ticking almost imperceptibly. Karma has me in his sights tonight. He will not be satisfied until I have crossed his palm with the gold he has loaned out to me, until a pound of my flesh has balanced the scale. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, the settling of an ancient debt. Plus interest.

Karma is dark and he is brooding, but he is also light and carefree. He is masculine and she is feminine, more masculine today for he is chasing an awkward repayment. He is dealing with stubborn clientele. He needs to be masculine today. I would likely slay him where he lay should he even remotely resemble the feminine at this moment in time.

Earlier today, but after the jubilant expectancy of a resplendent weekend had been cut off at the knees in its infancy, a piece of paper in an envelope spoke to me. The envelope said so much more than the paper inside, wrinkled with the lines of her writing, caressed by the heel of her hand. The envelope screamed and cried and flailed. I knew more from that vicious and merciless envelope than anything new I discovered from her letter.

The envelope told me she was gone. The letter told me she had left a long time ago.

More recently, the telephone spoke to me and it hijacked her voice (for surely that was not really her?) and it said,

“I’m in a car, driving…somewhere.”

 Somewhere? Where is somewhere? Somewhere is not here and here is somewhere so where are you? And more to the point, who are you with? The telephone spoke again (in her voice),

“You don’t want to know.”

No, I don’t want to know and yet, I know, which brings me back to my original point. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes you know things you don’t want to know, and sometimes you end up somewhere when you should be here, and I know something I don’t want to know so play fair and uphold your end of this bargain.

Be here. Not somewhere. With him who I don’t want to know about.

Karma has been very accommodating today. He has been extremely sympathetic. I know because, even tomorrow, those few words, in her hijacked voice, will be the only words I vividly remember coming out of the telephone. There will be a vague recollection of tears, and of not having knees to support my legs, and of my heart leaping from my mouth and running away to be with the faeries who will pack it in ice, and still won’t quite have finished returning it, even years later. Karma has taken the sting off the avalanche that is my edges falling and tumbling and burying me in their wake. He has caught me a bubble and placed me inside it so that reality is on the outside, and the bubble is a forever space.

But here he is. He wants me back, now. I have had my sympathy, and now he wants to burst my precious bubble. So here, Karma, take this. This is your compensation:

I accept the terms of our agreement. I accept that this was always our contract. She was always meant to leave, and I was always meant to be the one who felt like I had been left behind, just as I inevitably left her behind once, who knows how many lifetimes ago.

Karma looks at me carefully, kisses me square on my mouth, lights a cigarette, and rolls over. He’ll be asleep soon. Satisfied.

Job done.

The Book Seller

On a whim, I made a decision today to approach a local book store in an attempt to get my book out into the big, wide world. I recently saw the shop’s flyer, and noted that they are advertising themselves as supportive of local authors, so I felt as though it might have been a welcoming place to start.

When I approached the shop owner, the welcome was frosty. When I introduced myself, and told her that I’m a local author, I was met with a barrage of interrogative and defensive questions. I never actually managed to even say the words I had wanted to say for the first time, “I’m wondering if you’d be interested in taking a copy or two of my book to sell in your shop?” When I told the woman that this was the first time I had EVER approached a shop, EVER, to sell my work (the hint being, back off a little), I was patronised and spoken to like I had prudent sections of my brain missing. I was informed that my chosen publishing company, and others like them, are all “sharks”, and that I could have done better. I was told that self-published books (mine amongst them) “just LOOK self-published”, and I had wasted my money. I was warned that my book probably won’t sell because self-published authors rarely sell copies straight off the shelf, and there’s too much competition. When I asked if I could leave a flyer about my book launch in the shop, the response was hostile and reluctant (I believe the exact words were, “I suppose you could leave one…”). Finally, a story was relayed in which a woman had spent thousands of dollars self-publishing her books, and every single copy of her ten or so works were piled up in dusty boxes in her shed, never to see the light of day…

Then, I was told about the shop owners own self-published work – the one printed on trade paper (therefore, better than mine), the one done by Amazon so the author gets all the profits (therefore, better than mine), the one thicker than mine (yes, that’s right, she actually compared the thickness of her book against my own, as if that is somehow a measure of its worth). She gave me her retail price (a full dollar less than my own, and therefore, you guessed it, better). She pulled her book out of a decorative cotton purse and informed me that she was lucky enough to have been shortlisted for a prize for her book, and had made her money back within six months. Three years later, she is still selling copies (“people just keep buying it, and I’m like, why do you want THAT?! It’s three years old!” That wasn’t me talking. Just to clarify).

