My granddaughters and I were sitting on the floor of their pink-painted cabin at the bottom of the garden. I had evicted yet another invading spider and, while the youngest sat on my knee, her almost-five year old big sister was sprawling in the pink armchair.
The three of us had been playing. I had pushed little Imogen on her swing until she giggled with joy and had chased Hollie around the garden, swinging her up onto my shoulders and teaching her to stand on her head in a fairly unorthodox manner. Somehow, small children make you forget the aches and pains… at least until next morning when you try to move again.
By this point though, we had settled down in the playhouse and eaten a meal of chocolate-dipped worms and green slimegrobbels with custard… a menu chosen by Hollie and lovingly prepared by the…
A million authors writing to entertain others. A million poets bleeding their souls onto the page. A million people trying to help others. A million people who are actually loyal. A million teachers going the extra mile for their kids. A million people caring for someone they love.
It might be easy to get lost in the crowd. It’s easy to feel insignificant. One tree among a million in the forest, so to speak. But I know I am one in a million.
We all write and grieve and serve and give of ourselves differently. Each of us is unique. Each of us is a distinct blend of personality, talent and substance.
Not a single one of us is worthless.
I may not stand out among the million. I may never strike it rich or become famous. I may never be someone else’s ideal. I cannot be perfect.
The truth is, I don’t have to.None of us do.
What matters is the contrast with some of the other people on this planet: the hateful, the cruel, the greedy, the selfish, the power-hungry, the narcissists. What matters is that I stand against the things they accept. What matters is that I am true to who I am, to my priorities, my values, my faith.
What matters is integrity. That’s what stands out in this world.
That, more than anything else, makes me one in a million.
I have loved ‘King Lear’ ever since I saw a performance of the play in my teens and was completely transported by it. I find it impossible to consider a parent being betrayed by their child without thinking of Lear, and am compelled to utter the quotation, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks. Rage! Blow!” at least once during every good storm I witness.
‘King Lear’ is the story of a king with one daughter who actually loves him and two who are the most selfish, greedy, and deceitful women the kingdom had ever seen. The problem was that he was unable to tell which was which. And so, his story turns to tragedy.
Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about being historically correct or pleasing the right people with this play, although it wouldn’t be right to show the king as being a bit of an idiot when it comes to his family relationships, so he was sure to stay safe by putting the blame on the king’s horrible daughters and their ambition to take what was not rightfully theirs. Loyalty and faithfulness were, after all, very important qualities and concepts for anyone living in Elizabeth’s England, and you couldn’t have people just seizing land and power that didn’t belong to them.
It’s not just Lear’s elder daughters, either, that turn on their father. The Duke of Gloucester, faithful supporter of Lear, also feels the dagger of betrayal planted firmly in his back Edgar, by his bastard son, Edmund, who is seeking to take all that rightfully belongs to his brother Edgar.
In all of this, there are valuable lessons to be learned about who to trust, how to discern who is really loyal to you, and the fact that some people are far more driven by greed and ambition than they are by familial love. Given that we live in a world where kids have been known to turn on their parents and even divorce them in some cases, and where families are divided and sometimes irreparably broken by disputes over money and property, ‘King Lear’ is clearly a play that still holds relevance for us today.
It is a beautifully crafted story, full of pathos and tragedy and heartbreak. The language and imagery is magnificent. The dramatic irony of Cordelia’s fall from grace and Lear’s subsequent fall from power at the hands of General and Regan is heartbreaking. Cordelia’s fate hangs in the balance right up to the end of the play while, it seems, the evil people win. That is another point of relatability for the audience: we don’t like seeing the evil people win, and we want to see them get their just desserts. It’s a theme that Shakespeare explores at length in this play, and he expertly positions the audience to keep hoping that Lear and Cordelia will win the day.
It is the nature of Shakespearean tragedy, however, that pretty much everyone dies and there are a few minor characters left to pick up the pieces at the end, so the audience has to be content with the poetic justice delivered to some and the beautifully tragic ending that comes to others.
The fact that it doesn’t have a happy ending is one of the things I like about it. Life often involves less-than-happy endings, and it has always seemed to me that those who hope only for happiness are setting themselves up for an enormous struggle when adversity shows up instead. We can’t always have what we want, and Lear would have done well to remember that. Cordelia would have been better off if she had realised that not everyone who should recognise your integrity will do so, and that sometimes you need to play the game better than the cheats do in order to make them lose.
