Coaching Moments: Hiraeth

I wrote this post a couple of years ago for my old coaching association, thinking I might be able to reprise my Coaching Moments column. However, the posts got very little response, so I knew that the time had come to simply walk away.

I like this piece, though, so I’m sharing and archiving it here. I like how its message isn’t just for coaches, but for writers, artists and any empath who inhabits an inner world rich with metaphors.

Hiraeth

“When you are adrift from your core, the space between your surface and your depth fills up with anxiety. Too much time away from your inner home leads to homesickness.” ~ Carrie McCarthy and Danielle La Porte

All coaching, in some way, involves guiding folk home to themselves; it makes sense to me, then, that coaches constantly redefine and hone the metaphors of journeys, soulmaps and home.  That’s what brought me back here after so many years away.

Are you ever haunted by a deep longing for home? Homesickness for a home you can’t go back to, or a home which has never even existed? Homesickness woven with inextricable strands of grief or loss? Of yearning, nostalgia or wistful longing?

The Welsh have a word for it… hiraeth.

I think we all feel it sometimes, but those of us who’ve lived a bit longer, who’ve perhaps experienced diminished health or menopause, who’ve had to let go of loved ones, jobs or places, who’ve seen children grow up and leave home, may feel it more intensely; those of us who are starting to feel like survivors may sometimes have a deeper yearning for a haven that doesn’t feel like a haunted house.

Hiraeth is what I feel when I drive several times a week to the small Scottish town where I grew up. My childhood home is long gone and the fields and woods where I used to play are covered in houses now. Home stopped being home when my mum died, and even though my dad is still alive, he’s ninety-one, and there are days when I miss him even when I’m with him.

Hiraeth is what I feel when I miss my kids, even though they’re at university and thriving. I miss the feel of their tiny hands in mine, the smell of newly washed hair and seeing them wide-eyed and full of wonder; I miss the giggling and the messy rooms, their friends, the music and the endless creation of snacks and meals.

I miss the online life I built to fit around my family, my regular Coaching Moments column and the thriving blogging community that I lost during my long periods offline, putting family first.

I’ve spent years tinkering with my blog, recalibrating, changing the tagline and creating new themes. I call it blog-gardening – the pruning, weeding, rearranging, cultivating, propagating and planting that most of us do in our websites and blogs. In some ways, it’s a yearning for home, a craving for simplicity, for clarity of purpose, clear communication, connection and creative renewal.

Yesterday, I had a blinding flash of inspiration, an idea for a new domain name that expresses who I am now and how I live my life. It was one of my favourite Greek words, a one-word domain that thrilled me like a homecoming when I thought of it. I rushed to check its availability and found it had been taken a few weeks ago. Just weeks ago. Like a blind date that had waited hopefully and patiently for years, then, on hearing the universe whisper “I don’t think she’s coming…” had walked off happily with someone else, just as I’d turned the corner. I felt sudden and inexplicable hiraeth.

The feeling got worse as I switched on the TV news, and saw yet more images of Greece struggling to help and feed hundreds of thousands of refugees whose communities and loved ones have gone, who are carrying home in a backpack and in the terrified eyes of their children. I see displaced and devastated families desperate to make new homes, fighting for what so many of us take for granted – food, shelter, safety…

The intensity of hiraeth connects me with every human on the planet who has ever loved and lost or longed for home. I feel immense gratitude for every moment I breathe, for all that I have and all that I am, for having loved and been loved enough to feel loss, but there are times when that gratitude brings little joy, only survivors’ guilt, empathy exhaustion and a longing to rest for a while, to refuel my soul for my own journey home.

Lots of coaches I know are empaths, deeply sensitive and intuitive people who were called to coaching as a way to heal themselves and the world. We’ll have a new IAC website soon; let’s make it a spiritual, online home, a place where coaches from all over the world can gather for mutual support, inspiration and a sense of belonging.

(First published in March, 2016)

Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers /That perches in the soul /And sings the tune without the words /And never stops – at all… ~ Emily Dickinson

Well, here we are, another snowy spring and another return to deciduous blogging. I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year! You’re never far from my thoughts, though. I always hoped that I’d return to blogging some day, so I jotted down ideas, took photos and bookmarked so many quotes that my books ended up looking like they had feathers. I think Emily Dickinson would have approved of the connection between books, sharing and hope. (She might not have liked the post in my drafts box about hope, fear and resisting what is, but that’ll keep for another day.)

