Memento Vitae

An exploration through pictures & prose of how we attach memories to physical items…

Throughout our lives we collect and keep physical things that are important to us in ways others might never understand. These items — also known as “emotional tokens” — are often completely worthless in monetary terms, but absolutely priceless to us.

A perfectly round pebble found on the beach while on holiday. A silk scarf given to us by our grandma. A bead once part of a favourite necklace, worn so often it finally snapped. These physical things have powerful memories linked to them. Stories only we can tell.

~ This is a place for those stories ~


WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Send a maximum of 3 pictures and up to 500 words focused on a Memento Vitae or “emotional token” which you would like to share via email to admin@tabathawood.com with the title MEMENTO VITAE. Please also include a short bio, headshot (optional) and any links to your own website/blog as appropriate.


WACKEN OPEN AIR FESTIVAL by Jessey Mills

A FLOWER POWER REBELLION by Stella Peg Carruthers

MY JADE TREE by Claire Fitzpatrick

COSTA by Cyndi Benn-Miller

SOFT BLANKET BEAR by Jamie Sands

GREENSTONE by Sarah Lee

HAGSTONES by Tabatha Wood


WACKEN OPEN AIR FESTIVAL by Jessey Mills

Fortune comes to those who least expect it, whenever it’s in the form of money, chance or blind luck. It’s something that crops up when you least expect it, and with a slight growl and a swish of a tail, it pounces on you before you can understand what that opportunity is. You’ll often find yourself completely flabbergasted, not knowing what to do. It’s rare something like this comes about in life, but for myself, a fortunate chance came upon me in the most unexpected way.

During my student days of the Media Arts, a good friend of mine—who’d inherited a large sum of money—wanted me to come visit him for a very special reason. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I complied without questioning what could be so urgent.

When I got to his house the first thing he did was show me some tickets and said, “You’re going with me,” then handed me a ticket. I looked at the paper as if it were foreign, reading the words Wacken Open Air Festival. I didn’t know what to do. No one in my immediate family had gone overseas before, let alone fly in a plane. And I couldn’t afford to do this. It was madness.

However, after much talking and debating with myself, I took his offer and never looked back. The trip was something I won’t forget. Our first stop was at Dubai, then a few days later, we continued to Germany where we spent a day or two in each major city until our main conquest was in sight: Schleswig-Holstein, the home of Wacken Open Air.

Upon arriving at the festival, I saw a huge sea of black sway to the melody of drums and bass blasting at the sky. I’d never seen so many metalheads in one area before, trampling their way to the next gig. And when the main concerts had started, and kept pounding the crowds with their thunderous bass and ear-splitting guitar riffs, I knew this would be the biggest show I’d ever attend.

However, like all good things, they must come to an end. Unbeknown to me, my friend had spent too much money, so when it came to our mid-flight towards Singapore, he had no money in his main account. My friend didn’t know what to do and tried to contact his lawyer to transfer more money, but when I asked him if he wanted a drink, he mentioned he couldn’t afford one. I was making an offer, a gesture of kindness. And when I gave him his preference of a Coke, he thanked me and drowned his sorrow and fear with the syrupy goodness.

After that small mishap, we continued on the flight, not knowing if we’d need extra cash in case anything happened. Yet when we landed, something big did happen. The bullet belt my friend had bought during the festival hadn’t had the gunpowder emptied. In the eyes of Singaporean security, this was a huge violation. But luckily, after three hours of interrogation and wondering what the hell was going on, my friend was let off with the exception that security take his belt. Fortunately for us the rest of the trip had no bumps or mishaps, no troubles or woe.

And now, when I look back and reflect on the experience that happened over a decade ago, while using the wristband as a bookmark, I realise it not only marks my place in a book, but it marks how far I’ve come. It is a reminder that opportunities are scarce, and that money doesn’t always cause happiness. And whenever things are good or bad just remember, the kindness of people can come from small things yet mean so much, even in the form of a small paper strip or a soda can.


Jessey Mills is a horror writer who loves to write about the weird and wonderful things in life, while placing emphasis on a deeper meaning. His first self-published book, Woeful Requiem, is available now and he hopes it is the first of many books. When he’s not writing, Jessey is working as a freelance editor, helping people achieve their dreams.

You can usually find him on Twitter and at his website https://jesseymills.com.


