Tag Archives: Religion

Crystal Moments

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It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the last two weeks have been life changing for me. Transformative even. In many ways it’s been the culmination of a journey that I’ve been on for a while, making good and determined progress in the last year or so. And yet, though it’s a product of that journey, the moment I’m in now is also something unique and special.

I can’t convey everything in a blog post. Words wouldn’t do it complete justice, and much of it is too personal, not meant to be shared with the world. It is not mine to hold alone, it has been shared where it needs to be shared, and is safe. But I want to write something…

I’ve been keeping a journal over the last year or so. It’s fairly sporadic. As it turns out, I started a new notebook this week…ending my last one with the words “this is the end where I begin.” Today, I sat with a cafe latte and a chocolate brownie (my traditional grounding and comforting food) and wrote “I will remember this moment.” I didn’t mean the delicious chocolate brownie, the blur of rain on the window, or even my optimistic reflections on just having moved into a new home, on my own, for the first time.

What I wanted to remember about the moment was its purity and clarity. There are times when you seem to see the essence of life, of yourself, of compassion and your own truth. They’re moments that seem to turn to crystal…permanent, beautiful, pure and yet complex. And those crystals are points on the timeline of your life, always glistening there. Perhaps they’re pure, clear quartz or gentle rose pink. Happy citrine or protective, healing amethyst. But they remain, clear moments in time, always.

Quartz crystal (Image from Wikipedia.org)

Today was a day of intense emotion. The sort of intense emotion it’s probably best not to face alone. But if someone will come with you on that journey and help contain that emotion, never shy away from it. Ask the difficult questions, allow yourself to be vulnerable. Search and search some more for the places the shadows are hiding. Sometimes the painful intensity is what helps you reach back through the layers to find the essential you. The essential you has fears and faults. But you can’t comfort or forgive yourself unless you go to that place. Neither can you celebrate the qualities that are most important to you, the things that underpin your life.

And I found a place where all is still. All is clear. Imagined peace and beauty came into the world with me. There is a release and a relief, dizzying and calming all at once. I became the essential me and appreciated the wonderous nature of what I am. It is a place full of endless joy, a place where gratitude comes quickly and easily. Where I can examine my fears and let them go. Even mourning a loss becomes possible, not all-consuming, because I will go on beyond it, into the future. It inspires confidence and honesty, faith and questioning…and it makes me humble and ready to listen. To learn. To recognise wisdom in the world and disregard the things I don’t need to hear. To hear and trust the voice inside. Whether, for you, that voice is intuition, your God, or something else, you have to listen to hear it properly.

It is a sort of security in myself I’ve never had before. I find I want to be challenged now. I’m ready for the hard questions, the tough decisions, to take on things I’ve never done before. No more shying away. Because I know who I am, and that won’t be diminished by a challenge or a question. It will help me answer. For the first time in my life I am ready to acknowledge that I have been brave. And in claiming that, I find a new bravery. If I’ve done it once, I can do it again. Because the veil has lifted and I feel my connection with the world…And there’s no guilt or fear. Some sadness at moving on, yes. And times when I want a hug and to be cared for. But people don’t stop caring because you’re being brave, like I think I used to worry they would.

I know who I am.

I am thirty years old and I have a good amount of wisdom and understanding for those years. Except most people don’t think I look my age, which is a good thing. I am a woman, who rather enjoys being a woman. I am gay and happy to be born this way, though I don’t think sexuality should define anyone. I am Christian, which is harder to acknowledge than I want it to be and comes with a lot of questions, but I’m getting there. I am a writer, I adore words and I have a vivid imagination, but I want to use my love of words to study too. I cry easily and that’s not a fault. I have been in some dark places but I survived and the darkness has been pushed out by the light. People care about me and I am unceasingly grateful, I will never take it for granted. I am a history geek and know tons of information about all kinds of things: this is not something I need to apologise for. I am perceptive of how other people are feeling, and I care deeply. And I’m actually happy to be me.

