Island Blog 34 – To Rise and Fall and Rise again.

Today I spent a happy time with 3 other women over lunch.  We talked of many things, and sometimes all at the same time, but the theme that wound its way through all our conversations, was the ‘how’ of living.  How we each manage it.

Some of us walk a steady, even path, although it wasn’t always so steady.  Another is young, and she will take many paths, mainly out of youthful curiosity.

Do we lose that curiosity I wonder?  Or have we found that it doesn’t only kill cats?

The way we germinate the seeds of our own personal existence, it seems to me, is decided by the choices we make as we live out our life.  But if we felt we had no choice, or if choice was made on our behalf, does that mean that those seeds never grow and bloom?

There is a theory that we make our own choices, whether it looks like it or not.  Actually, I do agree with that theory, but I also hate it at times.  It is so much more pleasant to present myself as a victim of circumstances, or of some overbearing ‘other’ in my life.  After all, I could have been this or that, had I been allowed to make my own choices.

Couldn’t I?

When you live like I do, on a daily roller coaster, you are allowed to cast envious glances to those marching steadily along their level path of choice.  It’s fine when I am riding on point break, towering over the world and shouting ‘Woohoo, Look at Me!’  but quite another as I sink into the troughs and nearly drown.  And I do it every single day.  It is, in a word, exhausting to be me, but I am me and that’s that.

So, Me, how are we to accept that we made this choice very early on in life?  Our sisters seem very sorted, our brother too, and we all came from the same nest.  What, or who decided that we would think too much about every flaming thing, lifting up the carpet of life over and over again until the tacks give up and ping off into the unknown, leaving a permanent curl for everyone else to trip over?

Enough questions.

I have found that my first important decision each day lies not in what I do, or where I go, but in how I see what I see.  This doesn’t mean I should spend all my time looking inward but quite the opposite. When I have heard that someone is off to find themselves, in India or some such place, I have to conceal an inner snigger. In order, it seems, to feel ok, no, better, good about being a volatile lunatic, like I am, is to look at the world of which I am an essential part.  I know that sounds a bit cocky, but to be honest, it works for me.  If I can tell myself that I am here for a specific purpose, just as I am, with my own seeds to nurture and grow, then my roller coaster begins to make some sense.  After all, I can see higher and lower than the ones on the steady path.  I can spin among the clouds and swim in the deeps and I can use those powers of observation to help another.  I can take what looks like a heavy load and call it a gift. And I need to do this exactly where I am, because to flip off to India would be fine, but only if I could leave me behind.

Which I cannot.

If I am the one who has to surf the biggest waves, then let me learn how to surf.  If it is I who must sink into those troughs, then I must learn to be a cork.

And then, let me have the presence, the absolute engagement with where and who I am, to find one who fears their own sinking, and to show them that they can do it too.

Island Blog 33 – Footprint, Shadows and a Whisper

Island Blog 33 - Shadows

Walking on the wide white sands of the bay, I see the footprints.  Some are of big old walking boots, like mine, only bigger, some of paw marks or gull prints and then……oh joy…..little bare toes, scrunched into the darker wet sand along the shoreline.

The tide is coming in and fast.  I have to veer landwards, ever so slightly, or it will be up to my ankles by the time I reach the far side of the scooped out bay.  There’s a screech of gulls way over there where the fresh water has sunk a deep furrow in the sand.  They always gather there, shouting ‘mine, mine, mine, into the cold blue sky.  As the little dog splashes through the frothy spume and the fingers of kelp, spread at a tidal whim, the gulls begin to rise, first one, then, two, then all of them, not high, but high enough to float just above my head.  They are huge this close, alarmingly so and their eyes black and mean as they cant at us from a safe distance.

I find a message in the sand, drawn letters, two foot tall, a sand-whisper about someone loving someone else, a childish confidence in the curve and straight of the names.  Laughter comes to me on the breeze and I look up to find the owners of the toe prints.  Two little pink girls, leggings rolled up to their knees, run in and out of the freezing water, impervious to its chill, filling brightly coloured buckets and emptying them again.  Their hair, long and curly russet, flies out behind them.  Their song is of delight and life without thought, without reason or limitations.  Their mother watches from where she sits on the drier sand, muffled up in hat and boots and a warm overcoat.  She calls to them and they reply, their voices sweet with innocent joy, but their words are lost to me for they fly into the salty free-blown air before I can catch them, and make them a part of my own afternoon.