I had a choice to make in that moment.

Option one: take the ONE copy of my book that she accepted for the shop, the one that “won’t sell”, and “probably won’t even get picked up off the shelf because it doesn’t stand up against the big names”, and walk out with my head held high, no closer to getting my work recognised.

Or, option two: leave my book there. Leave the time, the energy, and love I put into it. Leave the pride I feel for its very existence. Leave all of the positivity I have worked hard to pour into its creation, trying to protect it from any inkling that I couldn’t make it a reality. Leave all of the belief and faith other people have placed in me as an author. Leave it all sitting in the book seller’s shop, and hope to high heaven that that little self-published number flies off her shelf quicker than she can say ‘bubble burster’, one person closer to being acknowledged as a writer.

I left my book there. Because that woman is just a lesson in growing a thick skin, and I’m not about to let one Negative Nancy trick me into ruining this creation or believing it wasn’t all worth it. Because I’m proving a point. Because I think she’s wrong, and I want the evidence.

I write because I am compelled to write. I write because it makes me joyous. And I write because it feels like home. If I was in this for the dollars, I would buy myself an independent book shop marketed as a hub in support of local authors, and then I would try to slowly weed out the competition through bitterness and negativity whilst simultaneously tooting my own horn and spruiking my own wares.

I’m in it for the feels. I don’t believe in competition, and I definitely don’t believe in creating a life of dullness and failure by letting other people have me believe my work will not compete with others. I’ve got my own self-doubt and insecurity to grapple with. I refuse to carry someone else’s. Thoughts become reality. Don’t let the bad ones in.

So, I guess I really am an author, now. I’ve got the rejection from the threatened, insecure, competition-focused cynic to prove it.

I’m grateful for today’s lesson.

(Side note: Really, I’m only human, and I’m just PRAYING for someone to buy that book and wipe the smug, self-important smile off today’s lesson’s face. But I mean that with love in my heart and faery dust in my veins).

(Additional side note: people who don’t reside in Adelaide can buy This Little Light of Mine from http://www.balboapress.com; http://www.amazon.com; or, http://www.barnesandnoble.com. Visit http://www.facebook.com/clairehornewrites for further details).

 

All the Little Boys, All the Little Girls

I once knew a boy desperate to be a man. He showed up with little commotion (I should have guessed even then), and I knew he wasn’t the right fit.

I knew I was too much.

I knew he wasn’t enough.

I did that thing that vulnerable people sometimes do, and I allowed him to convince me, and then I convinced myself until I had spent the better part of a decade trying to bend and flex my boundaries, my values, my self-worth. I made excuses for his deficiencies and his cruelty, trying to make him live up to the golden and reverent version of him I carried with me in my mind’s eye. The version where he was a kind man with no deep, dirty secrets, and he truly loved me. The version where he was an unbroken man who was loyal and honest and accountable. The version where he was a man.

It was always going to disappoint us both. Because this is what I’ve discovered recently – I wanted a man, and he wanted a little girl. I’ve learned that the boy that I lit up and elevated, the boy I used to tell myself was pure and kind and respectful, hated women.

At home, he played his part like a fiend, convincing at times, entirely transparent and flawed at others. For the most part, he did all the right things at the right times, he said all the right words, he felt all the right feelings. Because he was being watched. Because there were witnesses. One witness, actually. One dreamer, one idealist, one pathetic little doormat who knew it was all a fragile, self-destructive illusion, but chose to live her life as if the carriage was about to be thrown from the tracks anyway. But when that naïve, deluded doormat wasn’t watching, the boy strutted around like a peacock, showing his true colours to all and sundry. He objectified women and embarrassed himself in the company of other peacocks, peacocks who were men and who were ashamed of the infant they called a friend. The boy disrespected women and viewed them as meat, fodder for his distastefulness, leering and spitting lewd comments about their bodies and what he would do to them (as if he was somehow God’s gift to all of womankind; as if he could actually do anything about it). Out in the open, he wanted his women to be sluts. He wanted them dirty. He wanted them submissive, to do what they were told, to go where they were put. He wanted women who wouldn’t argue and who wouldn’t fight. Little girls in porn star packaging.

