Island Blog – Light Remembered

There are two kinds of light, said James Thurber. The glow that illumines and the glare that obscures.

It thinks me. I believe there are as many kinds of light as anyone wants to acknowledge. For instance, through the hail and sleet and snow as it traverses the sky, tipping the hills and turning the mountain tops into sugar buns, there is the white light of ice, the distance dark sheets of hail looking like treacle poured from the heavens. There is the flash of sunlight on a hill road as a steadfast patch of ice refuses to melt, a glimpse of car headlights as some brave driver rises over a summit, temporarily highlighting a fall of snow, to fold over on a slippery descent. The sealoch lifts into light only to drop back into darkness as the clouds conjoin, part and join again at the punch of a volatile wind. Sunlight turns the bare maple into a Christmas tree, each stem bedecked with tiny drops of water, rainbow tears. Spider webs look like intricate works of art, the cold spider a dark huddle of hope. I haven’t seen a single fly yet, and nor, I guess, has she. The garden is late despite the daffodils doing their best to pretend Spring is on her way, their stalks disappearing into the white slush.

Then there is the light in someone’s eyes, You see it and it tells you something. That’s what eyes do, often belying the words let loose from the same page. Recognition, rejection, admiration, hope, belief, affection, remorse, desire, delight. All clear in someone’s eyes and infectious too, catching, almost physical. If someone is sad, I see it first. Their eyes tell me. If they are exuberant and excited about life I see that too and both will change me. We respond to light, if we take the time to notice it, to watch it. Wherever that light comes from it is wired into our very souls to answer back. Sometimes our own dark can blow out the sun, like a match, but it is dangerous to keep blowing and foolish too. Our beautiful earth is awash with light. The light of recognition, the light of hope, the endless variables of light in nature. The eyes of a startled deer hidden in the scrub as we walk quietly by; the yearning look of a child who really wants us to pick them up; reflections of bare branches moving over the surface of an ordinary puddle, a magical sky painting; the light of an epiphany, a new understanding, gifted, often, by someone else who can see light where I saw only darkness, the way that new understanding, that re-jigging of what I thought was fixed in place for always, sends light through my whole being and suddenly, I see.

As the snow and hail moves on out to sea, I watch it. It changes as it meets the salt-laden air, changes colour, changes shape, softens and demurs. Ha! I tell it. The sea will always win. Didn’t you know that? A walker goes by with a little dog. The dog looks at me through the window. For a moment, just a moment, our eyes lock. I don’t know this dog and this dog doesn’t know me but we share a glimpse of light.

That’s what we can do for each other. Shine out light, receive it gratefully, store it deep within so that we can gift it on, pay it forward. Someone is walking in the dark. Light them up and when it is your turn to feel like a huddled cold creature, accept light from someone else. It’s how the world keeps turning. We all have dark times but the light will always shine, from somewhere, through someone. And all we have to do is remember that.

Island Blog – Thinks on Why

This morning I was discussing various outlandish things with my faraway son. We don’t bother, he and I, with myopia, moving with a zip straight into deep thinks on even deeper things such as ‘how is it I can remove my feet from my boots without unzipping the zipping and yet find it impossible when inserting them?’ That sort of deep think.

We spoke on the Why of things, the Why that explodes you out of bed of a morning, so excited are you to get the day rocking. Without a Why, we agreed, we would remain in bed considerably longer, rising with a sad sigh of resignation. The day would not rock at all, not even once. So what is your Why? I ask him. He doesn’t know, yet, but with his investigatory brain, he’ll locate it I feel sure. Sometimes it is there, the Why, but playing hide and seek with you. You have to look for it until it leaps out from grandad’s old chest on the landing with a loud Wahoo!

I think about my Why as I walk, reluctantly, the dog this afternoon. Why reluctantly……when the sun shineth down on all his people and the sky could set up a sailor’s trouser factory to match the largest in China? Why, when you have had lunch, prepared supper, brought in the wood, sorted the palaverous palaver for tomorrow’s journey to the care home, affording you a week of peace, no wheelchair motor thrumming like a bee stuck in a strip light, no spills or crashes, nothing lost that can never be found again, not even the wifi going down, deliberately timed for maximum upset? Because I am exhausted. So you will understand that my Why is not in Grandad’s chest on the landing, nor any of the other likely hiding places. My Why is awol.

However, forcing my tired old brain into action I took a wee donder through the limbic region for something that lit my fire. I meandered through sewing, knitting, caring, holidaying, making money, painting, singing, playing my piano and into writing. That stopped me. Writing. Yes. Is this my Why? Perhaps I wouldn’t have to ask that question if it was. I know that, when writing I am totally engaged, time slips by without me noticing and in a life (nowadays) when I could scream at the slow slow ticking away of the seconds as I wait for a day to run out of puff, this is exciting. Had I even begun Book Two I might be so absorbed as not to notice the dull drudge of caring for decades. Is it a truth, then, that I am actively not seeking out my Why in the vain hope that soon this will be over and I will be free to write without endless interruptions? I am not sure this is a healthy, nor a realistic, way to live.