As I wander away from the gulls, the kelp and the shoreline, it is almost evening and my shadow casts long over the sands.  Tonight, when all is dark and the little russet-haired innocents are safely tucked beneath their warm blankets, the sea will claim this beach for her own and she will take the words, the shadows and the footprints back to herself.

It will be as if we had never been here at all.

Island Blog 32 – Circles of the mind

The Island

This morning is a cracker.  I know it before I open the curtains, for I can hear no rain, no wind, but only the sound of happy birds calling for breakfast.

I sit here and think about this blog, about my writing, my need to write.  Looking at something, a view, a morning, an encounter, is not enough for me, because I can hear the voice in everything, one that asks to be remembered.  It’s not enough to say ‘it’s a beautiful morning.’  There has to be more than that.  Is it a warm one, a Saturday, my child’s first birthday?  Is it busy or quiet?  Do I have something to come that excites and delights me, or am I just a morning person?

All these and more affect how I look upon what I see.  And the person next to me, next to me in the same moment of morning, might say it’s about as beautiful as cold rice pudding, for we all look out from our own perspective, our own context in the life we live.

Some folk look for flaws,  some folk look for beauty.  I just look.

Start a blog, Lisa said, as if it was a really simple thing, the simplest. Lisa is my publisher at Two Roads/Hodder.  She also said I should upgrade my mobile from one purchased at a street market in Africa 3 years ago, with just a few knobs and an On/Off switch, to one fashioned in the 30th century with a thousand applications, including Tetris (whatever that is) and a camera with screen rotation which I can’t turn off.  I have taken many pictures already of things and people tumbling like beach balls, including some mint wrappers inside my jacket pocket, a shot that looked quite artsy once I stopped rotating and my eyeballs settled down.

I used to re-charge my old mobile once a week.  Now it’s a daily thing, and not just for the mobile. If I am not actually writing my blog, importing (!!!???) photos, once they have stilled, from my mobile, I am sifting through my thoughts on life, love and what’s for supper.  Preparing my mind;  pulling at the sinews of it, encouraging blood flow, breathing in the morning.

Initially I resisted, squeaked and screamed and whined and moaned.

I can’t do this! I wailed.  I am a techno-phobe, an island girl, no roundabouts, no traffic lights, remember??

That was one of my voices.

The rest all yelled ‘Shut up, make coffee and get over yourself!

In the face of such encouragement, I had to listen.

Now it comes, more or less, naturally, and what I have learned, in this new process, is that I can change, even though I struggle with it as much as anyone else does at first.

It’s the thought of it that scunners us.  There is comfort and predictability in staying the same.  We think we still move forward, but we don’t. We circle.

The benefits of personal stretching far outweigh the disadvantages.  In fact, I am not sure there are any disadvantages, for, in the light of this new view, it’s not only my mornings that are different, nor, indeed my afternoons or evenings.  I find I think in a different way.  I am more able to face whatever comes next, because I have already done it, and can do it again.  The unknown is no longer frightening, not because it won’t be at some point – I am sure it will – but because I have proved to myself that my mind is not stuck, that my old way of doing things is not all I am capable of, and there is a new beauty in that.

My advice – recognise your circle and step out of it.  Oh, and please remind me of these wise words when I need to hear them again.

Island Blog 31 – Valentine’s Day!

Driftwood heart

A day longed for by many, fizzing with champagne and flowers and hopes and promises, and one shrugged off by others, usually those in stoutly sensible lace-ups and crackly anoraks.

‘A load of romantic nonsense!’ they say, indicating, with a chuck of their square chin, that such an unrealistic, time-consuming and pocket-emptying affair should remain ‘over there somewhere’ and dare to move no closer.

Their wives think differently, of course.  They have grown weary of being realistic over the years and might rather appreciate the odd attempt, however odd, at an indication that this man with whom they have walked through most of their lives, does, in fact, realise they are a fully paid up member of the female species, and that, beneath that crackly and efficient exterior, there beats a soft, gentle and loyal heart.

Although this heart feels, most of the time, like a rather unattractive pulsation of tubed-up offal, it could glow again, with the smallest gift, the tiniest whisper of proffered affection, and I don’t mean an emaciated clutch of terminally ill carnations bought from the local garage and dumped on the kitchen table.

‘We don’t do things like that.’ they say, these men as if it was a good thing and one ‘we’, at a certain point, grow out of, along with wetting the bed and playing conkers.

