‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ — Leonard Cohen
My journey began when I lost my hero.
(In truth, I didn’t lose her, she died.)
We had come together during dark times. Her husband, my grandfather, passed away painfully when I was five. Around the same time, my parents were separating. We became acquainted in a black hole. Together, we decided to escape that place and conquer the world.
Her life had been very different to mine. She was born in a castle, she’d luncheoned with the queen and she’d dined with Louis Armstrong. On paper, my grandmother had led a “perfectly marvelous” life. (I’d just begun mine and my world was painfully ordinary.)
I came to love her when I realized that her life had also involved struggle. That I related to. We’d watch the Roger and Hammerstein classics; we’d marvel at the gorgeous dresses, beautiful songs and epic dance sequences, but we also understood the tragedy of it all. It hit our hearts in the same way.
In those quiet, domestic moments I saw a little girl re-emerge, just for a moment and only for me. It was there that I discovered that we weren’t so different after all.
As an army brat, her childhood had been turbulent and tough. Her father was a stern Scot who regimentally walked his children up and down hills everyday. For this reason, as an adult, Grandma refused to walk anywhere. Quite soon, after the outbreak of war, her father went missing. He was presumed dead for eight years. In the meantime, Grandma and her siblings were evacuated to Wales, whilst their mother took on factory work in London.
Her younger brother Stanley spent the war, without his siblings, living with an elusive, elderly man who cut the bread for breakfast against his rotten, wooden leg. The two sisters lived with a couple of mean, closeted, lesbians who immediately disliked my grandmother. (Apparently she wasn’t as pretty as her older sister, Ellen.)
Needless to say, after the children were all returned to London, none of them ever revisited Wales. And, when the war was finally over, a little man arrived at their doorstep, tiny and broken: their father, a long time prisoner of war, found his way home in the end.
Grandma had many other bumps along the way. She wouldn’t want them written here so I will resist. Despite having a lot to say, she was equally keen to hear our stories. We discussed politics, parties, Facebook, school, university, virtual reality, our friends, marriage, alien life forms and, of course, the dreams that occupied our minds. We frequently debated and bantered into the night.
Naturally, as our friendship progressed, I began to dread her demise.
It didn’t seem plausible, or fair, that one day my Gandalf would be no more.
This huggable tornado was still discussing politics with me, waving her big stick around (with a glass of “vino” in one hand) at eighty-seven. She still talked into the night with us, and laughed as she had always laughed. She never went “do-lalley”. She did eventually need a zimmerframe (a.k.a “faithful Fred”) but that was about it. Then one day she was gone. It wasn’t in a puff of smoke but it was close to that.
When she died I didn’t fall apart. I held it together, somehow. My sister and I wrote and read the content for her memorial. I pressed the button that sent her body into the flames. I did it all with relative composure.
It helped that, for the first year at least, I sensed that she’d stuck around just for me. I saw her in the black crow following me on my cycle ride to work and in the moth flying around the pulpit, at her funeral. I became attracted to the things that she had loved. I became strong, assertive and bold, as she had been. But, there were signs that I was crumbling.
I fell twice: once down the stairs (to be found unconscious by my now husband) and, secondly, off a horse on my honeymoon. I still have the scar where my third eye should be to remind me of that second, landing face down in a sand dune, incident. And, a few other strange things occurred, things I won’t bother you with now.
To cut a long story short, I didn’t know it then but I was ‘becoming’ and, this becoming was painful. It felt like shedding skin or letting a shell fall off. I didn’t want my shell to fall off. It had housed me all this time. But it came off, whether I was prepared for it or not, and all of a sudden I found that I was ‘homeless’.
It was as if the universe turned off all the lights so that I might find my own light.
At some point in the darkness, I began to ask myself: “what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” (I haven’t stopped asking that question. The only difference now is I’m kinder to myself.) I discovered that my intention was to bring magic and light into the world. At that time, I also wanted to bring my grandmother back. A book felt like the right portal from which I might be able to achieve this. Why? Well, stories for me have always managed to make the impossible seem possible. (Just to be safe, I decided that I would write a magical story.)
Where does WordPress come in?
I had known about WordPress for a number of years because my husband and I had started a business building E-commerce stores with WordPress. He was, and still remains, the technical wiz. Over time, I learned a few things too but, in all honesty, web stuff has never impassioned me all that much. (To this day I still try and get off the computer as much as I can.) However, during this rather difficult year I started a blog. It was a way of exploring the concepts that mattered to me. I could have used a notebook I suppose but it felt better to put my ideas into posts. It felt cleaner, tidier and more productive in this format.
The blog became a vision board of sorts, where my thoughts (or my ‘wonderings’, as I would later call them) could be expressed, shaped and remade. It also allowed me to keep a record of the research that I was gathering for my book. Every time I watched an inspirational video, or read an interesting book, I would write about it.
It is worthwhile to experiment in WordPress. Your voice will express itself in its own unique way, and differently at different times. Don’t be afraid of that. You might prefer audio, video, imagery or the written word – I recommend trying all of these mediums. I am still experimenting.
No one is you so no one will ‘create’ as you will.
