Island Blog 183 -Pilgrim

tears of change


I was nervous.  I am always nervous before I present to an audience, be it to 10 people or to 100.  Last night in Crieff, we counted 52 good folk who turned out to hear what I had to say.  I think that’s very humbling.  Although many had already read my book, some had not, but they came, intrigued and curious to see in the flesh a woman whose life is either different enough from their own to warrant a peek, or just like their own. To some my life reads like a story, to others an account they relate to, at least in part.

Having been invited to appear on International Women’s Day, I knew how to pitch my talk and worked on it for some time before leaving the island.  As the time grew nearer, the doubts began to rise like chickens in a fright.  Was I focusing too much on women issues within a conventional marriage?  Was what I had to say, with a voice of authority and experience going to shake someone’s foundations?  Was I sounding like a rebel and would someone sniff loudly at my bare-faced honesty and leave, taking others with her?

I am learning (oh boy am I always…..) to notice thoughts that arise in me, the ones planted long ago, in childhood, in early marriage, perhaps, those of the ‘storyteller’, the ‘monkey-mind’, the voice of self-doubt and judgement;  the one that says (smugly) Who wants to listen to your claptrap?  You are just self-indulgent, seeking hero worship, seeking recognition.  I say to them, the chickens, You are just a thought and not the truth.  It works, it really does for they are as insubstantial as a collection of dust motes in a new breeze.  Even more so now that I realise it is I who have fed these flaming chickens and kept them alive when what I should have done is make a lot of chicken stew.

In a world of over-thinking everything from why a child has a tantrum in John Lewis in Manchester to how we can deny ourselves all of life’s pleasures in order to live a long life of denial, I try not to overthink very much at all.  However, the invitation to speak brings in its wake, a wash of responsibility –  to what? I ask myself and to whom?  Well, yes to the audience (obviously) and yet I have no forward knowledge of who will be coming and nor does my inviter.  Yes to the Scottish Book Trust who promote me for public speaking and yes to Kirsty who set the whole thing up and invited me a while back to come, but Yes also to me.  What I decided, this time around, was not to seek approval primarily from my imagined listeners, but, instead, from myself. How arrogant!

No, not arrogance.  Go away Chicken.  My book is my truth and I must be true to it.  The dynamics of a conventional marriage are not mine alone to live.  We are many, we conventionally married women; we are legion and I am in the position of privelege.  I have the stage and I can, by speaking out my truth, tell others they can change whatever they want within their lives.  I can’t, nor would I begin to, tell them how because I don’t live that life, but I can tell them it is possible if they grab the chickens and strangle them.

As I read my talk and peppered it with readings from Island Wife, I could feel the audience were with me.  I was talking to women (mostly) about things they knew well, moments highlighted, days of children and feeling overwhelmed and just a bit lost, of lack of communication, loss of confidence, feelings of rebellion and regret and no understanding of how to process them. Of patterns copied and then fixed in place, too complex to break down and to change; of either and of or; of what is and was expected of us by peers, by neighbours, by family and by our own selves.

The questions after were interesting and stimulated good conversations in the little theatre. Even the men, brave souls, engaged with questions.   From behind a jug of tulips, fresh and bright and opening their blooms as the evening moved on, I listened to those questions and answered them honestly.  One in particular stayed with me. ‘Did you know yourself back then when you were young, or do you only now know yourself?’  What a great question!  I had to think.  No, I didn’t know myself at all beyond the reflection I was shown by my elders and betters, that of a rebellious and difficult child/young woman, one that didn’t fit in; one who never settled, never landed, had to keep moving and changing; one who got lost inside her own head, was unfathomable, complex, moody.  This is who I thought I was.  Now I do know myself, and I am still all of those things, bar the moody bit, for that is always a complete waste of energy, and clearly announces to the one who put me in a mood in the first place, that I am expecting them to make it better, to make me better, instead of doing it for myself. And that makes all the difference because now, instead of feeling ashamed of all those labels, I know them to be my labels.  To work with them, to contain or develop them, is entirely and completely in my hands. ‘Difficult’ means I don’t agree with what you want me to do, or to be. ‘Rebellious’ means I am going this way, not that way.  ‘Not fitting in’ makes me unusual and interesting and possibly not invited to sing in the choir. ‘Not settling’ makes me energetic and gone before the dishes need drying. ‘Unfathomable’ works for me because even I can’t fathom me. ‘Complex’ sounds like a Mahler Symphony so that works and ‘Moody’, as aforementioned, has been dismissed without a reference. How wonderful to have learned such a vital lesson about 30 years ago.

