Island Blog – The Widow’s Might

Having admitted to the existence of this ghost, named it to you all, I now need to reel it in. Not literally, of course, for who can say he or she has ever reeled in something so insubstantial and yet so powerful? Grief can bring it in, guilt too, fear, of course, and with regret not far behind. But acknowledgement of such an invisible source of anxiety must surely be the springboard from which I may dive into the water. I hated high diving as a girl, all that empty space between me and my arrival into elemental change. But this is the only way. I know it. So many of us wander into the evening of our lives carrying the weight of ghost denial. I want clarity of vision. I want to know where my feet are taking me. I want a clear mind and as healthy a body as possible. But the deconstruction of this anxious state must begin with the admission that it is there in the first place. I may look like I am always cheerful, impish, strong and in control but that is my walking lie. And it isn’t just me who lies. We all do.

Facing down my innermost fears is not to deny they exist and nor is it to spew them out to anyone who would stand long enough to listen. It is an intensely private palaver, one that requires consistent and focussed attention, practice and the daily revival of faith in what can be, what will be as the work progresses. Pretending is out the window, as is denial and hoodwink.

I am alone now. A deal of that is very good. I have freedom to do what I please. I have only myself to think about on a moment by moment basis. I have time to think things through without being on constant duty. There is no more caring to be done. My children are grown. They live their own lives their own way. We are all still grieving, although for different men. Some have lost a father; some a grandfather; me a husband. All the same man and yet not the same at all even if we did share a big chunk of history. Our responses to this loss manifest in a million ways and the time it takes for healing will be different for each one of us. Nonetheless we are joined on this path and thus able to support each other even if we don’t necessarily relate to each other’s process. What we do share in common is the legacy the ‘lost’ man has bequeathed us. There is genuine sadness that he is here no more; there is anger at unfinished business; there is frustration at the imperfections of our relationship with him whilst he lived; there is confusion at the void into which we all now walk, and there is fear as we stare into the open maw of it.

So, what’s to do? Well, we can do nowt about the way ahead, for it is simply that and there is no other choice. There is no map for this journey, no chance to stop and recalibrate the satnav. We are less one in our family, one who controlled us, decided for us, and who genuinely believed his way was the right way. This could have been a conversation but it never was. A man of his time indeed. In his certainty he knew a woman’s place was inferior to that of a man. He knew that children needed strong discipline. He knew that he was the man of the house and that his word was IT, and that strength of mind kept us safely contained for all of his life and a deal of our own.

The ghost flits through me. Being free is both exhilarating and scary. The well-built structure of life is crumbling. It needs to come down now for it is compromised and the rain is getting in, the render cracking and the beams rotting. All of this is just as it should be for there is a new structure to be designed and built for each one of us. What we all need is the courage to move towards it, to step into the maw, to dive off the high board; to keep faith close by and to work with the ghost on our lacks and fears. And this widow is stronger than she thinks. She will relocate herself, the one she left behind 49 years ago, and she will look back on this time with pride and a smile, the widow’s might in her hands.

Island Blog – I and the Ghost

There is one in my system. A ghost. I know it is there, can feel it, smell it. Sometimes it is a catch of earthen mulch, autumny, wet and visual, sharp with the glint of long buried crystals, and stories. Other times it is lavender or lemon pressed close to my nose and causing me to pull back from the attack to my senses. It is never rose or bergamot or patchouli. Never. Visual. yes. But fleeting, so fleeting. I wonder if I am now too slow to turn my head, that, if I were still a young woman, I might turn faster and snap! Catch it. I wonder, too, if I my snap-catch might arrest it, for it and I seem to be strangely connected by an invisible line. It might pause for no reason other than this. But I cannot and it does not. It slips like mist through me, serving only to stop me for a second and to fill me with a sense of discomfort and perplexity.

I am curious. I am intrigued. Who or what is this ghost? Then I wonder more. Does this ghost have purpose? Does this ghost know who it is, if, indeed, it is a ‘who’ at all and not merely a what without purpose or function, identification or mission like a sudden rabbit bursting into my space as I wander along a track in the wild lands? What if it has blundered into me, by mistake and is now trapped somehow?

