Island Blog 104 – The Unfinished Line

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Painting a new canvas, I think about lines.  I was taught at art school to let the eye finish the line, meaning that I, as the painter, should leave it half done, indicating by it’s direction and the flow of the piece where the eye might like to take it.  It’s essential to the composition, the alternative leading to a dizzy spell because our eyes will always seek a resolution.  We want to land somewhere and go ‘ah!’ and if we can’t do that, we won’t like the painting at all.  We will be confused and all over the shop, deducing that the painter was too – that he/she just dithered brushes over the canvas without direction.

Writing employs the same rule of thumb, indicating to the reader where the lines are and allowing them to bring the line to it’s resting place, but not telling them exactly where that place is.  If I am too bossy and organising in my story, I leave nothing to your imagination.  I don’t allow you to relate, through your own life experiences, opinions, ideas to this character or that one,  because they are too stereotyped, too plastic, too finite.  You will be yawning by Chapter 3 and probably won’t read the whole book, unless you are one of those people who can’t bear to waste 8.99.  I can easily bear that.  If I find myself yawning by Chapter 3, it’s off to the doctor’s surgery with it, or the local charity shop, which very possibly isn’t very kind of me.

In life I find the same rule applies.  If I am a woman who has a need for a rigid set of lines around her life, I lose out, because, although no-one will tell me I am stuck in my self-absorption, I nonetheless am.  If what I say has to be how it is, then I am not allowing anyone else to complete the line, and, beyond human politeness, I will be skirted around in wide circles because I got boring by Chapter 3.

The good news is that opportunities to be dynamically fascinating and compelling come around over and over again as we begin a new venture, such as having a baby or maybe we leave the family home, or we notice we are turning into a lizard.  I am only a lizard when my hairdresser pops the black cape around my neck a bit tight and I have to wrench it off and remonstrate with her – a remonstration that always makes her chuckle.  Otherwise, the lizard bit goes mostly unnoticed as I avoid at all costs, a magnifying mirror.  Seeing too closely anything in my life can have me pulling on my old anorak and moping along the long and whining road until I realise that nobody is following me anymore and I am quite alone.

Time for some new lines to be drawn, lines for a new adventure, indicating direction, begun but not finished.

So, off I go, this time as a guest speaker at Wigtown’s Book Festival, next Saturday lunchtime.  I have no idea what to expect, no idea how Island Wife will be received, and all I am taking is myself and my reasonably ok skirt and sassy boots, my eyes for looking out and my ears for taking in.  I don’t need to control anything beyond myself and, in that place of freedom, of letting go, I find my sense of humour, alive and well and waiting for me by the side of the road.

I may meet delays, I may get lost, I may forget to pack something vital.  It might rain or snow.  Wigtown might be wiped out by aliens on Friday afternoon, or the hotel we are staying in may have lost our booking confirmation.  But this part-time lizard isn’t going to worry about any of that.  She is just going to draw a few lines.

For someone else to finish.

Island Blog 103 – New Things and Clown Fish

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There are things I have never bought.  I’m not talking yachts and diamonds, but household things like a new sofa or a multi-functional, all purpose blender.  I have looked at them online and not believed one word of their wonderment.  For a start, in that exciting world of sofas, which, by the way, fails to excite me at all, I puzzled over two things.  One is the material and the other the exhorbitant price.  In my world, a sofa could be wrecked in one short day.  It could be stained with all manner of tenacious colourings and smells, be flipped on its back to become a defence against military attack, or offer a comfortable resting place for swamp creatures such as collies or children just in from the rain forest, so I never bought one, not ever, relying instead on second hand ones already ‘broken’ in.

However, the multi-functional all-purpose blender has niggled at my peripheries for a while now.  I do have a small liquidiser, which can whizz up easy stuff like over-ripe strawberries and yoghurt, and an old magimix which belonged to Granny-at-the-gate and got left behind when she went northwards to heaven, but it leaks and, besides, is not multi-purpose, whatever than means. I also have a bread-maker that produces amazing works of sculpted art.  I sprayed one once with enamel car spray and it lasted a whole winter of island rains before I threw it over the fence.  It hit a rock and I wasn’t sure which one had shattered.

So, last week, with a helpful link to a good one from my healthy eating sister, I ordered my own copy.  A few days later, when dashing out the door to feed the 15 doves who have adopted me as mummy, I fell over a box the size of a small bathroom, which had been silently delivered earlier that morning.

Can’t be.  I thought.  Are there half a dozen of them in there?  Oh, no, of course not.  it will be all packaging and poly bags warning me not to put them over my head, or that of any in-house child.

