September third, 1990

Eight years ago this week I was writing about Roman fires as part of my PhD write up with a glass of red wine at my side, leftover from cooking my dinner earlier that evening, when an event I witnessed became a catalyst for something that I can only call a milestone in my life and fate wanted me to forever recall that very moment. Tonight I am sharing my photographs and digital art on social media as well as writing this piece, things I could only have dreamt that I could do, or that people would understand or follow them. However, it is none of these I am actually going to write on, instead it is something prompted by seeing children (re)start school after their summer break, which has reminded of the third of September 1990 when I changed schools, and the miserable seven years I had there.

As a child we are told repeatedly that our school days would be the happiest of our life, which made me question throughout my early childhood and into teenage years how miserable must life be as an adult if these are meant to be happy times! Perhaps in the more recent past they were more innocent times than then or even now to be a child, and those carefree days were led to be so happy as did not have the stresses and strains that adults experienced. I only need to look at pictures of my young nieces to worry about how sexualised the youngest is at five years old and posing like a woman four to five times here age in a bikini on a beach. The little carefree girl I played with last autumn seems a million miles from this wannabe model, a child stuck in an adult world, which in turn makes me wonder what world her and her sister will be part of as this ever changing world grows fifty shades greyer by the day.

Back in 1990 dressed almost head to toe in green (yes even my underwear had to be green) I entered a classroom with the stares of my fellow pupils and invisible sounds telling me it was not the place for me…perhaps the near accident the year before should have told me to listen to my instincts and run, but alas there was nowhere and nobody to turn to. I can still recall my classes that day, which included drama and German – giggling to myself at learning that Varter was German for father, which to my 11 ¾ year old ears sounded like farter and very appropriate for my dad! The school was different in how my old one had operated, but ultimately left me just as miserable as its predecessor with bullies and time on my own. My teachers however for the most part were excellent, and as someone that likes to learn thrived under ones like my Latin teacher that encouraged everyone no matter how good or bad you were. Her methods are ones I use myself whenever teaching or supporting someone, and still wish in part I had studied Latin at St Andrew’s University as I considered back in 1996 in tribute to her, but my PhD did involve the Romans so in a way I have done.

The impact of those year years left scars that even now I can feel throughout my body, but they are beginning to heal with the passing of time combined with good friendships that help me to see how naive and stupid the bullies were. I have achieved more than even I thought was possible when I packed my clarinet away and left them behind at the Usher Hall with a smile and the largest sigh of relief that had ever been heard in its corridors. This was just after being pushed off the platform while singing our school song and national anthem to say to me even in our final moments as pupils they did not accept me as one of their own. Ironically, I officially left a month before but had come back to play my clarinet at the request of the head of music, to which I had agreed as long as did not need to follow uniform restrictions to rehearsals! Even now I do not wish any of them ill or bad times, but as someone that knows karma eventually comes a knocking, it will do what needs to be done. My name in full is still one I struggle to own as tainted with the echoes of their laughter, but grown to prefer my shorter form as shows those that really know me to use it.

Going forward the echoes and laughter will eventually go as let the last scar heal, I promised myself I would not pick them. So what will the next eight years bring, twenty seven is far to hard to imagine…well as Coldplay sang – “You can take a picture of something you see. In the future where will I be? You can climb a ladder up to the sun. Or write a song nobody has sung. Or do something that’s never been done” – I intended to do them all and more as this woman can. What I have learnt is that there will always be some that judge and make assumptions, or make our lives hell as their own is not very good, but they do not know the real us and the best action is to show them we do not care to how far we have come.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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Memories

Memories are curious things, one song or smell and we are taken back to a time or event that is just a something from our past. I sit writing this in Aberdeen, at the campus of the university I attended for degree and first masters and finished almost fifteen years ago, but it is like a different world from my time at the university as now based by the River Dee as a very modern single site campus not spread out over the city. I have have visited twice briefly since my time living here, once for a job interview eleven years ago and seven years ago for a gig, making memories of the city mostly from when I lived here before.

