What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

I was reading blogging prompts and ideas when I came across this one…What is the best gift you’ve ever received? The Oxford Dictionary defines the word gift as: “A thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present”, which I feel perfectly sets the tone of what to me is the best gift.

I could say my DSLR camera that has taken me on many personal journeys, both physically, mentally and spiritually. It assisted me with therapeutic photography, which in the last ten years since I was given it has in turn given me self acceptance and love. However, I put money towards it, and if I take the dictionary definition it does not fit.

Equally, the answer may be my exercise bike, which I have travelled 1000s of km on since I was given in Christmas 2017. It has given me the needed push to exercise more, even when it is cold and wet outside I can mount it, and put music on, to be taken to other places, as use my imagination to imagine where I am cycling that day.

However, for me the best gift is life itself. As someone that daily battles depression, and has had suicidal thoughts off and on for over twenty five years it may seem an odd choice. However, since 2008 when life froze for a few days, I no longer wanted to be part of it, I have grown to see it anew, returning to seeing it like I did as a child.

Why a child’s view you may ask yourself. A child lives in the moment, enjoying and noticing the changes around them. I let my imagination run wild, as I let my visual mind combined with all my senses try make sense of the world around me. Painting the world in colour, not the monochrome it had become, and shining light into the darkness of others.

There could be evil lurking round a corner determined to shatter everything around us into a thousand pieces. However, we cannot live through fear, and there is so much more good out there that needs to be seen and heard. Life is a gift, which we can unwrap daily to enjoy, big and small, and treasure the memories they bring us.

Gifts do not have to cost a lot of money, if any, to mean something special to us. It is often the person that gives us the gift that can transcend the thing we are given. With my chosen gift of life it is Tim I should thank for he was the one that saved me that weekend in 2008, and will never forget just how selfless and special that gift is.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Christmas 2018

As angel halos are polished brighter than Rudloph’s red nose
And Santa samples every sweet his elves have made this year
It is almost here that frantic rush to buy gifts we think others want
Hoping that in return we get more than some perfume or slippers

But for the supermarkets it started back in the heat of August’s sun
We popped in for the creams of sun and ice only to find crackers
In September out came that seasonal swear box if say its name
Surely only a fool would begin their annual celebrations so soon

By October the air begins to turn that distinctive autumnal smell
Advertisers scream through the leaves Christmas is coming soon
‘Buy this now to ensure it is the best you’ve ever had’ they lie to us
Every time we fall for them anew despite promises we made before

November is when any children make their annual written pilgrimage
Making lists of things that they’ll hate by that day in late December
Thinking of nothing else as they try to behave as know he is watching
With the wanting ever growing from iPads to ponies or weight in sweets

December dawns with a black thump as the credit card receipts mount
With the trimmings on the tree many colours and sprouts that nobody eats
Quickly we must write those cards we bought for charity but not be the first
Must change with the times too sending Instagrams, Tweets or Snapchats!

Christmas Eve is the calm before the storm with little time to relax or unwind
The shopping maybe over but there is always lots of wrapping left to do
Hanging up stockings to signal to Santa Claus we are ready for your visit
And a glass of mulled wine soon turns into just the one bottle for tonight

Next morning it begins early with the excitement of kids young and old
Long lies are not meant for this day so no point even beginning to try
Presents carefully wrapped but in seconds in a hundred pieces on the floor
With forced thank you’s exchanged matched only with the fake smiles

As the knife hits the turkey’s breast all eyes stop their games and stare
Even the sugar high children’s screaming and fighting stops for a second
The crackers go bang and paper crowns worn to a chorus of bad jokes
Time to overeat with no regret – well until the wake of Boxing Day morn

Watching the festive specials on the black box that never seem as good
Was it nostalgia or even the drink that says it was better in the old days
As the calm settles a collective world taking deep breaths that it is over
At least that is for another year when we will do it all over again!

© Fi S. J. Brown

I am what I am (a.k.a Self Portrait 2018)

Five years ago I posted the photograph below with the words written upon it describing my journey recovering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), self-hate, and low self-esteem. Today things are very different and this entry describes how things are today. If I am honest I still did not think I could ever reach the point of body and self positivism as the negative hung around like a bad smell I could not get rid of. Looking at old photographs I can see and feel my pain with part of me wishing I had the keys to a time machine to reassure myself but know I probably would not believe myself or recognise the person as me. The ogre that once lived in my head has been truly vanquished, such are the incredible healing properties of self-acceptance and happiness. Actually, I thought I was not allowed to be happy as was meant for others and not for me. Now I realise happiness takes many forms, and I have the right to that as much as anyone else on this planet.

In an age when judgement is made so much on our physical form it makes me still at question if I fit in. Judging on physical form deeply saddens me as know there is so much to us than our shell of many colours. To those that think looks are everything consider the following: when you see an iceberg you only ever see the top of it not what it actually looks like in physical form (this is like judging someone from the clothes you see them in and only desiring the slimmest of figures); equally consider a swan that as a child looks very ordinary but becomes a beautiful and majestic bird (this is akin to judging someone based on their past alone, not who they are in the present and what they may have overcome); and finally consider if the music remained only oral and never visual with those you judge their music based on their sex appeal you could never see (this is like basing your attraction on a walking puppet controlled by someone unseen where nothing is actually real).

