Saturday, December 6, 2014

Starting a war on lol

I am declaring war on the ubiquitous acronym lol. Not only does it confuse those who didn't grow to maturity in a 90's chat room or in the current glut of social media platforms (how many non-digital natives think it means Lots of Love?), but it no longer holds any real meaning. It's used mostly to imply 'I find your statement mildly amusing' and then when you really are laughing out loud it needs to be stated with more fervence.

I found myself recently saying llol instead: Literally Laughing Out Loud. I've seen people write "lolling" as if lol is now a word instead of an acronym. And them there's lmao and pmsl and rotflmao and many other variations that are attempts to express the varying levels of amusement that may be generated in online interactions.

There are so many brilliant words for the many forms of laughter that are never used outside of an erudite novel. When was the last time you heard someone guffaw? Do you ever chortle or chuckle?  How about that person on the train who had the best cackle you'd ever heard? Everyone should snigger at least once, and sometimes a joke deserves a titter.

And that's just in English, in which there are apparently 42 ways to express laughter in typing. Even plain old hahaha is expressed differently in other languages online.

One of my favourite movie moments is a character in Amelie describing to her how Nino used to collect laughs. I've found myself mentally doing the same. Noting the kind of infectious laughter that makes you laugh too. Or the one that makes you snap out of your own thoughts just because it's so unusual.

How many ways can you laugh?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Letters to the future

When I was thirteen I started a ritual. I got the idea from a novel - the name of which has long fallen out of my memory.

Each birthday I sit down and write a letter to my future self. A real handwritten letter on paper and sealed in an envelope for a year. Then at 3pm each birthday (my birth time) or as close to it as I can manage, I open it, read it and write the next one.

I did it for ten years, then stopped for ten years, and started again last year. Ironically I think the years I wasn't writing it were probably some of the hardest years I've had: the ones where that annual reflection and reminder from my past self might have been more useful than usual.

I've only ever showed those letters to a few select people in my most inner circle, but maybe there's something in there for other people too. So here's a snippet from last year's letter:

"When you are lost, you only need to remember. Look at who you have been to remember who you are. Look to the dailiness of love that you have lived, even when the softness of it was not there. Trust your reserve and your patience and kindness. Follow your sensitivity."

For me those letters have become a touchstone for the person I am. A way to reconnect with who I have been all along, a reminder of my ambitions and daydreams and yearnings. Sometimes reading them makes me sad at the contrast between one year and the next; sometimes it leaves me with a wry smile at the surprising wisdom of my younger selves; and then sometimes it's incredibly grounding.

People write letters to their younger selves all the time, but that seems pretty useless to me. We can't go back in time. Our youth cannot be shaped by the adult we will become, but the reverse is usually true.

So, what do you want to say to your future self?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chronicles 2012 (1)

We wait, steady on the tarmac
watching others come in
They look so fragile on the wing
dipping and swaying lower
last minute adjustments
as the ground rushes up
to touch in a cough of smoke

Now we inch forward
turning from the land
and then the rush, the gravity
My belly is feathery, fluttering
the power catches my breath
Up, up, impossibly airborne
on wings of metal and wire
weighted with scraps of our lives

My attendants are both men
one beautiful and shiny, lovely
but his soft edges, a lilt to
the voice and hips, a slick
of lipgloss betray his allegiance
The other is sculpted in face
his hair rising to a peak
an accent, pale eyes, a smile
for the ladies. A set to his
mouth reminiscent of a smirk.
He's not my cup of tea
---- though he serves me a coffee
(it's airplane coffee, watery
with a dribble of milk
but it induces a sense of
working towards wakefulness)

Two women a row behind me
laugh the same laugh, in sync
once, twice, peals like waves
a man is the cause I'm sure
I smile to myself and the window

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Dream for my brother

They were coming for you
a They we only knew to run from
I never questioned that I would aid you
I never asked what you had done

I gave you a car to go from us faster
a car that wasn't mine to give
it was the colour of courage
I gave you the colour of strength

when you veered off the highway
the car you drove was white
the colour of beginning, or of death
now wedged in a crack in the earth

I crawled through the wreckage
crumpled at both ends like paper
gathering up your abandoned keys
fat bunches of keys to everything

brother, where are you running to?
do you know what you left behind?
your gods cannot love you as I do
follow them, but take your keys


Thursday, October 2, 2014

How to kiss me for the first time

Slowly. Gently. Sweetly. Subtly. With anticipation and a touch of reverence. As if there's nowhere else to be, no goal or destination, just this moment. Just the faint stirrings of desires to come.

