decorative blue boxes
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 Beginning (or the second small miracle) (, )

October, 1998. Thessaloniki.

We lay on his bed together, in the dark, listening to Patrick Fitzgerald. It was all new to me, strange but somehow wonderful. I was unsure, but charmed.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m listening to my favourite artist and you’re holding me.” And so it came to be that I acquired some kind of taste for post-punk that would serve me well later when I came across the Television Personalities, and that ‘Safety pin stuck in my heart’ would forever remind me of him. That was also how it came to be that I acquired a taste for unusual people with a tendency to grumpiness and loneliness, it has to be said — or perhaps I was born with it, and that is how I came to discover it. Either way, I’m glad I did.

“I have this picture in my mind, of us on a night train,” he said a little later, and I, who had never been on a night train, told him that I would never manage to do all the things that he had done in life. Never. Ever. I was seventeen and a half, it was easy to be so sure about it. “You’re like a sponge,” he said, and I waited in the night for an explanation. “You feel everything.”

I held my breath, wondering how the hell he knew; amazed, enchanted; with my life suddenly exposed to me in a different light, with a string of meaning running through it. And it was then, gentle reader –with that simple, unintentional, almost daft act of acknowledgement– that my life proper began.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 10:23 pm [say something]
Tuesday, November 1, 2011 Prelude (or the first small miracle) (, )

September, 1998. Thessaloniki.

I was seventeen: out of school for two-and-a-half short months, lost and scared and alone; but also, even though I didn’t know it at the time, bright-eyed and magical and determined. I stood on the threshold between childhood and adulthood, but at the time I didn’t know that, either.

I’d dreamed about him, on and off, for a year. He didn’t mean much, he was just a handsome stranger in a band I loved. They wrote fairy-tale songs that made me dream. One evening in June I sat sat down and wrote him a letter, sent it off with a self-addressed envelope, and forgot about it all. It was late August or perhaps September by the time he wrote back. He’d be in town for a festival, he said, as if I wouldn’t know. I left a note for him at the hotel reception.

We stood on a street corner, late on a dark September night. The Russian-born north wind that haunts Thessalonikian winters blew, unseasonably, and we shivered as we waited for a taxi. A young man came up to us and asked for a light: he took the proffered box of matches, used one, gave the box back. It was a beautiful moment, cinematic, simple, and unlikely: it would never had happened had it not been for my letter. The realisation sent a shiver down my spine and gave everything that happened that night a secret glow.

Later on, he kissed me. He was a lot older than me, he was drunk; in many ways it was the wrong thing to do. It was my first kiss; I’d dreamed of him; in some ways it was the right thing to do. But, right or wrong, it was the prelude to my life proper — and the first sign that the world I imagined could, somehow, be true. I’ve always cherished it for that.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 2:29 pm [someone said this]
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 More (, , )

We were young, and in love, and we sat high above the city as dusk fell on a freezing Sunday afternoon. Those were the days we were homeless and cold but too happy to notice, which is to say they were the days before we moved in together and started to inadvertently take our love apart. We walked around as if in a dream, that February, barely able to believe our luck for having found one another. We held our breath every time we had to be apart, afraid that any minute we were about to wake up and find we were, after all, alone in our own beds.

They were the days when I hardly knew myself, too: the days before the internet, before I’d heard most of the songs I love, before I met most of my favourite people, when I still thought that I would become what my parents expected me to become — an academic. I went to all my lectures and took copious notes, even in the archaeology ones that bored me half to death, and I had French lessons because French was thought to be the most useful language for a historian to know; and even though I never started revising for exams until it was almost too late I always did well. While I suspected my family was crazy, I had no idea quite how true that was. Unhappiness was normal in that world, and ever present. Other people’s unhappiness, that is; I wanted to be happy. But even so, the dream of a different life was still asleep in my heart, asleep and dreaming.