I ask them ‘Why not?’  which is always my favourite question when someone says they don’t do this or that, because, in the main, they have absolutely no idea or have quite forgotten why, having ‘not done’ that thing for a very long time.  Then they pull back a little, in case whatever I am showing signs of might be catching, and, at the same time, their sensible wives pull forward as if hoping that it is.

We do celebrate Valentine’s Day, still, after over 40 years.  I am not saying I have felt much like it at times, nor I imagine has he, but one of us at least has not allowed romance to starve to death  over time,  and I am glad of it, because what we have not lost is the fun in a marriage, and, to be honest, if there isn’t fun then it is just a life sentence.

However, fun does not appear by magic, it is a delicate plant that needs daily attention.  Not bothering is so much easier.  We women will always rise ourselves up from any ashes that come our way, but we can only do so much rising once the rust sets in.   As we watch others being bought fresh flowers or taken out to dinner, or being told how wonderful/pretty/clever they are, we know we want the same.  Our problem is that we have forgotten how to ask for it.

Island Blog 30 – Force 10 and Rising

'Force 10'

‘Force 10’

Photograph courtesy of James Fairbairns

Today it’s cold, sleety and wet and with a gale forecast, again, and the maudlin in me could take over if I was less than vigilant.  The thought of going for a good brisk walk, or even just driving Miss Daisy down to the shop, makes my neck sink deeper into the high neck of my big woolly jumper of which I am more than heartily sick.  Although I do need to cover myself from neck to bottom and beyond, every day from the moment I rise, wear fisherman’s socks over my chilblains and a big jacket just to feed the birds, I still look longingly in my ‘skimpy’ drawer.  Strappy tee-shirts, a pair of shorts, silly frou-frou tops, a short denim skirt.  When did I ever wear any of them?  When was it ever warm enough, or when did my pale blue skin ever allow such nudity?

It wasn’t that long ago, I tell myself, as I shut the drawer on my finger.  Fingers move slower in the cold, and sometimes, too slowly to avoid being shut in drawers or doors, or knocked painfully against surfaces that somehow seem softer in the warm sunshine.  Conversations are all about how-to-pay-the-bills and who ran up this cost anyway? And everyone I meet is aching or has lost their greenhouse, and it’s not over yet.  We are exhausted being so positive, but therein lies the key.  Whether you believe in global warming, or not, have a faith or not, there is a spirit within us all that keeps us going and we are glad of it.  We are tough cookies and built to survive, no, more than that, to laugh at ourselves, our situations, our daily disasters.  We can lift, cheer and support each other, just as we are designed to do, and it is the stuff of life.  In cheering you I am cheering me.   Whatever gales and tempests have assailed us and will assail us yet, whatever gets flattened or damaged, torn or ruined, we have ourselves and our sense of humour and we can share both every single day.

So, I tell myself, stand up girl, and be counted. This is much ado about nothing.

‘Life is either a daring bold adventure or it’s nothing at all’

I am off to bake a chocolate cake, visit someone, and tomorrow, I think I’ll wear my jumper inside out.

Island Blog 29 – Elephants and Crossroads

 

Turning Point

Just before I meet a cross in the roads, I get what feels like indigestion.  A friend of mine once called this state ‘The Churny Pits’, and it’s a pretty good description of the upsy-downsy state of my inner woman.  Things I did up to this point seemed ok, if a little samey and ordinary, and I got on with them, in the main, with a positive attitude and a spring in my step, I waved my usual wave, bought my usual coffee at my usual place, arrived at my usual time, said the usual things, got on with my usual routine. But something is different.  Each of these usual things feel empty – empty of life, as if I am acting out a role, one I have played for years and know off by heart.

For a while I ignore the unrest, gathering in the ‘usual’ closer to my chest, to keep it with me, for without it I might be nobody and, having been a nobody once before, I don’t plan on being one again. But it doesn’t work and soon those things that gave me my place in my own world, abandon me completely.

And then I stand at a crossroads I never asked for, never even considered was there in the first place. I can’t avoid it, not this time.  It’s like finding a herd of elephants in the Fairy Woods, which, to be honest, has never even thrown up a fairy.

I know what all this means by now, although it has been no less uncomfortable in the gestation period, much like the onset of flu.  This herd of elephants is here to tell me it is time to change direction, that Life has something in store for me, something up her sleeve and I can’t see it until I let go of the old and turn towards the new. It could be old thinking, old habits, old responses or it could be something bigger.  The good news is that I won’t be asked for more than I can give, although my idea of what I am capable of is not necessarily all I am capable off, as has been clearly demonstrated to me more than once.