And I know what the most important thing in life is, for me. The quality I find when I look deep within myself. When I hold that smooth, shining crystal moment and peer into it. Compassion. The sort of compassion which frees me from the shadows and makes me strong. The sort of compassion which then becomes a light in the world and helps others see in the darkness.

I don’t yet know how I will use that compassion. I have a lot more questions to ask of myself. But I want the difficult questions because finding the answers is an adventure.

Just lately, I’ve found the image of the butterfly cropping up again and again in my life. And it resonates so strongly. I feel reborn. I’m just getting used to the colours of my wings, the feeling of being able to fly. When a butterfly first emerges from the chrysallis, it sits for a while in the sunshine before it takes flight. I’m enjoying the light…forming that perfect crystal moment of light, hope, peace and colour. It will be preserved forever, perfect and pure.

But the air is heavy with the scent of flowers, there’s a warm enticing breeze. There’s a beautiful world to explore. I’m going to spread my wings and fly.

 

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Beginning at the end.

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I’ve been enjoying the coverage of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations today. It’s hard not to get a little thrill out of being British on a day like this. I’m mostly ambivalent about monarchy as an institution, but what I have been enjoying is the sense of continuity. The Queen’s been reigning for 60 years, most of us can’t remember another monarch. And we’ve been ruled by (more or less) related kings and queens for centuries (with one notable gap). The river pageant today was the biggest in 300 years. But there was something like it 300 years ago. And it was impossible not to think of the great Tudor river pageants, those of the first Queen Elizabeth in particular.

Elizabeth II (via Wikiepedia)

 

Elizabeth I (via Wikipedia)

I like continuity. Something about it moves me and reassures me. I used to be very frightened of endings, of changes, of moving on. That fear is still there. When something is good, I want it to go on forever. I’ve not tended to have faith that the future will bring something equally good, or better. It’s partly irrational fear, partly lack of faith in myself, and partly lack of belief in other people. I don’t like to lose things. I’ve hoarded possessions, contacted people out of the blue after years, given up huge parts of myself…all in order to hold back change. To stop anything coming to an end.

But things do change. The royal court today is not remotely like that of the first Elizabeth. Part of what we’re celebrating in this Jubilee year is how much change there has been while Elizabeth II has been on the throne. Yes, she is a fixed point, but nothing else is. The element of continuity is lovely, but change cannot be avoided and, in fact, it should be celebrated.

 

I found some baby pictures recently. I loved looking through them, they made me quite emotional.

Me and my Mum c. 1983

My Dad and me c. 1983

 

I’ve always wanted to go back. To a time when things were pure, undamaged, when I was full of potential and nothing bad had ever happened. I didn’t like the feeling that the happy little girl, with her happy parents, was someone else, such a long time ago. I didn’t like the loss of continuity with her. I felt guilty that my choices had taken me away from her. It felt like so long ago and so far away. Which made me feel a little stranded in my present self. And frightened of losing anything else, of any more endings.

But change is impossible to avoid. Time ticks on and things have to change, there has to be a moving on. There has to be an ending. When I’m reading a good book, I realise it can’t go on forever. There will be a conclusion. There might well be a sequel in which I can revisit the things I liked about it. But I do have to close that particular book and put it on the shelf. I can admire the spine, think over the story, take it out and look at it, flick through the pages. But you can’t have a never ending book.

This has probably been the hardest part of life for me to accept. There’s a whole host of reasons, but I’ve always struggled with it. Just recently it’s been bothering me even more because I’m at a massive turning point. Not even a turning point, but a real ending in many ways. I reached a point, during the night last Friday when the sadness overwhelmed me in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. It’s rare that I can’t stop crying and the tears are more articulate than any words. But it felt that way. I couldn’t shake it for the whole of the next day.

Then, in one of those weird convoluted ways that amazing things happen, I heard a song. ‘The End Where I Begin’ by The Script (from their self-titled album).