All these questions beseech answers I cannot give, but here is something I do believe. As a human, being the top predator, the top of the pecking order etcetera etcetera, and thus, that all things weird happen to me, this may not necessarily be the truth. Now this is, at first, confounding, ungrounding. It baffles me and I must explain it, for if I cannot then I am all at sea, so to speak. But what if it is just where I need to be? At sea, I mean. I have sailed enough dodgy oceans in ever dodgier seas to know that, at such times, when the balance of power shifts to an unfathomably powerful force, I find my place. I find my lack. I find my feet, my hands and my brain.

And here I am with the ghost, at a worldly human level, limited by what I was taught, what I learned, whom I trusted and who let me down; on my sibling dynamic, my understanding of how it should be and of how it should not; through religious curfews and constraints, through expectations and demands; through loss, anger and frustration. But the ghost will not explain itself, nor do I have the snap-catch to arrest it long enough for such a demand. I am the ‘I’ of the beholder and much good it does me. ‘I’ stands taller than a lower case ghost and yet has no supremacy over it. This fleeting misty invader holds it all with its ability to arrest and confound, to take a free flow morning into chaos, albeit momentarily, for the human ‘I’ will immediately rise into armour plating with his, or her, lance at the ready. But we are fools. The ghost can move through walls, through empires and lives and through history without a second thought or any thought at all.

So what is it? I decide to acknowledge what I already know and so what I say is this. The ghost that apprehends my normality (whatever that is) and challenges it, is a friend and, like a friend, it challenges me. Like a friend it leans in closer than anyone else. It is easy in my company. I need no armour plating. It tells me there is something as yet undone, unfinished, even unexplored and it will not leave, this laughing wraith, until I have addressed the issue. I might ask, what issue? But it will just laugh and wisp away, only to come again and again and again, because it knows that ‘I’ know exactly what needs to be addressed. My weak humanity is avoiding it and we both know it.

I am glad of the ghost in my system. It is my helpmeet at every turn, even if there is a great longing in me for no more turns. It stops me folding in, giving up, turning weak and feeble. It makes me strong and fiery, all punch and growl, all fight and roar. It also makes me impish and jocus, wild and circus with belief. It friends me in ways I would not, could not fathom; would never ever have invited in. Am I privileged in this ghost invasion? I doubt it.

I think we all know this ghost.

Island Blog – Lift

Some days awaken me dark. I never know why nor when. All mornings are dark on the other side of window but on the inside there can always be light. It doesn’t seem to be up to me. My days are ordinary and samey. I do my chores, eat, sew, write, clean and wash. There is almost nothing in the diary beyond reminders to call someone or to write a thank you letter to all those who sent condolences to me and the kids.

On mornings when the dark permeates through my skin tissue to bury itself deep in my interior being, I just know that, day long, I will need to work hard; not at tasks but on myself. In fact, tasks can take a running jump on mornings such as these. I had one yesterday, closed down the phone, hid from passers by, and barely managed a stitch or a word. I didn’t speak out loud and my walk was a trudge.

What I know is that these days are random and could be lethal if I believed in them, if I thought, for just one minute, that this is IT. It isn’t. All I need to do is to open my eyes to the outside world, to see, to feel the enormity of eternity, of nature, of circles, of life living herself on, no matter what my piddling day is like. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. But, if I engage with the dark, I spend all day blind and I refuse to go that way. Just because I am a sexagenarian and counting, just because I am disillusioned, doubting, noticing aches and pains, feeling old and stupid and hasbeen does not mean it is all over. I may have found my way through a long and complex marital relationship with a less than uxorious husband; I may feel anger at thoughtless words and unkind acts of dominance, but I survived it did I not? Better, I am still dancing, albeit slowly nowadays. Inside my heart I am Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, Owl and Kanga with a touch of Eeyore and Rabbit on dark days. And it is ok. It is all ok.

This morning woke me at 5 am, as usual, and I felt light and bright and ready for anything. This is how life is, at least for me. I sat with a strong black coffee and watched a tawny owl on the telegraph pole. I heard it mew and then shriek and fluff its magnificent feathers before silently flying away to rest. I considered the day before and the other such days. If I didn’t ever experience them, might I believe that life is always easy to live? I might. Thus, these dark days are of immense value because they teach me resilience, patience, humility and more. I know that my core strength grows with me and 67 years of core strength sounds pretty good. Instead of weakening, that power is still mine to wield and wield it I will. If all it does for me as I grind my way through the uncomfortable process of bereavement is to show me that, although I am a small ordinary woman, I have power, tremendous power, power I choose to use for the good of all of us. If I can lift from the bog of eternal stench with a chirrup and a good measure of Tigga then I can, perhaps, lift others up too. I can reassure, show the way out and up. I can tell them it is ok to feel dark. It will pass. It is, obviously, better to feel light and bright but that will pass too, and it is a mistake to expect the world or other people to keep that light shining for us. The key is to accept we can feel dreadful without dumping it on anyone else; without blaming someone else for it, as I have definitely been guilty of; without giving it any power at all.

