Sometimes I feel like I know what life is, but I’m still not certain I’m right.

This time forty years ago, my mother would have been nearing her due date, a tiny me inside her and waiting to come out. This time ten years ago, my belly was stretched and full, my children both waiting to come out.

I came out late, they came out early, but all three of us had the same due date.

My great grandparents also waited, on a sea rather in it, as they sailed to a new life in America. Almost exactly one hundred years later, I stepped on a plane and spent eight hours wondering what my new life in England would look like.

It feels like there are a lot of connections in life, a lot of circles. A lot of meaning.

Sometimes I feel like I need to find more meaning, or I long to create more meaning; sometimes it feels like it’s been a long time since there’s been a Big Moment, or a Big Adventure, or a Big (hopefully positive) Change.

But really, life is a series of small moments. A few are ‘big,’ but most are ‘small.’

Life is a friend threading some string through a hagstone for me, so I can hang it from my neck as we watch our children climb up sandy dunes and jump down again.

Life is laughing as another friend educates a five year old about the band on her t shirt, blasting music and us singing together while the five year old looks on with a curious combination of polite bemusement and joy.

Life is trying to stay awake as I drive across the city late at night, listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton and rapping along with the lyrics I’ve memorised.

It’s staying up talking till 4:30 am with my wife for the first time in years. It’s how tired my body feels the next day, but how energised my heart feels.

It’s walking up a river in flimsy sandals with friends, as the sky darkens faster than expected and we laugh about crazy river monsters and howling monkeys watching from the trees. It’s a text from my mother reminding me that it was my grandmother’s birthday this week, even as I think about how her death impacts me still.

Life is remembering and creating and trying and being unable to move. It’s pain and obsessing and loving and messy. It’s figuring out how to honour and express your own truth while still trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It’s a lot of big figurings out, but it’s also small noticings. The way I feel when my kid is finding things rough. The way her hands look as she holds a trophy that is so much more than just a bit of gold plating, the way his words tumble out faster and faster as he tells me the plot of the latest book he wants to write. It’s observing how hard I thought it would be to stay calm when we’re running late, but how surprised I feel when I just let it go.

Life is my fingers on this keyboard. The yellow string I’ve tied around my wrist to remind me. The choice to drink Dr Pepper Zero this late at night even when I know caffeine screws me up and I might have to wake up early to go to a circus (of flipping and soaring humans, not animals).

It’s the texts I’ve just gotten from a friend we saw today, saying her children are vomiting like small explosive volcanos. It’s me, trying to not stress about an upcoming transatlantic flight with my children who may consequently be vomiting 38,000 miles above Earth, whilst hoping my friend doesn’t have a hellish, puke covered evening of no sleep.

Life is being the immigrant granddaughter of immigrant ancestors. Criss-crossing the globe, or running the palms of my hands over my belly, as my mother did before me.

It’s all the experience. It’s all growth, even when it’s so boring and I’m so exhausted I almost fall asleep as soon as I sit still. I’m learning what it means to really be human, and slowly understanding that it’s as simple as noticing, breathing, participating, and being.

I’ll probably forget this tomorrow. I’ll be rushed and I’ll be hot, we’ll be stressed and I’ll wonder why I can’t just have a few hours alone in a dark room watching Netflix. Then maybe I’ll get a few hours tomorrow night, and I’ll beat myself up for ‘wasting’ it doing ‘nothing.’

That’s hard. But sometimes, it’s hard being a human. I’m still learning. I’m still here.

I’m a hot air balloon with too many sandbags.

There’s a few reasons I’ve not been here lately. But here’s today’s major reason: my child was called a little ball of sunshine.

This sparked such an immediate response in me, such a deep train of thought, that I felt compelled to immediately write for the first time in ages. I kept the gender of said child neutral to try to disguise which kid it was. I tried to make it more about my response than about the child – but there was a couple of sentences that touched too closely on that child’s inner world.

I kept writing, even though I knew I wouldn’t post it. At almost ten, my children have a more vivid internal world and interesting thought process than they ever have before, but they are also grown up enough that it feels really wrong to share any of that here.

So that has bummed me out, the realisation that the first time in ages I’ve wanted to write and no one gets to read it. Suzy suggested another anonymous blog, which has certainly been a haven for me in the past, but I think I’m tired of that. I feel best in life when I’m being authentic, but too often I find myself holding back from writing things down in case I hurt people I love, or people I like, or, you know, people I don’t particularly like. I’d rather just try to get random words down again.

I’ve been plagued with a real feeling of inertia lately. That word has never been far from my thoughts. Not the objects in motion tend to stay in motion type of inertia, oh no. I’m an object at rest. And what’s more painful than an object at rest that actually wishes they were in motion? Not many things.

I can quite confidentially say, as the foremost authority of being trapped at rest, that it’s pretty shit.

I feel like I’m putting on a good game face. I still have many things to be thankful for and celebrate, but this sort of murky, sluggish state of being is always lurking in the background. Oh, Alison, you say. Don’t you know that lotus flowers, the most beautiful flowers, grow from murky sludge? Let yourself blossom, Alison, embrace your natural wonder.

I mean, no. Fuck you?