At home, he behaved like a good boy, well-trained and obedient (later claiming it was me who had somehow beaten him into submission). That boy who had the capacity to transform women into acquiescent objects of contempt, passive vessels he could pour his hatred into, became vacuous and immobile at home where there was a witness. He always told me it was the people who talked the most about their sex lives that didn’t have one to speak of, and he proved his point thoroughly. Out in the open, he was virile and eager, shamelessly sniffing out new bones to place beneath him. At home, where there was a woman, he was paralysed and frigid; a little boy.

But, in his defence, he wanted a little girl. He wanted someone who wouldn’t challenge him, someone who would say yes, someone who would sweep it all under the rug with the rest of his secrets and lies. He wanted a girl who would lie down, keep her mouth shut, and let him hate her the way he hated all women.

He wanted a little girl, but what he got was a woman. A fierce, independent, honest, hurricane of a woman, and it terrified and repulsed him in equal measure. He got a woman who expected more from him, expected more for herself. He got a woman with courage, a woman with balls. He got a woman who was more man than he could ever dream of becoming.

It was always going to disappoint us both.

Fossil

Everyone has stories they’d rather not tell, stories they aren’t proud of, stories that leave them unbearably vulnerable, naked and exposed. The thing about being an author though is that at some point, if you want to be authentic, you have to share your own shadow side.

This is a chapter of mine.

The sky fell down today. Everyone who ever said it wouldn’t has been made a liar. It has fallen out of the atmosphere where it was perched majestically, and its dense, azure pieces, jagged and haphazard, have collected heavily at the bottom of my stomach. They are rubbing at my insides right now, grating and scratching. Inside, I am a million tiny cuts and nicks. I have swallowed glass. I am torn apart and messy, my soul bleeding out, slowly. It is oozing forward like lava into my organs, hot and pulsing. I am a puddle. I am ceasing to exist.

How is it that when the sum of my life’s parts has catastrophically imploded and crumbled in on itself, when my universe has retracted back to a single atom, all thought and memory and deed and emotion humming electrically at its point of origin, the rest of the world continues on? How dare these people, little ants in a maze with no centre, so self-important and determined, carry on with their lives? How dare life itself continue? My life, comparatively, has been snap frozen like an ancient animal in the icy past. Later, all they will find of me will be fossilised. A relic. My story decomposed. No one will know how I got here. How life drew on, infinitely without me while I waited in this particular moment of time, praying I would wake up from a nightmare I did not choose. Wasn’t even asleep for. No one will know that I stood still, mind racing, trying to comprehend, desperately scratching at rational thought, waiting. No one will know that even in the middle of this monumental collapse, this folding of my world in on itself, I thought the best of you, I saw the good in you, I believed in you. No one will know that at my core, unmeasurable and unobservable by the time my tiny insignificant fossil is found, I loved you with every branch of my DNA, every breath in my body, every drop of marrow in my bones. No one will know but me, and possibly you, and we will take our stories with us and hold them close.

And maybe, as the sky was falling down around us, that was always the point.

Posterity’s Sake

I wrote this piece on 17 January this year. My life had imploded spectacularly and I was looking for control over my existence. 

Now, I don’t believe for one second I’m in control of this life I’ve been gifted with. 

I don’t know about you, but that’s how I stay sane.

I am becoming obsessed with time. Not seconds or minutes or hours. Not planning and organising events around a certain tick of the clock. Not watch checking and re-checking, anxious to get this done, get that done, get that seen to, get to there by then with him and her and not a minute later. I am fixated on moments in time – epic events (and, sometimes, not so epic events) that crossed the path of my fate. I’m distracted by pinpointing the precise moments these events came to pass in relation to my one, solitary life. I am feeling an overwhelming desire to draw myself a timeline, plotting the major incidents of my life on its one long arm and labeling them clearly and neatly. Time is very important. I want precise years. I want exact ages.

I want, inexplicably, to know that in 1994 when I was eleven years old, my familiar, a tiny brown tabby called Trixie whom I loved and adored (and who loved and adored me in equal measure, I might add) didn’t come home, and my heart was cleaved in two for the second time in my short life. I want to know that in 1994 I sat on the narrow windowsill of my bedroom and I sobbed while I prayed. I begged that my soul mate be returned to me, unaware that while I was praying she was probably already gone. I want to know that one day, when I was eleven years old, I stopped looking for Trixie to appear. The first thing I did when I got out of bed was not to go to the glass door and see her sitting there, expectantly, in my mind’s eye, only to be broken all over again by my cruel and heartless physical eyes.