As we disbanded, many came to speak, to have a book signed, to talk awhile. I looked into other eyes, bright sparkly eyes dancing with life. I know my story touched their hearts and my hope is that they all left with a seed for change, a seed that will need daily care and attention.

We are all pilgrims.

Island Blog 182 – Woman unchained

I am woman

Today I cleaned the house, Made up my face, cleaned my boots, sorted the washing, planned the evening meal (and thawed it).  I walked the Poppy dog around Tapselteerie, noticing the change in birdsong and feeling the spring of urgency in the air, air that was soft and plump with sunshine, cut by a memoric winter wind.  I was glad of my stout boots, my leg warmers, my soft wool hat with diddles of gold fleck just to keep style about me.  I heard my boots pound the ground and squelch through the mud, mud raised and created by men with trucks and trailers laden with blocks of chainsawed tree – a victim of Harry or Imogen or the one before beginning with G.  I considered the times that a tree falls outside of any gale, named or anonymous.  The tree is never anonymous, standing tall and strong for many years with its own name, growing according to that name, behaving such and blooming when the time for it is right.  If oak comes before ash or ash comes before oak, there is a ‘knowing’ among humans.  Certain birds nest in oak branches, others in the ash.  Rowans are female, as are silver birches, oaks, male.  Who decided all this?  Not I said the sparrow, not those of us who couldn’t give a monkeys about names or species or gender.  We just do what we do when we do it.

After walking I cleared some old raggedy stalks in the garden, noticed the chipped paint around the window, noticed the windows (there are no window cleaners any more) and the clouds full shout beyond the glass, moving as they do, changing, catching light, making shapes to enchant me, full of rain or hail, every colour of the palette, and then, gone.  I added to a painting, one of jaunty boats and not much talent, but bright and attractive.  I made lunch, which means lighting toast and adding toppings.  I worked on editing two pieces of script for others who value my grammatical critique and I opened mail, jumped on the paper bin which is always overfull and managed to shut the lid.  I washed a jumper, folded sheets, wrote a thankyou card, paid two bills, charge my phone and lit a scented candle. I texted some of my kids, dealt with some admin, cleaned my car and oiled the door hinges.  I worked out a fence adaption to stop the Poppy dog jumping over it, lit the fire, brought in wood and ordered more for next week. I cleaned out the hoover, ordered some Spike Lavender, sorted out the cutlery drawer and shredded courgettes.  I emptied the compost, picked up litter, went to the shop for some groceries.

Okay, I am not a broker, nor a vet, nor a TV presenter..  I am no neuro-surgeon, no map maker, no dentist or mountaineer.  I am not a book binder, a celebrity, an actress or counsellor.  I could list a million professions and come up with a ‘No, not me’.  And yet, all this day I have achieved  a great deal that matters.

In my life I have met folk who ask me what I do.  Now I can say I am a writer and yet that irks me, the fact that I need to put myself within any such confines, allowing the askee to nod and say Ah, as if being anything they can Ah about makes me great (or great for the moment).  I practised once as a young, irked, woman saying ‘ I am a mother and wife’, because to me that meant I was more brilliant that any of those aforementioned professions, in that I had to be as dextrous as an acrobat, 24/7 for the rest of my life.  I could not come home tired and sit down because everyone needs an evening meal.  I could not say I was bored with feeding babies, or welcoming guests with cake and a loving ear. I could not abandon the housework when 24 dogs or fifteen children or one husband had turned the carpet into a mud bath. I could not lie in, play hookie, turn my face to the wall, not once, not ever.

The person who received my Wife and Mother response, drifted away like a wave on its way down the coast.  To be ‘just’ a wife and mother is so not enough for this patriarchal world.  The little woman back home is just that.  Little.  And yet she is far from that.  She will hold together a life, a family, a community.  She will learn and become adept at a thousand tasks most professional folk would marvel at and run from.  She may sit quiet  but her quiet is her knowing, like the tree, like the bird.  She does what she does when she does it.

If nobody else honours her, I do, right here and right now.