Icarus also flew // goodbye 2015.

Tuesday, January 19

When I was back home a few weeks ago, my Mum read me out a poem: Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert ‘Everyone forgets,’ the poem starts, ‘that Icarus also flew.’

We were sitting upstairs drinking tea on her bed, the sky dimming outside. Our back-door-neighbours’ Christmas tree blinked on and the sound of my dad putting cutlery away travelled up to us from the kitchen. We’d been sitting there for a few hours, the two of us, talking about I can’t even remember what. Things as they are now, I think. Life as it is now. 

‘Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew,’ Mum read. ‘It's the same when love comes to an end,/or the marriage fails and people say/they knew it was a mistake, that everybody/said it would never work. That she was/old enough to know better. But anything/worth doing is worth doing badly...’ 

And so it goes on. A meditation on transience and falling and the way we often write whole experiences off as ‘failures’ because they didn’t last forever, or didn’t work out as expected.

That word – failure – is something we talked about quite a lot last year: on our early morning drives up to work before I moved to the city (I’ve been missing those conversations). We talked about the famous ‘man in the arena’ speech by Roosevelt where he writes that: ‘credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood...’ and who, ‘if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.’ We talked about Brené Brown, who writes about that idea of ‘daring greatly’, and how she used to take strength from the question: ‘What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?’ but recently she’s been asking herself a new one: ‘What’s worth doing even if you fail?’ 

Driving back and forth from the city to the sea, we (my Mum and I) asked ourselves that. We talked about the importance of ‘owning your own story’, and the difficulty of loving people, and the risks of letting yourself be known, and this predicament of feeling things so very very deeply and not knowing what to do with it all. 

‘What’s worth doing even if you fail?’
‘Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew...’

It’s eighteen days into the New Year, and I’m still caught slightly off-guard at times by the year that just passed. It was a bit of a strange one, 2015, I have to admit. I’m left looking back on it still feeling a bit confused, unsure what to take from it now it’s finished. 

It was a year of many ‘favourite’ things. I got to hear one of my favourite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, in Edinburgh, for example (he signed my knackered copy of Never Let Me Go and my hands shook). I ate filled baguettes in Paris and saw the Eiffel Tower from my train window. I got to teach classes on some amazing writers. My sister got engaged and asked me to be her maid of honour. Two of my favourite people flew over from Atlanta and stayed in our house for a few days. And after years of soaking up their music, I finally got to see Mumford and Sons live in Glasgow with my siblings. (Our throats catching, we sang out the words to their songs. Their lyrics are fuelled with a kind of longing for something better, something real. A determined sense of hope, in spite of what’s passed before.) 

Alongside all that though (and more), it was a year of feeling quite achingly unsettled. Bereavement. Uncertainty. Heartbreak. Loss. I probably ended up crying more in the past year than I ever have, and right from the get go. (Outside, inside, in toilet cubicles, on stairwells, at home, in the new flat, on trains, ferries, busses, taxis, planes, cars... goodness me! I just need to have a good sob on a tram, a unicycle and a bin lorry now, and I’ll be able to publish an illustrated guide to weeping in transit. ‘Find out, via easy-to-read graphs, how pathetic you will feel tearing up on the following... how ‘Romantic’... how exposed...’). 

It was a year where I lost my appetite more than once, and my voice shrunk down to a whisper as I started to falter: ‘what am I doing wrong here?’ ‘What do I do now?’

I don’t have a tidy way to round off the past year in words. But I would like to try and draw a line under it. A few days before New Year – after too many days lazing about in pyjamas eating Lindt chocolates – I wrote myself a sort of ‘motivational speech’-type thing in my journal, in an attempt to shake myself back in the game. It went something like this: 

"Storm Frank is a’blowing outside your window, Melissa. And may he be blowing winds of change! (Or at least mild behavioural reform/refocus.) Wake up to your life, O Sleepy One! Wake up to it and read the books you want to read. Write the novel. Stop stalling. Remember: you are stronger than you think. Stop waiting on trains that aren’t moving. Get off them! Get off and run, run, run, run, so the wind is in your hair, and your calves and your heels and your lungs all shout: you are here, you are here. Don’t switch off. Don’t disengage. It’s a false kind of thinking that says strength comes from being detached. Remember that. You were brave. Don’t start doubting yourself now. Don’t get frightened. 

Stop looking at your phone. Switch it off! The world’s out there, so pay attention. Speak up. Think. Walk. Eat. Make your bed in the mornings. Leave the house on time. Stop snoozing the alarm. Go to sleep before the birds start singing. Be mindful. Take more baths. Pray. Don’t let failure scare you off trying. It is painful but it's not the end of all things. And it isn’t always your fault. Just don’t get stuck. Don’t get stuck. Don’t get stuck. Pick up the pieces. Shake the dust off your feet, nod your head, and walk on. 

'I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,' writes Gilbert at the end of his poem, 'but just coming to the end of his triumph...' Notice the triumphs. You can do this. Stop looking down. Look up." 

(The beautiful pictures are by: Elicia Edijanto. And goodness, this was a long post. Next one will be shorter, promise.) 


  1. Lovely, honest post. Here's to exciting things and new adventures in 2016. x

  2. I hope that you not regret your failures in the coming year, know that it is not just the positive experiences that define us.

  3. Beautifully written, and if you're serious about that novel thing then crack on. I would read it. Or write "How to weep in transit."; thank you for the experience of sitting in a silent room snickering to myself.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. And I am very serious about the novel - so thank-you! I will power through!

  4. There's so much depth and clarity in the casual, yet beautiful, way that you write in this blog. May 2016 be another year of quality posts like this :)

    1. Thank-you so much, stranger <3 these are very kind words (p.s. who is this?)


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