And on dark days, I recommend looking out. If the dark is not getting our attention, it gets bored pretty damn quick.

Island Blog – Disparity, Contradiction and a Heart

How strange it is to be the meeting point for two opposing thoughts. My head feels like a boardroom just before two factions arrive to wrestle a great big problem into acceptability. One side thinks A and the other, B. How will this ever resolve, wonders the mediator? How could it when both sides are absolutely certain they have the answer? A contra-diction in the making.

And so it is when a fear walks in first, into my mind. Go away! I shout threateningly, pointlessly. It doesn’t move a muscle, this fear, just stands there, shoulders squared, feet planted and growing bigger. It’s irrational of course. My fears always are. They aren’t ever real, but imagined and yet they burn holes. They really hurt. But I used to think I knew enough not to ask them questions like ‘Oh do tell me how you plan to pan out?’ because, if I did that, they might be only too ready to paint me a vivid picture of destruction and disaster, all so very believable, all so very terrifying. This was my old thinking.

This time I just indicate their allotted seat and pour them a glass of water. I do this because I know that they will not be shoo-ed away. I cannot forbid them entry. They are, in that moment, too strong, too righteous. Ignoring them doesn’t work either. It doesn’t disappear them. I have learned this over longtime.

When the other faction appears through the doorway, we sit down together. The difficulty in finding any sort of resolution lies in the fact that this meet is between the feeling of fear, and logic. In other words, neither side comes with the same level of bargaining power as the other. Let us say that the fear is of possible sickness, possible disaster, possible loss and that those on the side of logic just cannot get it. Why on this goodly earth would you allow to apocalypse something that hasn’t even happened and probably never will? It is tempting to go with that sensible, logical kind of thinking, but in the end a mistake. The thing about an illogical fear is that, when it is dismissed or suppressed in one guise, it will just evolve into another one, to return another time. It is like Covid, silently attacking at random, no rule of thumb, no logic.

What I do is this. I welcome both sides to the meeting. Hallo, I say. I see you. Let’s talk this through. I am the mediator after all. My varying fears are not silly. They are very real. Look at them, sitting smug on one side of this table, watching me. I decide to let them start. Even though it scares me, knowing how they can spin their spin. I take a deep breath. Courage mon brave! Describe yourselves, I say, and wait. They do. I follow them, watch them grow and develop themselves into monumental cataclysms.

We all do. The logic faction snorts derisively, but doesn’t interrupt. It’s not their turn yet. When it is, they deconstruct each possible cataclysmic development, turning it to dust. I feel rather sorry for my fears now. They just got annihilated by clever talk straight out of a textbook, and, yet, they are still here, albeit now looking a bit sheepish. They did embellish things somewhat, t’is true, and they probably wish they hadn’t gone as far as they did; the end of the world, death, destruction, mass murder, tsunamis etc etc. But when I consider each deliverance coolly, I can see a use for both factions. I can appreciate the need for fears as warnings, just as I can appreciate the need for logic. I can see that feelings are just feelings, and that thoughts are just thoughts. As I look around the table I notice they are all just children, the result of childhoods good and childhoods bad. We are not really opposing factions at all, but just vulnerable kids trapped in adult bodies. None of us are right and none of us are wrong. We are just different, have learned different ways to survive, different ways to cope, different ways to live.

I thank them all for coming. I employ sensibility and compassion, both coming straight from my heart and not my head. I acknowledge both fears and those on the side of logic. I tell them all they are valued and appreciated, in balance. I suggest they talk to each other without prejudice, open, interested, listening to what the other says instead of listening for an opportunity to contest. I feel the air soften around us and in my head. I tell them I am stepping out of the room for a bit, distancing myself. By the time I return with coffee they are chatting like old friends.

