Sunday, 5 March 2017

The condition of my heart

This is the scene. A writing workshop in an art space in Sheffield. A dozen or so writers brought together in a room to write their way through the gloom of a winter afternoon. And I am at the helm, as usual. conjuring ways to stir the creative juices, to fire the imaginations of the assembled group.

I have grabbed a box full of random objects in the morning, whilst cooking breakfast and feeding the dog, cajoling children out of pyjamas and into clothes, whilst talking to suitors on Tinder and bereaved people on Facebook. This is how I live and work these days. The boundary between my multiple identities has almost completely dissolved and I find myself switching hats so many times and so quickly within the space of a day or an hour. that I might as well be doing one of those juggling routines, where the man (does it always have to be a man?) is tossing bowler hats from head to foot and back again, like they are seats on a Ferris wheel. I am mother, friend, writer, teacher, coach, griever, comfort, potential date, all day long. I've come to like it this way though it means my mind is often scattered, though I am acting often on instinct, following my heart rather than my head, winging it. It is just a few days since my instinct led to me to write about your bench in a Valentines' blog for The Huffington Post, a couple of days since I learned that your bench is now in place, positioned by the water on Valentine's Day.

I lay the objects out on the table and ask my writers to pick one that appeals to them. 'Don't think about it,' I say. I am always saying this. To my mind, the magic of writing happens when you don't think about it, when you let the object choose you, when you let the words flow and follow their lead, not trying to drag them after you like reluctant children on a country walk. Magic, like love, happens when you least expect it. Magic, like love, can be found in unlikely places.

I grab my mum's old charm bracelet. I haven't looked at it since I was a child but it brings back memories of sitting on her bed (the one with the wooden surround) rummaging in the old leather jewellery box, the smell of her perfume. And this is what I write:

So many stories hung on one intersecting chain. Too much for my brain to take in. The smell of metal taking me to too many places: silverware on the dining room table and tubs of polish, things that were once precious, buffed, taken care of, now tarnished, unwanted, boxed off and sent to who knows where. 

And you, of course and your coffee pot of silver, melted down now to make my ring, metal transformed by heat, like the iron rod in your forge, whisked from the fire and hammered into shape by your loving hands, striking while the iron was hot. Leave it too long and metal, like a heart, can turn cold, fixed and unmalleable. Love, like heat transforms.

My eye is drawn to a battered heart, hanging on the chain, so crushed that it is barely recognisable as the symbol of love and hope that it once was. This heart has been through the mill, wrung out and strung out, pushed through rollers, stamped on, tossed out to sea, returning to me, like a message in a bottle on an empty beach. This heart is like my heart, I think. 

And then I spy another heart, shiny and intact, on my mother's bracelet. This one is nestled on a bench, like the one I bought for you. This heart looks brand new, gleaming like joy, a message from the past, from her to me to you. A symbol of love and magic in an unexpected place. 

If I jingle the bracelet, it tinkles like bells, like a promise of something good, presents at Christmas. I do believe in fairies, I do. 

My heart may be battered but love is powerful magic and our love, you said, was good and right and true. Love, like life, renews. And sometimes, when the fog clears again, I know for sure that life and death are an intersecting chain, that there is no end to love.