I find myself, at this point, wishing I hadn’t ordered it at all, because now I have to do something like unwrap it and assemble it and then, worst of all, whizz a few somethings into a whole new something.  Then, I will have to spread it, or slap it on meat, or fish, or drink it.  The very thought brings on a yawn and I go to do another job for a while.

Eventually I have to face it so I lug this huge container inside the porch and grab a sharp knife.  Ok, here’s the top of the whizzer and here’s the bottom.  So far, so good.  Isn’t that enough, I ask myself?  Well, in a word, no.

Ten bags are nestled among the moulded corrugations of cardboard, each one wrapped in polythene danger.  I remove it all and lay each piece out on the counter, which I can no longer see.  Even the Clown Fish in the tank dive for cover.

I begin to assemble.  30 frustrating minutes later, I still only have the top and the bottom identified.  There are round things with small holes, round things with big holes, whisks, plastic discs, a small rocket, metal blades contained in immovable shells, each yelling out LOUD PROMISES of finger loss should any contact be made.  I am now a bundle of nerves and have to call my healthy sister who just giggles unhelpfully.

Did you assemble yours?  I shriek at her.

Nope, she says.  Her husband did.

Well, I have one of those but he is at sea, so that doesn’t work.

She guides me gently onwards and the motor leaps into life, although it has nothing to do but spin around at a terrifying speed, for now.

Later I bring together not a well-thought-through list of ingredients from a tried-out recipe, but just what I have in the fridge.  A bit of almost mouldy red tomato pesto; half a bag of raw spinach; one apple with the brown holes removed; one floppy carrot; a clove of garlic;  5 pitted black olives (ha! you thought I was going to sabotage it with pits didn’t you!!) and the juice of one orange.

Well it whizzed for two seconds and stopped.  I poked about with a wooden spoon and it whizzed again for another two seconds and stopped.  It went on offering me the same resistance, one I have only ever met before in myself, for half an hour, but I was determined to win the fight.

What I ended up with is a paste that resembles the inside of someone’s liver, but it tastes delicious.  It made me think of how important it is for something to look good for us to want to eat it.

Trouble is, I have only used one tenth of the flipping thing.  The rest of its working parts slumber in a dark cupboard. Just the thought of working out what they do makes me want to join the Clown Fish.

Island Blog 102 – Memories

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They are funny things, memories, but not necessarily in a ha-ha way.  If anyone has ever asked a couple to describe their rememberings from any area or time of their shared life, you will have felt, as I have, that they definitely weren’t there together.

When my own mum recounts something from my childhood, she tells it in a way that assures me I was in another family at the time.  I used to think she was right and that I was wrong – ever the swing from either to or – and that this ‘wrong’ in me was because I……..what?  Wanted it to be different?  possibly.  Refused to acknowledge the truth?  possibly.  Had blanked out reality in favour of fairyland?  possibly.

Nowadays I see it differently because I understand that she saw me through her own eyes, as a child inside her life and that wasn’t how I saw it at all.  I looked with my own eyes, filtered each experience through my own emotions, needs, hopes and dreams, which were never hers.  She has ideas for me that I didn’t like or understand or even want.  So, the battle begins early in a life, the battle for a good hold on reality.

And who is to say what Reality is?

Even in a marriage, where two supposed adults, really still children themselves, encounter days and times and moments together, the looking will differ to varying degrees.  Where one sees rain, the other sees the light inside a raindrop.  One feels he cold, the other doesn’t, so was that house a cold, uncomfortable one or was it a wonderful home, or was it both at the same time?  And, in the spinning out of the tale of of it, who will name it?

Then, there are the ears that hear that tale.  Are they on one side or on the other according to who or what they personally relate to?  If I am angry about something or someone, I will, however ‘good hearted’ I may be, paint them in certain colours, and colours stick, words stick, take root and grow.

It isn’t as simple as the glass half-full, half-empty cliche.  Cliches are always too simple, sounding like goodly truths but lacking substance, texture, depth and context.  They may help to elevate our thoughts and this is helpful indeed, but no living soul is ever one type of person or another.  To get from black to white and back again, we must allow and embrace a thousand shades of grey, and it is inside those greys we mostly live out our days.

So, now, as an old woman (I love being an old woman, choosing, as I do, the picture of old age as a cumulation of experience and wisdom and of letting go) I can hear a story re-spoken and learn, from it’s presentation, more about the person speaking it out than I ever do about the ‘facts’.  I even hear my own voice doing the telling and notice where I put the emphasis, what colours I choose, what body language I employ, what tone.  And it often smiles me a lot.