Although I know the fears will rise again, as they do for us all, that meeting of so-called opposing factions teaches me that we humans have enough heart to solve any problems, however overwhelming they might appear at first. The key is to appreciate whatever floats into a mind, to notice it, to say Hallo, sit down, let’s talk. Wishing fears away, or dismissing them with confounding logic, only holds sway for a short time. I know where my fears come from. Self-doubt, lack of self-confidence and from believing all the horror stories in the media. The world is not like that even if the tabloids and news programmes would have us believe it. We make up the world, we people, all of us. And we have big hearts, remember? I have also learned the art of stepping out of my own head, my own room, when fear and logic lock heads. Neither of them will win, this way. The removal of my sticky fingers, my gobby mouth and my imagination is always a good thing.

Let us take control of how we deal with our minds. Let us learn how to take a step back when turmoil hits the boardroom. Just through observation and without any attachment to either argument, we can solve any issues inside our brains.

It isn’t the world that needs fixing. It’s our minds. When they are seeing the good in everyone, the beauty in the life around us, when they decide to be unbiased and open, to step out of the current melodrama within and to think, instead, with our hearts, the world will automatically heal.

Island Blog – Keep the Girl – Write the Woman

I watch the little bus round the sea-loch from the warmth of my conservatory. This bus looks warm, cosy even, all lit up like a party, although I know that inside there will be a smattering of grumpy teenagers heading for school. The headlights sparkle the frost, caught in the beam, striations of fairy dust. Then it is gone and the meadow settles back down again. The top of my car is white. White on black. Startling. Sweet peas, still standing, show me soft pinks and purples; a rose lifts crimson against the sunrise as the songbirds line my fence awaiting breakfast.

I remember waiting for the school bus. Grumpy, teenage, cold, isolated even inside a group. The world was a stinkhole. I wanted to join a circus, flee the country, anything to get me out of those awful school shoes that were made of steel and offered me no warmth at all; that uniform; that ridiculous beret that perched like a mushroom on my head. I blush now even to think we were made to stand out in such a way, like jokes. Does nobody think it through, this uniform business? Scratchy all the way down to the knickers, rigid enough to negate the chance of running anywhere, never mind to the circus, and all of us looking the same. Except we didn’t, of course. Some of us looked positively svelte inside those confines. Some of us had mothers who bent the rules a bit, thinking of the child first and the design of shoes, second. I had a friend whose mother bought her soft leather with pointed toes and a subtle design on the tongue. My tongue was also made of steel and stood up like a cows ear no matter how tightly laced into submission. My toes froze. Frost was my anathema.

In those days, when mothers and teachers, doctors and policemen told me how to live my life, giving no quarter whatsoever to my opinion, likes, dislikes or dreams, I gave in, as many others did. The svelte ones with avon guard mamas and papas were just lucky, that’s all. They were probably rich, owned lots of land, and sat on the board of directors. They had big homes and holidays on the Costa Del Sol twice a year, at least. Their daughters weren’t lumpish, or limping from chilblains, and they actually looked good in berets. They both fascinated and repelled me. I wasn’t allowed to write my own life, not even a line or two. I decided to go under cover.

Writing my own life was not the breeze I thought it would be. There was something deeply scary about stepping out of those steel shoes. The world is a very big place, buzzing with opinions and temptations and I felt I was walking into danger most of the time. When someone asked me what I wanted, my brain emptied of all thought. Nobody had asked me that before and now here I was, in a mini skirt, a tight-fitting top, lipstick and kohl, swinging on a bar stool and completely confounded. I won’t pretend I got it right first time. Babycham is disgusting after all. So were most of the men who slithered up to me looking like wannabe Bee Gees, all smiles and roving eyes. I was way out of my depth and I knew it. As I walked myself home, feeling colder than I ever did in my steel shoes, I decided there were as many ways to live a life as there were people and that I could choose for myself. I wrote down my plans.

Find a man older than those idiots. Get Married. Have lots of healthy children. Live in a wild place right beside the ocean. Cook warming stews and bake bread. Fill the home with laughter and song and people. Write a book. Keep the wild girl but write the woman.

And that is exactly what I did.

Island Blog – Listening and Turning the Cheek.

After a fairly uncomfortable day of achieving little more than just getting through it, I watched old runnings of Life On Mars whilst knocking back 2 big mugs of Pukka Nighttime Tea. I loved that series when first it came out and enjoyed it all over again, noticing things I had missed the first time around. I listened to what was said and how it was said. I saw the unspoken words on the actors faces, paid attention to any growing or disappearing flow of interaction. In short, I went deeper. Oftentimes I can not notice a lot when something or someone comes around for the first time, too busy am I on the surface level. If it is a person before me, I might be thinking more about how their words, their behaviour affects me. Once they have left I ponder. I recall the way they bobbed from foot to foot, or how short their nails are. I remember the lines of pain or worry on their faces, the way they laughed after every sentence, the way they find life just as hard at times as the rest of us do. It thinks me.