Life is messy and complex. Much of the things I struggle with don’t feel like they are my stories to share. Though they twist and cling to my own experiences and perceptions, it’s still giving too much away to write about them.

So here I am. Someone who craves being authentic to the point of over sharing, feeling really low and isolated and trapped in a concrete layer of inertia.

Age forty started off so well. An amazing surprise party surrounded by the most amazing group of women; women I’m so lucky to know and love. To be loved by.

I was feeling good. I bought a big ass wall calendar (I love diaries and calendars and notebooks, oh my, more than you love lotuses and positivity!) and stuck it up over my bed. I bought a silver glitter pen and a gold one. Every time I did something that sort of moved daily life forward in some way, I got a silver star. Anytime I did something that I felt moved me towards this unspecific goal of ‘having a life worth writing about’ I got a gold star.

Tried stand up paddleboarding (and loved it!): gold star.

Roadtrip alone with my wife, climbing a tree for the first time, accidentally giving myself a prison tattoo: gold, gold, gold.

Went white water rafting with my family, went out dancing (and probably drinking too much) with friends more than once, went to a casting day: throw that gold at me, baby.

Stood up in front of hundreds of people and told a very real, very personal story, despite feeling like I was going to both shit myself and have a heart attack at the same time: biggest and most satisfying of gold stars.

Tried stand up comedy, something I’ve wanted to do for ages: well, I mean, gold star for effort but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I’m grateful I didn’t bomb; I feel like making the world’s smallest audience of twenty year old boys laugh about my friends and their middle age incontinence was a true victory. I think I could do well at it, and it felt so amazing to be working towards something.

It felt big, but it also felt flat. And that’s where I’ve been since then. Flat. Sluggish. Hanging out with my pal Inertia and her friends Guilt, Aimlessness, and Big Ideas But No Follow Through.

Mixed up with all that other personal stuff that, for me, is too personal. Which is saying something, considering there’s probably not a person I see regularly who hasn’t experienced me crossing a line and over sharing something from my messed up imagination.

But my imagination does seem to be misfiring. I’ve gone from too many ideas and not enough time to desperately wishing for an idea, but even if I get one I’m too stuck to actualise it.

That’s how I am, here and now, sat in a library while my little ball of sunshine is at drama school next door. I’m attempting to curate the perfect pick-me-up playlist (suggestions welcome!) whilst also idly looking up the requirements to become a hot air balloon pilot in Britain.

That about sums this shit up. I doubt I’ll be piloting a balloon anytime soon, but by god if I won’t understand the intricate process of how to do so. I feel like setting goals was giving me purpose this year – the storytelling event and stand up comedy were both exciting things I worked toward. I need a new goal now. Ideally something powerful and true.

If not hot air ballooning, then what? Other shit on my list of stuff to do reads like the Who’s Who of Midlife Crisis – get a tattoo, go somewhere in Europe spontaneously for a weekend, probably drink and dance more, be an extra in a tv show or movie, go on a transformational long distance wilderness hike, figure out what bra size I am.

Again, I’m always open to suggestions.

Yours,

Alison

Adventure’s burning.

Earlier this week, we had our grand return to gymnastics after a big summer break. It’s all a bit hairy, as S loves gym and would go every week – M has fun while he’s there, but realistically he probably wouldn’t care if he never went again. Luckily, we met some friends there and afterwards dutifully trooped across the street to the little playground and park. We had the plumber coming that afternoon, so when we finally went to leave, we walked back to gym, turned the corner, and were presented with the sight of thick grey smoke flooding out the upstairs window of a house.

A house we were sort of parked directly across the street from.

A group of young people were on the corner, and I thought I overheard a girl say she was calling the firefighters out. I double checked she’d called, and then had about a million thoughts zoom through my head in two seconds. One was phoning the plumber – and that’s when I realised my phone was missing. That is a long, dull story in itself; suffice to say, an older man was just approaching me with concern when I plucked my phone out of some long grass, thrust it into the air, and yelled, ‘YEESSSSSS!’

My next thought was trying to very quickly run up the street and get in the car before the fire engines appeared, because I knew we’d be trapped in. We started up the street, and my paranoid thoughts kicked in – what if the bloody house exploded? Was it really worth the risk?

Luckily M took charge. When the smoke hit us, he turned away and went back towards gym. S and I followed. Well, I thought, that’s okay.  This will be a little adventure.  We can watch the firemen, maybe see if there’s some way we can help the people who’ve been evacuated. That’s when my dumb, adventure loving ass noticed that S was physically shaking.

‘Are you scared?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m not scared. I’m terrified.’

We went back round to the front of the gym and had a seat and a cuddle. Then I thought maybe we could get into gym and buy something with sugar in – good for a shock, no? The lovely older man who saw my phone triumph happened to work at the gym. He let us in, we got some chocolate and juice. Then we went back outside, where he brought me some tea. He urged us to come back in if the rain started.

At this point, the smoke was spreading. Fire trucks had arrived, police, ambulances. Roads were being shut off. And both kids started just sobbing. Like losing your mind crying. We kept moving further from the smoke, which by now was so thick it blocked visibility and police had red eyes, tears streaming down their faces. At one point I left the kids in front of the gym and peeped round the corner – flames were shooting from the upper windows, visible even through the solid wall of smoke that made the people fighting the fire look ghostly and unreal.