On days when I only see the rain, there is a moan and a whine in any telling out.  The simple question How are You? can see me grabbing someone’s hand and leading them into a miserable dark wet cavern littered with the old bones of all the women I hoped to become and allowed to die without a voice.  On days when I am energetic enough to slip between the raindrops, pausing to catch the warmth of their reflected light, I can swirl us both into the sky along with the fairies and the angels and actually feel critical of their need to tell me about the bunions on their big toes.

Same circumstances.  Exactly the same circumstances.  The days are the same, the tasks the same, the view the same, and yet everything is different.

So, although we are all within the parameters of this day Friday September 20th, and even if we spend a part of it together, we will tell very stories about it’s 24 hour span.

Which of us is ‘right’ I wonder?

Island Blog 101 Enough for any Lion

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When I first began blogging, I couldn’t even have spoken that word without a schoolgirl snigger and now look at me, tapping across the querty board like a sea bird over rocks.  Knowing how to do something affords me the opportunity for a back flip or a pirouette, a chance to show off, although my back-flip days are long gone.  For example, if I’m singing something I already know well, I can afford the odd contrapuntal hold-and-dash, curving up at the rise and down at the fall of a phrase for maximum effect, although who I am ‘effecting’ is probably nobody but next door’s hens.  If I am cooking, and find I only have half the cream and none of of the grappa, I chortle a bit and adapt, even if the panacotta would be more use as a corner stone.  In my book I describe such culinary adaptions, and it was daily, and it was sometimes disastrous but in the end, everyone got fed and it was never on a ready meal.

Tweeting confounds me a little bit with all those hash tags and @s that other people, who do know what they’re doing, seem to employ all over the shop.  I am never quite sure where to land those symbols inside a sentence, but I will learn and, for now, I just blunder on, pinging symbols onto the screen and counting my characters like the rest with a modicum of confidence.

On the subject of characters and what they say or ‘tweet’ brings me neatly in to land.

In writing my novel I am a woman at the beginning all over again.  I have absolutely no idea if I am writing tripe or something astonishing.  Oh, I know bad writing, can spot it immediately, but my own bad writing?  Of course I couldn’t could I……write badly?

I wonder…….

I could decide it’s all too scary, this ‘what do you think?’ question that keeps peeking around the corners of my days and nights and asking to be given a place at the table. Look at it sitting there booted and suited before me every morning and growing more confident every single day.  The flaming cheek of it.  And see it grow, and grow, until it towers overhead and fills the room so that I struggle to see the telly screen of an evening.

I could hide my ‘novel’ under my bed or clasp it to my chest within the dark folds of my old woolly jumper, saying to the world that I and my great story are zipping along like Road Runner on blades, allowing nobody to see it at all until the very last minute, when it’s finished.

But now it weighs a whole country.

Now I am upwind of the lions. And they are hungry.  Hungry for all those big dreams we dream and then abandon in our desert because we think we are not enough to walk them out.

Well, all I need is myself.  And who says I’m not enough?  Oh, of course……I do.

It is at this point I remind myself that I am not a famous author, nor a queen, nor the sole hope of a desperate people. I am just a woman, a writer with a big personality and a great sense of humour.  I can rise and I can fall like anybody else and should get on with doing so, or the False Evidence Appearing Real will consume me and lose me in the place where failure is a real threat.

I am nobody’s hope, nor disappointment – just my own.  Paws for thought.

So, I hand it over, the draft, now up to chapter eleventy three and a half, to my husband of a thousand years and he begins to read it.  As he leafs through the sheets of A4, lowering each, when read, onto a growing pile, I see the chapter numbers rise and rise, and he says not a word.  After 30 minutes, whereupon my indigestion level has caused me to locate and swallow a double dose of liver salts, he removes his half-moons and says……..

It’s great.

I want to know more.

I am ecstatic for about half a day.  Then I remember that for him, or anyone else, to know more, I must dance back onto the querty rocks and begin to tap again.  No back flips, no pirouettes, no contrapuntal gymnastics for me, for I don’t know this well, not yet, and nobody can run before they can walk except my little grand-daughter who never slows up enough to walk anywhere. I watch her take off, her little legs pumping with enthusiasm and energy and I watch her fall.  And then someone lifts her up, dusts her down and within seconds she is off once more, running into her life with a thrown back giggle and all our eyes upon her and I think to myself that even if she did come upon a lion, she would probably wrap her arms around its neck and bury her nose into its mane, confounding it completely.

Island Blog 100 – Life, Death and Other Animals

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I did wonder, as Island Blog 100 moved closer, what I would choose to write about – where my fingers would take me, what tale I would give life to. It seemed such a big number and worth due attention.