Except that there he was, the boy Constantin, also known as the first big miracle in the catalogue of my life; and there I was, the one who had carried the wish for this moment in her heart of hearts for months until it finally happened; and there we were, alone together, as the purple, hazy dusk fell onto the city, as the city tumbled into the sea, as the sea stretched into the sky. If you’ve ever been in love in Thessaloniki you’ll know exactly what I mean, you probably know the very spot or one very much like it, and you can picture the odd mix of careless ugliness and majestic, almost transcendental beauty that makes Thessaloniki what it is — the place that inspired us to our wildest dreams and told us they can never come true, all in one breath.

We sat looking at each other, that’s how it always was those days, and I told him about the two girls I’d been friends with at school: how I’d fallen out with both of them (on separate occasions, two years apart); how it broke my heart; and how I didn’t really understand it, which was strange — I’ve always been good at understanding. He listened, and when I finally paused at the end, he looked at it me and said, simply: “it seems to me like you loved the girls more than they loved you.” It was the truth –the most compassionate, tender version of the truth imaginable, the one that cast me in the best possible light– and so I didn’t quite believe it; I wasn’t given to being kind to myself back then. Also, it was easy to dismiss: he only said that because he was in love with me.

Oh, I was a fool. I know. But you see, I’d been told that when you’re in love you lose sight of reality, that what you see in the other person is a projection of your wishes and desires, and I’d gone and believed it. Now I wish I could sit my younger self down and tell her that she didn’t need to be cynical, not even when the whole world around her was, and that she should follow her heart, and do it with courage; and I wonder if our story would have perhaps unfolded differently had I found the strength to hold on to my dreams when things got hard. I’ll never know.

But despite my casual dismissal, and despite everything that came later, his statement stayed with me through the eleven-and-a-half years that followed, and in time it came to be something of a landmark in my life. It points the way: I am seized, intermittently, by the desire to be as tender, understated, and wise as he was in that moment; and I try, always, to be the one who looks for the love lurking in the darkest recesses of your heart, the one who points it out to you when you can’t see it. I don’t always get it right, but I learn a lot in trying, and it would be worth it just for that — and for those times when I do get it right, and I am rewarded with a perfect moment of understanding.

But that’s not the reason why this moment has been on my mind lately. It’s simply that I have come to realise that he was right, even though he was in love with me, or even because he was in love with me: he was right. I loved the girls more than they loved me; and I dare say that in the eleven-and-a-half years that followed I went on to love a significant number of other people more than they loved me. I’ve felt sad about this, and I’ve felt lonely; but mostly, oh, mostly I’ve felt foolish. I tend to fall in love –with people, with ideas, with projects, with songs– and it does inevitably end with me lying in bed, alone, looking at the ceiling and lamenting the fact that I’m so very strange and different.

As if I would ever want to be any other way.

I think it’s time to look back and say ‘thank you’ to the boy Constantin, and to the world: I love you more — and that’s just fine.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:08 pm [3 people said all this]
Saturday, October 1, 2011 Three aspects of my new favourite place, in the last rays of the setting October sun (, , )

down

ahead

above

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 8:04 pm [say something]
Monday, September 12, 2011 On experience (, , , )

We sat in my classroom on Friday after everybody had left, and we talked about the verses we say with the children. “I say this verse for myself, too,” I said. “A helper of humankind, a server of holy things,” that’s something I can get behind. And you said that so did you: holy things, yes; god, not so much. And I said, talking to myself almost, with the passion I usually bring to these things: but, but — god is an experience. And you paused to think, and agreed: yes, god is an experience.

It was a good moment.

This afternoon I took a small detour so that my walk home would take me down to the river, and I watched the sunlight and the shadows under the trees dance in the wind. There was no other word for it: they danced. I came home about to burst with gratitude — for the golden sunlight, for the wild winds, for September that brings them together, for having been there to witness it, for being here at all.

After that there was nothing to do but sit and read poetry, half-heartedly and absent-mindedly and distractedly, because after all it was that awkward hour between coming home and having dinner, and my attention span for poetry is as short as my understanding of it can be deep. One thing lead to another, and that, in turn, to this:

You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken.