Upon arrival by coach, just as I had when I first visited Aberdeen to an university open day in early 1997 the city’s grey stood out, it is not nicknamed the ‘granite city’ for nothing, one could say it had fifty shades of grey before it was cool! I wandered briefly around before taking the bus to my current destination with a mix of memories that flooded back and new ones being made. Sites like the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre that brought back music to my ears from concerts to musicals I attended there and others that had been the soundtrack to my days living there. Street names jumped out in my memory of the events that took place on them, Market and Union Streets and others such as South Silver Street I finally knew the name of. I laughed upon seeing a bar called The Grill on Union Street that famously did not have a woman’s toilet until 1998 (it did not allow women at all until 1975) and smiled on remembering my project management lecturer saying he’d be propping up the bar if needed help with his course.

Shops and bars that were like friends but now had changed but not gone either; Ottakers bookshop where I sat many a Saturday afternoon with a tea and book is now Waterstones, and Triple Kirks the pub which was a firm favourite of many studying at Schoolhill and St Andrew’s Street without its pew seats. This in turn reminded me of an event forever ingrained in my memory – my friends doing a pub crawl with a 6ft inflatable alien called Hilary, who did it all from karaoke with Fraser to Iain’s attempts to keep it blown up before either Ewan or Rich put their cigarette out on it until they were no more. Nobody knew if Hilary was meant to be male or female, perhaps they were truly gender fluid before we mentioned such things as do now. There are also many statues in the city centre such as Edward VII and William Wallace but it is the lion war memorial that is the one I remember most as forever an almost unspoken right of passage by students in the near by Woolmanhill halls of residence to ride the lion during their fresher’s year when drunk (no reader alas I never did).

I come back to the university and sat in what is now where students would go to learn similar to I had in my day. One friend from my student days remained here and is now a lecturer. I had went to see the university library, which in my time had been a subject specific one in my part of the campus and remembered someone sneaking in fish and chips to it! I usually hid in the jurnal section so not to be disturbed but in later years  Alex and MC joined me with MC’s pile of biscuits and donuts that never got even a tut from the librarians! Computers around everywhere for students to use where as we had a few open access rooms in the building and one specifically for us within Applied Sciences; giggling at the thought of a lecturer searching for water sports but got the wrong kind, which led to a firm talk at the start of every year on being careful when surfing the internet. I thought of people I had known then and those I have contact with now, how life had panned out for us and what we expected it to.

Recently I read something that said our past is just stories we tell ourselves in the present, and being back in Aberdeen made that statement feel so very true. All the memories I have sat writing about are just stories of the five years I lived here, the city has changed but so had I in so many positive ways, equally there are many parts that remained just the same and can say the same of myself. The past may make us who we are now but the present is all we truly ever have, for the future is a whisper and not a promise. We do not skip to the end of a book to see what happens in the end, we take it page by page just as life is a page in the book of our life. Finally, life should be led like a piece of music, it can only be truly enjoyed in one direction with all that it brings with it, and dancing the rhythm of our life not anyone else.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The whisper of 38

I sit here writing this as my thirty eighth birthday is almost whispering in my ears, and have decided to write another of my reflective pieces considering what this year been has been like and what I would like the next one to bring. Last year after being asked what I would like the next year to bring I wrote about the jigsaw puzzle of life and hoping it would mean a key piece would fall into place, which was followed by finding a physical jigsaw piece sat on the bench at a local bus stop a few days later; I still have the piece and plan to frame it to remember this year and what it has brought.

So what has the last year brought? In the past people’s negative comments were like being shot with a loaded gun, with positive ones unable to stitch up the bullet holes and would end up being pricked by the needles of others that tried to as did not always have my best interests at heart. However, I have learnt over the last decade to deal and cope with health issues particularly with my mental health, i.e. depression and anxiety to poor body and self image, which this year although tested at times, including a tearful breakdown at Easter, I have bounced back from and have served to remind me why I nickname myself Zebedee (the Jack in the box in the Magic Roundabout) as I will bounce back from whatever life throws at me. I know now I am a strong woman despite my extreme sensitivity and I may hurt me initially but it will not stop me from saying ENOUGH I will dance in the rain as the thunder and lightning roar for they will not drown me or kill me.

