Island Blog 97 – Island People

 

working women

 

Saturday is changeover day and this day is the last one in August.  It’s the time of the year when everyone in the tourist business grows weary of it all and yet has another month or so, perhaps longer still to go, before turning in for a well-earned rest.

I remember it well and I also remember how I managed to get through it all.  Not with gadgets but with people at my side; island people, who are the best sort of people, with a laugh in their mouths and a twinkle in their eyes;  their hands roughened by hard work, their arms strong enough to bat away anything unnecessary and their ability to dance new life into tired bones.

In my book, Island Wife, I sincererly hope I have honoured them all.  To be honest, I could not have managed without any of them for they taught me to laugh at myself, to take myself lightly, myself and the world around me.  They knew hard times and they knew good ones and the good ones they did know, they created spontaneously.  Where I might have seen a crack in the structure of something, like a plan, or a wall, they showed me the light inside it, and through their eyes, I learned to see it too.

Each Saturday one of us would drive down to the village to collect the problem solvers, with their sandwich lunches wrapped in paper and their smiles already in place. Together we began and ended our day, moving from one place to another, changing endless beds, laying endless fires, clearing out the old to prepare for the new.  We always worked to beat the clock, for if there was ever a ‘given’ on a changeover day, it was that nothing was sure and everything else was.

I remember one day climbing the steep track up to one cottage with a baby in the back of the landrover, snug in his moses basket, and wedged safely between two gas cylinders.  It was probably August, as I remember thinking the track had grown weary of holding itself together and was showing signs of giving up.  The early Autumn rains hadn’t helped and we bounced over stones and potholes, splashing through a tract of water that had escaped from the burn, now in spate.    After one particularly big bump, when my feet rose clean off the floor, and breakfast threatened to reappear, the back door of the landrover sprung open and one full cylinder took off into the air and disappeared down the hill making a great deal of noise.

I gasped and cried out.  For me, it was a disaster, but not for the women lined up on the back seat.

There goes the baby!  chuckled one and suddenly the vehicle was filled with laughter and light and there was no sign of any crack at all.

As I clambored out to check on the sleeping babe, I heard the rushing water, saw the copper of the bracken, the white currant bushes heavy with fruit, heard the music of the wild birds among the trees and suddenly I knew everything was alright.

Everything always was – with the Island people beside me.

Island Blog 96 – Lead Dancer

 

dance woman

 

Tomorrow I head off to meet new people who belong to book clubs.  I had thought I would have plenty of thinking time, working out what to say, pick the right bit of kit to wear as a guest, make it all into a perfect circle, all thought through and ticketty boo.

Well, haha Old Mother Life laughs from behind her control panel, flipping a new switch.

Not being the sort of girl to find that a surprise at all, I begin to out-think the Old Girl with a ‘haha’ of my own.  Ok, I am not at home, but somewhere else, helping my lovely daughter-in-law and being smiled at a lot by Miss Willow, aged nearly 7 weeks.  I have the wrong kit, and the wrong shoes and no time to really think through what I will say as Guest.  But that doesn’t defeat me one bit, because what I have discovered throughout my bonkers life is that how I am and who I am are what matters and if I appear in the wrong trousers, it is probably only me who gives a monkey’s whatsit.  If I get fankled up inside that whatsit and all the disproportionate fiddle-di-dee that I could create as a result, it would make everyone else uncomfortable without even knowing why.

I need to lead.  Not others, but myself and, in doing so, I make a calm, because I am not asking anyone else to work around my hang-ups.  It’s a way of being in most of life.  I am only responsble for me, expecting nothing from any other soul.

I know, I make it sound easy, but it is far from easy.  In fact, it is the hardest work I will ever do in my life, the whole length of it, and I must do it on a minute-by-minute basis, every single day of every single week/month/year.

I have often been caught up in the ‘right’ way to be, the ‘right’ way to appear before the world.  I say ‘world, but I have never had that big an audience, so don’t take me literally.  What I mean could be one single person who may, through their own eyes, expect me to be what they consider the right way, and it has limited me into a right nicker twist.  On the occasions I did show I was not going to be controlled by my own fears of upsetting whoever it was, I heard every tut, saw every raised eyebrow, heard every murmured comment.

Perhaps I did it wrong.  Perhaps it looked like I was saying I’ll Show You, and perhaps I was.  How to just Be is a real artform, without aggression, or defence;  without a churlish chuck of my stubborn chin;  without being confrontational.

Well, I can’t say I’ve got it right, even at my age.  But I can say I can learn through my own looking at my own choices of behaviour.  If my heart is right, then nothing else matters.  If I can dance through a world all caught up in how things should be, how anyone should look in each situation, how I should react to any curve ball, and still respond as myself without expectation on others, then I am walking in love.

So, Old Mother Life……..flip your switches and laugh away at my plans, for I haven’t fallen off your stage yet.

Island Blog 95 Broken Circle

broken circle

 

 

What is the shape of disappointment? I know how it feels, and how it looks on another’s face, how it infiltrates the hours that follow, how it changes an opinion, a truth, a person, but if I had to pick a shape, to visually explain it, I think I would opt for a broken circle.