A FLOWER POWER REBELLION by Stella Peg Carruthers

This chain of embroidered daisies is from the collar of one of my favourite dresses as a teenager. The dress was orange cotton. Mary Quant cut. It was very short. I wore my daisy-decked-out-dress to non-uniform days at my super conventional all-girls’ high school. While other girls wore tight blue jeans and striped tube tops, I dressed in a smock the colour of sunsets. I also liked to think that by wearing daisies, I carried hope at my throat.

Now as a grown-up woman, I reflect on this dress and its defiant act of difference and my flower power rebellion as a key point on my journey of becoming who I am today. She refuses to be boxed and categorised. She likes to be different. Yet she does so with a smile, and I hope, with a kindness in her heart that engenders peaceful conversation about changes to the status quo. 

Today I write poems about clothes as talismans against hurt hearts and as celebratory garments. I see fashion as a kind of currency for many women. A way for us to express ourselves and show the world our true colours. While mine was, and often still is, a peachy sunset tone, others wear black or blue, red, white, yellow, pink… 

Today, I wear far fewer flowers than I did when I was sixteen and grieving for a self I had yet to discover. Is it possible to grieve for something or someone yet to eventuate? I believe so. As a sad teenager wearing short dresses with flowers that should have made me smile, I instead wore those daisies almost as if they were a funerary offering. 

It was adolescent uncertainty on an epic scale. That is, I looked like the kind of woman I wanted to become (bright, hopeful, brave) yet I didn’t feel that way inside yet, and I wasn’t sure how to become her. I thought dressing like all those things I wanted to be would help that woman become a manifest reality. And happily, it has. 

She has helped me in her orange dress when things have felt at their absolute worst. While she has certainly been far away from my rock bottom self, her colourful dress remained hard to ignore. She has been my distant point of colour in a sometimes very dark world. 

That my Hope has been a previous self, dressed as the woman she wants to grow up to be, feels beautifully poetic. As does the fact that I now make flowers. I sew daisies and I give them to loved ones in the hope they will also brighten up their lives.

Daisies for me are about peace, love, courage and hope. Lovely things in themselves. They are, however, more than flowers. They are personal symbols of a botanically marked journey where I not only make beautiful things but have also crafted for myself a beautiful life. 


Stella Peg Carruthers is a Wellington-based writer. She grew up in this small capital city and it serves as constant inspiration for her work. She is currently editing her first novel, a cross-genre narrative about family and the power of stories and words to change our lives. Her second novel, a love story to Wellington is in its planning stages. She works part-time in an academic library and in community work. She has been published both in print and online and her first anthologised essay is due out in 2022. 
You can find her online at: https://geographichearts.blog/


MY JADE TREE by Claire Fitzpatrick

There is a subtle solemnity in fallen leaves. Sometimes a strong autumn wind blows so suddenly that the leaves from a tree blow away without saying goodbye. Sometimes the russet tapestry is so overwhelmingly beautiful that when the leaves are crushed underfoot the sound is almost as striking as a breaking bone. Memories swirl within the leaves. And suddenly it is winter, and the realisation is as forceful as a strike to the face – he will never see autumn leaves again. 

*** 

Crassula ovata’s, or jade plants, flower between late autumn and late winter and thrive in sunny spots in the garden. Jade plants are perennials and are easy to propagate, making them a perfect gift to share with others. My first jade plant was a gift from my dad. He’d given me a cutting, and it grew so large that after several months I referred to it affectionately as my dad tree. And though I have another jade, I could never love it in the same was as I love my dad tree.

My dad has terminal cancer. He’s fifty-three. And a part of me hopes he’ll live on within my dad tree. Dad is a catholic, so I’m sure he’s holding steadfast to the idea of a heavenly afterlife. Before my dad’s diagnosis, I’d always held firm to the belief that the emptiness I felt inside was simply a space reserved for eventual joy, yet sometimes that seems like a ridiculous and outlandish notion. I don’t always understand the grief I feel. Some days it overwhelms me, others it slumbers quietly, yet always there. The thing that frightens me the most is my faith. Though I had my first holy communion as a child, I’m agnostic, and I’m not sure I believe in the afterlife. So, the hopeful part of me longs for a sign that my dad will live on through my jade, for I can’t bear for him to go somewhere I can’t follow. 