I know one Why that explodes me up of a morning. I am out so fast that it may take all morning for my bed to regain its comfortable calm. My children. And their children. Whatever skirmishes are going on inside my own brain, if one of them is going through shit, or facing an exam or a life test, I am fired up like a rocket. I can’t manage their stuff for them but my support, my texts and voice messages can tell them I am here for them, always and as long as I draw breath. Probably long after that too. But it isn’t right to live inside someone else’s life, or for someone else’s life. It is the Why inside my own that needs finding, naming, sticking on the wall, fastening to my heart. This Why must be writing. It has to be. Writing is the only island in this turbulent ocean, the only thing that eats the indigestible whilst feeding me at the same time.

There are no books at all on How to cope with long term caring, beyond suggestions for joining groups or taking up community singing. Not that I have found, and, believe me, I have looked. With a How there needs to be a What. If the What, for me, is a book to help others caught in this cruel trap with no sign of an ending that is in any way pleasant for anyone, to make them laugh out loud at the funny side and to let them know they are not alone as they plan murder or an imminent departure from their post, then this book is begging to be written. Experiential learning is critical, as it is to pretty much anything in life. I have that in spades. The How is to flaming well get on with it, find a space, make a space, defend that space. Now, not when it’s over. Right now.

And the Why is the writing. No matter that I have no idea how to begin, nor how to couch the awfulness, the drudge and boredom and frustration of it, in polite language; no matter that there are a zillion stupid tasks inside this myopic life all needing Only Me to fix them, from finding a jersey that doesn’t exist, never was red, nor did it have buttons down the front, this jersey crucial and of great value that will never be found, to relocating the wifi dongle that I deliberately put away somewhere deep and dark out of spite, and with many others in between. Many. Others. Not even these can take away my Why, My How and my What.

How I do this, I have no idea. But what I do know is that if I don’t flaming well get on with beginning it, I might as well howl at the moon in the vain hope she will howl back. And I don’t think that has ever happened. My head is a jumble right now. I am scrabbling around inside my knowledge of a day in my current life and there is no space left. And yet, and yet, I seem to recall great people who made space for a dream, who planted its seed with no assuredness of future growth; who tended and nurtured and waited patiently for a green shoot, for validation.

So, if them, then why not me? Why not you?

I leave you with a quote from one hell of a fine woman.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.

Island Blog – Woman

I’m thinking about her today. I am one, after all. A woman I mean. As Dennis rages like a husband outside my door, threatening to uplift the new conservatory, I turn in to my thoughts. After a Dennis sort of morning I put on music – my sanity these days. Have you heard Disturbed sing The Sound of Silence, or Elbow’s Fickle Flame or Lily Allen sing Somewhere Only We Know by Keane? I research music a lot and am helped considerably by my youngest, equally in love with music. Lyrics, musicality and beat can lift any soul from a dark place. I recommend it if the dark surrounds you this day, or any other day.

I add something super dull to the shopping list, holding said list in place with a heart shaped stone as if Dennis might get in somehow and snatch it. Actually, he is welcome to it. I get dead bored of shopping lists, of washing clothes on the right setting, of wiping down tables, of mopping spills I never spilled. It seems to me that women are always on the move and it is just as well or most of the world would just sit down and wait for a sandwich. Not only do we end up on the sandwich rota but we are required to pop here and collect that on a regular basis. Then there are screaming children to squeeze into clothes they don’t want to wear ending in a fraught drive to school. There’s a flaming mother-in-law to appease and toilets to clean; there are beds to make, rooms to tidy, gardens to tease back into life; phone calls to answer, batteries to replace, dogs to feed and supper to be planned, bought and prepared. I am sure there are modern women who fold their arms, say something colourful and then go out for Prosecco with the girls but I don’t meet too many of those. From girlhood we are conditioned. I see it with my own little grand-girls, the unconscious teaching by their mums, the learning they absorb through example. I want to throw fireworks at it all, but (and there’s always one of those) I cannot see how the family would survive if women stopped being IT. That indomitable spirit is in each one of us. How else would we survive? Although life does dump on us, despite the fairytale wedding and all those impossible promises, we find an inner strength we never knew we had. It seems we can take pretty much everything on the chin and still keep our sense of fun and fight.

A man once said, a man I admire to the skies, that he had no idea how we women kept so full of life. Observing the very obvious attitude of the world, that of demoting women at every opportunity, plus the lie that they believe in equality, this man made his own mind up. God bless him. We need more of him. He can see our spirit and he loves it. Loves it! it doesn’t frighten him at all, which is, of course, what it does to men in general. Strong women remind them of their mothers and they really don’t want that image in their minds.

