Exit the nunnery

I’m fighting off a cold, sore throat, sore ear and all the rest, so my husband recommended I take some apple cider vinegar. A cure-all he reckons, rather like ti tree oil on cuts and rashes.

I’m in the countdown to my book launch and determined to stay well enough to get through.

It’s a surreal space in which to sit.

All these years of writing, revising and re-working. All these years of imagining that one day I will produce a book.

Like giving birth to a baby and just as it is after the birth of a baby, all being well and the baby being healthy, there is a sense of where to from here?

How will this book baby evolve?

I dreamed last night of my favourite nun back at the convent on a hot summer’s day. She was dressed in full regalia. I was fanning myself and complaining about the heat.

‘It must be ten times worse for you,’ I said to the nun. She looked down into the folds of her black habit and brushed a hand across her forehead, what forehead she could reach under her wimple, and wiped away the sweat.

Then someone came along and offered to interview her in an advertisement for makeup. She needed to take off her nun’s garb for the role and wound up in blouse and skirt seated in front of the cameras. She wore lipstick and was transformed until the Reverend Mother came along.

The nun in civvies had no time even to wipe off the makeup and the reverend mother walked towards her with an archbishop in tow. The two spoke sternly to the nun and after they had gone I asked how it went.

‘I have to leave,’ she said. ‘They don’t want me any more.’

‘That’s a good thing,’ I said, but she looked as though she needed convincing. She could stay with us, I told her but realised she would not enjoy staying at home with my father while he was drinking at night.

‘I’m staying with Charles,’ the nun said. Charles was the father of one of the girls from school who had separated from his wife. He had offered her a room ages ago, and I was surprised but woke to the alarm before I had a chance to discuss it further.

I have a strange sense that coming out with my book is like a coming out in other ways too.

Like leaving the convent, leaving the constrictors of religious life and finding new ways of being.

10 thoughts on “Exit the nunnery”

  1. I know this much, Elisabeth: your book is so well written, and there is such a beautiful spirit that brings light and grace to its darkest places, that I am convinced it will have a long and fruitful life. I am well into it now, and I relish it in all its simple, straightforward, clear-eyed eloquence. The story is so well told. Be well. When you think about it, each day is a coming out, an invitation to blossom and grow. And, like all of your children, your book has and will have a life of its own. Let it surprise you.

    1. I’m so pleased to hear this, William. That you enjoy my book and get its meaning is powerful to me. Such an endorsement from so a wonderful writer as you. Thanks so much.

  2. Fascinating. Reminds me of the 1940s movie Black Narcissus where a nun rather erotically applies lipstick to herself. Maybe you fell to sleep in front of the TV?

    1. I never saw Black Narcissus but must look it up. It’s a powerful image, a nun with lipstick, the nun so chaste, sexualised. No wonder it’s erotic and a bit on edge. Thanks, Kirk.

  3. It’s odd but religious figures never feature in my dreams; they’re soundly rooted in the secular. I’ve never thought about it before and now I have I’m certainly not surprised or concerned. It’s not as if I felt my dreams were missing something expect, maybe, sex. I can see why the external me might’ve lost steam but my imagination’s as sprightly as it ever was and yet, no, I invariably dream about work, jobs mostly.

    I’ve been sitting here trying to think how many encounters with nuns I’ve ever had. I’m sure I’ve never had a conversation with one. They were often to be found standing, or, if they were especially frail, sitting outside shops during my childhood cradling collection tins. Needless to say we never gave. They didn’t exactly frighten me as a child but they did unsettle me. I imagine I wouldn’t felt the same had I seen any Hasidic Jews or Sikhs wandering up and down the high street. Or even a black person come to think of it.

    Neither of my parents, but especially my dad, had any time for the Catholic Church. I remember a book in Dad’s bookcase, an old, red, hard-backed—smelly too I seem to remember—history of Catholicism which he referred me to from time to time: it did them no favours. I remember when one of the women in our congregation left to join the Catholic Church. My dad couldn’t fathom why, of all the religions out there, she could pick Roman Catholicism. The only thing approximating an explanation he could get out of her was it was “a very beautiful religion.” She liked the pomp and ritual. I had her in mind when I wrote the mother in ‘Living with the Truth’.

    1. Nuns were so much a part of my life as a child but they also terrified me. Have you seen that wonderful Dave Allen skit, Jim? His first contact with God: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj6XAvuRn4Q I love it, the idea a nun, ‘flapping’, terrifying indeed. And I can imagine for those outside the catholic faith they must have seemed even more odd. these days i think of nuns very differently, modern day nuns are completely different from those of old, and you’re unlikely to be able to identify them at first glance. I can’t imagine life without the foundations of religion, not that I agree with them but they are so much in my bones. Thanks, Jim

  4. Just want to say good luck with the launch, Elisabeth, I’m so glad you have reached this stage after such a huge amount of work. You must be relieved. Hope you’re feeling better by now and the apple cider vinegar worked. X

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