Did I find that key piece of jigsaw? Yes is the shortest answer but it is far from simple. I started the year by reflecting back to my teenage years, as realised I needed to learn from my mistakes from then to the present to truly be in the present and dream the impossible dream of the future not yet written. By the age of around 15 I knew what mattered to me and the path I felt drawn to, yet let myself be swept in a series of waves without remembering I could swim and could do alone if necessary. Others made recommendations which I followed almost blindly, but that only lead me up dead ends, as I did not question them and thought they knew better than I did. The truth is only we know ourselves as only we walk this life with our knowledges, skills and experiences, thus walking another’s path is like wearing our neighbour’s high heels for ten miles and wondering why we have blisters all over our feet.

I have interests and passions that I no longer hide from as thought others would bully and/or hate me for more as well as accept me as a ragdoll made up of all my many experiences and adventures in life so far not an ogreous beast my head had painted. Through the clarity of the ragdoll now in my head I saw she was also symbolic of the support and help I give others and what I learnt from them, which is stiched together not with needles that will hurt me but with love from my closest of friends. For those that try to fire bullets now do so out of jealousy, envy and greed as do not like that another stands up for themselves and that of others; putting the voice of the abuser or bully to mute and turning up those that deserve to be heard. For this is my key piece, this is what and who I am to others and must do for myself too.

So what would I like the next year to bring? Well I knew a long time ago I would never have children of my own but my youngest niece reminds me of the magical innocence and imagination we can have in this world and exploring it at times together will keep me seeing it afresh and perhaps a touch less cynical (if that’s possible); her big sister I gave a copy of my favourite book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), which I hope she learns to love as much as I do in time and the messages it contains. Life as well as a path, journey and jigsaw puzzle is also a maze, which I am near to finding the centre of mine as now know I am on the right path and after finding that key piece in the jigsaw I am certain it is.

I no longer want to build a wall to protect myself from the world, but breakdown them down all over the world and use the bricks to lay new paths for those stuck behind them through discrimination and prejudice. There are some that wallow in the pond of self pity but do not realise it takes part of their soul every time they do, which I try not to do as know my wings would be singed again and this phoenix is ready to fly far and wide this coming year. So watch out, watch me fly without fearing my wings will being clipped or hitting glass doors and I will soar further than I can ever dreamed I could.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

Art and mindfulness

Look around you, what is the closest piece of art you can see? It maybe a copy of a painting as your computer or phone’s wallpaper, it maybe a tapestry on the wall, a photograph framed of a memory, which now all that remains is that solitary image, a vase made of glass or clay with flowers freshly picked from the garden, a doodle drawn while talking on the telephone last night, the mug that holds the now cold mug of tea, or a piece of music on YouTube. Art is everywhere and anywhere around us, fighting for our eyes attention before letting the other senses join in the party. We all live in our own museums and art galleries of our own device and curation.
 
Now imagine you came from a distant future, try to see through the eyes of some futuristic persona, and look at the piece of art you chose again with fresh eyes. Each one is full of unique colour, shape, purpose, texture, age, and design. Note in your mind or write down what your piece of art has. For example: I’m looking at cross stitch that hangs in the middle of my bookcase, which has my name and birth date upon it, but there is a flaw in the A as one x was stitched in the wrong place. Also, the child does not look like me as it has blonde hair and I am a brunette. Finally, I look at the flowers of pink and purple falling like rain from the sky that match the umbrella or parachute I’m attached to as I come to land in a gap between four houses.
 
Works of art gather meanings beyond the surface because we give them one; sometimes trying to understand the mind of the artist that made, but it could also be something that we have added sentimentality to, maybe it is an every day object that we do not look at beyond the function of it, and occasionally it is seen as something disposable as was only belonging to that one moment. By considering seeing them with eyes of the future we see new meanings that they may have otherwise never had, as the way we see them is based past and not what they mean to us now. We get so used to seeing the every day around us, they lose their original stories and why or how we chose to have them. What would archaeologist of the future think?!
 