Kiss me like Amelie and Nino. Start somewhere else. Not the back of my hand, which tells me you fancy yourself a ladies man. Not my neck, which speaks of the intention to arouse. Not a peck on the cheek, which feels brotherly, chaste, sheepish.

Start at the top of my cheek, the line of my jaw, my temple, the corner of my mouth. Linger, press your cheek against mine, skim your lips over my eyelids. Appreciatively, savouring.

Sensitively, reading my responses, noticing your own. Curb the impulse to rush in. Wait. Linger. As if you've wanted to for a long time, and can't quite believe it is happening.

With hands light on my waist, or in the small of my back, or holding mine. Holding but not trapping me.

Hold my face gently. Perhaps to turn me so that you can reach the other side, a nudge to turn my face up towards you, to cradle me when you finally reach my mouth.

Then gradually, as if you are holding back a dam of desire. As if, bit by bit, yielding to irresistible temptation. Our desires feeding off the desire of the other. Bodies leaning inexorably closer. With pauses and hesitation, easing into each other, seeking in increments.

So that, when it ends, my outward breath says 'yes'.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thoughts after a yoga class

It is not for the strangers who have told me
that the icecream I eat in public
will go straight to my hips. Or the
old man at a train station
who told me
     just the other day
that I should exercise instead of
standing still on an escalator.

It is not so I can
get a better summer body
in just thirty days for
one easy payment of -
      My body is FINE

It is not for the man who
got aroused when he discovered
I could do the splits while I was drunk
and later wouldn't pay attention
when I tried to move out
from underneath him, until I pushed. Or the
one who said - before he'd even met me
that he would pay
anything to watch me do it.

It is not for the men who think
my dancing is for their titillation, not for
the ones who like to watch. It is not
to emphasise the way my waist
curves into my hip so that men
can want me harder and straight-waisted women can 
throw their acid envy in my face.

It is not for the people
who can only compliment me
about my body when I have whittled
down my flesh to less
than it was
when we last met.

I go to yoga to find the peace of mind that this world so often steals from me.

I go to yoga for the sensation of breathing in time
with a room full of strangers
in a city where there are so many people that they cannot even see me

I go to yoga to discover with childlike delight and entirely 
adult pride that my body can do things I did not know a body could do.

I go to to yoga to remember that my body feels good to live in.

To remember that my body is entirely mine.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to open a closed book

Don't tell me I'm too serious, that I need to have more fun. Don't shame me into trying to change, to be different to what I am.

Show me.

Share it with me.

Take me dancing until our breath runs away from us... then we'll chase it down and start again.

Let's buy popping candy buried in chocolate and eat it all, listening to the sound of rain exploding in our mouths.

Talk to me with irresistible curiosity, ask the questions that no-one has asked me before. Savour the answers.

Take me walking under the full moon, with our hands touching and tenderness in your eyes.

Show me the funniest movie you know and hold your hands lightly on my ribs while I shake with laughter.

Kiss me out of my moods and dive with me into small happinesses.... the sun on bare arms and the smell before a summer storm.

Let me rest when the world gets too much. Watch me sleeping because you can't help yourself.

Show me what it means.

Share this with me.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A minute in the life of a HSP: nightclub

A man may throw his arm around me in a nightclub, and I will be paralysed with indecision for a few moments. There is so much to observe in those few seconds, and it takes time to process.

There will be the way he smells, and not just the dominant scent he's chosen to spritz himself with... there are so many to notice with that kind of proximity to another person. His cologne will probably be first, the smell of his drink on his breath, and cigarettes if he smokes them (no matter how much gum he has chewed to try to cover it up – I can smell that too). Then an undertone of sweat, a trace of his shampoo, his underlying body odour. What he washes his clothes with, what he has had on his hands during the day. And then for each scent that I catalogue, reactions that I cannot catch, human chemistry doing what it does. At best I can perhaps note whether I like it or not.

Then there's the pressure and warmth of his arm, where he chooses to place his hand (does he flop it over the top of my arm, or curl it around towards my breast? What is he trying to communicate?).  Whether his armpit connects with my shoulder or not, what my shirt will smell like when he moves away, whether any part of his arm is touching my bare skin.

