When things don’t align – and when they suddenly do!

Picture this.

13 years old, avid reader with a wild dream of somehow becoming a writer some day. I was completing an English project about the plague in the 1600’s and my English teacher called me to the front of the class to discuss my work.

My heart was in my throat. Palpitations began in earnest. My palms were sweaty and my cheeks burned as I slowly made my way to the front of the class.

As an adolescent, I didn’t really ‘come into my own’. I was socially awkward (I still am lol) and very self conscious. Thankfully I had some awesome friends that believed in me, but I had little belief in myself. Reasons for that are many and a story for another time, but I HATED being in the spotlight and only ever spoke openly in front of no more than two or three people at any one time. Having to stand up in front of a class of 30 plus teenagers, well. Let’s just say I was pretty terrified.

We had been asked to write a letter to a loved one about the conditions people lived through during the years of the plague and how they learned to cope in the crisis. I had visited the tiny town of Eyam in Derbyshire the previous summer on a family holiday, it was one of the worst places hit in the north of England and I was fascinated with how people left food and supplies at the parish stones marking the start of the village. They also sterilised coins with vinegar leaving money in the village trough so they would never physically come into contact anyone. It’s thought the villages actions resulted in many fewer deaths and they saved thousands of lives.

My letter was good. Descriptive and as accurate as I could make it. Especially after having seen some of the places we were learning about. I was proud of it. But I have an imagination that can often run away with me and I wrote it with an ultimate twist, just like the books I loved to read ……..

The letter writer (a young girl of around 15) explains how lives had been impacted. Every moment they lived in fear, terrified as the death toll in the village continued to rise. I knew the village had a population of around 350 at this time and around 260 died during the black death. My twist in the tale was …… the young girl had written her letter posthumously. In effect, she was a ghost who had an innate knack of writing about what caused her demise rather than quietly pushing up the daisies as she was supposed to. I thought it was an AWESOME plot twist.

My English teacher definitely did not. She tore strips off me in front of the whole class for writing something that ‘couldn’t possibly be true because ghosts aren’t real and you’re a ‘silly girl’ for even trying to do something different’. She made me write it again and change the ending. Thankfully the class didn’t laugh as I thought they would, they actually loved my idea! But the damage was done.

I. Was. Mortified.

Then and there I decided to scrap my writing dreams. What a ‘silly girl’ I was for even THINKING I could do something I really wanted to do.

As I grew up and went through all that life throws at us, I started to write anyway. Journaling really helped my emotional health and for many years I played with the idea of writing something I could actually release. I had friends who were authors spurring me on. I just had to DO it! Every single time I would get so far and every single time I would hit a brick wall. I couldn’t do it. My reality was falling in line with what I had been told all those years ago. And I was tired of it.

A chance introduction to another published author and a discussion about a new collaborative project she was working on in 2019 meant things were about to change. I started to write therapeutically and explored the reasons why I couldn’t seem to let go of the past. I quickly realised my subconscious was totally out of sync with my reality.

That English teacher made me think I couldn’t write. That I had nothing worthwhile to offer and that I should definitely never go against the grain.

The rebel that I am decided to stuff that! Shortly after this realisation I became a published author – TWICE lol! Both collaborative pieces ( I still had some cognitive dissonance rattling around that brain of mine!). The first was about the tragic still-birth of my first child and how I got through it. The second was an inspiring piece about coping with other family bereavement. My third piece will be published very soon (watch this space!) and is part of a series of covid stories from all around the world.

I’m much more in sync with my writing skills now and although I am a work in progress, I think we all are to some extent. As testament to my English teacher and with huge amounts of gratitude I’d like to say:

If someone says you can’t do something, do it twice.

(And take pictures!)

Love and light

Paula

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