The lyrics caught me:

Sometimes tears say all there is to say / Sometimes your first scars won’t ever fade away / Tried to break my heart / Well it’s broke / Tried to hang me high / Well I’m choked / Wanted rain on me / Well I’m soaked Soaked to the skin / It’s the end where I begin.
Sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes / Sometimes we’ve no choice but to walk away…It’s the end where I begin 
Now I’m alive and my ghosts are gone / I’ve shed all the pain I’ve been holding on / The cure for a heart / Is to move along, is to move along…What don’t kill a heart / Only makes it strong
It’s the End where I begin

Sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes Sometimes we’ve no choice but to walk away…

And suddenly, the sense of the continuity of life struck me again. I am so grateful that I found my way to this song. You see, I realise I have the scars, I’ve been soaked the skin, my heart has been broken. It’s already happened and can’t be undone. But it has made me stronger. I survived it. I am that little girl, even now, and I’ve come through the rain and the battles. Scars are healed wounds, the bleeding has stopped, but they are reminders. And it’s time to walk away, to move on. To accept the end as a beginning. It’s like a circle. Every time you try to find where it ends, you also find where it begins.

It’s interesting too. I’ve been going to church a lot lately and yet it’s only just struck me that the central story of Christianity (whether you believe, take it as truth, or a metaphor) is one of an ending being a beginning. That’s what the story of Crucifixion and Resurrection is all about. If it was not for that terrible ending–of brutal death on a cross–there could not be the new beginning–the Resurrrection–the message of light and hope and eternal love. The end is the beginning.

I can’t go back to be that little girl in the pictures. But I can remember that she is part of me. Childhood ended, but I simply began again. There are always endings. I will endure loss. Some things will remain, they will stay with me while other things end. Other things will return, like the characters in sequels to well-loved novels. I can’t always control it.

But I can begin at the end and go through it and past it and onto things that are better, deeper, brighter, more fun. I will still be me. I will still be the happy child. But I’ll be the complex adult too. I’ll take some things with me and move on from others.

Now, this moment, summer 2012, in a year where continuity is being celebrated. This is the end where I begin.

 

(and by the way, my latest novel, The Locket and the Flintlock, is now available in both ebook and paperback form!)

 

Affirmation of faith…in myself…

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Wow, it’s a long time since I posted anything! My excuse is the same as last time. Work, work and more work. Plus, this time, a fair amount of illness and injury too. I’ve been coughing, sneezing and limping just lately. And nearly falling down the stairs too. But I am currently–apart from a strained ligament necessitating a bandaged foot–in pretty good health! Good job, since I’m at work so much!

All of this work was making forget that I’m a writer. I know, that’s a steady theme of this blog, reminding myself I’m a writer. But it’s a constant in my life. People ask what I do and I only usually remember to add that I’m a writer as they’re walking away. My other job is wonderful and fascinating, but I would like to remember I’m a writer from time to time.

Lots of good things have happened lately. I have confidence in my ability to do my job well, and to have fun doing it. I’ve realised just how many friends I really do have to invite to my 30th birthday party. I’ve found I can let go of things hoped for in the past and replace them with new hopes and dreams. That people sometimes really do want to hug me. I’ve taken to wearing clothes I want to wear, not ones to hide behind. I’m being myself in conversations–more of a struggle in the past than you might suspect. I’m branching out in so many ways…emerging from the mournful night into the joyful day. It’s exciting.

But there’s always that undercurrent of doubt in myself. Of not quite believing compliments. Of over-analysing conversations after I’ve had them to see if I said anything stupid. Of not wanting to expose my real self to people. There’s a whole host of reasons and I’m working on making those things melt away.

A lot of those doubts manifest themselves when I think about my writing. Am I really a writer? A real one? With books people want to read? This past week has done a lot to answer those questions. On Saturday 17th March I went to States of Independence, an event for indie publishers held at De Montfort University in Leicester. The corridors and rooms were full of stalls covered in books and pamphlets from all kinds of publishers and writers. I had the privilege of spending time with Bold Strokes Books editor Victoria Oldham and authors Kev Troughton and Andrea Bramhall, behind a table covered in a wide and wonderful selection of BSB books. In the afternoon, we did a 40 minute session on LGBTQ publishing, with readings and a Q&A session. It was wonderful. I had no fear sitting at the front of that room, nor standing up to read my excerpt from Ghosts of Winter. I answered questions happily. And I felt the interest of the people in the room. The acceptance of me as a writer, on my third published novel. A voice of experience, no less. And as a gay woman too. I’ve always struggled to talk about my sexuality in front of people. I shy away from labels and stereotypes. But I found I didn’t mind. And people wanted my advice. They wanted to buy my book. It was astonishing. But it was also amazing. I have rarely felt as comfortable in my skin as I did for those few hours. I have rarely felt so distinctly that I was in the right place, at the right time, doing what I should be. I spent the rest of the day wildly happy and also immensely grateful for the opportunity to feel strong and positive in a way I really haven’t done before.