My body reacting to being touched – usually for the first time in quite a while. It usually startles me. The sensation of my heartbeat accelerating, the quiver in my stomach, the warm twitch in my groin, my posture softening to accommodate the weight of another body, my skin crawling or raising goosebumps or warming under his flesh.

The feeling of the intention behind the touch. The differences between I-want-to-take-you-away-and-plunge-myself-into-your-body and I-am-touching-you-because-I-think-you-were-asking-for-it-with-the-way-you-dance. Or I'm-just-drunk-and-have-lost-my-sense-of-appropriate-personal-boundaries. All very different to excuse-me-you're-in-my-way-stop-dancing-for-a-second-and-let-me-through. 

The reactions of the people around me. The friends wondering why I'm still standing there with this man draped over me when they can clearly see he's a waste of time. The other men waiting to see how I'll react so they know how they can approach me when they have a go.

And all of this sometimes before I've even seen him, before I've had a chance to take in anything about this person. Before I've seen his face. Before I've been able to make the choice about whether I want this person to touch me, and then whether I want to do anything about it. And then what it means, not just for me, but the meaning this stranger will attribute to my choice, my behaviour.

The quiet question of danger, of whether I'll be able to convince him that I mean no, of whether he might try to take something from me that I don't want to give. The constant feeling of being prey, of the only choice being to accept or reject what is offered to me. That my choice is to be here and to subject myself to this peculiar intimacy with people I don't know, and to learn the myriad unspoken rules as best I can... or to go home, to not dance, to not raise my eyes to the twirling lights on the ceiling, to not spend time trying to fit my social oddities into the rituals of others.

I question my own motives. I will wonder if I really am here just to dance and spend time with people I am trying to make my friends. Or, if I know the nature of these places, the nature of what happens here, and I go in willingly, am I inviting it? Am I placing myself in the path of temptation? Do I enjoy the attention more than it repulses me?

Eventually I will push him away, pick up my drink and settle my nerves again. I'll return to dancing with my elbows swinging around me or huddle closer to my companions. And no-one will be the wiser about what has happened in that one chaotic minute.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The way paper and embers should never meet

He's hesitant, folded in
on himself like a napkin.
His creases ease out slightly
as he gulps a single beer

He took two awkward lessons
in break dancing once: I laugh.
I tell him I've always had a thing
for guys who work in IT: he's sure
they have a thing for me too

I shake his hand as we meet
but we'll never touch again.
He'll tell me he's spent
a lot to keep women in
his company. Next time
he'll react wasp-stung
when I try to pay for dinner
and lean away from my
body for an entire movie.

Alongside his crumpled-navy-jumpered
carrot-thin-fingered, height-apologetic slouch
I feel like coals. I am
dense red heat looking for something
to set alight

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Your heart is giving you trouble
again, keeping you from the indigo
rest that makes long days bearable
Maybe it's the starlight piercing
your restless eyelids. Maybe it was
the way someone spoke your name
when you weren't looking for it

There's no way but to push through
the ache, that thing caged in your chest
like a bird beating its wings against the bars
of your ribs, snapping pinion feathers and
bruising bones meant for flight

It's the pulsing wound-red heat of it
that keeps you awake at night, this night, the
bloody thumping inside you, the hunger to meet
its mate. Even muffled through the patient walls
of two bodies it will know that song, that unmistakable
call. Perhaps then you will feel it settle
for the first time, cooing like a happy pigeon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The weird and the wordy

When I was having one of those getting-to-know-you conversations a few months ago, I mistakenly included - in the list of things I'm into and spend my free time on - the phrase "I write poetry". To which my conversational companion at the time replied "Poetry. That's weird." Heavy emphasis on *weird*.

I hastily added something about how I know poetry isn't for everyone and that's why I think it needs to be accessible and people tell me my poetry is fairly accessible blah blah blah like a defensive poet in a socially awkward situation (oh wait, that's not a simile).

My feelings closely resembled those of a person who has been unexpectedly slapped across the mouth. And I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. (Probably doubly so because this was a person of the male variety whom I already held in some esteem and felt attracted to. How typical.) I resolved anew to stop telling new people about my secret strange life as a poet.

I've always known poetry is not a typical occupation of time or a mainstream form of self expression. Hell, go to any poetry event and you'll hear wryly self-deprecating comments about the kind of people who go to poetry events. But I don't think I've ever had it pointed out to me so plainly that poetry is weird and apparently reserved for the weird.