This is like seeing our problems and/or issues, by seeing them with fresh eyes we can see them a different way and see how they impact on us now. For example realising the abuse we suffered as a child occurred twenty five years ago, but acknowledging the amazing things we have done despite this pain and beautiful person we are that would hurt nobody. Equally, it maybe a regret for not taking an action, which we feel may have brought us happiness and/or success, but remember we have things in the present that also make us happy with their own successes. Be focused not just on the present moment but appreciating what we have now is what matters.
 
© Fi S. J. Brown

Letter to self

Dear Fiona (aged 22 and 3/4s),
I am writing to you from fourteen years in your future and have managed to scrape through to 36.75, sometimes you’ll wonder how but have learnt to focus on the present not past to pains that still scar but are covered in patches sewn by the love of friendship and think of the future but only see a cold and dark tunnel.

You are coming to the end of your time living in Aberdeen, having studied for a degree and a masters, but not sure what direction you want to go next. Well here’s a spoiler, you have another masters and PhD to go but they’re not listening to your inner voice, which you only learn with hindsight and life experience.

A freak that is the love child of Frankenstein and the Hunchback of Notre Dame is how you feel, right? Wrong, by my time you have grown to accept and appreciate who you are. No you haven’t resorted to drastic measures to change every iota of yourself as per those nightmaresque dreams you always have.

The reason for this letter is to say, you’re doing just fine. Yes, the way your life goes is not like others but that’s why life’s journey is unique and special, we can empathise and understand that of others but only we know our path. And yes it does hurt, do cry but do also try to focus on the positives that are part of that journey.

As to where you’re going to be at the age that I am now? Lets just say frustration on some things never change, no matter what we do these seem set to plague us but some will change. No matter how they seem today, like the newspapers that are tomorrows fish and chip wrappers, let them fade with the sun setting.

One final thing thing, you’re a strong woman that keeps going longer than any Duracell bunny ever could. So dry those tears that fall, not hard with your hand, but with a tissue and let yourself feel them like drops on a drum for they’re the rhythm of your heart and soul. And don’t give up, believe it again, carry on forwards.

Love Fi (aged 36.75) xx

Humans 2015.5 AD

For me four words describe many humans in this the middle of the second decade of the twenty first century. They are: Narcissistic, Cruel, Ignorant and Fearful.

As we’ve entered the era of the selfie there has become a thin line between self love and narcissism. A look at most major celebrities social media it’s a case of look at me and my life, which gives the younger generations a false idea of how they must look to what they can achieve in life. The newspapers to websites show us altered images to say “this is what normal is“, yet we’re all normal and it is what is right for us not what someone else tells us. We also have products filled with chemicals to give us masks to hide behind and show off to the world, which if some post without some how become regarded as “brave“. The narcissism entered a new low recently with the news Kim Kardashian has published a book of selfies, frankly who cares; in the past family pictures would be kept to an album brought out on special occasions. The images offer nothing to aspire to and have in much in common with a tortoise’s shell with glitter and glue than they do about what makes that person human and their individuality.

At the same time we have become much less compassionate and caring about our fellow humans and the world around us, many laughing at those with emotions and make them feel like they are some kind of modern day circus freak for doing so. Some like to troll across the internet picking holes at others as do things differently or look different to them, hiding behind a screen as know the screen is not two way. They also will do whatever they can to get what they feel they are entitled to; doing so through lying and cheating, as long as they’re alright and does not matter who they hurt in so doing. Those that try to stand up against them are met quite often by more of the same so back down and lose their voice as pushed aside or muted into submission. Karma will have her way but even that does not seem to make them pause to think, simply because all they think of is themselves.