Looking at that photo and how many things I’ve wanted to share with you over the last year, I have NO excuse for not blogging. There’s enough material there for a few months, even if all I do is post one heartfound quote every few days! I’m my own worst enemy, agonising and maximising, censoring and curating to the point where I create – then get paralysed by – my own overwhelm.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life. ~ Anne Lamott

So, this is the first of some catch-up, patchwork pieces I’m going to try and post as a messy retrospective.

July 2017

Not long after I told you in Silence how sad we were that ‘our’ blackbird and robin had disappeared, my husband and I were standing at the kitchen sink when the blackbird not only reappeared, but taught his bairn how to tap on the window and beg for blueberries! With gaping mouths and teary-eyed gratitude, we stood still and watched. Eventually, it occurred to me to grab my ancient phone and take some photos to show you.

October 2017

Today, as you choose to wrap your heart around the moments that make up a life, how will you share your precious gift with the world? You were born with talents, you’ve worked hard to build skills, to create connections – but they’re just the channel. You are the gift. ~ Janice (from Birdsong)

My daughter graduated with a First Class Honours degree last summer and released her first full length album in the autumn, on vinyl and CD. She sings, plays guitar and writes her own songs – everything from the harmonies to the band arrangements – and is now earning a living doing what she loves. It seems like such a long time ago that I wrote Sharing the Journey, the piece about hope, purpose and supporting people’s dreams that inspired the title of my blog. This is one of the tracks from her album. I’m so proud of her, words fail me.

“No matter what my daughter chooses to do, I’m reminded today that her young life is filled with promise. No matter what she encounters along the way, I know she’ll travel the road she’s meant to take.  No matter who she becomes, I believe with all my heart and soul that every day I’m allowed to share her journey is a blessing.” ~ Janice, from Sharing the Journey, February 2009

Silence

Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos. ~ Paul Goodman: novelist, poet, playwright, and psychiatrist

Be still. A daily practice of silence bears gifts — a heightened sensitivity to beauty, deep inner peace, and a profound feeling of connectedness to all living things. ~ Cheryl Richardson

Let silence take you to the core of life. ~ Rumi

I suggest that just once in a while, you make a conscious decision to keep yourself to yourself. ~ Danielle LaPorte

Natalie Goldberg once wrote that while she was in the middle of writing a novel, she carried the characters around with her, wondering what they’d say or think or do in all sorts of situations she’d find herself in.

Writing for my blog affects me like that. After days and weeks of posting, I start experiencing the world through the filter of what would make a post you might enjoy; what might be an uplifting photo, a moving song, an inspiring poem. Then slowly, imperceptably, I start to feel like it’s a channel I can’t switch off. I’ll be driving along and instead of enjoying the moment, there’s a flash of frustration as I wish I had a notebook or a phone or a camera. I start to feel like I’m carrying a community around in my heart, in my head. Communing even when I’m not at my laptop, logged in.

Sometimes, channeling, distilling and filtering the world stops me from simply being.

That’s one of the reasons I take frequent and often abrupt breaks from my blog, even though I love it; I need to reconnect with the real world around me and rediscover the silence that feeds my creativity like an underground pool.

Sometimes, it’s just exhaustion after a tough time being a sandwich generation mum and daughter.

But this time? During our wonderful, rejuvenating family holiday in Greece, we were heartbroken to learn that the referendum result meant the UK would be leaving the European Union, something most Scots would rather not do.

The day after we got home, a beloved friend told me she’d been diagnosed with cancer. So many phonecalls like those in the last few years.

Shock and grief always make my husband and I recalibrate, determined to create, to enjoy loved ones, details and moments. Last summer we threw ourselves into creating a new patio and building a cheap but pretty summer shed, a new perspective in the garden to enjoy the birds, the plants and views of nearby hills.

One of the blackbirds from a family who was born on our bathroom window ledge had become so tame, he’d tap on the kitchen window for food, or sit beside us and clear the scraps from our plates. My dad, 92 now, was absolutely mesmerised and started to sit in the garden casually eating strawberries, just in case…

The blackbird kept my son and me company while we dug out turf; his wee friend, a scrawny robin, stopped us working as he ate worms next to our spades.

We were inspired; my son, home from university, worked alongside me in disbelieving silence, stopping every five minutes just to enjoy the birds’ antics.