Sure, I believe in happiness, but I know from my own experience that life is generally far more complex than being able to achieve happiness and simply stay there. We are constantly challenged to maintain a balance between necessity and luxury, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, lest we be overrun by one or the other. Achieving that balance is the art of life.
The reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the title of ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ is blatantly obvious.
The irony is that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is probably my least favourite play from among Shakespeare’s works. As I often explain to my students who think it’s romantic and all about love, it’s really not. It’s a tragedy that demonstrates what happens when people do stupid things on impulse and don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions.
They’re teenagers. They met on Sunday, and by Thursday, they’re dead.
And, as Shakespeare points out in the epilogue, they end up that way because their families both prioritise their stupid feud over the happiness and the future of their children. How much more like a badly plotted teenage soap opera could it be?
It’s more of an anti-Romance, if you ask me. They’re not in love, they’re infatuated. Romeo really is quite an idiot, and as for fickle… how quickly did he forget his passion for Rosaline the moment he met Juliet? If you ask me, Rosaline dodged a bullet – or a dagger, or a vial of poison, there.
To be fair, the fault isn’t Shakespeare’s. He based his play on an old story that was very popular back in the day, which was a brilliant marketing move. The other factor that made his play such a hit was the beauty of the language with which it is written. There’s nothing at all wrong with the writing: it’s magnificent. Nothing can convince me otherwise. If anyone could give a story about two silly teenagers from equally silly families another 600 years plus in terms of longevity, he was the man for the job.
So, is it odd that I’ve used ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as one of the starting points of my story? Not really, because I wanted my story to be something of an anti-Romance, too.
‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ draws on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’ as starting points, then twists and tangles them together to create a mashup of the two stories with a very different ending. Romeo is still an idiot, it still ends in tragedy… but it’s a completely new story. It’s medieval fantasy, laced with faint traces of my subversive sense of humour.
I like to think of it as the story that Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm never told. But I bet if they’d thought of it, they would have.
I want to acknowledge my people: the ones who always encourage, who support me in everything I do, who get excited about my victories and achievements and commiseratewith me in my disappointments.
It’s more than simply liking me, or my work, or thinking I am good at what I do: they believe in me. That is a peculiar kind of magic that cannot be worked by the insincere or the doubters.
These people are incredibly rare, yet I am blessed enough to have more than a handful of them in my life: my husband, my best friends, my Indie Fabs author posse and a select few other friends and fellow authors.
Some may think it is only natural that my husband would support me, but it’s a luxury that not all creatives enjoy. The same goes for friends and families. As I mentioned in my post the other day, some people just don’t like it when you do something out of the ordinary.
In fact, it’s the apparent apathy or disdain of the many that makes the support and encouragement of the few so powerful.
It’s important to me that I am openly and honestly thankful to each member of my tribe. I would likely have given up long ago without them. An integral part of who I am would be lying dormant, and life would be less colourful and interesting. Just the thought of that is awful.
So, to each one of those magical people: thank you. I value and appreciate you. I love you. And I believe in you, too.
I love tulips. They are lovely and graceful, and so colourful!
My goodness, though, they’re delicate. It doesn’t take much to make a tulip wilt and bend its head to the ground. One might be tempted to think that a flower that needs to have its bulb frozen during winter in order to bloom might be a little more resilient… but apparently not.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of the people in my circles— not all, but a hefty percentage of them— are like tulips. As long as the environment suits them, they are fine, but when they are unhappy for some reason, they just don’t cope. It doesn’t take much to upset the balance: just do something they find confronting. The more brave and nonconformist the act, the stronger the effect.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like most of the people in my circles.
What I don’t like is having to kowtow to their apparent discomfort about certain things that matter to me, when they demonstrate zero tolerance to who and what I am.
I am weary of having to live with the perpetual awareness that many people I know don’t mind me being an author as long as I never mention it. Some wouldn’t mind my multiple ear piercings either if I grew my hair longer to cover them. Others don’t mind my tattoos as long as my clothes hide them. They feign politeness when I talk about the theatre company I’m in or the musicals I direct at school, but very few of them have ever bought a ticket and come to see a show. And let’s not even start on how they feel about my political views.
And yes. Those very different things get exactly the same reaction from a lot of people.
It’s ridiculous, and I’m over it.
I am not less than them. I do not matter less than they do. My feelings, thoughts, passions and pursuits matter just as much as theirs do. I am as worthy of their interest and respect as they are of mine.
And I am very proud of my poetry and my stories… and of my shows. I’m rather fond of my tattoos and piercings too, for that matter.
