Island Blog – Thankfulness and Wallpaper

Quite unexpectedly and thanks to one of my kids, I am enjoying 3 whole days without caring. I get those days on my respite breaks, but the exquisite joy of this time is that I am home alone. I am rarely home alone. Every single day for years I share my days with someone who may go out for 2 hours a week. Maybe. This other person, being in the latter stages of dementia, is not only present but dominant, or, rather, his needs are, moment by moment. He demands help with pretty much everything, an everything that changes daily, and one that escalates into an ever greater need as the brain cells shut down and his mobility is challenged even more.

These delightfully fresh smelling and easy days are a huge gift. I feel as if my life is in fact, a life after all. I am not part of his as I have probably always been. In a marriage where the Master Of The House takes his role very seriously, his woman will always only be wallpaper – pretty when new and then gradually yellowing into age stains, blue-ing into biro scribbles and tearing when the furniture knocks into it, or, in my case, when a child decides to skin the wall. Accepting this wallpaper life is something some of us do without realising we are doing it. Drip by drip we dilute who we are until, if we are not mindful, we become a big puddle for everyone else to jump in. These 2 days have shown me I am not that puddle, not now, even if I have puddled a lot over the decades, thinking myself only worthy if I do something that makes someone else smile. There is a lot to be said for that, but not if it becomes a modus operandi, knitting itself into the fabric of a woman until she can no longer find herself.

I sit in the newly cleaned conservatory. Not just newly cleaned (by me) but also re-arranged. Oh lord! How dare she! Sorry….how dare I? Well I did dare and it looks much better. I await the fallout on his return tomorrow. At times, when conflict rolls in like thunder and the air crackles with a killer fork or two, I back down. There are times to stand ground and times when, on looking down at that ground, the parched sandy scrubby earth beneath my feet, I decide it’s rubbish land anyway and I pull out my flag. You have it, I say without words. It won’t grow a single thing. Bizarrely, what appears my defeat is, in truth, my victory. I can see the long term of this, whereas he is fist-bunched focussed on the simple fact that I took a decision of my own. It smiles me.

I play Bob Dylan or Shania Twain at full volume. I move a planter or two because the occupants are shouting at me. We don’t like it here, they tell me. So, I listen, I hear, and I move them. I can hear them sigh with relief. I eat when I am hungry and don’t have to mop up spilt everything or sweep up crumbs upon crumbs or scrub carelessly fashioned stains from carpets. I can breathe freely through my nose without encountering dodgy smells that have a knock on effect right through my body. In fact, there are so many bonuses I feel euphoric and that also has a knock on effect. I feel light on my feet and calm in my breast. And, mostly, I feel thankful.

Nothing and nobody can change what has now become the norm in this home. It is as it is. But my attitude makes all the difference. It’s the only thing over which I have complete control. I am not wallpaper around my attitude. I am not wallpaper at all, wallpaper that sits against the walls of life, looking pretty and getting ripped and scribbled on. Instead I am a moving force of energy and calm. If I build on this, it will shelter me when the tough times come again, when the thunder thunders and the killer forks light up the sky.

And, for now, for today, for this precious moment, I am thankful with all of my strong blood red woman heart.

Island Blog – As If

I am still a student of this life. Not in years, I agree, but in the way I am open to new truths. You would think, after 66 years that I might know most of them, but I most certainly do not. That thinking, ‘I Know All There Is To Know’ is a fool’s thinking, because life changes her colour and shape all the time and to think I know it all is only ever going to find me lost on some metaphorical mountain.

I’m not talking about worldly knowledge of worldly matters such a how to sort out the wifi or the bushes on a car or how to skin a rabbit. I may not be talking about knowledge at all. I may be talking about no knowledge, but, instead, an eternal questioning, an open mind, the humility to say to myself that I am still a student of this life and not always one who pays close attention. A could-do-better sort of student.

As life brings changes I can get really fed up with her. Life must be a ‘her’ or it would plod predictably onwards, offering little in the way of change and we would all know exactly where we were going at every stage. But that is not how life is. Life is, in fact, a menace. Just when you think you’ve got it all sorted, something deep shifts and the whole floor moves beneath your feet. The carpet no longer meets the walls and there are tripper lumps everywhere. You might not even know what it is, that deep shift, but you can see the manifestation of it down there across your expanse of Axminster. Well, dammit. Here we go again!