Today I met a poet friend for lunch. We swapped poems and talked about poetry and the writing of it and it was all wonderfully word-nerdy. Then we went to a poetry reading and listened to more poets talk about poetry and share snippets of their innards with us. I looked around the room and observed the motley collection of humans that had assembled to share in this thing called poetry. And I realised my metaphorically-face-slapping companion was right.

Poetry is weird, and the people that write it are weird, and the ones that like it are weird. They're often quiet and have odd mannerisms and wear closed shoes with no socks. Some are extroverted and quirky and juxtapose the crudest of swear words with reverent references to the many deities of the world and thankfulness for fucking.

These people understand the world in the same ways that I do and they are able to articulate it. They can reach into others and stir them in ways that some may never experience.

So here it is, my coming out:

Hi. I'm Nicole, and I'm a poet.

Great expectations

I ask my lovers to pick
locks so old I have
forgotten where I
left the key

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A question of volcanoes

The only men who tell me
they love me are my cat
and my somnolent brother

The first by rolling around
in my sheets when I make
the bed and making me sit
cat-lapped still when I have
things to do and butting his
grey-masked head against
my shins and my ears - that purr!

The latter by rolling around on my
sofa bed all weekend and every night
patting my head when I'm feeling
feisty and laughing at my choices
in men, wishing I could see myself
He likes kissing my forehead and
each cheek when I'm tired and
strung out like frayed flannel

The others don't know what to
do with me - I can see it in
their postures and their poems
they turn my name into a question
I'm afraid to answer until
I'm sure and I'm never really
sure so I keep my volcanic
desires tightly to myself
waiting for the earthquake
that will bring me undone

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lightning on the horizon

Tonight I wanted to escape. I left the house thinking it would be enough to wander the aisles of a supermarket. To drive that familiar distance and back again.

But it wasn't enough. I needed to breathe. So I kept going until I found a place where air and water and land met under the night sky.

I wanted someone to escape to. I wanted to call you and say get up, get dressed. Come find me where the moon is bright on the water like the spilled veil of a bride. Where there is lightning on both horizons mimicking the inevitability of my desire.

I wanted you and your hands and your velvet voice and your straightness, your precision to balance out my swelling tide and moon madness.

I thought about you pressing my angry body against the unyielding trunk of a tree and holding me there until I grew still. Without any intention of compression or seduction, just to help me quell the fever of my mind.

I needed to breathe and I didn't want to breathe alone. I wanted to lean into your shoulder and talk in darts of frustration and snippets of poetic nonsense and lapse into long silences and press these feelings I've been hoarding into your skin until they stayed.

But I didn't call you so you didn't get the chance to decide if I was crazy or just passionate.

I left my phone at home and walked alone past couples standing on the sand and sitting on park benches and peering covetously at a silver Aston Martin. And trios of men with American accents and wafting cologne and fishing off the pier. I walked until I remembered how to be steady and un-impetuous. Until what was trapped in me started to flow out.

And tomorrow, or the day after, and the ones after that, I will see you and breathe. And the lightning will stay on the horizon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

My favourite artists: Yulia Brodskaya

Yulia Brodskaya is a Russian artist who now lives in the UK.  I discovered her gorgeous paper quilling work by accident when I bought a small notebook with her art on the cover. I love the swirling lines, the colour and how visible her patience and effort is in the finished product. Her work is so incredibly detailed that there's really only room for one image on the page.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My favourite artists: Marci McDonald

There's a game going around Facebook at the moment: when you like the post, your friend assigns you an artist. You then search for works by that artist, pick your favourite, post it and the cycle begins again. It's a refreshing change from the usual Christmas-elf-name nonsense that gets passed around.

It's reminded me of how much art is out there, and how the many, many artists I admire are only the tiniest proportion of what's available. The internet makes it unbelievably easy to discover new works, without having to walk for miles around an art gallery looking for those few pieces that touch you just so.

Marci McDonald is an artist based in Tampa Bay.  I first discovered Marci's paintings years ago. I have a few of her images saved in a folder somewhere on my computer, but I had long forgotten her name and had tried fruitlessly to find her again. Somehow that little Facebook game led me to her again.

She describes her work as 'sensual fine art'. I find there's definitely a sensuality to her art, even when it depicts 'just' a flower. I like the delicate colours, sweeping curves, fine detail and sheer beauty in her pieces. Here are a few of my favourites.

"white shell"
"phoenix series 4"
"a paper veil"