I’d been texting with Suzy, who arranged for her mum to come collect us ASAP, since it was apparent this little ‘adventure’ would not result in us having our car free any time soon. M lost his shit. He was so scared the car would burn, the car would be lonely, etc etc. He kept scream asking, ‘Is this a nightmare dream or is it real? Is it a nightmare or real?’ S was asking if this would happen to us. She was quietly weeping the whole time.

We actually had people come up to us to ask if it was our house burning, if we were okay. The older guy came back and looked concerned (we looked like tear stained, slightly dusty refugees from the fire), and again told us to come back inside the gym. Eventually my mother in law arrived and order was restored.

Except for the questions. Did the fire have our address? Would it happen to us? How did fires start? If we had a fire, would we rescue all our toys first? Was I careful to make sure our house didn’t burn?

They had a very unsettled night. Me…well, I was fine while we were there, aside from the worry of the fire spreading and burning our car. But once home I felt a little shaky (which still strikes me as somewhat ridiculous). The stress and fear of the children – well, I contained it fine while I had to, but once they were asleep and I didn’t have to stay super calm and reassuring, I just felt tired.

We got the car back about nine pm that night. The kids have seemed pretty fine since then. But it was a harsh reminder that my view of things can sometimes violently clash with how the children view it – and in this case, I think they had the more humane view. It wasn’t an adventure for the man who’s house burned down. For the firefighters that had to stay there ten hours to make sure the fire didn’t restart. For my children, who cried and cried and cried.

I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad no one was injured in the fire. I’m glad life has returned to normal.

Still, I sit, watching my children and wondering. What will it be like to return to gym next week, to drive past that poor house? Should we do more about fire safety in our house? Should I just drop the topic for awhile, having already reassured them that if they wanted to talk about it more, I was ready to listen?

Mostly, though, I marvel at the deep empathy of children, and their stunning ability to house more resilience than you’d think.

Sometimes the truth wants to come out.

Sometimes (always) I worry about the power of my words. Years from now, what will my children think when faced with a pile of half finished journals? Some just messy writing, some painting, some awkward pictures mixed with words. If I am too honest, will I damage them?

If I am too honest, will the people who (will) read my books turn away from my stories?

Writing this makes it seem so simple. I think I am at my most beautiful when I am the most me – even when ‘me’ can struggle so much, can say the wrong thing at the terribly wrong time, can be so doubtful about all that I am. Because that’s just part of me: of course there is another part who thinks I am limitless and beautiful. But the older I get, the more I realise that the limitless me makes the rest of me only feel more glum.

Look at all the books I have not written! Look at that opportunity to write a film for a new director that I turned down! Look at the manuscripts (that I recently had my wife dig out of obscurity) sitting in a pile, thick sheafs of paper just heavy paperweights.

Literal weights made of paper, heavy in the corner. Making the air thicker, making me more fearful and more hopeful. I remember the time I gave a novel, sealed in a thick manilla envelope, to a friend. I had her hang onto it, had her mail it to me. Was it my old therapist, was it the powerfully brave and insecure woman I met on my therapy training? I don’t remember that.

I remember the terror of giving my words to someone else. I remember anguish at knowing she wouldn’t read what I’d written, but relief because I’d asked her not to. She carried a bit of my weight.

And these women surrounded me. My therapist was one that was a happy meeting of need and want. My course required us all to undergo a significant amount of personal therapy; a damaging, world blown wide open bereavement made me realise how much I needed a place to just try to claw myself out of the blackness that death brought into my life.

My therapist was good friends with a well known author. She also was a therapist of other writers, other creative types. And she said I said the same words they did, in the same way. Sometimes she laughed, in this gentle, loving way, and shook her head. Told me I talked like a writer and it was so apparent. And I knew she was frustrated with me, the same way my friend on the course was. She said the way I spoke about writing made her know I was a writer with talent, with love, with the chance to actually do this thing.

Ah, I thought. But they’ve not read my words. What do they know?

And I sit here tonight, wondering what it is that I know. I’m in the same place creatively I was when I started training as a therapist, almost ten (!) years ago now. Stunted, bent, thick and close to the ground. But not broken.

Perhaps that is all I need to know now. I am not broken, no matter how the darkness sometimes presses against me, no matter how deep into my core it goes. I don’t know if I want to extinguish it; I don’t think so.

I have darkness from hope unfulfilled, from little kid love damaged beyond repair, from death and all the ways that destroyed me.

But I’m still here. And these people and places are part of me. Even the people I no longer have in my life, and by those I mean the ones still alive I choose to not welcome into my life. Those are branches of my own little tree of darkness I pruned not for myself, but for my children. For my sanity.

Those discarded branches don’t seem to rot away and melt back into the earth like normal branches. They hang around, they hurt me when I catch small glimpses of them. But seeing them is reminder enough of the tremendous hurt they could cause if I somehow tried to reattach them.

So I am here. Stunted, bent, thick and close to the ground.

But not broken.