What I write happens to be pretty darned good: all those reviews my books receive from strangers are proof of that. Why should I hide my work under a cloak of secrecy when they can freely discuss being a builder, a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker?
Nobody looks at them with thinly veiled suspicion. Nobody questions if what they build or make is any good. Nobody asks how much money they make per job. Nobody asks if their kids are real, or if they are any good. They are all quite free and welcome to talk about their kids in front of me even though I don’t have any, and I certainly don’t respond as though they are trying to sell me a child.
So, no more tiptoeing around. I won’t be shoving a book in their face at every opportunity — that’s not me — but I’m not going to allow others to pretend they don’t exist, either. They don’t have to read my work, but they will know that I expect their respect and acknowledgment.
I will not allow other people to treat me as less than I am.
I will not allow them to suppress my thoughts and feelings. I will call people out on double standards. I will refuse to be made to feel small. I will be as diplomatic and gentle as I can, but I will assert myself.
And if they insist, I will know they are not really my people, and were never really in my circle.
I know some people make a big deal of it, but that tends to diminish over the years when a couple have been together for a long time.
As half of one of those couples, I decided to create some attractive yet practical greetings that might come in handy for couples like us. In the interests of quality assurance, these have been road-tested on my husband, who laughed a bit.
You’re welcome to use any or all of these in order to win favor with your beloved, or just for a bit of fun.
I remember as a child going to visit friends of my parents’ for dinner, and being served a dessert called Ambrosia. I had never heard of it before, and I remember being amazed by how sweet and delightful it was. The sensation of wanting more when the little dish set before me was empty is still a very clear memory.
When I was a bit older and started reading about history, I discovered that ambrosia was a mythical substance that, having been brought to the Ancient Greek Gods by doves, became their food of choice, along with their favoured drink, nectar. Ambrosia and nectar may have even originally been the same thing, but Homer and Sappho both distinguish between them. Given that they were present in Ancient Greece and I was not. their authority on the matter is something I am willing to accept.
Ambrosia was understood to be fragrant, powerful and reserved for the gods, who adored it because of its healing and cleansing powers, and because it took years off their physical ages. It filled them with passion and made them desirable. Little wonder, then, that they wanted to keep it for themselves!
In time, ‘ambrosia’ was a term that became popular among the Romans as any delightful essence or concoction of food or drink, and then may have given rise to the idea of “the elixir of life” that people have been searching for ever since.
It was the concept of drinking something that resulted in passion that lasted for eternity that caused me to write my poem Ambrosia about the power of a lover’s effect on one’s life and soul. I wanted to capture that heady, addictive feeling between lovers that makes them believe nothing and nobody else matters, and that their love transcends time, place and physical limitations.
Anyone who has experienced those feelings will relate. Anyone who has landed hard on their posterior after doing something stupid for love will probably relate, but may also mutter uncharitable things about love and romance under their breath. Those who haven’t experienced it may scoff.
Yet the feelings and experiences described in the poem do exist, and they are what the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come to be all about: it’s the kind of love that everyone wants to find and experience, although it’s fair to say that not everyone does.
We must remember, after all, that the legend of Valentines Day was never about flowers, candlelight dinners and fairy-tale, kissy-face wedding proposals: it began with a man being executed for something he believed in.
At any rate, I wrote Ambrosia in honour of the love of my life who, after many years together, still hasn’t driven me to drink. I have, however, been known to do take a risk or two for the love of him from time to time, so it’s an appropriate poem to share on Valentine’s Day.
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Ambrosia is publshed in my book, Smoke and Shadows.
Originally posted on Longreads: Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words) Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on…
This is a powerful and poignant piece of writing by Lily Burana via Longreads.
I found her writing to be vivid, full of colour and movement.
There was one line that really stood out to me: even though I have not shared the authors contexts and experiences, it struck me as holding the power of #metoo, watered by the tears of every victim of abuse, exploitation and oppression who looks back on their lives and wishes they could be different.
“Just because money makes you say Yes doesn’t mean the body doesn’t store No in its memory — as sorrow, as trauma.”
I, too, store trauma in this way, although my trauma has come from very different sources. In that sense, despite our different backgrounds and stories, her pain resonates with mine.
I recommend this essay, Elegy in Times Square, best read with an open mind and an empathetic soul.
Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on 46th Street. I was a peep show girl at Peepland on 42nd. Those were dangerous days. Between crack, AIDS, heroin, and that old stand-by, booze, if you weren’t leveled, you were blessed, watched over by some dark angel. We believed we were among the lucky ones.