Whilst watching said re-run of Life on Mars I heard an actor say something that annoyed me. He had got it wrong again. Reference was made to a suspect who got her words muddled. She’s Alexic! he triumphed, a big daft smile on his face. I rose to clear my plate and cup and marched into the kitchen. Alexic! I snorted. You mean Dislexic you plonker. Suddenly a skin jumping voice boomed out. I am listening, she said. What did you say? My voice sounded unnerved. I was unnerved. I turned to my little blue innocuous looking speaker. Alexa, what did you say? I’m sorry, she came back, I don’t know that one. What do you mean you don’t know that one? What one? Alexa, are you listening to me #bigbrother? She flashed a rainbow at me and settled into silence, no doubt feeling a bit embarrassed.

Alexa are you listening? I asked again, clattering dishes in the sink. Your privacy is very important to me, she soothed, now trying to regain my favour and then she rattled on about going to http://www.amazon.com/echo J1 Dot. Embarrassed people always quote the rule book when they feel the ground shift beneath their feet. I decided to play a bit. Alexa, shall I tell you about my life? She flashed again and replied. My Life, a memoir written by ex president Bill Clinton. Wonderful, I said. We are on a roll, even if I don’t much like your powers of snoopery. Alexa, tell me about the memoir called Island Wife.

I’m sorry, she said. I don’t know that one. Touché! I turned her off at the wall and flounced up to bed where I slept well right up to morning. Note to self, however to turn that nosy little madam off before settling by the fire. I am listening indeed! The very cheek. And I have no plans to turn the other one.

Island Blog – Words and Thoughts

Today awoke at 2.30 am. I won’t add ‘in the morning’ because as everyone knows ‘am’ means the morning, even if folk on the radio say it twice. My dad would have had a fit, rolled his eyes and stated loudly that this country had gone to the dogs.

Immediately and unbidden the negative thoughts pour in, the dreads, the fears, the remembering of death and dying. I used to be able to cut all of them off at the pass but not these days. Is this grieving, I wonder? Folk who know things tell me it could take a year for this to ease back into my natural thankfulness, my curiosity about life about living it, about the day ahead. A whole flipping year? Are you serious? Well, yes, they are.

All day I dragged myself through simple chores with no interest in a single one of them. I went back to bed; read a whole novel; got up when the guilt of such indulgence whooped my ass out from under the duvet. I never do this. I never did this. Not never. This is me, I state clearly and succinctly, the me who got the hell on with absolutely everything no matter how much she didn’t want to, but nobody is listening. And that is what I miss the most. The somebody that has now become nobody. That somebodys existence required me, needed me, expected me to show up and now he is gone. I had been expecting him to leave the programme for over 10 years and yet, now, it feels deeply unfair. How dare you leave me like this, purposeless and empty? Where are the little spurts of chat about the sparrow hawk taking a blackbird and all that terrible screaming that accompanied the process? Where are those shared moments of what’s for supper, where are my snippers for pruning the geraniums or what’s this puddle on the floor?

Silenced. For ever. I did eat something today, at some point. I did walk the dog although it was a trudge and a short one despite the beautiful sunshine day inviting us to stay, stay, stay. I didn’t. We didn’t. And, now, there comes more lockdown threats. But you are so lucky, I tell myself. Just look at where you live, at that fantabulous view! And, so I am, but I am not going to berate myself for yet another crime. I know I am lucky. I know there are others who face a brick wall, who have noisy neighbours, who are squished into a toosmall place, who feel real and justified fear. Mine is imaginary, after all, even if I don’t minimise the power of it inside a faulty mind. And my mind is faulty. Only for a year, so they say. Or thereabouts.

I think often of dying in general. I thought I was fine with it but we are all fine with a concept as long as it doesn’t invade our peripheries. However, there is something about age in here. When we get older we seem to widen our fractal understanding of many things. We are less tolerant of fools and more understanding of foolishness. We are more confident in who we are and less confident of making simple decisions. We walk with more confidence and yet are less confident of our footing. We are a walking dichotomy. Younger folk admire us and find us weird. We are simultuous.

