I love words. Writing has always been my ‘thing’. It’s how I see the world. I compose captions for everything I encounter, stringing words together in search of meaning. Something becomes ‘real’ when I’ve written it down in my mind.
Writing is also how I have earned a living as an adult … but I’ve never written for me. Yes, I’ve journalled. I’ve jotted down thoughts and feelings, poetry and prompts, inspirations and realisations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I’ve got a book in me. One day I’ll write a novel.” When people ask me what I do, I always feel like a bit of a fraud when I say I’m a writer.
“Oh, what have you written?”
“Would I know any of your work?”
And then I feel like I have to back pedal – like the braking mechanism on my childhood bike. “No, I’m a behind the scenes writer, a ghost writer,” I say. “I write about luxury hotels and spas – press material, positioning and concept development. That sort of thing. I’ve started lots of novels, but I don’t have time for my personal writing at the moment. One day …”
And then the reply 99% of the time: “Do you get to travel? That sounds amazing.”
Surface. Surface level conversations. My regurgitated story. Their predictable answer.
On a recent trip to South Africa I discovered a book in my parents’ bookshelf. Alongside my name, the inscription read: ‘Congratulations on winning the Jack Field Shield for Creative Writing and Literary Ability’. I was simultaneously filled with the feelings of unrivalled pride and unrealised potential.
I’ve beaten myself up about this all my life. The procrastinating perfectionist. But there’s a divine timing to everything.
COVID-19 and a change of heart have led me here: writing some of my story for me (and anyone along for the ride)...
I wrote and directed my first (and only) play, aged 10. It was based on King Arthur and Camelot. Our term topic was medieval castles so it was creatively fitting. Of course, I cast myself as Queen Guineveve and my crush as King Arthur. The final scene was King Arthur’s death. Our mourning ended abruptly as he jumped up – resurrected, reborn and reimagined – as we ripped off our period costumes to reveal 80s neon outfits, and said in unison: “I’m alive … and we’re living in the modern world.”
And in this modern world, I live a 35 minute drive from Glastonbury Tor, the legendary home of Arthur’s Avalon: the place he went to heal, at the hands of enchantress Morgan le Fay, after his last battle. There is so much beautiful (and personal) symbolism to unpack here – from Camelot representing the happiness idyll to the theme of death and rebirth, from magic and mysteries to loyalty and love. I’ve just started reading The Mists of Avalon, a 1009 page book by Marion Zimmer Bradley: a classic retelling of the tale, from ‘her-story’ (Morgan and the female leads) rather than ‘his-story’ (Arthur and the male leads). But for now, we return to my ‘battle’ via an apple anecdote...
Avalon: the isle of apples. Apple: symbolic of life and death, divination and damnation. Tink, my nanna, would sit at the breakfast table each morning and peel an apple. It was both a meditative and medicinal process. She would take the same pale-handled little peeling knife and start at the top beneath the stalk. As she gently turned the apple, she slowly sliced the skin off in a spiral: the shiny outer revealing the succulent inner. She always managed to peel the apple without breaking the circular chain. Her breath was laboured yet loving, as her lungs slowly began to lose their battle to emphysema.
“Nanna Tink, why do you do this every day?”
“My child, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
The year or so after my Avalon play, my heart started speaking again. I had my first tachycardia attack since infancy.
I had just started wearing a watch, so I remember trying to count the beats and losing track too quickly as it raced over 200 a minute. Then I tried counting for 15 seconds and multiplying this by 4 … it was a number I knew was too high. I ran through the empty school corridors, high on adrenaline, to the office for them to phone my Mom. What had been my narrative all my life, became alive in those moments – it became my reality.
And so, the medical investigations re-started. We drove to Durban to see a specialist. I had an ECG. I wore a heart monitor for 24 hours. I was put on medication again – a beta blocker – but it deemed my senses dense and my personality dull. They took me off it after 6 months. My episodes were relatively infrequent and only lasted a few minutes. At this point, in this permutation, it wasn’t life-threatening. They taught me techniques to try and right the rhythm: blow on my thumb like a trumpet; massage pressure points in my neck (but not both at the same time otherwise I might faint). I was to self-manage my condition for as long as it remained non-invasive.
I got used to my unique rhythms. I had periodic episodes. I learnt to expect and understand the sensations. Just before an arrhythmia would set in, before the surge, everything stopped: my body paused and time simply ceased. I was all and nothing. This in-between moment was powerful, profound, purposeful. Like a crossroad: destination unknown and anything possible. My lungs would empty as all breath evaporated. My heart would miss a beat before kicking into a rhythmic race: death and rebirth.
I would uncurl; unfurl from my root to crown. A wave rolled through my body, re-energising, re-igniting and re-calibrating me. Kundalini rising. That first breath was everything. I had been awakened.
Boom, boom, boom, boom …not only would it race, but its power was amplified. I could feel the pumping throughout my whole body. Anyone who placed a hand on my chest would feel the boom beat. In those moments I usually felt superhuman, supernatural, supercharged. A rush and a rushing.
Occasionally, it felt like my chest was caving in; that I couldn’t get enough air; that life was being sped up and sucked away. I read somewhere that each heart beats an average number of times in a lifetime … did my ‘malfunctions’ take off months? What and where was my Avalon?
This is my greatest fear. The fear of dying: of leaving my physical body, as flawed yet faultless as it is. I’ve died and been reborn many times; I have shed layers; I have been shown the other side. Theoretically I get it. Practically, I struggle . Perhaps my fear of death is because I am not truly living, not fully alive in each moment. That I haven’t realised or reached what it is I’m here to share or do. That I indulge myself by replaying the past and role-playing the future. And so I seek to understand the continual life-death-rebirth cycle – not the ‘final main event’ in my mind. I work to embody and embrace oneness; to practise peace and presence; to experience joy in the extra-ordinary everyday; to accept it all; to appreciate it all.
This is me. It's a journey of go and slow, ebb and flow, peaks and valleys. I am excavating my ego; chipping away at my conditioning; poring over my purpose; studying and surrendering to spirituality. I do love that my 6-year old self knew what question to ask: What is life?