Allow your creativity to run wild and try not to think too much about how others might interpret you. I found it incredibly digressive when I started trying to sell myself, and my ideas, especially when I wasn’t ready. I found myself playing the imitation game and constantly looking out for guidance. As a result, the blog got boring.
What you take away from it, the experience, that’s what matters most. That’s what will last. Not the likes or the shares. It has helped me to look back and remember that, once upon a time, it was just me – talking to myself, writing alone, trying to find order and clarity during a difficult time. I still value this aspect of the experience more than anything else.
Forget the bigger picture
In my recent talk for WordCamp Brighton I discussed The Hero’s Journey – a bumpy journey of becoming that we all must take, over and over again, as we progress throughout our lives. What I didn’t say in that talk was that I don’t think we will ever know the bigger picture until our time has come to leave this Wonderland.
We cannot know the end of any journey until we find ourselves there.
It sounds obvious I know, but we are conditioned to perfect and finish ourselves – to have it all planned out. And what we discover, quite quickly, is that life isn’t like that.
I don’t know why my grandmother died on that particular Christmas day, several years ago. I don’t know why we never got to say goodbye in person. (I like to think that, perhaps, goodbyes were never going to be possible for friends such as us.) What I do know is that it catapulted me into a new life and a new me. WordPress was helpful in shaping this new identity.
Needless to say, the journey isn’t over. Writing this first book has been a very mysterious, difficult and sometimes bewildering experience for me. Early on I decided that I wouldn’t plan it, or try to define what it was. I would just trust that something wanted to be written. It sounds strange I know. (By now you may have gathered I am a bit bonkers. They say the best people always are. :) ) The book first came out like vomit and then it began to form itself inside my head and then one day it was born on the page.
Only three of us witnessed the birth of The Little book of learning to fly: WordPress, Grandma and I. I was sitting amid lots of paper, staring at the screen and I just knew it was done.
It wasn’t walking or talking yet but it was out of me and on the page. Moreover, I knew Grandma and I had written the ending together. That was a big feat, considering she was dead and all that. And yes, I did shed a tear, because it was one of the most WONDERful surprises of my life. We somehow managed one final, great adventure together.
Whatever journey you are on – grasp it, explore it and cherish it. Don’t race to, or seek to anticipate, the ending. Enjoy the journey instead. Be willing to be brave because life will surprise you. And finally, love.
Love with all your heart, even when that heart is broken.
Below is the closing extract of the first draft of The Little book of learning to fly. Thank you WordPress.
…Frederic didn’t know that he lived in a mansion of a thousand rooms because he had never bothered to look. He was quite content in the one room that he occupied… At least, he believed himself to be. Sometimes the wallpaper was a bit off, but he got it right in the end. He felt no need to venture further. What would be the point? Would it even be safe?
From this room, at the bottom of his mansion, he could see the street and people going about their daily business. He witnessed a few instances of fighting, some moments of self-sacrifice and quite a bit of lovemaking. It was all very entertaining, but a bit disconcerting sometimes.
One day he decided to walk around all the rooms of his mansion. He’d gotten a letter in the post about it – from an estate agent of all people! So, he thought, why not? He tentatively put the dishwasher on, closed the door to his little room and ascended the stairs.
The first floor was rather difficult to navigate: some of the doorknobs were rusted from neglect, and so difficult to turn, and many of the rooms were filled with cobwebs and shadows. He found himself clearing these spaces as he went and he gave a great sigh of relief when he was finally able to leave that first floor behind.
He quickly discovered that every other floor was different. Some of the rooms were empty; some of them were full. He met many strange creatures along the way. Each of them taught him a new lesson and showed him a different view.
Frederic sensed, as he went higher, that he was beginning to forget about the original room. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be able to find his way back there, ever again. Nevertheless, he continued to climb.
Midway up, from the windows, he was able to see the tops of mountains, peopled by marvelous beings that he had never known to exist before. Higher up he saw a vast sea in the distance and he heard the water folk singing their strange, familiar songs.
At the top, on the roof, when he finally got there, he was able to see it all. The view was entirely different. It was far more pleasing and far more abundant than he could have ever dreamed up. And, best of all, from here he could see the stars.
It was on this rooftop that he chose to remain for the rest of his life. He liked it best. If someone wanted to see him, they would just have to come up and join him there. He decided he would never descend that stairwell ever again, not for anyone.
This rooftop living went on for a very long time. He made many friends and a few foes. It was all great fun. But, one day, he saw a ladder that led to the stars. It hadn’t been there before, or had it? He couldn’t be sure. (He was very forgetful nowadays.) He guessed someone had placed it there, just for him, and so he chose to climb that ladder and, at a certain point, he vanished.
But, what of his friends? They had been searching the mansion for hours now, with the obliging estate agent (who secretly wanted to sell the property.) Frederic’s loved ones were genuinely concerned for his safety… And, they missed him.
Well, put simply, he wished they could see the view from here. They would understand why he had to climb that ladder, if they could only see it… Still, it didn’t matter… They would understand when the time came for them to see it too.
(In loving memory of my grandmother Lady Jessica Urquhart.)