Then the subject chose itself and not in a way I would have guessed, nor wanted.

But, my dear, I tell myself, in that gentle motherly tone, such is life.

Or death.

One moment Sula is running along beside me, or, more likely, way out front, or miles behind and busy being her completely independent self, and the next, broken in the road.  I wasn’t sure if I would go into that bit, and yet, I cannot, nor will I, hide from the truth of anything.  As a……now, what’s that word they use to describe me in reviews of Island Wife…….?  ah, yes, ‘cosseted’……. young woman, I saw little of the nasty side of life or death, for my parents protected me, protected all of us from things unsightly, the stuff of nightmares.  I would have done the same for my own children, given half a chance and with no access to the blood and guts of hill farming, but that is not how it was for them, and, because I was there too, with eyes open for the looking, I saw it as well.

With hindsight, I am glad they did see it, for the alternative is not the truth, not balanced, not real and it just makes the inevitable, inevitable.  One day, they will see, we all do, and the earlier the circle of life and death and life again is accepted, the better our hearts and minds can deal with it.

The response to pictures and words about Sula on Facebook pages, the messages by card, letter and phone, words of compassion and genuine sadness – all those mouths full of memories spilling into our ears, are helping a great deal.  We don’t know until something crashes into our lives and breaks it, what any of it meant to those we meet on our journey.

This is the Life after the Death.

The first Life bit we take for granted.  However thankful we may be on a daily basis for the gifts we are given, the lovers, friends, partners, children, pets, we don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing their life span.  We just live it out, honestly, realistically, focusing on the little add-ons such as what to put in a child’s pack lunch and whether or not the gym kit is clean for Tuesday.  We can be careless with our goodbye’s and our hallos.  We can be snappy and regret it, but not say so.  We are caught up with concerns over our own footwork on the hamster wheel, and we can miss times we should never miss.  But, we are human.  We are frail.  We get it wrong, we get it right, but mostly we fall somewhere in the middle and we do okay, although it often takes someone else to remind us of that, so filled we are with self-doubt.

I know I looked after her that day, as I always did when the sailor went to sea, you see, and left her in my care.  Yes, at times I moaned about being tied.  Yes, I was raging with her when she climbed out the car window, because it was too hot, or took off in a different direction, costing me time and emptying me of puff;  when she refused to come to my whistle, and sat down in the middle of the road, her favourite place to sit.  Yes I snapped at her when she followed me around the house, up the stairs, down again, into the kitchen, out again, and all because a bluebottle had flown overhead.   One slight buzz and she was off, pushing through any number of garden barricades and out onto the road, where, oddly, she felt quite safe once more and all the drivers passing by had to stop because she would not step aside for any size of vehicle.

Then the inevitable happened.  I knew she was dead immediately and held her, talking softly, even though she could hear nothing by then.  I lifted her through the gate and cleaned up the road and the sun shone and nobody came, no drivers, no walkers as if everyone knew this was our time to be alone.  There was not a mark on her body, not even a graze.  I closed her eyes, and covered her with a sheet, and then I sat for a while looking out across the sea-loch, where the gulls wheeled and cried above a jagged line of spume and kelp, the markers of a new tide bringing new life.

Island Blog 99 – Bareback

 

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I realised on waking this morning for the 4th time, that there is a clunder of whizzing things inside my head.  Actually, whizzing things probably don’t ‘clunder’.  A clunder sounds heavy, thick, like old porage.  A clunder of sticky oats.  that’s better.

Moving on……….this ‘whatever’ of whizzing things can make a girl want to get up and sort some of them out, and yet, on the first 3 wakings, it was still dark as chocolate and I didn’t feel like rising into it at all.  But I did lie there staring at where the ceiling probably still was, to notice each whizzer one by one.  The to-do list is there of course, but being of superficial importance, is quite easily parked.  That list can take over a girl’s whole thinking if she isn’t mindful of its anaconda properties.  After all, if the carpet behind the tallboy is not hoovered today, the spiders will be overjoyed.  I hate losing spiders up sucky pipes anyway.  We need spiders.

So, list parked, now what?

The evolution of characters inside a story is a process I cannot rush, nor can I speed it up.  I can set aside the time to write each day that I am on the island, but if there is a part of the tale that is dependant on something evolving inside my own life, then I am at the mercy of Old Father Time, and I must patiently and mindfully wait.

When the horses in my mind are pulling me along, straining at their bits and pounding along a wide sunny path, everything flows like honey, but when they come across a fallen tree, they have to stop and so do I.  I can get off the wagon, study the obstacle, tell you all about how it lies and why I think it fell, and whether or not it is deciduous or evergreen, but I can’t move it one half centimetre out of the way.

