I haven’t always celebrated my birthday. While there have been occasional candlelit meals with my husband or outings with my children, many birthdays have come and gone with only a passing acknowledgment thanks to matters more pressing to deal with – such as loss, pain, debt, survival.
Today is an exception.
As I begin the 45th year of my life, I feel ready to celebrate. It’s a special date after all – 19.9.19. So, this year marks a new chapter for me. This is the year I step into my writing career, which I hope will be the catalyst for so much more.
Already I am working on a children’s book and a memoir, but it seems fitting to celebrate all that is to come with the ‘formal’ launch of my blog.
When I began the blog, not so long ago, I thought it would be a travel blog, detailing all the places I love in Cyprus and Wales – the countries of my birth and my second home. But as the weeks passed and the words flowed from my keyboard, I noticed a trend in my writing. I wasn’t writing about my travels, but rather my journey. I was travelling through my life stories, remembering the places that had left their mark, breathing new life into past moments that had inspired, motivated and left me with a desire to make a difference.
Having decided to embrace this new path, I am now finding ‘my voice’ as a writer. This remains a work in progress involving a daily battle with the shouts of doubt and disbelief. But at least I am on my way. I celebrate that. This the end of contemplating, desiring, wishing, dreaming and 35 years of procrastination.
For many years I have written, on and off, caught in a cycle of starting and giving up, daring to submit a piece and dealing with rejection, but this year I shall not be deterred because this journey is not only about the writing, but about me and my calling.
The destination of this blog is self-discovery through stories that capture my attention and captivate my heart. Through this journey, I am fulfilling a calling to write stories that make a difference, bring transformation, awareness and change. I am walking towards a bigger vision.
Many years ago, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I was lucky enough to come across someone who planted hope in my heart – the hope that I could be more than the village gossip allowed me to be, that I had a gift, an ability and that I could dare to dream. Over the years, that hope has nourished me through many periods of doubt, rejection, criticism and ridicule. And the person who gifted me that hope was Mrs Nitsa.
Mrs Nitsa was my primary school language teacher when I lived in the village of Yeri, on the outskirts of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus.
At the time, Nicosia was still finding its way following the disastrous Greek coup that triggered the Turkish invasion of the north of the island leaving the capital divided. In 1984, half of the city was wrecked, naked and groaning from the pain of death while the other half was fast developing into a modern, cosmopolitan city. Half an hour away, my village had expanded overnight with the influx of refugees from the north and our little primary school perched on a hill was subsequently a mish mash of kids trying to understand the world, claiming our bits of territory and establishing hierarchies like every other school in the world, but with the added aftermath of war bringing a deeper layer of confusion to events.
Mrs Nitsa came from the city. Slim, tall, eloquent, even in 30C+ her make up remained intact and her blonde hair backcombed into a perfect bouffant style that was fashionable in the 80s. With a long thin stick, she would tap words written on the blackboard for us to repeat and I would marvel at her ability to walk on such high heels. I can remember the scent of her skin moisturiser when she walked by, blended with foundation and perfume. It took me to memories I could not see, but recognised. It was the scent of my mother. By then six years had passed since her death and I grasped every opportunity to feel her presence.
Back in that school in 1984, I didn’t know then that I was dyslexic or that I had AD or PTSD or hypervigilance or any of those labels we like to attach in order to understand. I knew I could read and that I loved stories, but everything else was a blur and day in, day out I would gaze absentmindedly out of the window oblivious to the lessons. Except for language class.
Mrs Nitsa knew. She saw what others missed – a child hurting from the loss of her parents, lost in a world of structure, judgement, conformity, ridicule, religious rituals and gossip. A child whose coping mechanism was to write stories. So, write I did. Mrs Nitsa would give me a word or a subject and leave me to it, letting me lose myself in my imagination and the pages I created. Today, I am still writing like that, but I’m learning to edit, to cut and crop instead of letting the rant flow because I want to share this journey.
When the final term came and it was time for us students to move on to high school, Mrs Nitsa knelt in front of me, coming to my level, casting off the towering presence that had so intimidated much of the class. She took hold of my hands and looked me in the eyes. Hers – sparkly blue, fierce and soft at the same time – were that day wet and red. She trembled as she spoke.
“Michelle, I have no idea where you will go. You have been through much, God only knows. I don’t know if I will see you again, but I want to tell you something and ask you a favour. I want you to know that you have a gift for writing. I want you to write, keep journals and no matter what is happening through your life, write it all. Then one day you will write your memoir, your story and I want to read it. OK?”
I nodded, not understanding, embarrassed by the attention, yet not wanting to let go of her hands and watching heartbroken as she walked back to her desk.
And that was it.
The years passed with all their seasons, and I didn’t keep my promise to write a journal, not until seven or eight years ago. Each time I visited Cyprus, I asked about Mrs Nitsa. I heard she had lost her husband and was living in Nicosia. Then three years ago, I met her again. I found her number and when I called she recognised my voice. I could see her tears in the quickness of her breath over the telephone line. “Are you writing?” were the first words she said to me.
After the call, we met for a coffee, she gave me copies of her own published books and she made me renew my promise to write. She also asked to be the one to edit the Greek language version of my memoir.
So, here I am; another three years have passed and I am working on that memoir, hoping one day to hand over the gift I promised 35 years ago.
And that’s why today, as I ‘officially’ launch my blog, I celebrate this woman who planted hope in my heart and soul, who saw a way to connect with me, who recognised something good in me when no one else did and who spoke words of life into the broken 10-year-old child that stood before her.
Perhaps I can use this blog to plant hope in the hearts of my own readers one day and, in turn, maybe those readers will go on to plant hope in the hearts of others. Every life needs a purpose and what greater purpose can we live for than to walk with the hurt, inspire the desolate, believe in the forgotten, bring joy to the sad and plant hope in the hopeless.