Is ignorance really bliss? How can we have more people staying on in education yet know nothing about real life. They follow celebrities blindly or get enraged by politicians but only look at the surface as do not think for themselves and allow handheld computers or smart phones to do it for them. No longer going to a library for finding the answers or trying to learn for ourselves, we head straight for Google and believing 99.9% of what is written; which is even more alarming when we consider the words could be written by anyone from an academic professor with an agenda to kid of sixteen that thinks he/she knows it all. For some it does matter as can say yes I agree with him or her and will never look further to understand, interpret their words or create something for themselves. Indeed some will rip off those that have, marking it as their own as don’t know how to, jealous someone else has, or will claim it as their own.

Finally, we have also become fearful that people of certain religions or beliefs mean to hurt us. Someone with a gun is liable to go crazy at a school, especially if they have a mental health condition. Some days it feels like the world walks on egg shells as ignorant to the truth and will hurt them for just being a certain way just to prevent them from hurting ourselves or those we love as gave us a “funny look“. Newspapers to website spread a form of fear porn to make us worry and whisper on what may be as we fear not what will happen if we do but more the fear from not acting when we feel should. Some campaign for peace, but while we are fighting among ourselves due to difference and/or ignorance, can it really ever happen or is it just something to hang hope on?

Four words, yet they say so much of life at the present moment. We cannot change the past as that’s now our history and today lays the foundations for tomorrow. We live life in one direction, even if time travel is possible, with past events re-written to suit the survivors or victor’s points of view. So perhaps stopping and thinking now and again to consider who we are, this world we live in beyond the concrete cages and finally what/who matters most.

© Fi S. J. Brown

The written word: Past, present and future

What would our ancestors say of how we tell stories via the written word, when many could not do so. Instead they would use art from painting and music to tell them and pass them on to the next generation. Even today being able to read and write is a luxury that many of us that can, forget.

Something I have often pondered is, if time travel were possible when or what would I most like to visit. I decided recently that for me it would be the ancient library in Alexandria because I would not only like to see what was in it but ultimately what was in it and answering who really did set fire to it.

The thought of books on fire reminded me of the excellent “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. The book tells of a dystopian future vision of America in which books are banned and if found they are burnt. When I first read it over 15 years ago I could not imagine a world with no books.

However, today we have electronic readers today such as kindles, the word always reminds me of kindling. I will admit to not being much of a fan as love the smell and feel of books. So are they kindling of the fire to destroy books and the written word? No, I would not go quite that far.

However, it does make me wonder about edits to texts, books we regard as classics, if the original text will remain unaltered? Then again, how many books we do read now have gone through changes? The Bible, has probably been spun and purposefully mistranslated for centuries.

I have this concern as have heard it with music, as an artist produces a remastered greatest hits with subtle changes in the music from the originals. Equally, I have seen edits in movies and television, to make them more suitable for a set time frame or feel something isn’t appropriate any more.

So what is the future for the written word? More and more we are publishing our own work, from fan fiction to novels, but are people actually reading more? Yet original creative thought and work seems to be declining, as we see and hear old ideas rehashed. I can only hope for the future.

© Fi S. J. Brown

What’s age got to do with it?

Last night I watched the movie “Logan’s Run“, which left me questioning many ethics and morals of the society Logan lives in. Within this there were two things that made me think overnight; the age that people were euthanised was thirty and the “old man” played by Peter Ustinov.

More and more we are fixated with looking younger, trying pills, potions and injections to have the face of youth, which also makes me think of those getting new faces in “Logan’s Run“. How long will it be till seeing a face like that of “the old man” is something many no longer see?

There is already a growing gap between young and old, as one does not respect the other. Equally, part of older people’s beauty is in their wrinkles, each one tells their own story, removing them is like trying to erase their past, which we cannot do. Being old isn’t promised to us all.

In many ways the strive to be immortal has been replaced by looking young; but does looking younger than our physical age really matter after all it is a number and our outer shell not what truly makes us human, it is the inside that gives colour to our thoughts, actions and beliefs.