Sounds like a stretching opportunity cometh my way.

Again.

Well, I whine, from where I sit on the old couch in my old slippers with my usual cup of tea at the usual time……I would turn toward the new if someone would just show me where it is.  I could waste weeks pounding up the wrong path, whether my boots were right for the task or not.  Someone needs to tell me.  I need hard facts, a good argument for this whole airy-fairy change thing.  After all, how will the household bills be met, and what will the coffee vendor think and what will my children/husband/mother say?

Besides, I know nothing about this daft dream that’s been floating in my head for weeks now, months perhaps. What if it’s just a mini crisis, a temporary loss of balance, or even just indigestion?

Well, says Life to me, there is only one way to find out.

Island Blog 28

This afternoon a gaggle of women sat down to discuss our personal responses to a study we are working on.  Although the time in which the words were written dates back over 2000 years, it has a relevance today in ordinary lives.  The language is dated, the context not relevant to us in this western, and predominantly material, world, but how we feel as humans changes not that much.

One of the main topics, that seemed to inspire us all to make comment, was on our own gift, or gifts.  A gift, by definition, is not something we have earned, nor learned, but, instead, something beyond ourself, something of a surprise, perhaps.

What is my gift?  We asked.  I am just an ordinary island woman, leading a life much like any other life.  I cook and clean, I sew or don’t sew.  I organise to varying degrees, my own life, and those of another or others.  I do nothing astonishing.  I am not a prima ballerina, a rock star, a princess or a surgeon.  I am just me.

Or am I?

What we learned, over cups of tea around a table in a warmly lit room, is that not one of us is ‘ordinary’.  For a start, we each have certain problems and challenges to wake us each morning.  These are specific to us.  As we pull on our sensible warm underwear, we each consider these challenges and make our decisions in context.  One of us is good at being cheerful.  She says her mouth goes up at the edges naturally.  Another is good at writing letters, at remembering those who often forget even themselves, and she loves to take out paper and a pen and begin.

Dear You….

Another can bake seriously risen cakes and buns and does it for pleasure.  Another paints and is lost for hours in the process.

I write and the same goes for me.

What we all realised is that we do what we do because it comes easily, because time loses its grip on us, because we forget context in the content.

Now see-saw that word.

Content.

We are content in our work.

And that is the whole point of a gift.  It is not something we struggle to achieve, nor do we have to study it to get good.  We just do it, effortlessly.  The skill is to recognise it and then, to take it out into the world for the benefit of others who don’t have the gift we have. Not for our own validation, although we all look for that, but for the good of humankind.

Or the village.  Or maybe, just for next door.

Island Blog 27 – Sea-words

We walked on a wide white beach today in the late afternoon light.  The little dog ran here and there through the machair in search of rabbits.  She has never caught one.  I don’t think she really wants to.  It’s the chase she loves, the journey.

Because of the recent storms, the kelp is high, almost on the machair, settled in loops as it was pushed in by the waves.  It looks like curly hair.  In one curl, lay a dead seal.  I knew it before I found it, as the hooded crows and a bird of prey I couldn’t recognise in the shout of blinding sunlight, lifted into the sky as we came near.

Something dead there, I thought.

And there was, its skin blistered pink, at its final resting place.  Food, now, for a hungry world.

We found driftwood and bits of flotsam and jetsam, and I love that around the ocean, there are so many wonderful words.  Not one of them boring.

I saw bladder-wrack and bubble-wrap and plastic bottles and lids and bits of toy, a piece of Lego and another thing, an emergency water bottle.

Whose boat, I thought, and what journey and where did you come from, or go to?

I remember someone found a soft toy rabbit in the harbour car park.  Soaked in the rain, we dried her and placed her for all to see with a sign asking…….Am I yours?

Nobody claimed her, so now, she is mine, with her raggedy ear and her eyes wide with looking.

I call her Anouk.

Grace.

It takes grace to allow ourselves to be moved from one state to another.  One place to another.  We may not choose it, but if we can bring our whole self with us, without looking at what we left behind, with just our wide-looking eyes hungry for right now, right here, we can make a smile appear in the most unlikely faces.