I am not in control at this point.  Or am I?

Well, yes, I am.  I am in control of my response to the fallen tree, and I have two options.  I can puff and snort and shake my fist at the skies, creating not one ripple.  I can shout and swear and give myself a sort throat.  I can turn my wagon round and go back the way I came.

Or, I can water the horses, loosen their girths, let them refresh and graze.  I can sit on the trunk and notice the mosses, touch the places where the bark is torn away, lean my head to the trunk and listen for the dying heartbeat.  I can think into the shade it has offered and the lower leaves it offered to passing deer.  I can hear the chatter of nesting birds inside the protection of its many arms, and I can see the roots, wrenched from their moorings and reaching now like old fingers into the light.   I can notice the shine on the worn leather harness as it lies against the warm chestnut necks of the horses and I can smell their sweet grassy breath on the breeze.

And then I realise that I don’t really need the wagon at all.  I can leave it here, pull it over into that rocky scoop.  It is laden with a load of bahuki anyway.  Clunder I don’t really need at all.  I can flip off the harness and ride one horse bareback, the other in tow.

So, the situation I had set the characters in, had become awkward and clumsy.  I could feeling it growing more so, but kept writing them into it and then tried to justify it, when any reader would have spotted my error in a heartbeat.

It took a fallen tree for me to realise that.

Going back over an early draft is not how I work.  Initially, I just flow, knowing that the energy of first words is a powerful one, although I will need to pick out the strands of that energy from a load of self-indulgent twaddle at some point.

However, if my instinct is to doubt the situation I am painting my characters into, then I must listen to that voice and allow it to manifest itself in a tree across my path.  Often, the idea of re-writing any part of a story can be scary and tiring just to think about, but, once I begin, I can find happy surprises, like the moss on the trunk of it, brilliant green with tiny fragile flowers I never knew were there…..or the scars left by the torn bark, showing me a filligree beauty no human being ever designed……or the finger roots, twisted in search of life-giving water, once hidden, now a visual symphony just for my pleasure.

I can take off the harness and ride on.

Bareback.

Island Blog 98 The Weight of Words

It’s getting colder they say, and they are right.  It is.  But, if I were to unmorph myself from the Island and re-morph down south, right now, I would be shucking off my semmet and my woollies and be ‘foofing’ about the heat.

I know, whenever I leave the Island to go somewhere south of it, I stand over my heap of clothes and after considering frock requirements and, oh, shoes to go with said frock, I consider temperature.  Apart from the fact that I can manage about 30 minutes inside any mainland shop before melting into an unsavoury puddle, I must think about the street heat and then, oh worst of all, the level to which the central heating is set, which is almost always way up to high – so high I can hardly breathe without seizing up and turning into sandpaper.  Windows are usually closed, against pollution, flies, neighbours and, of course, weather.

We have a woodburner and no central heating, but that baby does all the work here, warming upstairs, downstairs and the lady’s chamber, although not too much up there because:

a.  its not healthy and

b.  The window is slightly shy of the available orifice thus allowing all four winds many opportunities for a knife-sharp entry.

Of course, not all four winds come through at the same time, even if they can on the odd day, as the Island wind changes her mind as frequently as a woman in the make-up department of Fraser’s department store.

The north wind is ‘hard’ black, the south ‘bright’ silver, the east is purple and the west, amber – everyone knows that, especially light-house keepers, as I have learned from the wonderful book Stargazing by Peter Hill.

Lighthouse-keepers………they don’t exist anymore.  Now the lights that save our ships from dashing their brains out on sharp-toothed rocks, are worked by someone miles away, electronically, someone who doesn’t need to feel the wind, taste the salt, watch the other lights as dusk falls, become a part of a new adventure every night for weeks on end – someone who would never need the right clothes for such an adventure.

But, back to packing.  The things I need to make room for in my travel bag are mostly words, and those receivers of words, such as my little laptop and my notebooks.  These are heavy, compared to any bodily flim-flam, but when I weigh my luggage, in my hand, I know that, were I to remove something, it would be in the flim-flam department, and never at the expense of the words I have chosen to keep.

These words can be, and often are, half-inched from wiser mouths than my own.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  I don’t consider it stealing, more the recognition of another’s starry brilliance.  I learn from them, use them in part, or in the whole, as a part of something I want to put into either my own mouth, or the mouth of a character in a story.  They are more precious to me than gold, than frocks, than the right apparel for any given occasion.

So, if I arrive in the wrong shoes but with the right words in my mouth/suitcase/head, then who will notice?

Oh yeah……..my mum.the weight of words