A broken circle tells me it can’t quite arrive. It began, quite the thing, knowing it was heading for Circledom and then stopped short of completion. Therefore it is no longer a circle, because there is no such thing as half a circle, or a bit of a circle, or, even a circl.

We like to know what lies ahead, or as much of it as is possible through the cloudy eyes of a mere human being. To know everything would surely require considerably more A levels than I ever took, which, by the way, was none. Well, I never got the chance once I was expelled.

And so, we strain to see as much as we can of what lies ahead, completing the circle as we mentally arrive at our destination, factoring in room for the unknowns and unforeseens, but still confident to varying degrees that we will, indeed, arrive.

But what happens when everything changes in a heartbeat and our circle is broken? Not because we faltered on the journey, lost heart and turned back and not because we changed our minds about setting off at all, but because someone, or something took it all away.

Pouf! Just like that.

And all those wise sayings about how Disappointment Will Pass and how it Makes Us Stronger can just go and flush themselves down the loo, because I have a raging miserable fury inside of me right now that just might boil up all over you if you tell me once more that I’ll feel better soon, because I plan never to feel better, ever again.

I remember my first big disappointment very well. Early days of motherhood, dressed for a party and looking forward to it overly much.

We can’t go, he said. The corn dryer’s broken down and I have to fix it.

And then he went back out on the farm.

I sat down on the bed, in my pretty dress and sobbed until all my face had melted into my palms. Then came the rage, which was dark red and black and full of forked lightening and thunderous door slamming.

The circle was broken. I know it was only a party but for a young mother, just to dress up and go out was such a big deal and had meant days of a champagne anticipation.

And nobody let me grieve, including myself. I was spoilt, petulant, selfish with nothing in the fridge for supper.

Disappointment is not allowed to show its face ravaged with tears and mascara, nor can it open its mouth and roar into the sky, because, firstly, there is something alarming about a woman with her mouth wide open, spraying anger and deep grief all over the place; secondly others share that sky and have seats at the top table and, thirdly, we’re British, with all our lips buttoned up tight.

So what do we do with it, any of us?

Well, I have learned that disappointment is indeed part of life and that the jagged wound it makes, does heal, although I don’t want to hear you tell me that. I’ll discover that for myself.

I have also learned that the only person who can deal with the grief I feel at a disappointment, is me, and if I want to roar into ‘our’ sky, you can just block your ears.

You might consider practising the odd roar yourself.

Clears a whole pavement in seconds.

Island Blog 94 The Right to Write

2013-02-14 14.43.19

 

As the story grows and the characters take form and substance, grow opinions and modes of behaviour, I find myself stepping back a bit.  After all, I am not really there in this game, not really walking through the doors into the rooms, not visible to any of them.  And yet, if I don’t make them move, they stand still and silent and nothing moves forward.

They are not mere puppets, though, and their world not fashioned by me.  I didn’t think them up out of nowhere, paint on their faces, line up their strings.  They came to me and said hallo and I turned to take a good look.  We decided we like each other, tentatively at first, for there are no end of opportunities for us to fall out.  Even when things appear to be swimming along, quite joco, the tables can turn a surprise on us all.

Part of being able to present, if that’s the right word, a believable character, first to the reader, and secondly to the storyline, is through intense observation of all human beings encountered.  I watch dynamics between people, study body language, the way a person shrugs when asked a hoary question, for instance.  What do her shoulders do as she shrugs, her face, how does it look?  Does she turn away in miserable defeat, or do her eyes tell me she is working up a mouthful of bullets to spit right back?  Does she have a dog/child/handbag and where is the dog/child/handbag when this dodgy question is asked?  Is she in a crowded place or on a mountain top at sunrise?  Why sunrise?  Why a crowded place?  Does she like one over the other and is she in the place that feels most comfortable, or the opposite?

These are but minutes in days of writing practice – practice in my imagination first, then lobbed into my left brain to find the potholes in the path it is choosing to go down.  I write down words, ‘how can this happen?’ questions, speak them out into an empty room or toss them into the wind that ever blows around the island shores.  I must not meddle with this process, or try to rush it, or that part of the story, perhaps the whole thing, will turn to mud, as my paintings did when I couldn’t put down the brush to wait patiently for an answer.

In life, we often don’t wait for answers, believing that it is down to us, to me, to fix this thing and right now before it irritates any more of the bejabers out of me and, besides, I can’t think straight with it fannying around my head, because I have a to-do list awaiting me……look, there it sits on the desk with hardly a tick beside any of it!

Wrong thinking.  The answer, when considering options, texture and colours for an inter-weave of characters inside a story is to stop thinking.  Of course, it isn’t possible, well, not for me, to unthink once I am in the deep fabric of a piece of writing because I am already part of the life of it and interested, fascinated, intrigued and excited to know who will do what next, and when.  But, I can push it/them/ gently behind the cogs and pistons of my brain allowing forward another thing or two to busy me a bit, and to give the story time to evolve without me.