 

Anouk

Anouk

Island Blog 26 – Safe and Sound

They said there would be no ferries as the wind was forecast to rise beyond acceptable bouncing-over-water limits. At such times, ordinary old waves suddenly turn into the Salt-water Alps, and we struggle to hold down our children, our cars and our skirts. Words are snatched from open mouths and everyone wishes they had gone to a health spa in Basingstoke, including me. I may be married to the ocean through my family, but she and I have had plenty of disagreements over the years.  Trouble is, she is way more confident than I am and with the wind up her tail, she can batter ordinary law-abiding folk to their limits.

We decided we would set off anyway, although the ‘we’ part of that is never the result of a discussion. When I married my husband, he became ‘we’ and I remained ‘I’. So we set off because we always set off. To not set off is to be a big girl’s blouse, and we don’t do them in our house.  Even the girls don’t.  To show fear is to appear weak. To hesitate is to be run over.

We spent a happy ten minutes behind a huge mucky lorry, and, having left home a rather cute sky blue, we gradually turned brown in the spray from its many wheels.

What a lovely gentle speed, I yelled over the hysterical blapping of the windscreen wipers. One of them hesitated mid blap. This is it, I thought, and waited for it to ping into orbit.

The moment passed.

Then so did we. Well, he did. I just closed my eyes as we plunged into the brown darkness on the wrong side of a very narrow road.

We passed gritters and snow ploughs, and tourists at viewpoints, holding on to each other to avoid flying over the edge. Anoraks billowed out like kites and nobody looked like themselves, as nobody ever does in woolly hats, scarves and multi-coloured mountain jackets, their hoods pulled right up tight.  I have walked past family in the winter with no flicker of recognition. All I can see are a fistful of features peeping out from the dark.

Eventually we arrived at the ferry point and could see its beak was closed.

We were not to get home this day.

Now, settled in a warm little hotel sipping tea and watching the storm dancing through the wide windows, I find it all rather exciting.  Home will still be there tomorrow and we are safe.

I think of the homeless on the cold streets of a cold city before I sit down to write.

 

Ferry Cancelled

Island Blog 25 – As I believe, I will achieve

Skyline

If we don’t try things out, how can we know if we like them or not, that’s what I ask myself as I hover on safe ground looking into unknown territory.

Such as the Hair Care products in a supermarket, a line of shelves that stretches for half a mile and each brightly coloured tube or tin or tub, all with impossible-to-open lids, promising that my life will change the instant I apply the goo/foam/wax or cream to my head.

And that’s just the Hair Care section.  I could spend 3 weeks in one store bamboozling my brain with options. In fact, if I believed all of it, or even some of it, I could emerge a completely different person, transformed by ‘product’ into Superwoman, or, at least, as someone a whole lot more beautiful than the one that walked me in.

In this world that refuses to allow me to be ‘myself’ I can get lost. I forget to hear only the voice of my higher self, my instinct and listen, instead to all those whispers that dart around my head like swallows catching flies. When I am faced with a bigger set of options, like changing careers for example, I can either follow my heart, or follow everyone else’s opinions and, if I do that, I just go round in circles until I am wheezing with the exertion and still standing in the same place.

What I do is say nothing.

When I decided, after 35 years of doing the same thing, pushed on by need for cash to pay bills, low self-esteem and self-doubt, to leap into Art School, the world was aghast. Well, not the WHOLE world of course, but the little one I lived in, because nobody but me felt the blood rush and excitement at the very thought of changing lanes. Actually, it was more like deciding to walk against the traffic in a fog without a fluorescent jacket, but I had to do it. The idea grew skin over its bones and filled with strong red blood overnight and I was in its thrall; captivated and, for the first time in years, truly alive.

When I take a risk, I know who I am. I don’t follow the flow just because that is what we should do.  I may be laughed at, or ridiculed, or, at the very least, carefully interrogated by those closest to me, but I know now it is not necessarily because they think my nut case idea is dangerous or destructive.  It is more that they are a little envious that anyone could kick against the pricks and still be able to walk and run and dance.

I don’t sit down and draw up a risk situation. Risk comes to me, through the ether, from the clouds, and it will not be denied however much I may flap it away with my tea towel.

If Risk knocks at your door, let him in. For beside him stands Lady Providence and she is the one who will walk beside you if you just have the courage to take the first baby step.

Someone once said that needless consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, and I agree. Until I broke free, and not from others, but from my own fear and doubt. Our minds are not small at all, and each one of us can move a mountain, if we just believe.

‘Make the Jump’