Do read the rest of it. It will only take a minute, and it will help you understand what I mean when I say that it is moments like these — like beads on a necklace, beautiful perhaps in their own right but even more so when strung together — that keep me going.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 8:57 pm [say something]
Thursday, July 14, 2011 Half-time score (, )

I thought of that moment a lot. I thought about it through the flat, exhausted evenings of the winter months. I thought about it in the early hours of March mornings, when the world seemed intend of waking me in good time to watch the light change. I thought about it in April, in Athens, as I looked down on the city where a hundred bells called out ‘Good Friday’ and the night fell. I thought about it in May, on a train that inched its way up the Devon coastline, where I sat and wondered whether my life had indeed changed in the span of a few hours, just as I thought it had. I thought about it in June during the dreamy, sad weekend that followed a conversation that set my world spinning in the right orbit once again. And I thought about it today, at lunchtime, on the first hot afternoon of July.

Today was the next-to-last day of term, the term whose end I have longed for, despite the fact that I am not half as stressed, or as exhausted, as I was at this time last year. I mentally checked my list of things to do and sighed, waiting for the slow, idle mornings and the empty afternoons, for the freedom of summer. I made plans — I’ll cook more; post on the blog every day; visit places. I counted the days down, in the mornings and in the evenings too. But this lunchtime, with one-and-a-half day to go, with most things on my list accomplished, with freedom within reach — something happened.

I looked up from my lunch. The children were spread out on the floor, quietly playing with blocks or reading to themselves, as they always are at this time of day. The the class assistant was glueing a bit of fabric to a book cover. Through the wall, I could hear the teacher of the class next door read a story to his children. And it’s hard to describe what it was, but I’ll say that there was so much love in it all — in the way the children were absorbed in their tasks; in their respect for me, which kept them quiet; in the way they were comfortable around each other; in the fact that Laura was working through lunchtime to finish an important end-of-the-year project; in Adam’s voice — that I felt a pang of longing for what I had right then and there, for what we have created, for what I am about to temporarily lose.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 10:12 pm [say something]
Sunday, April 3, 2011 A moment in December (, , )

It was dark, and cold, and quiet, in exactly the way that you expect the night before Christmas to be dark and cold and quiet, and it was easy to believe that the world was holding its breath and waiting for something to happen, despite the fact that this was Thessaloniki after all, a faithless unbeliever of a place that would never admit to associating Christmas with magic. And I was lost, not entirely, where-the-hell-am-I lost, just which-way-was-it-again lost, but even so that is not something I would have thought possible ten years ago; however it seems that seven years of being away punctuated by increasingly infrequent visits are enough to make you forget something you once knew inside-out.

And so I turned left around the wrong corner, and ended up in an utterly-familiar-and-yet-somehow-strange alley, and there, in the middle of it, there was an open door, with candle light seeping out from it, and I walked towards it like a moth to the light, to find myself in a tiny chapel that I of course have always known was there but had forgotten, and I stood in front the box full of candles and I picked one, and lit it from an existing candle and pushed it down into the sand on the tray, and for all I know I might have made the sign of the cross, such is the power of habits learned in childhood. And since I could not think of a single thing to wish for or a single person to dedicate this to, I stood there in silence for a moment, staring at the new flame with nothing on my mind, waiting, hoping; and then it came to me, and it encompassed all my hopes in a handful of words; ‘let love grow in my life.’

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 8:54 pm [2 people said all this]
Tuesday, March 15, 2011 On attention, and the sunshine (, , )

I had a perfect little moment today –a moment so lovely that everything was right with the world while it lasted– but I have gone and lost is memory. You see, my perfect little moment was followed by a tiny little disappointment, and my heart got a little stuck on that, as it is wont to do, understandably perhaps but stupidly, too, because all I can taste when I look back now is a subtle blend of embarrassment, sadness, and longing, with none of the happy golden overtones of the magic that had preceded it. And I think to myself, once again: spend your attention wisely and well, it is powerful and precious.

What I do remember, however –what even my fickle heart could not misplace– is the sunshine, the first truly warm sunshine of the year. I was nearly drunk on it, giddy with joy and relief and gratitude, for all winters are long, and I had held my breath for most of Monday, too. And so I sat there, silly, giggling, and grateful, for this life that I have come across and for this job that I have chosen, because although it breaks my heart at regular intervals and it makes me pull my hair out twice as often, it does allow for afternoons spent soaking up the sun and it has, ever so beautifully, filled my life with so much love that wouldn’t otherwise have been there.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 9:44 pm [say something]
Friday, March 11, 2011 Remember the magic (, , )

‘Remember the magic,’ I said, and then I disappeared.

