As a child, I would visit my grandmother and together we would pick blackberries off bushes in a nearby common, our hands and mouths stained with purple. I’m sure that the common was just a thicket of trees, but to me it was a forest, and it was magic. She was the first to teach me how to ground myself, to reconnect with the earth, and that walking, and trees, and dogs and birdsong was its own kind of healing. 

When she died, I was fourteen – having only seen her four times in my life. I had such little time with her on this earth, so blackberries are more than nostalgia to me, they’re a symbol of simplicity, and healing.

At the start of the year, I bought a blackberry plant of my very own. I had no illusion that it would bear an abundance of fruit, but it has been sitting on my back deck since January and I have been tending to it protectively, nonetheless. About a month ago, a tiny little red fruit sprouted and I felt a little pinprick of pride. Life goes on. I had proof.

41, and I’m still not sure how to measure a year.  In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee…(thanks Jonathan Larson) (#nerd). Probably more along the lines of… in whisky, in first drafts, in new books and medication. Doesn’t really have the same ring to it. 

I’m not sure how it’s been a year since 40. What the fuck, world. I’d demand a do-over, but it’s been a pretty good year, world-going-to-hell notwithstanding.  I won’t lie, my interpretation of ‘pretty good’ is a little different now to what it used to be. It’s been the first (relatively) drama-free year in a long time. I mean, unless you can count thesis writing and the slow-release-grief that comes with losing a parent inch by fading inch. 

So what’s changed. Perspective, I guess. Social, political, intellectual. I stopped for a moment and the world kept turning. And so I began to do it more often. Finetuning. Finding my feet.  It was also a Neptune Square year for me, one I had been dreading initially but it brought a welcome introspection. What did I want to take into my new world? What weight needed to be removed, adjusted?

‘Grateful’ is no longer a platitude.  My year has been uneventful compared to so many. I owe so much to my incredible husband and daughter. My family. Those who were wading through shit 10 inches deep, but still reached out to steady me.  To those who listened. You are a gift. My teachers and supervisors, who bore much of my mental weight in a year where they were facing funding cuts and potential job losses.

In the maelstrom that has been 2020, silence has been a protective measure. Normally when I go to ground, I am mired in self-destruction, but this year it was a sanctuary. And in it, I found a little discipline. Fasts, yoga, water, sunshine.  I found a great doctor, and a few chemicals that finally agreed with my brain. I learned to turn off the songs that would trigger me into regression (I can’t promise that this one is permanent, but it’s a small victory). I finally had my eyes re-tested. (hallelujah). When things seemed impossible, I returned to the forest. Feet on the earth. Wind on my face. Birdsong.

I found some astrological teachings that changed everything I thought I knew and weight turned to lightness. Karmic relationships took on new meaning. Up was now down. North became south. I was once asked whether I wanted to be right or whether I wanted to be free. Never has that been clearer than right now. I have learned to observe the tragedies and losses of this year privately. I no longer feel as if I need to justify my involvement, prove my allegiance, tear flesh from limbs.  

I should have been packing to go to Japan this weekend, and I’m trying not to be sad about that, because all things considered, if that is the worst thing to happen this year, then I am fortunate. Instead, I get to celebrate my daughter’s 21st next week with family and friends. How lucky I am. 

Finally, as of last night and after two and a half (long) years, I have finally satisfied all of the requirements for my Masters degree, finishing with an 85 (WAM) (approx. 6.8 GPA). I had been saving the bottle of Moët that my brother gave me on my 40th for the occasion, so it was remarkable that this came through exactly a year later. I’m not sure I’ll be able to cross the stage in 2021, but for now, this is enough.  

After a few weeks of slowly ripening, this morning my little blackberry finally came into its own. It hangs from its branch, proud and plump, the first of its kind.