Island Blog 126 Light in the Attic

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Our ‘attic’ or loft for the new generation of home-owners, is mostly dark.  There is one piddling light bulb just at the trap door and about a mile and a half of pitch darkness, densly strung with fat dirty cobwebs left by old spiders who thought flies might just fancy a blind spin among the boxes and crates of stuff nobody knows is there, nor cares.

We have employed a miner’s headlamp when required to ferret about for something we think might be there, something high on the critical list for Right Now.  Often, that initial enthusiasm is lost in the fight to avoid strangulation by Old Spider and the unlucky miner emerges furious and unrecognisable beneath Miss Haversham’s veil, coughing and spitting and in need of a number four cycle with maximum spin.  Old newspapers dissolve into powder at a single touch and underfoot lie fossils that foof into blue smoke after one bootly crunch. Then the fine dust of a rodent’s body rises into a gasping mouth to irritate the cilia into a frenzy, like a field of ripe corn in a hurricane.

Whatever it was that seemed so vital, has now lost all of its shine.  Getting out without breaking a bone is what rises to the top of the list.  The steps, just too low to reach the trap door, balance between two stairs in an alarming way, and the support group who said they would remain in position for just this moment, have popped down to put the kettle on.  Suddenly, all those old spiders, the clutch of their webbing, the dead mice and the darkness morph into a terrifying monster, one that is closing in.  All I need now is for the trap door to snap shut and I am doomed to become the next fossil waiting to puff out my own blue smoke in a hundred years time, beneath another booted foot.  My throat, or what is left of it, constricts, my heart begins a mad dash to nowhere and there is no way, without jumping, that I can re-connect with the wobbly steps.

That is the very LAST time I ever go up in that attic!  I cry, once I can speak again.  And, yet, there will be another time, because I am slim and agile and, as the space up there closes down over the years, the only one who will ever be able to get up there at all.

What I want to know, is why we put anything up there for in the first place?  The family silver, the pretty china, the old guitar, the boxes and boxes of books on Walks in the Gloucestershire Countryside, or old AA Roadmaps, or those hundreds of volumes of self-published novels by unknown writers, long dead and completely forgotten.  Their pages are brown and curling, their bound covers stained and damp.  And, yet, we keep on keeping them.  For what?  For whom?  Our children?  I very much doubt they would think beyond a bonfire.  Perhaps we are thinking that something magical might be lurking up there, something that would change all our fortunes, just by being brought into the light. Another never-ending story.

In order to see the light, we must have the darkness.  A darkness that envelops and holds secrets.  I can hear the mice up there some nights.  It sounds like quite a fun party at times and interrupts my sleep.  Tiny feet, many of them, skittering among family treasures, living out their lives in the darkness, along with the monstrous spiders and blind flies.  The mice make nests from old hardbacks, or plastic, or the gut from a guitar string.  Amazing what you can do with what is all around you.

When I am finally down on terra firma again, I look at the shaft of light on the landing floor, cast by the piddling light bulb and in a perfect, and very small, square shape, one I just wriggled through, twice.  I think about the darkness up there, and then of the darkness in my own attic, the attic of my head. Only I really know what’s up there, no matter how much telling I do.  There is always more. And it is not easy to squeeze through the trap door of my mind, nor it is it a pleasant experience.

Over here, are the regrets I admit to, and over there, the ones I don’t.  Further towards the water tank with it’s wonky lid, lie the memories of my children, what they said and did as little ones.  Down there where the webs are dense as a curtain, are the emotions and hurts I have learned to quiet.  Near them are stacked the doubts and the worries about which I can do nothing, and never could.  Closer to the piddling bulb are boxes of hopes.  I keep them near the light for easy access, although I have moved a few of them into a recess because they will never come about.  They are tidied away, but not quite bonfired, even though I really should clear that space.  The mice chew through old words and the strings that made my music, turning them into cosy nests for their young.  I don’t mind that.  It’s good to let go, to allow things to move on.  And, besides, I can make new words, new music.  But, first, I have to let go.

And letting go is the only way to live.  I will change the things I can, and let go of the things I cannot.  Knowing which is which might appear confusing, but, trust me, we always know the answer to that.

Island Blog 125 Wind in the rigging

 

 

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When we sail, the rigging is something we attend to at each shift of the wind.  The sails may be full-blown, wide and tall, blocking the sun and catching bellies-full of breeze to take us all the way from A to Z.  Sometimes, the wind luffs or fizzles out, causing the canvas to flap noisily, unsure of what to do next.  A good sailor will see it coming and adjust the rigging accordingly, winching in the sails, tightening them, or going about, which is the time I always duck, never sure when that big ass boom is going to take my head off.  We always had to sail close to the wind.  That point where we could jibe and lose a mast (slight exaggeration) or, at the very least, lose someone overboard.

Me.

Coming into harbour, my skipper would never lower the sails and motor in like every other sane person, trotting into a parking place with minimum whoosh and flip, avoiding the wide sweep required to avoid turning the smaller boats to matchwood in a heartbeat.  He didn’t mind squashing the bounce-back variety of white plastic so-called yachts, all squeezed from a giant toothpast tube onto a production line and given fast names to bely their ordinariness.  It’s not me who is the yacht snob here.  I’m just repeating what I heard from my own wooden J-Class sloop-loving skipper, he who sailed oceans beneath real canvas, hand-sewn and made just for one boat at a time, bespoke.  He who loves the creak of timber as the mast strains to stay where it was riveted with huge brass thingies that nobody could ever remove once driven into place.  Hulls laid, larch on oak or teak and varnished to a shine most winters by us with freezing fingers and miles to go before sleep.