I ran off to Greece, where August was a very different experience. Turning leaves and chilly winds where nowhere to be found. Instead there were flowering bugambilias and sweltering days, and although the nights came earlier there, too, autumn seemed to exist in a different universe. But in spite of the abundance of watermelon, or the sand on my toes, or the salt on my skin, or the stars in the sky that greeted me as I lay on the beach at night something wasn’t quite right. I was glad for the plane ride back, and for the rain that fell in London.

And London, oh, London was beautiful — the river mostly, but also the rain. We argued, and I cried, in the rain at that too, and it felt a little like that day from five years ago; except that this time we managed to find our own way out of it, which, I think, is the least we can do after five years. The rain stopped just in time for the sun to come out for a sunset, and for a moment or two the sky was pink and orange and reflected, upside-down, in puddles, and I was happy to be alive.

September came next, the most mixed-up English September I can remember, with sun and rain alternating as if it was spring and not autumn that was on its way. One afternoon early on I stood in the golden sunlight arranging all the desks the school owns by height, giddy with the pointlessness, the silliness and the urgency of what I was doing, and praying that come Monday it would all turn out okay. (It did.) On another afternoon I had a conversation so honest it was almost unreal in a corner of Exeter that is so ugly it is almost beautiful, and I walked away, once again, overwhelmed by the unlikeliness of this life and of its contradictions.

On a third afternoon the rain felt softly on the puddles in the park, each drop calling forth a perfect temporary circle, and I walked through it –an entirely unremarkable park– as it if it was enchanted forest, because the stars and my heart were aligned just right and everything was alive with magic. I thought of Kyra, who once said that the writing, it only happens when we write; of Ian; and of my own words of wisdom; and I concluded that the remembering, it only happens when we remember. And I vowed to came back and to write this down –for you, for me– and to try harder.

It would be nice to be able to say that October was, as a result, filled with magic –it would make for a nice ending– but it would be a lie. October passed me by. There were moments –the first truly cold day, a warm coat and a new favourite hat, all different kinds of fallen leaves against London pavements– but little that made a strong enough impression to have stayed behind. November seemed like it would go the same way, but then something happened. I left the house to get a haircut, I think, and I discovered the most exquisite autumn fog, and I thought to myself, in an echo of something I have thought before, that Exeter looked like a poem about autumn. And in that moment, just like that, I loved this world again.

PS Am I back? Dare I say that this will be continued?

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 10:22 pm [6 people said all this]
Monday, August 16, 2010 The Prague Diner Manifesto (, )

On our third day in Prague, inspired by the Happiness Project which I had just finished reading, I set myself the task of coming up with my ‘personal commandments.’ I did it in a restaurant that our guide called a diner, hence the name. I wrote this down on the back of a spare place mat, in the time it took for our dinner to be cooked. I edited it a little on the plane ride home, and I have done a little re-arranging tonight, but the core of it reminds unchanged.

And so, without further ado, I present you with the Prague Diner Manifesto:

  1. Follow your heart.
  2. And do it with courage.
  3. Remember to pray for what you want, and you may just get it.
  4. Remember all the magic you have come across, and it will beget new magic.
  5. Act with grace, even, or perhaps especially, when others fail to do so.
  6. Don’t take the world’s imperfections personally; they are not because of you.
  7. Practice patience; impatience does not make things happen.
  8. Spend your attention wisely and well; it is powerful and precious.
  9. Keep the faith; there is a reason for this madness, although you may never know it.
  10. Love is the stick you throw.
  11. Love is the seed you plant.
  12. Love is its own reward.

Wait, gentle reader. Don’t go just yet. For once, I would like to ask something of you. If you do exist, please, please leave a comment with one of your own commandments. I would really like to know.

posted by Dimitra Daisy @ 12:35 am [12 people said all this]
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