So, in my simple Alice world, it is ok to feel the fear of death and dying whilst still being curious about life. I guess I need to work on that.

Island Blog – Woman Gone

This morning I walked in sunshine down to the village to stand with many others. A friend I made the minute we arrived here in 1978 has died. She, who, without effort, was unequivocally loved and respected. A farmer’s wife, a mother, a business owner, a wonder. She, unlike me, wasn’t fussed about chicken shit on her boots. She, unlike me, ploughed with a chuckle through mud-fast tracks to reach her car which was hopefully above the waterline. She, unlike me, fussed not about the cold rushing in with every door opened longer than half a second. She just never seemed fussed about anything at all. I don’t know and I probably should, if she had grown up on a farm, thus ‘in clue’ of all of these so-called deprivations, these threats to comfort and warmth. It wasn’t that she had fat on her bones. It wasn’t that she had anything easy. She was just herself. She was Lorna.

Over the 42 years (today) we lived here on the island, she was always there. I confess that, latterly I saw her less often. Our lives had slipped apart once our children no longer shared the primary school playground, once I abdicated my farmer’s wife role, wrote my book and looked for my pension. But I saw her in the shop and that smile pushed aisles apart, that welcome. It was in her eyes. It was real. She was real. She was Lorna. Unlike me she knew who she was. I have been wondering for years who the heck I am. Today grounded me somewhat. I watched her go, encased in flowers, waved to her much loved family, heard the pipes play her away. And the sun shone.

As it always did, even in the rain. As it always did around Lorna.

Island Blog – The Day Before and Hoodwinker Boots

Yesterday I was in the darkling woods, all day long. I could not lift into the light, got stuck among the trees, heard no birdsong, saw no sky. I haven’t had one of these days for a long while and it settled uncomfortably about me like a sodden jumper, cold and shivery. I sat with myself and we had a little chat about it. My mouth was overflowing with questions. Am I sick, going doolally? Am I selfish, thinking only of my own angst this day? Should I do something for someone else and would that guide me out of these tall dark sopping woods? Answer came there none. She just sat there, across the table from me, smiling slightly, her lips curved up at the edges, not smug, but knowing.

I get it, I said, my mouth now empty of whys and whats. It just is as it is. As I pondered my soggy state of mind, I realised something. She sees me doing this realising thingy and her lips curve even further up like she’s got an upside down rainbow on her face. He was my courage. That’s what unnerves me this darkling day. I remember him saying to me a thousand years ago that he was always surprised at my fear of pretty much everything. In my world, so he said, there were lions behind every bush and snakes crossing all my paths. There was fire outside all grates and thunder meant lightning and lightning would strike me down or strike someone I loved, like my horse. He was right. I knew it then despite my spirited rebuttal and subsequent flounce from the courtroom.

Over long time, like most of my adult life, I pinched his courage. He was afraid of nothing, if you discount my mother who terrified the pyjamas off him with her slick sharp tongue. I made a decent enough shape of it throughout the years, still terrified of all things but braver, bolder, more able to push through the fear in my hoodwinker boots. Even when he was fixed in a wheelchair, compromised almost completely, he was still my rock, he was there, I could see him and we could smile together, two upside down rainbows sharing a moment of reassurance and encouragement. Now he isn’t here anymore and although I would not wish him back, not as he was, not even as he was before the more recent ‘was’, I can still feel that catch in my breath as I stand before the enormity of living alone. Most of me loves the view, the space and the freedom. I don’t have to explain, justify or qualify my actions, my decisions anymore. I am not the first responder for requests, calls for help, for errands; I don’t have to clean toilets every hour or so; my washing machine is bored; I can sing along to Verdi’s Requiem in any key I like. I am free. And without purpose. And that is the truth of it. When a man has been the sole purpose for 49 years, a woman can be forgiven for wondering who the hell she is when he pops his clogs.

It is a good realisation. I look across at myself and say so and she agrees. Well done, she says. You got there. From such a new understanding grows a path, like a tree from a seed, only it won’t go straight up as a tree ought to, heading for the sky and poking the eyes out of the next door tree with busy branches, greedy for light. No. This path is like the yellow brick road and it’s right there ahead of you. Can you see it? Follow it and you will find new purpose, one you have never thought of before.