This fighting spirit is powerful and dangerous. Powerful when guided right and dangerous when left to turn into low-boil anger. I have learned the difference between the two, often. I know when my angry puts down roots and applies itself to the whole garden, and it needs uprooting. Power is quite different, something precious to be nurtured and loved and admired. It is a part of every woman. Although young girls learn submission and polite behaviour in order to survive the early years, that spirit is still alive inside them and it will out, trust me. And it scares even them, the first time; the time they see injustice, feel it, are hurt or attacked. It will rise like a hot dragon breathing fire, one who needs teaching. Not now Dragon. Yes, now Dragon. That sort of teaching. We learn this as we form into the women we will become and it is a good thing. I have met women whose dragon controlled them and their life was not a happy one.

However it is good to just know the dragon is there, to feel her power and strength and to know she will always be there for you, and for me.

Island Blog – Fun

So, yesterday was all about love and cards and flowers and romantic dates. For some. Me……..? Well, I busied myself with the craft of housekeeping and caring right up to the evening, my favourite time of day (or is it night?) when the northern hemisphere teeters on the cusp of transition. It’s time for a shower, to put the tatties on to boil, to gee up the woodburner and to check the garage door is shut against Dennis. He could flip that old thing into matchsticks, taking out several solid things in passing, the way he is growling behind the sky.

On this cusp, after delivering a meal to himself as he sits encased in his pyjamas, his ears clamped shut inside the headphones, some TV series playing out on his screen, silent mouths moving in a dialogue to which I am not privy, I return to the kitchen, light myself a candle or two and pour a glass of wine. Happy Valentine’s I told myself and myself smiled. I love myself enough not to bother about such lovey dovey nonsense. I could clean the faces of the kitchen units; I could have another shower; I could sweep up the crumbs or I could go to the pub. Which is what I did. The kitchen unit cleaning thing almost got me. I had tunes playing and candles flickering shadows up the walls and it all looked rather pretty until I put on my specs and noticed that there was more to cleaning the units than I had thought heretofore. Some reddish blobs had the chutzpa to stick themselves right across one door and there was much dust along the horizontals. Blow that. This is not evening work. It was a quick shift into a jacket and boots and off I toddled, giving Growling Dennis a quick and filthy look en route.

It was fun. Fun is what I love best and the one thing that isn’t always available here unless I fun the flames of it all by myself. I’m pretty good at it, though I say so myself. By the time I left, I had hugged old mates, commiserated, reassured, discussed the excitement of historical geology and understood better the palaver involved in building a new house on an island already drunk on rain. Conversation and communication in a life that has lost so very much of both are as welcome as 12 red roses any day.

When I was a recalcitrant and bloody-minded teenager I sent myself valentine cards. It saved anyone else the bother, after all, and guaranteed that I wasn’t the sad girl without a boyfriend, horribly visible in the school playground, awash with shame and certain that she has terrible breath. Nowadays I believe boyfriends are highly overrated. It all starts out rosy but mostly that’s where it begins to stop. I heard of someone who was incandescent about not getting a card from her husband. I held in a smile because if that is how he feels about her then its better out in the open. Others keep the flame burning, I know that. I met a couple of them last night, still dancing and planning to dance right up to the end of love.

And I smiled at that too.

Island Blog – Valentine

There is a valentine in all of us, even the most cynical cynic, even there. Not one living soul on this planet would say that a show of love doesn’t touch a heart. It always matters. It can come with flowers, a card, or a romantic getaway date. It can come inside a hospital ward with a hand held tight. It is there in the eyes of the forgiver and the forgiven. It lifts like sunshine into an ice wind, melting, softening, kinding. It says I see you, and you matter to me. A glance can send love, a smile, a pause to talk. We remember such times and they warm us with a memoric hug as we step back into old shoes and new rain. Love is love and we all need to see it and feel it.

As life batters us, drawing the skin across our bones and flabbing our bellies, the roses, the card and the romantic getaway may lie in our past. But love doesn’t. Thankfully we can show love anytime we so choose. Although in our emotionally strangled country we make a BIG POINT about the difference between love and like, there is no difference at all. A kindly word to a harassed ticket collector on the commuter train is showing love; a knock on our frail old neighbour’s door to ask if she needs anything from the shop is showing love. A jump to arms if someone is in trouble – that’s showing love too. Giving time to someone when we think our 24 hours are already solidly booked – that’s love. There are as many ways to love as there are people on the planet and the source is an everlasting spring, one that no drought can turn to dust.

St Valentine served the needy and the sick. I doubt that was always fun. In the end he was martyred for it and that thinks me. Showing unconditional love bothers folk. He must be up to something. Nobody can give love all of the time. Oh, really? Giving love is not being perfect. We can still snap and crackle, shout and lose the plot; we can still regret, deny and blame; in other words, we can still be who we are, but feel differently about ourselves. Giving love to everyone we know and randomly meet does not mean great displays of affection that might lead to arrest. It doesn’t mean that someone who never hugged has to learn how to. There are many other ways. Kindness, compassion, time given, a helping hand, a smile, a compliment, an acknowledgement that this other person matters, even if I never see him or her again. And the way I feel after giving such a gift……what is that sunshine warmth inside me? Well, it’s love. When I break out of my selfish little life to show another that I see them, that they are important, no matter who and no matter where, I am changed inside.

And I can break out right now.