Every evening and weekend, I coped with my friend’s news by working on this new garden. I looked forward to showing you the before and after photos. My husband dug up old bushes and laid slabs, and working wordlessly side by side, we pruned, we painted fences and the grand finale was removing Leylandii trees that had become overgrown and hideous.

I clung to the daily presence of those birds like a talisman.

A few days after I took these photos to share with you, the robin and the blackbird disappeared. Distraught, I realised that by tidying up the garden, we’d destroyed their safe, messy, overgrown, cat and sparrowhawk deterring habitat.

I logged off, put away my gardening gloves and chose silence.

November brought the wintery news of Trump’s election, stunning millions of people into head shaking disbelief. My husband and I both got ill.

I lost faith, lost friends and Christmas came and went. I thought of you and almost shared some old year new year thoughts by candlelight and mulled wine but couldn’t summon the strength.

Last week there was a whisper of fresh warmth in the air and the days seemed longer.

The snow from yesterday’s storm is melting, and in every room, bright jugs of shop bought rainbow tulips have got me wondering whether the bulbs I scattered and planted last year will bloom.

And here I am again, spring cleaning my online home and listening for blackbirds.

Coaching Moments: Journey to Mastery

I was going to keep this post for later, in case my blog ever goes back to fulfilling its claim to be ‘Soulfood and Support for Coaches, Writers and Homemakers.‘ However, given that I’m prone to abrupt bouts of cyberhibernation – deciduous blogging, I call it on a good day… blogging suicide and shameful abandonment on a bad day – I decided there’s no point in fighting it any more. It is what it is; I post when I post. My posts definitely seem to blossom in spring alongside my ubiquitous tulips.

If you’re not a life coach, an IAC coach who’s thinking of attempting certification, or any kind of coach, then I apologise if this post is of no interest to you. Escape now! (Or simply scroll down and read the last four paragraphs.) You may have just saved yourself a lengthy wade through words. What can I say… I’m a word-loving blether and I’m glad to be home!

Last year, I attempted to reprise my coaching column, Coaching Moments, because my coaching association’s newsletter and blog were edited by a talented young woman who liked my work and ‘got’ me. At first, writing and sending her pieces that were intended to support fellow coaches reminded me of the pure delight I used to have when the column was first created; sadly, the blog and social media format of the association’s current publication fried my brain and I only wrote three pieces. Two were published and this one was abandoned when the editor resigned.

So, this is for all my coaching friends who are ‘kent faces’, and for you, the silent coaching friend I’ve yet to meet. If you subscribed after downloading one or both of my coaching ebooks, I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Coaching Moments: Journey to Mastery

Mastery isn’t a word we often hear anymore, but it’s as critical as ever to achieving extraordinary results. As intimidating as it might initially seem, when you can see mastery as a path you go down instead of a destination you arrive at, it starts to feel accessible and attainable. Most assume mastery is an end result, but at its core, mastery is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a journey you experience. ~ Gary Keller

Are you thinking of going for IAC certification? Perhaps the Master Masteries Coach designation? I have one question for you if you are… Which specific, deeply cherished dream of yours would come true if you were IAC certified? I ask because my own certification journey didn’t just make mine come true; it changed my life and in many ways, saved it.

I discovered coaching when I read dozens of self-help books and kept journals to lift myself out of low grade chronic depression – so-called walking depression. The seeds of several books germinated in those journals and as gently as waking from a dream, I realised I wanted to support folk through coaching and writing. As an ex-academic, though, I knew I wouldn’t be happy without the self-esteem boost I’d get from certification. I needed to feel safe in the knowledge that a team of highly experienced coaches had validated my coaching mastery and deemed it safe for me to share my intuition, skills and knowledge.

I studied online. I found mentors and coaching buddies who’ve become cherished friends. My dream was never to set up a traditional coaching business, but in striving for coaching mastery, by following the flow of what I loved, I ended up with three strands in my patchwork coaching life. Niches found me.

When things got hard – and I failed my practical exam first time round – it was the support of other coaches and that dream of seeing IAC-CC after my name on the back cover of a book that kept me going. The book didn’t get published, but I became a masterful coach and intuitive peer-critiquer as a by-product; more importantly, I became a kinder, happier, wiser person because of my certification journey.

All mastery requires clarity of purpose, deep self-awareness, dogged determination, hard slog and the support of others, but coaching mastery has a magic all of its own; it elicits and consolidates our greatness, but will never let us move onwards or upwards without championing us; it shores up our achievements by connecting them to our dreams, our Big Picture, the legacy we hope to leave behind.