I can see it, the path, my path. Today I wake, still alone, but without the dark of yesterday dripping misery all about me and I am thankful. Now all that I have to do is to locate the whereabouts of my hoodwinker boots, Dorothy, The Tin Man and the Lion and then to start walking.

Island Blog – Somewhere Else Rules

It’s a game, really, this life thing, living it – a game that has no rules, as if that bit of paper in 17 languages was forgotten by Mavis in Packaging, leaving us all to make rules up as we go along. Needless to say there are as many rules as there are people around the board; what is abundantly clear to this chap is a load of ballyhoo to her over there. The start is obvious however. First breath, a wail and that’s all of us at the gate under starters orders. Bang! Now life begins. Which path shall I take for there seems to be so many? Ah, I get it. No choice for now. I am being carried by someone who got here long before I did. They are my rule book, or so I learn. All I must do is obey, defer and not throw up on the carpet. I must not answer back even if the backhand comment is unfair, not true and cruelly delivered. It crashes into my ribcage, that string of words, delivered in that tone as it breaks through skin tissue and engraves itself onto bone as if I was a shard of scrimshaw. Such scars remain for life.

I grow and develop in this game, their game, their rules until I manage to leave home. Now I am free. At last! These internal wounds, this scarring will heal, I tell myself as I march off to Somewhere Else. In this place, the place of Somewhere Else, I find someone. He is strong, older than me, charismatic and available. He plays his game in a very different way and I am intrigued but still, without knowing it, obedient as a child even if I am adult enough, now, to throw up in appropriate places. But I not an adult am I? I inhabit an adult body, yes indeed, boobs and all, a wiggle to my arse and I’m a real pro at eyelash flutterments having practised long and hard in the mirror. I take on his rules. I don’t even notice I am doing this. It feels easy, pleasant almost, but I am mindlessly walking myself into a trap. Had I spent more time untangling the tangle inside myself prior to buying in to someone else’s game rules, I would have stepped consciously towards adulthood. But I did not know that. What I ‘knew’ was that men are better than women, that a woman’s place is in the home bringing up children and learning how to bake a marvellous eye catcher of a strawberry sponge even if her creative genius craves oil paints or ballet shoes or a quill or a lab for her experiments. Her eye level must always be below par because if she ever rose to par or, god forbid, above it, the world, as we know it, would crumble into dust. Men must be obeyed, deferred to and should never be put upon to investigate their own internal chaos. In short, men must be allowed to be themselves for the rest of their days, fully supported in this requirement by you, the woman. As for you, you are not allowed to be yourself from this day forth, in sickness and in health, till death do you part.

We clear now?

That’s what I learned in the first game and it is how I engaged with the next game, the one I found in Somewhere Else. I look back across the fields and oceans, the mountains and chasms, the wasteland and the glories of my life now that he is gone. Although I was always free to think, I didn’t. It was a dangerous thing to do, but now I can let thoughts rise without fear. I may have been ignorant of the rules, merely obeying them in the main, like a horse or a dog, but once I clocked what I had bought into I found ways around the rules. Actually I was quite clever and inventive. Perhaps he saw, perhaps he knew but as we never discussed things that didn’t directly relate to business management, I never did find out and now I never will.

And that is okay. All of it is okay. I did what I did and to look back in anger or regret is like unpicking a woolly; time consuming and, ultimately, shapeless. My life was not shapeless, our life was not shapeless. We collided and then fell apart over and over again for decades, wounding each other and then applying salve. We laughed and cried, felt lonely, lost, puzzled and furious, or filled with hope, belief and trust. I know, I know, it sounds lunatic, but that was how we played our game and I’m pretty certain it wasn’t an unusual marriage.

Now I have my own set of rules to consider and apply. I am free to make them up, anything I like, any direction I fancy. Why do I need rules at all? I did ask myself that recently and the answer is that we all need rules or we would live without boundaries, principles, modus operandi and la la. However, this set of rules must first be constructed within. Where is my boundary? What will I give and what am I happy to receive? Will I decide to learn courage enough to overcome my weaknesses or will I let them rule me? Will I re-locate my oils, my quill, my ballet shoes and my experiments, bring them into this new light and then work on developing them in my own game plan, the one that only I will play?

And that’s the point. My game, my rules. No matter who comes into my life from now on, I play by my rules. I don’t want you to take them on or even to agree with them. I am not interested in approval. What I am interested in, very interested in, is what lies ahead for me now in a new Somewhere Else.