I’m jealous of your childhood; I’m jealous of your life. How you spend so many days seeing new things, poking sticks in tidepools, running in joy with your friends.

I did not have many of the things you had. I still don’t. I tell myself, Alison, if their lives are so fantastic and rich and layered and varied….and you are with them every step of the way, isn’t your life that way, too?


I’m thankful for flying kites, for peregrine falcons, for soft toys that are part of our family. I thrill to explore new sand dunes, or old castles, or stick my feet in streams so cold my toes turn red almost instantly. I take comfort in relaxing into adulthood and parenthood and beinghood.

But still. I am jealous. I can hold that alongside my gratitude, but my own longing nudges me uncomfortably. I want to see more, to do more, to be more.

I try to remind myself: Alison, as you remember to value those children for who they are, remember to honour yourself, too. You are funny and wise and full of imagination. Do you know this, do you believe this? Alison, it’s hard to be subsumed by the constant wonder and joy of other people, even harder when those people don’t express what you consider to be enough gratitude.

But Alison, don’t do it for their gratitude. Do it because it’s important to raise a new generation who believe it is possible to create and imagine. Do it because they need to know how to stand up against injustice. Do it because it’s right, because you feel it to be true, because even though it reminds you constantly of all you wish you had and still need for yourself, even though that hurts sometimes, it is still needed. Valid. True.

Give them what you have wished for yourself, but remember that you’ve had these moments, too, and you’ll have them again. It’s time, soon, and you’ll need to be brave and to stretch and to be. And you know that’s possible, because you make it true for these lives in your hands, because you see it happening and unfolding every day.

It is all possible.


I’ve done cool shit.


I have done some cool shit.

I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.

I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.

I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.

I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.

I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.

I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.

I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.

I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.

I’ve done cool shit.

I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.

I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.

I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.

I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.

I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.

I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.

All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?

I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.

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.

Rise of the hero(es).

Positive message of the Lego movie be damned: I’m about to break out the superglue.

Yesterday we had some friends round, and they brought the kids some Lego sets. One was a Star Wars little spaceship, and M about exploded with joy. He’s so proud of this little ship that his friend helped him build; he even hung the plastic bag it came in on his bedroom wall. He’s not let go of it. (Don’t leggo your Lego! I know, it’s gross, but I had to say it. Otherwise I’d keep hearing it repeat in my brain all day.)

Imagine my joy to wake up this morning to a slightly desperate wife saying, ‘He lost a little bit of Lego off that ship. His heart is breaking.’

It transpires that while he was manically running around downstairs last night, this piece mysteriously vanished into thin air. I tried to build myself up for the inevitable horror and suffering a missing toy can sometimes bring.

And so it began: my helpless trudge around the lounge, flicking my eyes from side to side methodically. Asking random questions like, ‘Where did you do most of your running? Over here, or there?’ And then I asked the most awful question of all: ‘Can you just please look under the play kitchen? You’re smaller, so it’s probably easier for you to look underneath things.’

And the crying began. I remembered back to when he started collecting the less-than-an-inch-high Angry Birds Star Wars guys. Back when he only had one or two and they were THE MOST PRECIOUS THINGS in the universe. Because he had so few, because he wanted to play with them all the time, because he carried them around….and because as soon as something leaves his hands, his brain wipes clean any memory of where it might be….it was a bad few weeks for me.

I became more and more angry about these little figures, anger based in the panic that he was losing something he loved so much. And frustration that, inevitably, I was the one left dealing with the fallout: his heart wrenching sobs, hours of mutual hunting for tiny Luke Skywalkers, and the long wait before we found any of them.

My initial feeling was a surge of that exhausted panic today. And wondering if my wife had managed to figure out how to unsuperglue the superglue lid that had stuck to the tip of the applicator.

Creativity be damned, flexibility be damned, GET THE SUPERGLUE. Make that sucker stick together so well it’s impossible to remember it was Lego in the first place! Make it last forever!

But he surprised me. Yes, he cried when I asked him to look under the play kitchen. I didn’t know how to respond to what I thought was his despair at having to hunt for his missing piece of awesome (though I certainly felt that despair myself!). So I asked. I had to.

‘Why are you crying? What is going on?’

I didn’t expect what I heard.

‘All my guys are looking. I’m getting everyone ready.’ His tears stopped as he earnestly showed me the lines of Lego (homemade) spaceships, Angry Birds figures, and the like. His voice lilted with hope and excitement. He said, ‘Look! Even the Cars and planes are going to help. And these Playmobil guys. Everyone is looking.’

He didn’t want to take time out from organizing a giant rescue mission for the rather paltry option of him looking under something on his own.

I nodded. He ran around the lounge, two Lego helicopters in his hands, speaking in deep tones of men’s voices over the radio. Talking back and forth, conducting the search, calling me ‘search master’ and having new toy ensigns come to me to report for duty.

He commanded an army of plastic friends ready and willing to help him. His positivity made me wonder what happened to the kid who would cry for ages until a missing thing was found.

I’m still waiting for the lego/angry bird mutants to rise.


Pro tip: If you pop off a Lego mini figure’s head, the little peg that remains is the perfect size to fit in an Angry Bird’s bum. Voila! Mutants that are oddly appealing.

We still haven’t found the piece. The little spaceship has been delicately perched higher up where we can’t step on it. I think he’s a little afraid to play with it until the tiny maroon thing has been reattached to one of the wings.

But hopefully one of the millions of Yoda birds and pig nosed Stormtroopers will find it soon.

postscript: (Is it really a postscript if I haven’t actually posted this at the time?)

YES YES YES YES YEEEEEESSSSSSSSS. As I was uploading the picture to this post, I heard a scream of joy. I looked over and, sure enough, as he was playing with Lego spaceships and Angry Birds, the missing piece just popped back into existence. I’m so happy he got to be the hero, I’m so happy I didn’t explode in exasperation this morning, I’m so happy we held the faith it would be found.

Now, back to the superglue debate…Ha.