The media and entertainment business is always telling us of the latest young talent, the new x or y, it is almost like Logan 6 or Jessica 5, as saying those ones have gone now. What happened to originality and creativity, we’re all individuals not replacements, a name is but a label.

So perhaps in the future we will live in a society that is just filled with youth, but to me that sounds horrific as we learn so much through life. It seems like wanting to be like emotionless, identikit clones and drones, rather than embracing what colours we shine and sharing that light.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Night whispers

I stand in line waiting for the ferry to carry me back home
As the night stretches out far and wide in every direction
And the stars sparkle like diamond speedways of light

I am in no rush to make the journey back to my homeland
For tales, myths and lies haunt me like a ghost live there
And memories of my childhood are little works of origami

The spring breezes catches my breath to make me relax
Filling it with sparklers bright and smells almost angelic
And removing the hellish voices and flooding thoughts

Those days are in the past and where they must stay
The future’s foundations are made from today not then
So into a box I lock them shut and throw the key to sea

Now I board the ferry free with a new song in my head
I cannot change what happened or those that hurt me
But I can enjoy the present and let positivity shine out

© Fi S. J. Brown

Shiny Happy People

It is said that there are nine common traits of happy people but they do not talk about them. I have listed the nine below and considered each one, how I feel about each one from my own experiences and knowledge. Am I really one of the world’s shiny happy people, or am I still stuck with depression filling my head with it’s darkness and endless tunnels?

1. “Love themselves for who they are” – Whilst I would concur this is true I would say it is more a self respect and appreciation for who who we are rather than a love. Accepting what this shell of a body can and cannot do, not wanting to change who we are to fit among the “cool” gang, and knowing when we give our best, that is enough for me.

2. “See relationships as an extension to, rather than the basis of the human experience” – I have known others to be depressed when single or unable to do something as need someone to do it with them. For me, I spend much of my time alone and enjoy the new things friends can teach me about life as much as the things we both share.

3. “Embrace change” – For me change in this world is something that happens all the time, there is no point in worrying as it will go the way it’s meant to be every time, even when it hurts hard. Each day is like an empty page, some is filled in with routine but remember the spaces inbetween are for new adventures and experiences, good and bad.

4. “Celebrate rather than compare themselves to the accomplishments of others” – I see people doing their best every day, if I have achieved similar I can share the feelings they maybe feeling now, but even if I have not, I know that they will have given their best to achieve it. Know the little things we have achieved are most often the greatest.

5. “Never dwell in being a victim” – Somethings that have happened in my life hurt badly but I have learnt these are part of who I am, so do not dwell on the pain they cause (mental and physical) but see them as patches that the love of good friends stitch together and give me strength to carry on even if feel the darkness descend upon me. 

6. “They live in the present” – I know how tempting it is to replay past memories, good and bad, or look forward to a future that will never come. Instead I realise today is the only day that matters, to be the best I can be today as these actions and those around me will be the foundations of tomorrow and will soon also be memories of the past.

7. “Trust that everything happens for a reason” – Good or bad, it’s the experience, lessons from it and how we react to it that matters most. If I had not done what seemed frivolous at the time, I would not have the good friends I now have in my life. Sometimes it is hard to see others having success when we do not, but ours may come in another form.

8. “They don’t let money dictate their lives” – From my earliest years I could not understand the global fixation with money, how one country could have so much more when others had so little. I see it as a necessary evil, as allows us to do things we may not otherwise do and do not need a credit card to allow me to have a “good night out.”

9. “Look within for solutions” – I have learnt it is my instincts I must trust when making decisions, reading around a subject before choosing what makes sense for me today. What I choose may not suit another but that is why I will not push my ideas on others, merely suggest to them to trust themselves with their own life skills and knowledge.

After over 35 years I guess I truly am happy within, something I never thought I was allowed to be. I may never have the white wedding or 2.4 kids, but those have not been what my life has been for. Equally, the future is such an expanse into the unknown, I would rather dip my toes in the present not jump ahead. Free to be me, not adding to the darkness.

© Fi S. J. Brown