Bold Strokes Books book at States of Independence

With Andrea and Kev at States of Independence

Then, today, to add to the excitement, the Lambda Literary Awards finalists were announced. And Ghosts of Winter is on the shortlist! Right there in the “Lesbian Romance” category. I’m still stunned, in the best way possible. It’s such an honour. I always thought such lists were for other people’s books. And certainly, I’d been feeling very distant from Ghosts of Winter lately. But to be named there with some other wonderful authors (including the most fabulous showing for Bold Strokes) is amazing beyond words. To know that my book has been read and appreciated…it’s so wonderful and moving to me. I am deeply grateful. Of course I love Ros and Anna, the protagonists of Ghosts all over again. But more than anything, I realise that I wrote a good book. I am a writer. And a good one! I’m incredibly excited.

On Saturday I’m going on a retreat day at an Anglican convent. I signed up because for me it’s vital to explore my faith, whatever shape and form that takes, and to ponder it a while. I’ve only been going to church for a year and I know it will be a journey that lasts the rest of my life. I’ve been exploring and pondering myself for longer and really working on it for a couple of years now. It will also be a constant journey, but I’ve reached a very important waymarker. I think that finally, I know who I am, what I dream of, what I hope for and what I’m good at. What I should be proud of. I have a firm faith in myself.

And that makes moving forward an adventure rather than an ordeal.

Next on the list? The Locket and the Flintlock will be released in May! 😀

 

 

Epiphany

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Happy New Year to everyone reading this. I hope it’s a wonderful year for all of you. 😀

So, today is Epiphany. The last day of Christmastide. Twelfth Night (or that could have been last night, depending which calender you follow…) I’ve just finished off the Christmas ice cream and ordered some bathroom scales. A diet begins tomorrow. But I’m not blogging about calorie-related resolutions, you’ll be pleased to hear…

Today is the day that Christians celebrate the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. “Epiphany” comes from Greek and Latin, via Middle English, meaning “apparition.” It represents not just some wise men from the “East” paying tribute to a newborn Messiah, but the manifestation of Jesus to the gentiles. That makes a it a very inclusive festival, if you ask me. The message being that Jesus came for everyone. Okay, we don’t all believe in Jesus…but the idea of hope, light and love being something everyone can have a share in is one that I like.

'Adoration of the Magi' by Gentile da Fabriano

I have always been fascinated with the story of the Magi visiting Jesus, ever since I first learned the Nativity story, and that fascination has never gone away. They’re only mentioned in one of the Gospels (Matthew), we don’t know for sure there were three of them, who they were or where they came from. They’re almost mythical, mysterious and exotic. Wise men, astrologers or kings? And those wonderful gifts, gold, frankincense and myhrr. Something otherworldly, symbolic and luxurious in the squalor of a stable.

I lived in Slovenia for a while, and often strayed into other countries, such as Austria and Germany. There, you would see  C + M + B written in chalk about doorways, with the date of the year. A blessing for the house in the coming year, with the traditional initials of the Magi. It has a touch of magic about it, something transcending pure Christianity.

C + M + B 2009 written above a door in the Czech Republic (from Wikipedia)

Giotto di Bondone's 'Adoration of the Magi' showing the Star of Bethlehem as a comet.