Coaching mastery means that we have the tools to drag ourselves back when we find ourselves drowning in our dramas; it encourages us to make friends with those uncomfortable, provocative questions that open us up like flowers in the sun; it requires of us that we love what is, that we cherish our humanity and the learning in our Now.

Mastery also requires that we breathe. It flourishes and blooms when we sit still and simply enjoy being, which is the heart of all curiosity, presence and active listening.

The best way to become a Master Masteries Coach? Study the IAC Masteries as if they’re a spiritual instruction manual for your life; imagine they have nothing to do with coaching. Live and breathe them and grow to love them like poems learned by heart which become part of you.

Get brave and bold and explore new territories. Untangle the strands of what makes you feel stuck. Calm the clashing values that strain and pull against each other like dogs on choke chains.

Make your journey towards mastery part of your every waking moment. Be grateful for the rocks that make the stream sing and listen deeply to the silences between the notes that make the music. Be as curious as a child and lay your day’s discoveries out on the table so you can poke around in them and wrap the cherished ones up in a handkerchief. Celebrate your humanity, your daily triumphs and the lessons that help you rise when your heart stumbles.

Don’t rush headlong into the next challenge without asking yourself how you want to feel and how you can get yourself some of that feeling right here, right now, in everything you do.

And my dream? This is it. I’m writing here, right now, for you. And it feels like home.

If You Believe


If you like your Christmas films to have as much magic and warmth as those made for kids, then, this Christmas, check out If You Believe, starring Ally Walker, Tom Amandes and Hayden Panettiere. It’s got the lot! Christmas, snow, a writer, an editor, a New York apartment, a family house in Queens, a clapboard in New England and some great acting… what’s not to like!

Don’t watch it with Santa age kids, though; this one is for grown ups, but in a nice way.

Like a Sigh

“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.” ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

When I was my daughter’s age and at university, I travelled to a wedding in Paris. Alone. It was my first solo trip out of Scotland. I took the bus to Edinburgh, the train to London, another train to the south coast, the ferry to France and then a train to Paris.

The following summer, I was invited back for a month and explored Paris on my own every day, on foot and by Metro, with nothing more than my little red ‘Plan de Paris par Arondissement.’

A year later, with a suitcase and a guitar, I travelled to my first teaching post on the south coast of England.

Six months after that, I flew to Greece on a year’s teaching contract, landing in Athens then travelling the length of the country till I reached a town where they blocked off the main street every evening to have the official stroll, the ‘volta’, which some locals still referred to as the ‘bride-bazaar.’

And all in the days before mobile phones. I wrote long letters and used to phone my parents from a public kiosk whenever I could afford it, but my heart is clenching at the thought of how worried and anxious they must have felt all the years I lived abroad.

I’m not a very bold traveller these days. I realised I was pregnant on the day of my mum’s funeral and somehow, part of my bravery slipped through the cracks caused by that collision of life and death. We came to this quiet wee Scottish town to be nearer my dad and raise our kids, but slowly, imperceptibly, my life furled in on itself; menopause crept up on me and I curled up, tight as a fist in fierce defence of my family’s safety and happiness. I made our home a harbour, but my kids never realised how painful it was for me to keep my own canvas tightly lashed to the mast as I watched them grow up and set sail on their own adventures.

So here I am, both kids at university now, wondering if I’ll ever fully unfurl again. Since the menopause, I even get panicky when I’m packing, which astonishes my husband as I used to live out of a suitcase when I spent months every year as an oral examiner all over Greece.

He understands, though, that these irrational flareups of anxiety can be genuinely distressing. He also realises how tired I can get if we spend lots of time with our Greek friends and family as I have to constantly do simultaneous translation. So this year, craving some quiet, quality family time, he’s arranged for the four of us to go back to the exact spot in Corfu where we went last year and had what he described as a dream holiday.

There’s something liberating about knowing it’ll be the same place, the same rooms, same bathrooms, bedside tables, medicine cabinets, kitchen appliances… No anxieties about what the place will be like; no worries about whether the mattresses will trigger off back problems. Just knowing what we loved and why we’re going back is a relief. It’s freed us up to look forward to endless days waiting to be filled with whatever each of us needs to do.

I know what I’m longing for: hearing and speaking Greek, living outside feasting my eyes on sea views and going to bed at night knowing that our kids are close by and safe.