I understand that death is a natural progression of nature, that just as my jade will someday die, so will I. Yet I long for death to be the expectancy of a life completed, not the untimely hands that will pull my father away from the world. Death should be reserved for wrinkled hands and aching joints, for clouded vision and diminished hearing. Death should not claim a man whose two children are not yet thirty. Death should not claim a soul so full of life. And yet death is like the fallen autumn leaves – once so full of life, now shrivelled, preparing for disintegration. 

But I will gather those dead leaves and add them to my compost and use it to fertilise my jade. I will hold fast to the belief that while my father will soon pass, and will never again see the gorgeous autumn leaves, a part of him will live forever within my jade tree. And I will hold tight to the knowledge that the memories of him will grow brighter with each bloom. 


Claire Fitzpatrick is a crazy plant lady and award-winning author of non-fiction and speculative fiction, specialising in body horror.  ‘The Body Horror Book,’ which she co-wrote and edited, won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. Her debut collection ‘Metamorphosis’ was released by IFWG Publishing Australia in 2019 to positive acclaim. She’s also an occasional illustrator and has designed the cover for two Breach Magazine issues – Issue 8 and Issue 12. Claire is the 2020 recipient of the Horror Writer’s Association’s Rocky Wood Memorial scholarship fund for her upcoming collaborative non-fiction book ‘A Vindication Of Monsters – essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’. In her ‘real-life’ she’s a horticulturist and sells home-made terrariums on Etsy as Lady Terrarium


COSTA by Cyndi Benn-Miller

A simple white mug,
Small, espresso sized,
Sits on a bookshelf
Fifteen thousand miles
Away from the barista
Who gifted it
Five springs past.
A simple white mug
Reminder of soulmate love,
Belly laughs, hugs, and family
And a friendship that has lasted across
Fifteen years and fifteen thousand miles
Which disappear when I notice it
And I smile, happy-sad, that a
Simple white mug can hold all of her
In such a small space.


Cyndi Benn-Miller is a poet from Wellington, N.Z. and the author of Capture and Release, a collaborative project with photographer Graeme Knowles.


SOFT BLANKET BEAR by Jamie Sands

Most children have a security blankie, don’t they? It can be just about anything, but it becomes the thing which allows them to sleep safe at night, to feel at home, to know that things will be alright. 

Mine was a woollen blanket called “Soft Blanket”. I think part of me called it soft so that it would become ever so slightly less scratchy. I had it from when I was very small, I believe it was a blanket my mum put over me in my cot. Once I was walking, I would carry it around, dragging on the floor behind me and generally love it. Couldn’t sleep without it. 

When I was four or five years old, my mother must have got sick of watching me drag this blanket around and offered to cut it into two blankets, which I consented to – thinking it might be convenient to have one upstairs and one downstairs. But one the deed was done, I had regrets – Soft Blanket was torn asunder! (And nicely hemmed and returned to me, but that was beside the point.) I couldn’t have one upstairs and one down, Soft Blanket was still one being, and I had to keep it together. 

Years passed and I was still sleeping with Soft Blanket, rubbing the rough weave between my fingers, pressing my cheek against the softest bit. I was about twelve or thirteen when I began to feel entirely too grown up for Soft Blanket, I was embarrassed to still have it in bed with me, it seemed so childish, and yet I hated the thought of getting rid of it. 

Around this time I also formed an obsession with teddy bears, which one might argue is still childish, but I focused my study on the history of bears, why the first one was made and sold, how they caught the imagination of children worldwide. I didn’t just read about teddy bears though, I began to make them. This obsession lasted until I was almost fifteen, and somewhere in those teddy bear sewing years, I decided to convert my beloved Soft Blanket into a bear. 

I was careful about it, I used a pattern that I had used before and knew worked, and I used cut up pieces of Soft Blanket as stuffing in the bears tummy, so that as much of the blanket was retained as possible. Cutting the pattern pieces out of Soft Blanket felt a little like sacrilege and a little like an echo of Mum all those years ago.

The blanket was badly worn through in places, and you can see it on the bear’s chest where I sewed a heart shape to mask one of the worst places, and largely failed. The stuffing never sat right in his face and nose, but overall he’s a big, huggable love of a bear, and a link to my childhood that I don’t think I could ever let go of. 