And then there’s the matter of the starthey followed. It’s controversial, that star. There’s been plenty of attempts to work out if any real astronomical event could account for it (there are theories, but they don’t really hold up). A miracle? A detail added to fulfill a prophecy? Sent by Satan (as Jehovah’s Witnesses believe)? In the end, we’ll never prove the Star of Bethlehem was real, any more than we’ll ever have proof that God exists (or otherwise). But it’s a wonderful idea. A light, burning in the sky, leading wise men through the desert to a place where they will find the source of peace, love and light, to where they will find meaning. Whatever your beliefs, surely the beauty of that is undeniable. We’re all looking for our star, a light to follow…to lead us forward through desert places, to show us the way, to help us find hope and joy. At the beginning of this new year, I’m keeping my focus on my own personal guiding light…aware of my own epiphany…

Because epiphany isn’t just about wise men in the desert. In our modern terminology, “epiphany” is something more personal. It’s a moment of sudden truth, clarity of perception, or insight. I know that feeling. Okay, there hasn’t been a revelation in a split second. But really, in a whole lifetime, what is “sudden”? In many ways the last year has been my epiphany. Every passing month brought with it a new revelation, a new understanding, a new ability to feel in a way I never dared to. And that brought a new way of looking at the world and my place in it.

I can feel that in every moment now, as I contemplate the year ahead. Epiphany is the time Christians ask for God’s blessing over the year ahead. I’m doing something very similar. I’m looking ahead to a good year and allowing myself to hope. I don’t remember another year I’ve been so hopeful about. True, there are parts of it I am not looking forward to. But I know how to deal with them now. I am not going to allow myself to be scared of the world, or of the people in it. Or of myself. If keeping to that involves working at it, then I will. And if that sounds trite, so be it. For me, it is an epiphany.

It’s going to be manifest in my writing too. The Locket and the Flintlock will be out in May (from Bold Strokes Books) and I’m very proud of it, as I am of my previous novels Truths and Ghosts of Winter. But I feel something more adventurous inside me, waiting to make its mark on the page. I see the world through wiser, more perceptive eyes. And therefore, I write with more wisdom too. It’s exciting.

So, today, I am celebrating in a quiet way. I feel like I’m at a turning point. My star has led me to a place of hope. And I will ensure that light doesn’t die.

Confusion and hope…

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Rainbow flag over Nottingham Castle

Hello World!

I’m still here. Haven’t blogged in a while. Not sure why that makes me feel like I have to reaffirm my existence…but still…here I am, in case you were worried.

It’s been a confusing few weeks. There’s been so many things I would have liked to write blog posts about. There’s been death and marriage…I’ve been a bridesmaid and read a poem at a funeral. I’ve spent a lot of time–by my standards–in church; contemplating, doubting, wondering, believing, crying, debating…I’ve also rediscovered my fascination with crystal healing. I’ve been up and down and in between. I’ve seen a rainbow flag flying from the flag pole at Nottingham Castle…I’ve come to identify with the Wicked Witch of the West…(as she appears in Wicked)

Elphaba, the "Wicked" Witch of the West

I want to talk about religion and spirituality. I want to talk about gay pride and my own pride at living in a country where a rainbow flag can fly high above the city. I want to talk about being gay and yet enjoying the very conventional and maybe even heterosexist event of  a Church of England wedding, complete with bridesmaid’s gown, flowers and sparkles in my hair…I want to talk about so much. But I can’t seem to dwell on one thing for long enough.

Oh and I’m a writer too, by the way. I’m reminding myself, here. When people ask what I do, I want to reply “sales assistant” more often than not. I’ve been asking myself why. I’m phenomenonly proud of being a writer. Ghosts of Winter is doing well, off in the world on its own, and I’ve recieved some lovely compliments about it. But somehow, right now, I feel disconnected from it. I can’t believe I wrote it.

And I’m trying to write short stories for some of the calls for submission I’ve seen recently. I really want to write them. I have ideas aplenty. But they don’t seem to want to emerge onto the page. Which has led me to think a lot about what writing is. There’s that famous quote about inspiration and perspiration. Thing is, I have both of those–I have the spark and I have the willingness to work. What’s missing is space in my brain. My imagination needs room to expand. But it’s being cramped…by real life considerations like work and death…but more than that, by life itself. While I’m contemplating religion and mortality and society and equality, it’s hard to think of stories. Stories themselves don’t even seem that important. What’s a romance compared to questions of faith and morality and the future? Imagination takes up a lot of space… and somehow I’ve been finding other ways of filling that space.

