Friday 31 December 2021


The last day of the year falling on a Friday means that the church bells are in full song this evening. The fireworks have yet to descend (ascend?) and the dogs of the world have yet to howl piteously at the seemingly endless wide awake activities of their families. Milo, the cockapoo pup, who belongs to my younger brother, a perfect sorrowful example - my niece rang half an hour before the new year, Singapore time, to inform me of this. ‘I’m trying to stay awake!’ she said, sounding almost as piteous as Milo. Staying awake till midnight is a tough gig when you’re eight years old, however easy your ten year old brother makes it look.

I miss my four little mice, but somehow we have all created such meaningful and layered memories over time that I don’t feel the loss. Despite being in and out of hospital, and my veins getting a bit grumbly, gratitude has so far been the calling card for me. I suspect WhatsApp has much to do with that!

Being the English teacher of two Vietnamese nuns across the sea, has also enabled me to stay connected to the deeper practice of Buddhist mindfulness and the more ascetic aspect of our human selves. Joyful, nonetheless, but more careful of what and how we consume. How much we consume. And yet the nuns are also grateful for us, laypeople, who make their lives possible by offering support of that very material kind - so electricity, plumbing, food and medicine are paid for. It’s all a balance, in the end. And so long as we are able to balance each other, we will continue. It’s the only way we can nourish each other. 

Speaking of balance and nourishment, thank you for buying my book, for writing reviews, for writing to me… as the year ends, I sit by a lit candle and pray that I have energy enough for more books, for more travel (again someday) and more love. Happy New Year to us all, everywhere!

Friday 24 December 2021


It began with runes… and ended with a flood. A flood of books... the Icelandic tradition of giving and exchanging books on Christmas Eve, then curling up in a cosy, fireside reading nook with a cup of hot cocoa.

During World War II, paper was one of the few items not rationed, so books being given as gifts began a tradition that continues to this day. During the Reykjavic Book Fair, a catalogue is sent to every home, from which books are selected. A 2013 study carried out found 50% of Icelanders read eight books a year, and 93% read at least one. My friend Georgios says his New Year's resolution is to read a book a month. In my own reading life, the books on my shelves gather, but my eyes, my energy and my concentration cannot keep up the pace I once considered a natural part of my day. Christopher Norris, pioneer of World Book Day in the UK, has been trying to encourage a national Jólabókaflóðið... 

If you were to give a book tonight, or receive one, which book would you want to curl up with? I have Jessie Burton's Medusa - The Girl Behind The Myth,  I gave Mum a Domêstika course on the Japanese art of kintsugi - how to repair your broken ceramics with gold dust, enhancing their original beauty, which, while not a book, is its practical equivalent, and for Pops, the audiobook of The Virginian by Owen Wister, the original Western... I mean, just look at that cover!

'Course, if you were struggling to think of a book, there's always yours truly's latest, which is now the number one book under an Amazon search for 'lupus' or 'auto-immunity'. In the UK anyway, thanks to the lovely folk who have already bought and reviewed me. So, on that cheery note, a very merry Christmas Eve to you all. I am flat out fatigued with year numero deux of Pandemicness, but am holding steady with Chotu and Perveen on either side of me... 

Friday 10 December 2021


I write my experience in sand this time,
wanting it forgotten - not like last time,
every day recorded in verse and flower, 
a memory scripture to treasure.

Older now, none the wiser now,
just swimming in the current of me,
a current of one, in the ocean of all - 
more scared now, knowing how far the fall.

In some ways, it is all the same.
Gold dust on white blossom, still plump,
and yet, already, the slow drift
to green grass, to soft earth, to winter down.

The nuns have so much to remember,
like nurses, saving lives. They need the bell
even more than we do, us, temporary retreatants,
fleeing our worlds, escaping to theirs.

Breathing in, I am breathing with my father's back.
Breathing out, I breathe with my father's lungs.

I invited my father to join, but he declined,
knowing I would bring him in, anyway.
It's harder for some. No light or ease,
but the bells toll on, anyway. 

The birds are here, the birds are there -
my cup of tea grows cold, again.
Mother breathing in with me,
mother breathing out with me.

I want both things at once.
To choose is to lose. Something. Sometimes.
Can anything stay a secret?
And still we try so hard to hide.

Suddenly, the flood gates open. 
Everyone cries. 

The gold is gone now. Soon,
Sister Tea Cake will sound the bell
for final goodbyes. Everyone cries.

Present moment, wonderful moment.
Thây is still alive. Smile.
Be still and heal.

@Shaista Tayabali, 2021
shared with Dverse Poets Pub
Written during Reconciliation Retreat,
Lower Hamlet, Plum Village

Here is a wonderful and very recent TED talk by Sister True Dedication, which you might enjoy...

Friday 3 December 2021


Twelve years after starting this blog, I have a book to offer you. The title is a line from one of the poems I wrote during that interminable hospital stay in 2009, those extraordinary three months in which I found my voice. It plays on a central theme of my life, not just the book, which is this: is it normal and natural to be ill, or is it unnatural, abnormal? How can one love one's given life for all that it is, if we are trying desperately to divest ourselves of a thing that arrived, with shadowy wings and teeth, but then settled over long years into some sort of companionable foe?  

Here is my cover, companionable foe et al! I do hope you will buy the book and let me know what you think after or while you read it. You can purchase it from any country on Amazon by searching for my name or the book’s name or, if you’re in the UK, click this link.

Over the past seven years, from its nascent beginnings as a dissertation for my Masters, I used another, sweeter image to inspire me - a children's illustration by the artist Maia Chavez Larkin - one which I have often used as a header for this blog. And then suddenly, it didn't seem right. Perhaps I was hoping that a taming would become possible. That I would develop a sort of commanding presence over the growling, snarling beast - but after several bouts of sepsis, including a birthday episode only a few months ago, I knew I had almost fallen into the old trap of underestimating auto-immunity. 

My book covers thirty years worth of navigating this odd, unnatural thing in the midst of a lucky, beautiful life, so when I happened upon the bold red and black, teeth and tail, hood and vulnerable back, I knew instantly that I had found my book's cover. The artist is Silja Goëtz, a German illustrator based in Madrid. You can find more of her work at her website here. But, in gratitude to Maia, I also incorporated the original sad but hopeful stomp through the snow…