I used to tell myself that everything would be ok ‘when….’ When the sun comes out again, when the term ends or begins, when the season is over, when I get that new dress from Next and so on. Dust in the wind, the lot of them. Not one ever thrilled me beyond the initial wahoo and not one of them gave me peace or joy for very long. In order to sort out the black hole we all have inside ourselves I need to find other worldly ways and a good strong torch. I need to shine that light into the darkness and then begin to fill the hole with good thoughts, beliefs, fairies and sparkles. In other words, and this is the hard bit, I need to control my mind. Well, that would be a first. Who has ever managed to do that successfully when the doubts and fears can multiply like mice and shout like Trump?

If I believe, for example, that this caring sentence will take me all the way to the morgue, then that is exactly what will happen. After all, haven’t I watched a number of such carers dwindle off the planet once they are free from caring? There’s my evidence, there’s the truth. But I am mistaken in feeling so powerless, for I am all powerful providing I outfox the fox in my mind. I know that the brain cannot tell the difference between the real and the imagined, so that what I believe, speak out, make my credo is what will happen to me. Instead of looking at the ‘evidence’ all around me I can choose to create a fantasy of life. I start with an affirmation, repeated every time I feel the caving in thoughts tramping into my head, one that stands tall and solid like a single woman warrior, alert, strong and with a black belt in Marshall Arts. I repeat this sentence on waking when the old demon wraiths gather around my bed blocking my view of the birds on a wire. I repeat it every time I feel tired, wrung out, defeated, scared and lost. As I persist, it will create a lovely open and light space in my head. I can smell the flowers, walk along the shore of it, a salt-tang on my tongue. I can turn my face towards the sun. I can wrap myself in the soft feathers of peace and hear the wild, joyous song of it in my ears.

I was always taught to be realistic. Come down from the clouds you silly girl! Get real. And, to a great degree I have complied, as we all do. However, the power of the mind was not something much discussed around the family Sunday lunch unless you were the first to solve a Dad-riddle, in which case you were immediately awarded the Bright Child Medal. Talk of wafty beliefs just upset everyone. But the mind has more unconscious in it than we realise and it is the unconscious that needs a new diet. If the unconscious is convinced of something, the conscious mind will make it happen. But, if the unconscious is left to its own devices then we will get sick because that is what we deeply fear; we will fail at that interview, lose our job, not be chosen for the football team and so on because that is what we deeply fear.

There is a way to a happy and fulfilled life by simply reprogramming the unconscious mind. Starting without belief, probably feeling foolish, certain it won’t change a thing when the inevitable is inevitable is quite normal. Speak that affirmation out, using the present tense, as if it is already true; write it down everywhere, hold on to it tightly and sooner than you or I think, a little something will shift just enough for us to see that maybe, just maybe, this As If thinking can change everything.

Island Blog – The Voice of Calm

I sit on the doorstep outside with a cup of good coffee and watch the birds flit and chirp their way among the seed feeders. Sunflower seeds, hearts, peanuts, fat balls. The birds who come here are abundant in number and breed for I am a faithful birdling. In fact, I probably spend more wonga on my feathery friends than I do on ingredients for dinner. To watch a multitude in coloured flight carry out their own idea of ordinary is heaven to me, and not just me, not just we who live in this old stone hill-perched island dwelling. Visitors gasp at the sight. Siskins, goldfinches, robins blackbirds, sparrows, woodpeckers, thrushes, greenfinches, collared doves and more, all gathered for the feast, is a sight indeed. The birds are calm around me as long as I move slowly, reassuring them in my reassuring voice which is low and soft and in Db Minor.

That low sweet voice is employed at other times and it is astonishing how it can calm and re-balance a situation just by falling from my lips. It can hold chaos at bay, chaos that is right in front of me, all red and angry and planning destruction. Just a voice against all that seems crazy and yet I know it to be true. It thinks me a lot. If I walk deeper into ‘crazy’ I find many examples of a calming voice throughout history. Raised voices, like those in government, all shouting at the same time and responding to each other in aggressive and un-melodic tones, bring no resolution of peace and never will. There are times for shouting, of course, when in need of a taxi, for example, or when calling the collies to heel, but the world is just far too loud. I believe we all miss peace like we miss water in a desert.