Jamie is a non-binary kiwi who’s always been wondering ‘what if’? They write stories about ghosts, monsters, love and how the world could be. Jamie grew up in Wellington but now lives in Auckland with their wonderful spouse and a round cat.  

https://jamiesandsblog.wordpress.com/ 
https://www.instagram.com/jamiesandsauthor/  


GREENSTONE by Sarah Lee

Before I ever laid a foot in Aotearoa (New Zealand) I received the gift of a pounamu (greenstone) necklace, beautifully carved in the eternity symbol, from my boyfriend who had left England to take up a job in Aotearoa. The year was 1996 and I planned to join him in February 1997, on a one year working holiday visa, six months after he’d left. In the six months we were apart I read all I could about the country I was travelling to, including literature by NZ authors. I was drawn to the country in a way that was perhaps destined.

When I finally arrived, flying into Auckland, I felt a connection. The following flight, from Auckland to Wellington, soaring over endless green country in a sea of blue took my breath away and tugged on my heart. I felt as though a magical bond was tethering me to the land, the sea, the volcanoes coated in snow and rising in magnificence below me.

Before I was even reunited with my boyfriend (and now husband) I knew that my heart was taken by the land of the long white cloud.  The greenstone had seemingly transferred the power of the land to my body and I would always love it – no matter where destiny took me. Twice destiny took me away from Aotearoa, back to England in mid-1998 for a year, and later to California for a year in 2013-2014, but both times it brought me back — when at the time I had no certainty that would be the case.

This poem is about the greenstone that keeps my heart connected to Aotearoa, and the lover who first gave it to me, steering my destiny.

The pounamu touched my skin 
before I even walked a step 
on the land of its origin
Aotearoa.
A gift from a lover who’d made 
the voyage across the oceans.
A gift to connect us 
through space and time,
binding our two life paths.
As I tethered the pendant
with its eternal twist 
around my neck, I felt comfort.
There was magic in that stone,
seeding my aroha for 
Aotearoa.
When I finally journeyed
to the land of its source
I felt it pull like a magnet.
Circling in a plane above
rich green forests and lakes,
snow capped mountains and rivers
leading to the bluest seas,
I knew with the biggest
certainty of my life
that this country would never 
let me leave it, not without 
taking a piece of my heart.
My heart became entwined for eternity
to the lover and the land.


Read more from Sarah at her blog, Catching the Magic.


HAGSTONES by Tabatha Wood

Hagstones are rocks that have naturally occurring holes in them. While they are called many different things around the world, they have long been seen as a focus of folk magic. They are used (amongst other things): as items of protection from black magic; to ward off malevolent spirits; for fertility magic; and for seeing into the secret realm of the Fae … Allegedly.

My two, treasured hagstones come from two different beaches, 12,000 miles apart and from the opposite ends of the Earth. The first, I found on Whitby beach on the North East coast of England while on holiday with my husband and children in May 2015. The second, from Castlepoint beach on the North Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand, in February 2020.

I don’t feel like I am incredibly superstitious, and I don’t even really believe in magic (or at least, not the fictional, Hollywood kind) but I admit my heart always leaps when I find these stones, and I am always filled with great excitement — and maybe a dash of trepidation — when I put them to my eye… Just in case one day I do get to see into the land of the mysterious Fae.

Much more than that, though, these stones link me to my home lands — the home of my birth and my new home in New Zealand. Sometimes I wonder if I look through the Whitby one, will I see the beach I used to run and play on as a child? Will I see the pier that reaches out into the North Sea, and hear the gulls as they swoop across the harbour? Might I be transported through time and space by simply peeking through a tiny hole made by the force of the sea? To a place I have accepted I might never set foot on again in my life?

I know the answer of course — while I might not see it physically, I see it perfectly in my mind. And likewise, when I put the New Zealand hagstone to my eye, I am taken right back to the day I found it — the day after my husband suffered a terrible head injury, although we didn’t realise how bad it was (or would become) at the time. The last “normal” day in my memories — before COVID, before lockdowns, before the whole world changed. And what a beautiful day it was too. Warm sunshine, blue skies, hot chips and relaxation. We climbed the steps to the lighthouse and looked out across the wide Pacific Ocean. It’s easy to forget how things felt exactly, sometimes. You start to wonder if you might be remembering things wrongly. Or maybe they weren’t as wonderful as you believed. The memories are all there, locked away in my head, but somehow the stone makes them stronger. More solid, more real, perhaps?

These are stones that have been shaped by sea. They have a mystery to them, quite apart from the folklore. They do feel magical — powerful in fact — and when I hold them, I feel and embrace that. They are a gift from the ocean, maybe even the Fae themselves? Reminders of good days and happy feelings. Meaningless to most other people, they mean the world to me.