Without me?  you cry.  But I must control it all the time.

Now let me ask you this.  If it were down to just you, or just me to control everything in our lives, would it be a good thing, do you think?

Just play back on a few bloomers in the past, when control of a thing was down to you.

The most important and critical thing to understand, is this.  Gazing wistfully at a published writer, with varying degrees of apparent success will not write your story.  Only you, only I, can write our own stories because only we can bring that texture, those colours and that melody into the light, and if you or I never turn to say hallo to an idea, a storyline, a character, it will stay forever in the shadows of regret.  We don’t need to know how to do it. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but, as I reach out my hand in welcome, I suddenly realise that I am not alone.  It is not just me.  And so, it begins.

Island Blog 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams

Tapselteerie

 

 

 

 

Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.

Island Blog 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.

Island Blog 91 – Turn Turn Turn

bth_mothernature

To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn turn turn

and a time to every purpose under heaven.

As I went to pick some mint from where it sprouts between the stones of our drystone wall, I noticed that the new shoots had slowed down.  In the ebullient abundance of full Summer, there is already the touch of autumn.  Nothing that knows its stuff is pushing out too much in the way of new because each plant senses the time of dying and concentrates on keeping its roots strong.  We still see the many greens of life in our gardens, the hedgerows, the fields, but there is a change afoot in the natural world, one we can forget to notice. The wild St John’s Wort has turned overnight, it seems, from wide mouthed buttery yellow blooms to an abundance of autumn fruit.  Yesterday, buzzy bees dipped into its pool of nectar and today it is silent.  Hazelnuts bow the branches and every day ripen a bit more.  Rowan berries turn from blood to crimson in a few short days and there is a chill in the morning air.

In homes where only seasonable vegetables and fruit are eaten, the turning of life is presented on a daily dinner plate.  My dad had a big veg garden, fruit cloches and trees, so we always ate according to the seasons and never thought a thing about it, although endless parsnips caused childish bother now and again.  Fruits were preserved, jammed and chutneyed and I remember the steaming jars and the delicious taste of a ploughman’s lunch, or a generous spread of deep purple damson jam on an after-school slice of toast.  As the seasons turned, Mother Nature provided the right foods for us to live well in body and mind.  Now it is hard for anyone to remember what country we live in, never mind what season it is, and that confusion can look like lack, (try saying that without your foot tapping), and such confusion can prevent us living in the Now.

Did my own mother watch the seasons turn, make her plans accordingly?  I do know she had a big ottoman chest to store our Scottish vests and big woolly jumpers by the end of Spring (Ne’er shed a cloot till May is oot) and our shorts and tees in the winter months, but I don’t know how she felt about it all.  Did her heart sink a little as she noticed the slowing of growth in the mint bed I wonder, or see the damsons turning dark and plump and picture herself stoning pan-loads, whilst we children ran and played and never asked a single question?  I will have to, now!

When we first moved to the island, we lived according to the seasons.  Tourists decided that for us, in the main, although I was hungry to learn the language of the seasons, become part of the turning, engage with it and learn to love it, but it was comparatively easy for me, out here in a wild place.  It must be very much more difficult living in a concrete-lined city that never sleeps – one that can create whatever money can buy and loudly enough to drown out nature’s gentle music.

I remember living for a short time in Glasgow and finding it very hard to find any balance to my own natural rhythm.  I did enjoy Glasgow, mainly because the people are so wonderfully raw and honest and good-hearted, but it wasn’t the way for me to live.  Blackbirds sang in the dead of night for starters, because of all the street lights and that really threw my sleep pattern out the ‘windy’.  On the island, I wake with the birds and sleep when they do so my nights became days and I was sad for the blackbird and concerned for his singing career.  I also found fences very upsetting.  Ownership and fear of loss or trespass seemed to rule everyone’s life, and make each one lonely as a result.  I used to have to hang my washing out on the communal ‘green’ on Wednesdays, even if it rained on Wednesdays and nobody hung their washing out there anyway, in case it was pinched.

Oh dearie me.

I believe we are out of kilter with ourselves when we ignore the heart beat of Nature and try to drown out her voice with electronic hums which, even put together, which they never are, cannot make a melody, let alone a harmony.  If we want to live long and prosper we don’t follow money. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work for it, use it to make a good life for ourselves, of course we should, but it isn’t everything.  After the tsunami, money lost its value overnight.  That’s how fickle it is.  But our natural world, now there is something worth looking after.  Even after disaster, the earth can grow again, but she won’t if we don’t tend her garden, and care for her creatures and her people.

In Glasgow I waited half an hour for a bus.  I was nervous and felt very ‘on show’ as the cars and bikes rolled by.  Bus comes, I hold out a fiver and ask for one way to town.  No change, he said, the driver, without looking at me.  I don’t have any, I said, wishing the ground would take me down.  Then off you get, he said.

Suddenly someone called from the back.  Here you go hin!  A wee woman in a plastic rain hat tottered up and shoved a pound coin in the driver’s face, like a punch.  We both knew I wouldn’t see her again to pay it back.