So, yesterday, this calming voice in DbMinor came in very handy. Inside I could feel the sharps of chaos, the drumbeat of fear threatening to knock out my ribcage. I heard himself call out for me. He couldn’t move. I couldn’t move him either and called a friend to help. We got him downstairs and into his chair but as the morning moved on I was concerned enough to call for an ambulance. He didn’t look well at all and still couldn’t stand or walk. I watched him carefully as he slipped in and out of an exhausted sleep. I fed him water and little bites of food and a few phrases in DbMinor. We got through the day. I cannot imagine what was going through his mind. He doesn’t share that with me. This could be a blip. This could also be the next chasm in the wilderness of dementia, one that we would all have to cross one way or another. Time will tell and there’s my calming voice. Time is in control of this, Time and All The Other Unseens. Who am I, small chaotic “I” to imagine I can do anything at all to change things? All I can do is to find that DbMinor and to breathe it in, speak it out, let it become the soother it is to all those birds out there, to the dog, the children, to himself, and to trust that I am enough to work with whatever comes next, that in soothing, I am soothed, that in giving, I receive and that in loving I am loved.

And that musical phrase rises me like a lark into the morning blue.

Island Blog – We Women

I think much these days on we women. I doubt very much that my experience of being one is all that different to any of the rest of us, generational adjustments notwithstanding. It seems to me that whatever sort of relationship we embark on changes shape over time. Or, is it that once we are safely settled in, a sort of comfortable lack of effort arrives with enough luggage to remain in the home indefinitely?

In a traditional marriage, like mine, the woman of the house must be in accord with a master of the house. She may rebel, but quietly, and in private. She may rebel herself into creative work such as re-organising the kitchen cupboards or weeding the garden on a sunny afternoon. She may even make friends and go out on her own, but here she is also limited. A prayer group is good, or tea with sock knitters but a sudden explosion of red blooded rebellion, ie, I am Off To The Pub, will not be received well. It is considerably more peaceful inside the shared home if she sticks to the sock knitters and the prayer group, for neither of these upset the balance.

Or do they? Living within unnatural confines take their toll on a woman over time. If she is born with a red rebel gene, she cannot flush it away on command. If she manages to remain mostly herself, which takes supreme effort, much covert action and a lot of book reading, she will come, eventually, to the point when she asks herself what the heck she is doing with her life. And I doubt she will find a ready answer beyond that question asked.

Raising children, managing a noisy household, catering to the whims of a man, any man, is a full time commitment. We women can easily get lost in all that goo until one day the red rebel gene meets the goo and it’s a stand off, with the woman in the middle. She may question herself, in fact, she will do that a lot. She will wonder why this isn’t enough and why now? She may swing on a pendulum for months, endeavouring to maintain some sort of equilibrium whilst her beating heart bashes against her breastbone, one only she has seen for decades and then only in the bathroom. She has duties, she knows that but hasn’t she dutified herself enough already? Her options are simple. She stays with the duty or she packs her bag and runs.

But where to? If she has subscribed to the life of a wife and mother for all this time, she may only know what she knows. Out there, in the land of dangers and strangers she would be a leaf in the wind. She has planted her self confidence in her own garden and it is only here that it can flourish. She has a voice, yes, but how much of what she says, beginning the sentence with We, is what she really believes is her truth? She doesn’t know and it terrifies her. I know women who cannot decide whether they want tea or coffee once outside their own kitchen and I get it. Indecision and dithering is what comes of a lifetime of We when ‘I’ stopped existing not long after puberty.

I know that, as we age, we become two opposing things. One is that we grow more sure of what we want, even if we decide we can’t ever have it. We tend to say what we feel, sometimes in a voice we don’t even recognise. Out laugh gets louder and we sing a bit around the house. We make quicker decisions for ourselves and, if we are super brave, without any consultation with a man. We tsk at covert actions, instead performing them with a brazen lack of care for the consequences. We tolerate fools no more and we can smell hypocrisy, falsehood and injustice from a great distance.

The second thing is that we sense our own demise, however healthy we may be. This woman, we women, know we have a limited amount of time left to step out of the wellies and into the heels. If we are lucky, we have a man who enjoys watching us blossom into old age, who isn’t threatened by change and who secretly admires our return to the girl he fell in love with, that crazy bohemian fire-cracker. If not, well, that is sad, but not insurmountable. Feel the fear and do it anyway…….remember? It is easily said, slips like warm oil off the tongue, but flipping hard to put into practice. After all, didn’t we conform for years, for the sake of peace? Didn’t we oblige and clean up and forget all our own dreams, deal with disappointment and loneliness and all with a toothy grin? I don’t matter, after all. My husband does, my children do, but I’ll go without cake happily. That takes some undoing. A lifetime of “I’ll have whatever your’e having’ is set like DNA inside us and yet it is said that a lifetime of sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. Altogether too heavy a burden to lug about.