I want to know that in 2003 when I was twenty years old, I stood in an elevator late at night and time stood still. I want to know that at twenty years old, a man I had just met, who made me uncomfortable and whose interest I had been trying to escape, walked me to the elevator in a dark and deserted street despite my assurances that I would be fine by myself. As I stepped into the small stuffy cube of that elevator expecting the stranger to take the hint and leave me to my own devices, I felt him step in behind me. The air compressed. His energy pushed up against my back. A vacuum was created in the atmosphere and all of my independence and strength and dignity tumbled violently into it. I knew that if I allowed the elevator doors to close with both of us trapped alone inside I would never get them back. I would never get myself back. In 2003, at twenty years old, I rushed out of an elevator and I was spared.

I want to know that in 2008 when I was twenty-five years old, I made a decision to leave my family behind and take a job on a remote island. This move made me in some ways (I discovered that I really was capable of surviving by myself) and broke me in others (I learned that being independent is all fun and games until someone you love dies and you’re trapped on an island in 2008, at twenty-five years old, with no exit after the 7pm ferry has already departed).

But that’s just the problem – I don’t know that it was 1994 or 2003 or 2008 and I don’t, therefore, know that I was eleven or twenty or twenty-five years old. I am desperate to put the moments of my life into a context of year and age. Memories are flooding back to me in a torrent, and I can’t put my finger on what year it was that these memories were made. How old was I? I am so frustrated by this inability to pinpoint time. It gathers in my chest and adds to a sense of urgency, unease, anxiety. I feel an irrational yearning to hold my memories down by their throats and cross-examine them, beat the facts out of them with fists and feet and barking commands. For what purpose? To what end? Part of me is extremely concerned that I’m going to die soon. Why else would I feel this compulsive need to plot my life on a timeline – a series of unfortunate, and not so unfortunate events? I should start thinking seriously about that last will and testament.

The other part of me is laughing and shaking her head at the first part. She is reminding her that we don’t die until we’re in our early nineties. Stop being so dramatic! But this other part of me, the sensible, practical one, is still confused. How will wrapping my life events up in pretty wrapping paper – labeling them neatly and lavishly with dates, ages and descriptions, sitting them down in a row in chronological order – how will this make me feel any better? How will it satisfy this pre-occupation with time that I’m battling against? Am I sidetracked by this because somehow, in the act of organising events in order of their manifestation in my life, I can capture their essence, contain their effects, bottle the emotion and keep it from seeping out into the rest of the timeline, indiscriminately poisoning, medicating, or intoxicating future events? Am I trying to take back control of a life that I feel is out of control? Am I harbouring a secret desire to write a memoir?

I don’t know. I foolishly hoped that in pouring all of this out of my head and onto paper the truth would miraculously reveal itself, glistening like Excalibur in the morning sun. I thought all of this ink would lead me to its origins, give me the wisdom and the power to heave it from the wet earth, hold it up in the air triumphantly, and watch the answer drip slowly from the pointed end of the steel blade. I was wrong. I have no truth for this, but that which is already written. No cute decorative bow to stick haphazardly to the top of the wrapped parcel. Instead, I’m left none the wiser. All I have is what’s here – the way I feel, the way I think, the way I exist.

Could that be it? Could that be the point? Could this obsession with plotting my life in the context of time be about the absolute, unquestionable, stupidly simple fact that time is of no importance in this life? In anyone’s life? Is the lesson here that it doesn’t matter when memories were made? That it doesn’t matter what year it was that x happened or how old I was when y came to pass? All that matters is how I felt, what I thought, and that I existed in spite of it all? What is more, I am blessed with the ability to bring all of those thoughts and feelings with me through the years, down the timeline, and integrate them now, here, today, and grow and stretch and flourish. Is that it?

There’s a secret about me in here too, though. The lesson has just dawned on me and I still want the timeline for posterity’s sake. I’m grateful for the lesson, but I’m also grateful for this –

I had enough self-awareness and foresight to stamp this piece of writing with today’s date.

Fight or Flight

When faced with perceived danger do you stay and fight or do you flee the scene?