I know I am not an ogre but I am equally not a Hollywood A-list celebrity, but then again I would rather be the ogre than the Hollywood star! Accepting me as me has been far harder than academic study; although on saying that my PhD was one of the greatest stresses of my life to date. I am me, not the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame as I used to think. Which was replaced with Pablo Picasso’s ‘Woman in Hat and Fur Collar’ for a bit as I attempted to readjust the mental image in my head. This was followed by a patchwork doll made up of patches that represented all the different things that make me, me, and stitched together with love from those that are special in my life. However, now I see the same image others see in my photographs and smile like I never thought I could, it used to physically hurt my face for starters. If I was to have any other visual of me it is of a Matryoshka doll, because there is more to learn about me even when you think you know me well I will always surprise you with another layer to what makes me the uniquely beautiful human being I am.

© Fi S. J. Brown

5 years ago.jpg

Then and Now

Were the every day thoughts, hopes, and daydreams of our ancestors really that different to our own now in 2018?

Painted caves, sharing myths to jokes imprinted in clay, hieroglyphs with 2-3 meanings, and illuminated scrolls,
Philosophers pondering the meaning of the world around us with none finding a true meaning to life itself.
But now words are written not in verse or prose but with hashtags and abbreviated words accompanied by emojis.
Taking pictures that hang not in galleries or shelves in the home but in virtual clouds that in a tap are deleted.

Great discoveries from the wheel to medicines and the internet itself are achievements that make humanity proud,
Knowledge is finding the right app to do it for us or knowing a tomato is a fruit but wisdom is not putting it in a salad.
All the knowledge and information we have from the past to the present of life is available at the tap of a button,
But we use it to share videos of cats, get into arguments with people we don’t know, or legally stalk a celebrity or two.

The food we no long hunt on horses with bows and arrows but drive metallic beasts that lead us to it already prepared
Seldom considering the journey it has made to the plate other than the instructions half glance at the cooking instructions.
Beauty is created with chemicals that mask our real faces and surgeon’s knives to create the perfect body craved,
But is also manufactured in heavily edited images to sell a fake life that makes the normal become the abnormal.

No worshipping of gods and/or goddesses with gifts left in blessing and hopeful acceptance to a heavenly afterlife,
Replaced with puppets saying or singing the words of their masters to be taken as their own thoughts and views on life.
As we crave the simpler life without the hard work our ancestors did in one day to than we ever could in our lifetime,
And have not mastered not judging another or thinking war is the answer without understanding the question.

With the keys to a time machine would we travel back in time or be content to live in the present day in modern life,
Or would we take a peak to a future that for now lies as an unwritten whisper but not a guaranteed promise to us all.
Changes occur great and small throughout our lifetimes just as they have since those now long forgotten in time’s dust,
The only way to survive it is focusing on the present without letting negative thoughts take root and live the daydreams.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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

 

Mindful life lessons

Happiness – Is something we feel and cannot ever be bought or sold. It is learning to be content without wanting or expecting more. Some of us feel at times it eludes us or is meant for us but not ourselves. However, learning to regain the childhood imagination and wonder at the world, accepting what we have now not want or did have.

Love – The aged old cliché is true, love ourselves before we love another. Yet, how can we accept the love of another if we do not ourselves? There is also a balancing act with the ego, so does not turn into narcissism. Loving ourselves is a life time’s work, there are no short cuts via surgery or quick fixes; learning to know ourselves and accept us is key.

Respect – Realising that how friends and/or family live life is their way, and when find our authentic life we respect their choices as we would hope they would ours. Yes not everyone does as may try tell us it is not natural or normal, which can be as painful as it is isolating making self respect hard, but it begins and ends with us as individuals.

Authentic – Living life the way that is right for us, not what someone else wants us to be by controlling it with fear or anger; nor is it copying another’s out of jealousy and greed, feeling it should be ours too. Remember, it is not who we were five years ago and nor is it who we’d like to be in another five but who we are today and this moment in time.

Confidence – There are always people who will laugh and gossip behind our backs, but if we accept who we are why does it matter? As they may be as jealous and envious of what us wish we had that they have. Nobody walks our path with us or the same as us for life, keep on walking forward because their ego and jealousy will soon trip them up.

Maturity – With the passing of time we see many of the different colours and shades of humanity, as well as good and bad. It can take many years to realise what makes our life is different to another’s, sometimes the fight to try reach that goal others have achieved is one not meant to be for us or may simply not be what is right for us right now.

Present – We all have a past and we may have a future, but the only time we really have is now. The present helps us learn from the mistakes of the past so no longer has the same pain to hurt us, equally the future is but a promise and it needs the foundations laid today if wish the promise to turn into reality. So always be aware and in the present.

Life – Is hard. It has no fixed length but is fatal in the end. So make the most of what we have, money is not a driver but a means to an ends. Looking after ourselves, being gentle during the bad times and allowing ourselves to enjoy the good is key. Treating everyone we meet as the individual they are but as an equal, in the same way we would.

© 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