So I say, let the song grow. Let the blood rise. We women are wise and beautiful creatures. We just have to remember that, each one of us, for ourself.

Island Blog – Absolute Space

This morning it raineth.  Actually, it poureth, but this rain is mandolin, soft and steady like a gift to the dry ground, the new plants, the burns and the bird puddles.  I have lugged a bird bath into my garden before now and not one bird went anywhere near it, choosing instead, the muddy and splashed-out puddles on the road.  I watch them dip and shimmy and spread their wings out for an after-preen, their little heads tipping skywards for danger.  They smile me.  They tell me they want to do things their way, not my way.  A pretty bird bath with a nice logo might give me a warm fuzzy as I stand and admire it, but what they want a puddle, thanks all the same.

It was fun yesterday lining up my new planters and filling them with stones and compost and chicken manure pellets and all those other things that guarantee new plants a jolly good shot at a Summer Success.  If I confine them, I must needs give them my best intelligent guesstimate of a chance.  I am no experienced gardener, no Capability Brown, just myself with my glasses perched for the instructions and my hands willing to follow.  Add to that my instinct and my love of nature and this little garden could become a gasp for passers-by. My little granddaughter helped me with an eager enthusiasm, her tiny fingers in and out of the compost in search of worms.  She was quite disappointed when I told her she would find precisely none.  But Granny, she said, there is always at least one worm in every bit of soil!  Oh, but if only this was true!  I told her I knew where to find loads and took her up to the compost bin.  We spent a merry few minutes playing with the wiggly things, then put them back to work among the cuttings and clippings and peelings of my life. 

Although we worked together, we were both alone.  Me with my thoughts on how much grit to lay on each base or the ratio of topsoil to compost and what on earth shall I cook for supper, whilst she sang merry songs to herself.  Songs from her head. Songs that tell me she is happy and safe and loved.  Being outside was being outside of ourselves and there is a constant need in me to be outside, mandolin rain or no.  Earlier we had cut down an overgrown gorse bush and together we dragged the prickly limbs on an old dust sheet down the track towards the bonfire.  We laughed at the crackle and spit of the flames as they caught the sappy green bits and flared them up like a rainbow.  Our faces glowed from the heat and our fingers drew patterns of soot across our faces. We looked like Halloween. 

Children in a happy life are freeflowing.  Children are not yet bowed down by the expectations and demands of life and there is a delightful lightness in me as I observe them engage with what is, whilst keeping a natural hold on what isn’t.  Inside a young mind there is music and magic, excitement and dreams.  I know this and, in knowing it, I can relocate my own childmind.  At times I must dig deep to find her, the wild-child, dragging her back to the surface and perching her on my shoulder so that she can see what I see but still remain her light and airy self.  I might have to pump her up a few times, like Inspector Clouseau’s parrot, when she loses puff and sinks to her knees; when I see too much ahead and imagine the worst (like all grown-ups) but if I look out beyond myself, over the heads of all my doubts and worries, I can see, with her help, the beauty of absolute space and feel completely lost and completely found at the same moment. 

In wild nature, even if is it just in a little garden and not in the Gobi Desert or in the vast expanse of a forest, getting lost is key.  This child, the one beside me, the one inside of me, she knows how to be lost whilst knowing exactly where she is.  ‘To be lost is to be fully present’, says Rebecca Solnit, ‘and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery’. Losing self, the constant chattermind of self is much easier outside than in.  ‘In’ shouts about wiping down surfaces and scrubbing pots and making macaroni cheese, again, whereas outside has an agenda all of its own.  I cannot control one thing that goes on out there and each thing manifests a string of consequences I can only understand through observation.  No matter how clever I think I am about the filling of planters, I cannot guarantee success.  The weather, the insects, the birds, the sun or lack of it will take new life and do with it as they will.  So, I am as a child in the ‘out there’ of my life.  I am lost in it whilst knowing exactly where I am, and it feels wonderful.  ‘One does not get lost but loses oneself, (Rebecca Solnit) with the implication that it is a conscious choice, a chosen surrender, a psychic state achievable through geography.’   

Thoreau said…..well he actually said a great deal but here’s one for relevance….

‘Lose the world (worries, inside thinking, doubts, fears etc) get lost in it, and you will find yourself.’