I always thought I was a fighter and I was proud of that fact. These days, I’m not so sure it’s always the right choice to fight the good fight, slog it out to the death, and persevere despite the crippling odds. These days I’m selective about when I put my gloves on.

Only today though, I had a conversation with a strong, composed, and successful woman who told me that she becomes savage and finds an inexplicable physical strength when she feels physically threatened. Credit where credit is due – this feels heroic to me. 

But what of the others (the LOTS of others) who talk to me about a spiritual danger? They describe a nagging feeling that I have felt recently. They feel small. They feel incomplete. They feel dissatisfied with life. I know that feeling well. It was only last week I decided to take myself seriously. I submitted my book for self-publishing and I started a blog, determined to validate my own existence as an author. Some might argue this is a fight response, but it’s not. I’m fleeing my old life. The people I talk to, the spiritually at risk people, they want to flee their old lives too. They want to run. And run, and run, and run until they take off, soaring after their own contentment. They want flight. And so do I.

I can’t remember what was happening in my life when I wrote the piece below. I don’t remember who or what the fodder was (yes, it’s true – stealing versions of the truth to offer up to the Gods of fiction is my bag), but I found it today and it seems like a good time to share it so share it I will.

If there had been a fracture in Time itself, a deep, gaping wound where so many moments would have been, would you have let yourself slip into it? Would you have dived purposefully from the lip of Time’s bruised and bloodied flesh and allowed yourself to fall through eternity, unclear of where or when you would end up, just to escape that precise moment in time? Fight of flight, Sister? Which would you have chosen?

It is delicious, a realisation such as this one, when ideals are turned on their heads. Fight always seemed so noble, so gallant. It turns out flight is a much more terrifying and courageous path to follow, a more heroic dive to attempt. To fight is a lesser evil. The enemy wears a set of familiar faces. It is a known quantity. Flight carries the weight of the dense unknown and a terrifying lack of destination. Flight wears only one inescapable, unavoidable face – your own. When you run, wherever you run to, you have only yourself left to turn to. It is brave to flee without knowing if you are enough for yourself.

Crumbs

I wrote this piece quite a few years ago for my two friends, Wendy and Tom. It’s called Crumbs

I believed in love then, and broken and bruised as I am (as we all are at one point or another) I still believe in it now. 

In a regular city, in a regular suburb, on a regular street, in a regular house, there lived a girl. This girl was not regular; far from it. This girl had the Universe on board, touched by the hand of her God.

But the Universe, and indeed, the Gods the Universe play house with, were obligated by the girl’s contract. They were bound to test her, to erase her, to break her, and then to show her the tools that would put her back together again. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were useless in the face of her restoration. This girl had her destiny for labourers.

So the girl made her way, her slow, deliberate way, leaving crumbs on the ground so she could make her way back home should she forget where she had come from, never imagining that the tiny, luminescent crumbs were not meant for her to follow back, but for something else entirely.

Over an ocean, somewhere else quite regular, there lived a boy. This boy was not regular; far from it. This boy had the Universe on board, touched by the hand of his God. You know how the story goes. This boy, too, had signed a contract with his God that called for tests and challenges and broken bodies thrown into lion’s dens. And this boy, like the girl, rose up and burst forth into a life earned, a life justified.

In the short story version, he crossed an ocean and saw a path. And the path had tiny, luminescent crumbs on it.

And he followed.

One day, in a regular city, in a regular town, on a regular street, the crumbs stopped, and the boy had no more nourishment for he had been feeding on these crumbs and putting his broken shell back together again. Yet he did not thrash about or gnash his teeth or stamp his feet. This boy was treading gently in the world and he knew the world would respond in kind.

One day, in a regular city, in a regular town, on a regular street, the girl was saving her crumbs up. She had only one piece of her shell to glue back into the jigsaw puzzle of her soul, and she was not rushing. This girl was treading gently in the world, and she knew the world would respond in kind. The girl was living, head down, business face on.

And then she looked up, and she saw him, strangely familiar. And she stopped. And then he stopped. And then the world stopped for here they were, meeting on the same path they had both helped to build; her leading the way, him laying the bricks.

The girl asked him, ‘Where have you been?’

And the boy responded, a fleck of shimmering crumb left over on his tongue from his last feast, ‘Waiting for you.’