Any time I spend within sight and sound of the sea opens me up like a sigh, but time spent in Greece at any time of the year is an energy transfusion. The trick is not to stay too long or I lose perspective and get haunted.

Because of the financial situation in Greece, last year was the first time we’ve ever been able to afford a detached place, far less a villa with a private pool and assorted terraces and balconies. I literally cried when we arrived and I saw it for the first time. For less than we’d paid for a package trip a few years ago, we’d landed in a little bit of paradise. We’d just had a death in the family and I really needed a haven. We found it.

My daughter’s boyfriend and a friend of my son’s came with us, so my husband and I were able to truly relax, knowing the kids were happy doing their own thing. We’d toured the island before, when the kids were much younger, so this time we were happy just to relax and enjoy having such a stunning temporary home; we only left the villa to shop, eat out and go to the beach. We just had carry on baggage last year so these photos were taken with a battered old compact camera but, as usual, I spent a lot of time taking snapshots of flowers…

…and of tables, chairs, balconies and glimpses of the sea, so you could join me there in spirit for a coffee or a glass of retsina.

Before breakfast on our first morning, I was curious and opened the black metal door behind the pool sofa and found a mountain path, the shortcut up to the next village. Younger Me would have ventured up; Menopausal Me thought “Snakes… maybe not.”

This year I’m planning to take my proper camera so I can show you more of the island and maybe attempt something a bit more artistic. Or I may end up just sitting watching the sun go down and raising a glass to Oliver Wendell Holmes who was entirely right when he said, “Where we love is home.”

I’ve asked you before, but it’s worth asking again… where does your heart unfurl or blossom?

(The shell photo is by Dani Jace on Flickr.)

Two Words for Tuesday

fruit, flowers, chair

The only difference between an extraordinary life and an ordinary one is the extraordinary pleasures you find in ordinary things.~ Veronique Vienne

Words.

I love words. I cherish and curate them and still use a dictionary every day.

Working with language is my introvert’s comfort zone and an endless, enjoyable safari that has gifted me with poetry, joy, clarity, connection and five different career strands.

I love how words have layers of meanings like the ripples from pebbles dropped in a pond; I love how they feel when they roll around the tongue or dance around the mind; I love untangling threads of meaning, cultures and essence when I translate.

I love communing with people at a slower pace, through words and music and all the silences in between.

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. ~ Anne Lamott

I’ve recently been teaching myself the language of computer code, trying to build a new website theme that resonates with how I want the blog to feel now that its bustling bistro days are long gone. (I’m due a theme update but this one will bScreenshot (1)reak if I update it; I messed with the code in all the wrong places before I realised what I was doing.) There are only a few of us left, so with the new theme, I’m going for something simple and quaint, yet light and airy.

That’s why today’s Two Words for Tuesday are untranslatables; a Danish one and a Greek one that capture the essence of what I’d like blogging to feel like again, in a digital world that’s become much too busy, fast and shallow for me, maybe for you, too.

I’d like my new blog to feel more like the Danish word… HYGGE.

Hygge (pronounced like a cross between hoo-guh & hue-gih) is so multilayered, it’s at once untranslatable yet instantly recognisable. It’s used as an adjective and a noun and it’s an attitude of living in the now with well-being and presence; it’s comfort, cosiness, warmth between people and a heart glow; it’s the art of creating intimacy; it’s pleasure from simple things and the absence of annoying things; it’s what makes the everyday beautiful and special times magical; it’s drinking mulled wine and eating gingerbread by candlelight in front of the fire at Christmas or reading a holiday book alone at a sunbleached table in a warm sea breeze as the sun goes down slowly over the Greek ocean.

And the Greek word? One of my favourites. (Sorry this theme can’t cope with Greek fonts.)

meráki  (mer-AH-kee) When you create, do or learn something out of love, primarily for you, and you leave a bit of your self, your essence and your soul in it.

For me, it’s been my writing and my Greek.

If I stay on track, I plan to share more words with you this week. I hope that’s OK with you.

What speaks to you of hygge? What could you do today to have more of a hygge home and live a more hygge life?

How does meráki show up in your life?

Spring in the Yorkshire Dales

My husband and I recently spent a few days in the Yorkshire Dales. We used to live in a neighbouring county, but never made it over to the town of Skipton. As part of our decision to get away more, now that both kids are at uni, he rented us the annexe of a cottage for a couple of days so we could spend some time exploring the town. Turns out the cottage had hills behind and a river out front so we did more sitting around and gentle strolling than adventurous exploring.

river out front

I love how the buildings in the Dales are built of local stone which helps them blend organically with their surroundings. I did mean to take more photos to show you, but indulged my fondness for shadows and reflections instead. I took the first one from a moving canal boat so it’s a bit blurry. The chair’s where I sat and had morning coffee.