We didn’t have anything resembling guidance or even common sense to rely on. What we had was the dressing room tutelage of elders scarcely old enough to drink, and the backbone of every sex industry transaction — commodified consent. Customers grabbed whatever they could, based on whatever you were willing to endure. We…
It should come as no surprise that when you’ve been listening to people say the same thing for a while, you get better at understanding what they really mean.
Person Z. Take, for example, a young woman who approaches her friends and family members and says something like, “Hey, so, I’m having a fancy brand-name plasticware/linenware/healthy and beauty product/accessory/clothing party at my house in a couple of weeks, and I really hope you’ll come.”
What she’s really saying: Option A: I got sucked into one of these parties by relative/friend X, and she looked so hopeful that someone would book a party so she’d get some reward, and my mouth was open before my brain could stop it.
What she’s really saying: Option B: There’s a thing this company makes, and I’d really like to have it, but it’s expensive so I’m having a party and anything you buy will help me get it cheaper.
I’ve been on both ends of the equation, and can totally sympathise. It’s fair to say I’ve smiled and nodded through a whole bunch of those evenings, and even bought a thing or three, to help friends and family members out. From time to time, I’ve also been the Option A person.
Person Y. In another example, a child approaches family members and friends and explains that the school is selling chocolates/holding a “fun run”/doing some kind of suffer-a-thon as fundraising for a new toilet block so the kids can “go” comfortably during breaks.
What the child is really saying: Option A: The school insists that I must do this thing and there’s no way out of it, so please give me some money toward it so it’s not for nothing.
What the child is really saying: Option B: There are prizes for doing this, and I really want the floppitywoppity that you can only get if you raise $5000, so please give me some money to give me a fair chance at winning one. Again, I’ve helped more than one kid out of the hole. I don’t know if any of them ever got the floppitywoppity, but I know I have helped to build more than one toilet block in my time.
Person X. Then, there’s the Indie author. Actually, it could be any Indie creative – an artist, musician, or crafter. I just decided to use an author as the example here, because that enables me to draw on my own experience again. Person X has a passion for writing, a message they want to get out to the world, and they finally get their book published. They tell their friends and family members that they have a book out, and they’re about to tell them what it’s about…
What the author is really saying: Option A: I finally fulfilled my dream. Aren’t you happy for me?
What the author is really saying: Option B: I did a thing! I may never become a millionaire, but I did a thing! Please proud of me!
What the author is really saying: Option C: Remember all those times I supported your party plan things? And your fun runs? And your kids’ school toilet blocks? And…
…But as Person X talks, there are virtual crickets chirping, and eyes looking nervously at the door, and people checking their phones, and remembering appointments they need to be at, and… What the others are really saying: Option A: Well, this is awkward… who ever thought he/she was brave enough to get out there and do the thing! What the others are really saying: Option B: Yeah, we know you’ve supported us and our kids, but we’d prefer not to mention that now, because I would rather put my cash toward fancy plastic ware/linen/clothes/beauty products/accessories or a gym membership than some book by someone nobody’s ever heard of.
What the others are really saying: Option C: What the heck are we supposed to do now? We hope he’s not going to ask us to actually read it… maybe if I don’t ask what it’s about, he’ll stop talking about it.
What the others are really saying: Option D: But… you’re my brother/sister/cousin/relative/friend… how could a book you wrote even be any good? A bit full of yourself, aren’t you?
Person W. The final example is the one person in the room who hugs you and says, “Awesome! That’s fantastic! I’ll buy your book! How much do you want for it? You’ll sign it for me, won’t you? I can’t wait to tell my friends what you’ve done!”
What they’re really saying: Option A: I’m proud of you, and I’m on your team.
What they’re really saying: Option B: I’ll probably never read it, but I’m proud of you, and I’m on your team.
What they’re really saying: Option C: “Awesome! That’s fantastic! I’ll buy your book! How much do you want for it? You’ll sign it for me, won’t you? I can’t wait to tell my friends what you’ve done!” then looking over their shoulder with a glare at the rest of the people in the room who were too selfish to do or say anything.
The moral of the story: Option A: I’m really thankful for every ‘Person W’ in my life. I had no idea when I embarked on my journey as an Indie author that it would hurt so much to know there were so many Zs and Ys in my circles, but I also had no idea how wonderful it would be to know who the Ws were, and that they were on my team.
The moral of the story: Option B: Always be a W. Even if you never read the book, be a W.