In life we are all sailors and we all sail alone, although we can travel together through the wildest of oceans, if we so choose.  Ultimately, the set of our sails, the tension in our rigging, the way we listen to the wind’s voice, and bend to her will, working with her changes of mood, her tantrums and tempers, will decide, not whether or not we arrive at Z in the end, but how well we notice the rest of the alphabet on the way.

I speak, not of the wind that blows around the corners of our homes or bends the strong backs of our ancient trees making them squeak and groan, or call out in agony as their ribs crack and break, but of the winds of life, of time.  These winds rise and fall in every life at some time, and if we are not ready for change, we will get hit by the boom as it swings across our boat, and we may even fall overboard now and then.  All the time, each one of us is dealing with something we find we have not prepared for.  Miniature disasters come into every life, just like a little rain will fall, and if we are really ready, we will find a solution comes more quickly, for we are human and creatively agile.  We just have to tap into that inner gift and develop it into a strength.  We may not know this new set of ropes, but if we are fully engaged with taking responsibility for our own self in any situation, we will find a way to sail again, only better.

I remember learning once, that, in order to play an instrument well, we must learn the discipline of it first, before getting clever with counterpoint or spontaneous harmonies.  For me, that instrument is my voice.  If I want to ‘play’ as I sing, I must know my limits, the boundaries of the song, how my voice will sound singing it.  If I leap enthusiastically into a gritty blues number, I will sound like Snow White trying to be Eartha Kitt and just know that the audience is saying ‘Oh dear….’

But all this is a metaphor for life experience.  We are human, not ‘only’ human, as some would have us believe, and there is power and a magic to being a member of such a wonderfully well-rigged race.

Island Blog 124 – Chiaroscuro

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It’s not a sausage.  It’s a delicious word, nonetheless, and it is the meeting point between light and dark.  Of course, there is always a meeting point between light and dark, day and night joined together until the sun burns out, the light and dark, or shade, in a painting.  Used in the world of opera, it describes two voices, one soprano, one deep, might be contralto, might be tenor or bass, joined to create a thrilling balance for our ears to hear.

So, this lovely ‘meeting of opposites’ has a pretty name and if you say it with an Italian accent, plus the hand gestures, you can quite lift your day.  Chiaro, means ‘clear and bright’, and Oscuro, dark and obscure.  Five musical syllables, and the ‘Ch’ is pronounced as ‘K’.

This meeting of contrasts is everywhere in our world, and, without one, we fail to see or appreciate the other.  When it rains a flood for weeks on end, and the water moves indoors, it must be a very dark time.  Outside, in the village hall, on the sodden streets, in a corner shop, there will be smiles of light, offers of sympathy, support and hope.  I don’t have to see it for myself to know I speak the truth.  Whenever life feels dark, somebody or something casts light in our path and, with that light, we find we can go on a bit further.  At another time, darkness brings a welcome relief.  It’s the balance than matters.  We want both in equal portions to find a happy rhythm.  But let’s just consider the chiaroscuro of life, the meeting point, and an entity in itself.

As we look we find ourselves, for we are both light and dark.  All of us.  Our relationships, too, for they are also a meeting of light and dark.

Well, you can forget the dark, someone might say.  Who wants dark in a relationship?

Have you ever met somebody quite unbelievably light?  For this person, everything is ‘wonderful’  I have met such people and I didn’t believe they were real at all, for it is against our human nature to be all light and no dark.  Of course, the dark bits can be hidden for years, but they will show themselves in behaviour choices, skin condition, ailments and disease.  We are fashioned in balance, and our journey through this life is one of learning and more learning.  We develop a creative agility in order to survive and this means we must recognise the dark and the light and make them both welcome at our table.  I know I have wished for all light and no dark, but, even as I wish it, I know I am a fool, for how could I ever really feel another’s pain and grief, if I had never felt my own?

I have heard folk banging on about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of benefits, taxes, governmental rulings, as if everything ‘should’ be dished up on an endless supply of pretty plates.  I know that some are struggling, many are struggling, with real problems in their lives, with limitations and deprivations I can only ever imagine, but hand-outs seem to be expected across far too wide a swathe of humanity.  If we sit at home, watching complete nonsense on the tv and building on whatever is currently causing angst, and never step into the light of day, of course all we are going to see is darkness. If we feed Black Dog, Black Dog will grow big and strong.

I remember my old granny telling me that when I felt sorry for myself for longer than ten minutes, I needed to cheer someone else up, with a phone call, a visit, a text message, and never mentioning one word about my own self-pity.  My mum always says she is ‘absolutely fine’ when anyone asks her how she is.  And, do you know what……..  both those women have it nailed, because in both cases, their refusal to wallow, their very act of lifting the collective moment, initiates a dramatic change deep inside.  I can leave a house, having arrived with both my legs heavy as old porage, my chin scraping the ground and all my aches and pains playing a noisy percussion throughout my body, as light as air and thinking no longer about Me, me, me.  Something extraordinary has happened quite silently inside me, something that tells me I am the chiaroscuro of the afternoon, for, in me, the light met the dark and became a thing of balance and beauty.

Next time you look at a wonderful painting, or listen to a piece of music, or a song, remember that, although there is both high and low, dark and light, lift and fall, tears and joy, that this is what, this is who we are too – a glorious blend of opposites.

And then step out and share it.