Botanic Gorgeousness Journal: Ghost Stories
Humans and stories go hand in hand.
Myths, fairy tales and life dramas spread like wildfire and stick like sinew on bone.
Sometimes I think that the whole skeletal structure of a community is knotted together with half baked stories, gristle and grind of misinformation that people have collected about one-another, then then mixed with their own palette of perception.
“Oh yeah,” we say knowingly, nodding at the girl leaning against the wall in the office.
She’s like this.
Yet the stories we hear or tell ourselves about people (and things) are never fact.
A person could be good … but the stories told about her gush from the mouth of a bitter, angry, hurt, damaged story-teller.
A person could be bad … but the stories about him are told from the mouth of a sensitive, compassionate and empathic story-teller.
What I’ve learnt about stories is that people believe them without too much question.
And like to hold them tightly.
This is true for places as well as people.
Take the Ventnor Botanic Gardens … a location that is positively dripping in stories.
Most people who live in my area know that on the site there was once a Victorian sanatorium where patients with tuberculosis came to breathe the healing air of our subtropical climates. The hospital closed in 1964, when drug treatments for tuberculosis were found, and was later demolished in 1969.
Since that time, other stories have evolved.
Books, websites and locals whisper of ghosts and hauntings,
strange smells and sightings …
stories of tunnels where bodies were tossed to sea, operation rooms beneath the car park where you might hear the banshee screams of ghosts still snared.
After the hospital was demolished, the grounds became a Botanic Garden.
For years locals and tourists visited the place, basking in the sunshine and bathing in the tranquillity.
I recall being a young mum, aged 19, walking here each day with my baby daughter in her pram. Once the baby had fallen asleep, I’d go to the dappled rocks, climb up on top of them and write my novels until she woke up. Aysha – and later Rowan – both spent their younger years haunting this place.
Then years rushed by, the children grew older and somewhere in that time the council started making cuts to public services.
Providing a free-entry Botanic Garden to the community was not high on the priority list.
They sold the Botanic Gardens and the gates closed.
For a time there was a hush.
Local people were disappointed that the gardens had been sold and they’d now have to pay to get through the doors – me included.
A local story began to grow that the garden was no longer “The People’s”.
The paths and secret stairways became quiet and still.
At the same time I had a major
shift Atlantean sized cataclysm happening in my life.
I’d decided to walk away from a marriage that was ready to end and a crazy war raged through my days … a soul destroying divorce to settle, children to hold, a business to run, finances to split and a home to (somehow) secure whilst trying to piece back a sense of self that had been smashed to smithereens.
I learnt – acutely – how it feels to have “break-up stories” told about you (those who’ve survived divorced will know what I mean).
It wasn’t until
when my little baby Reid came along,
that I went back to the Gardens.
Walking there, I felt how Dorothy must have felt, returning to Oz.
I was a different woman.
I had a different life.
As I rediscovered old pathways, I found ghosts of my old self; a 16 year old girl slipping down at 5am to collect petals to press for a piece of art she was making; an 18 year old girl, shyly sitting with her boyfriend and his friends, drinking a cold beer on the grass just beyond the Gardener’s Tavern; a 19 year old girl tucked up in the rocks writing novels whilst her baby slept; a bereaved 24 year old rushing along, trying to comprehend where her father had gone to.
And now, a 35 year old woman, with stories of her own, lines on her face and scars on her belly – walking with her little boy from a new life and a new partnership – retracing her steps and coming face to face with these old ghosts.
After one day of being there again, I banished the myth of the “People’s Garden”.
I shed the stories of what the place was and what it “should” be – and in releasing those narratives I was once again able to experience the incredible beauty that is the Garden.
For fucks sake,
I’d GLADLY pay a bit of money to come here and give baby Reid the same trees and sunshine and air and tranquillity that fed my other two little cubs.
I started to visit A LOT.
I came and held communion with the flowers, butterflies, sunny places and lavender.
I was interested in getting to know this place again, dipping my feet into the water and letting the beauty and the sense of utter well being that emanated from the plant life heal my tired bones.
Heal they did.
Strangely, I began writing this post because I wanted to share with you the history of the Botanic Gardens – its life as a healing centre during the sanatorium years.
Clearly, what I was supposed to share was my own ghosts, found hammocked in secret corners …
… and the way in which the Ventnor Botanic Gardens is still humming with healing energy.
What was once a hospital that became a garden, is now a garden and sun filled hub of every style of Yoga you can possibly imagine, Sound Vibration therapy, talks on nutrition, numerology and philosophy.
It is this magical healing energy that I want to capture and bring to people through the artwork in my new adult colouring book.
I literally want every page to sink into a person’s tired bones and muscles, care-worn neural pathways and caffeine frozen synaptic gaps and bring them some medicine.
Bring them some balm.
Maybe help people to deconstruct some of their rigid stories, harsh interpretations and righteous knowingness … and instead step into the truth of exploration and step into a gentler world.
It makes me feel very Zen just thinking about it.
Which is a good thing.
The magic is already at work.
If you are still reading this post – and have managed to stick with me all this time – I invite you to take a moment and ask yourself,
What are the negative stories I am holding about the people in my life?
Which places locally, nationally and globally do I see as bad, wrong or a threat to me?
Around which groups – ethnic, social or cultural – do I have a negative narrative?
Now, choose ONE of those negative stories and even if it is just for ten seconds …
… suspend your belief in that story and ask yourself …
What if I was wrong?
What if I was wrong ALL ALONG?
What if this person/scenario/place or group are NOTHING like I am making them?
What if – by shedding the stories – I can help heal the world a little?
Then, maybe, consider beginning a new story, just because you can.
Wishing you a really gorgeous day.