Skipton’s very touristy, but deservedly so. It’s a bonny town, with hills, mills and woodland, a canal network, a castle, a market and cobbled backstreets reminiscent of Mediterranean alleyways. Unfortunately, its popularity meant it was almost impossible to take photos without dozens of folk in them.

We decided to take a trip on a canal boat to get away from the crowds for a bit. It’s a pace I could get used to!

We ended the day having coffee in the café cooperswhich felt like a pilgramage spot; it’s where a famous crochet blogger, Lucy from Attic 24 rents studio space and I had the naive intention of popping in to say thank you. (I crocheted this blanket by following her colour choices and her pattern and it brings me lots of comfort and joy.) However, sitting at every other table in the café were women chatting about how they were planning on attending Lucy’s crochet and chat session the next day; I suddenly felt like a ridiculous teenage groupie, wrote a thank you note on the back of a business card, ate and left.

I came back from our wee trip refreshed and ready to reprise my battle with technology. These photos represent the triumph of menopausal stubborness over the challenges of the digital age! In the days ahead, I hope to show you photos from trips nearer home and our last stay in Greece.

Craving Colour

The weather threw a tantrum here in Scotland last week  – snow, sleet, hailstones and sunshine – but I decided to celebrate spring in my living room anyway. I’m a bit of a cushion addict, but changing cushions and throws with the seasons and adding a few supermarket flowers is a simple pleasure that makes me ridiculously happy. The patchwork cushion is one I did with wool left over from a blanket I crocheted last year. It lives on my sofa, and every stitch, every stripe marks a victory against the low grade depression that took me away from blogging, from photography and from myself for too long.

I crocheted it for the campervan I plan on owning some day, and a few days after I finished it, we got the chance to rent a tiny van; the blanket not only took pride of place, but manifested a few colourful companions. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed, I crave the simplicity of driftwood and a sea breeze; last year, as I dreaded the empty nest I’d be left with when my son joined my daughter at university, some wise deep instinct told me to rediscover my love of colour and build an alternative nest. I was in charge of packing for our few days away in the rented van; my husband laughed when he saw what my packing priorities were!

Van colours

Have you ever grappled with low grade, chronic depression? How did you deal with it? What helped you find your way home to yourself?

Sunshine and Shadows

I found the following fragment buried in a file of old drafts. I was always going to do something with it, stretch it into a short story or shrink it into a poem, but I never did. Woven from composite memories of love and loss from decades ago, it was a response to a writing prompt, an exercise in blending fact and fiction; it’s the closest I’ve ever got to explaining why I left Greece.
The sun brands your soul with memories…

Athens. Blinding white glare off the pavements and buildings as we walked in the fierce mid-day heat, up steps and through the narrow bustling alleyways of the Plaka, different tunes from every shop, bouzouki strings and soulful singing, brightly woven rugs, strands of leather goods and sandals, carousels of postcards and tourist guides.

We rose steadily, hand in hand past the beckoning waiters and blue and white checked tablecloths at crowded restaurants; everywhere the smell of oil and fish, roast meat, oregano and wine – cutlery and plates, glasses clinking over the babel of laughter and languages. Past jewellery and hand painted ceramics, blue glass and brass, icons, inlaid backgammon boxes and amber beads, we climbed steadily through alleyways of steps worn smooth towards the grubbier, darker alleys where there’s nothing for foreigners to see except scrawny kittens and closed doors with peeling paint.

Beyond the tightly closed shutters of a darkened, rented room, the throbbing pulse of cicadas singing to the death; we lay in the dark, sweat mingling for the last time.

Greece has left me haunted, hating and longing with a love so deep it runs like a drug through my veins, a love crying out with a thirst that only the light from the sea can ever quench but never does. Greece sates the senses but cries out More… love me more. Don’t leave me… ever. If I hadn’t left when I did, I would have died there too, strung out between love and grief, bliss and death, fear and a fierce, proud longing, like the sun-bleached sails of an ancient ghost ship that never reaches Ithaka.

A country of extremes, of blinding light and shadows deep enough to drown in. You pay for its poetry with your soul.

~~~~~x~~~

What memories has the sun branded your soul with?