But then, like today, something always reminds me why it’s important to make the space my imagination needs. Two things reminded me of that today. The first is to do with my own personal castle, with big medieval, inpentetrable doors…which needs space in my head to expand and get taller…

Castle doors... (from nationaltrust.org.uk)

 

But I won’t dwell on that. The second is thanks to an e-mail I received from a reader (and a good friend–you know who you are, thank you!). Someone who was touched by Ghosts of Winter, who was inspired by the journey of the characters and the rennovation of Winter Manor…Someone who found a sense of hope in my words. Those words spring from my imagination. Imagination matters. Stories matter.

So I have to find clarity in the mess of confusion, throw out the clutter, and make room again. I want my imagination to grow…I want the flickering flame of hope to grow…until it burns bright enough for my friends, readers, even people I meet for mere moments, to feel that warmth.

What I hope is that all of this confusion, these meandering thoughts, these new avenues, have actually opened up the space in my head and painted the walls of that space in shades and colours I haven’t considered before. So when I find my clarity again–and I plan on meditating, relaxing, deep breathing and working on accepting myself until I do–my imagination is free to expand bigger, and with more colour, than ever before. And then, maybe, I’ll remember I’m a writer again.

Hope out of confusion and distress. Like a bright red poppy on a battlefield.

Poppies (from radiowaves.co.uk)

 

You can find Ghosts of Winter and more fabulous books at www.boldstrokesbooks.com. And remember to come along and meet some of us Bold Strokers at Waterstones in Nottingham on 23rd and 24th July.

Lesbian Bishop for LA

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The Espiscopol Diocese of Los Angeles elected The Rev. Mary Glasspool, 55,  as an assistant Bishop on Saturday (Read Associated Press article). The Rev. Glasspool, who lives with her female partner, is the second openly gay bishop to be elected by the US branch of the Anglican church. The appointment of the first, Bishop Gene Robinson, in 2003 caused divisions in the Church worldwide that have still not healed. This isn’t something I thought I’d hear myself saying, but hurrah for the US Episcopol Church. They are standing by their selection, in the face of criticism from Anglicans worldwide. In July, the Episcopal General Convention effectively lifted a moratorium on electing another gay bishop which had been asked for by Anglican leaders seeking to prevent a permanent break in the communion.

Her election must still be approved by the national church. Let’s hope the Episcopol Church keep their faith in her and their support for same sex couples. Many in the church, worldwide, are still struggling to accept female clergy, let alone a lesbian bishop. Surely, as the members of the Church who voted for her in LA seem to realise, in the name of reaching out to the wider community, someone like The Rev. Mary Glasspool is a perfect candidate. Surely she will draw people back to the Church who feel disconnected. I’m not religious myself but I know there are a lot of gay men and women who long for acceptance by the Church whose fundamental beliefs they share.

But religion and logic don’t often go together. I’m not arguing that faith should always be altered and adapted to fit everyone’s lifestyle. Clearly that’s not the point of religion. But if we’re all God’s creatures and Jesus forgives everything, why is there any controversy?

Yahoo News reports that polls show growing acceptance of queer people in the US. Yet at the same time there is growing religious consternation. The appointment of Bishop Gene Robinson led to the formation of a breakaway Anglican church – The Anglican Church in North America, who don’t approve of gay bishops. The Mormon Church, and others, still see homosexuality as a sin.  It seems that loving thy queer neighbour is all well and good, providing they know their place and don’t, say, become a bishop, or join the army. Or heaven forbid, want to marry.

And lest we should think that this happening in LA means that she stands a good chance of being accepted in her position, remember that it was in California that Proposition 8 was approved in 2008, effectively making illegal the marriages between many loving gay couples.

I suppose my question, really, is when will this not be a news story? When will people religious and otherwise just accept that we are not all the same? Chances are God, if he exists, loves us all.