Island Blog – upper, Lower case

I love to mess with the way things ‘should’ be. Accordion to whom, is what I want to ask? Although I do recall, clearly, the easy hours of English Literature at A level, the rule book the size of a small country and berating my errors like a crowd of elders blocking any off roading. It isn’t that I don’t respect the construction of a good sentence. I absolutely do. In fact, I am the very first to throw a badly written book out the window. However, the essence of good writing is not a perfection of grammar. But, wait. This may not reflect my own truth. As a student of the language, of the best way to construct a sentence with noun and verb, avoiding adjectives, adverbs and other ads and coming into land on the line to say something remarkable, I appreciate that the only time anyone can play with a structure is when they know it very well. Perhaps this is why, when I read bad spelling in an official piece of writing, I cringe and throw. There is no excuse, these days with every help available online. Grammar check, spell check, information check, all is there. It is a case of not bothering and not bothering is, well, cringe and throw.

But, and this is key, the person who dreams about writing a book, essay, short story or children’s book, should never ever and ever again bother with whether or not they have a diploma in the complete labyrinth of English language, and it is. A labryinth. You can get lost in it for weeks and nobody is looking for you. You have to get up, dust off and keep going with your eyes crossed. and your brain a bucket of worms. It is important, nonetheless, to gain understanding of how language works and this is why. We have softened the borders of our language and let in some ghastlies. We have allowed in the complete change of a single word’s meaning, losing, on the way, a g or an h and this does matter, not necessarily to hold on to the old, onto what was, but just to know it was there, once, a part of the scaffold that lifted a writer higher. We, the Brits, are still celebrated world wide for our writing, our films, plays and tv series. We are strong with our understanding of our language, and its structure. And sometimes that confines us, especially if we did not do ‘well’ at English in school or have been ridiculed and mocked for our ‘wrong’ use of words in a sentence.

Bin all of that. We need writers and not just those who have gained degrees or diplomas and (often) done little with that stored knowledge. We need enthusiastic passionate writers who don’t even believe they are writers. The works, the classics, the honoured novelists, I revere and respect. But, people, these times are new. We are living in a conundrum (look that up!). An anomaly, a confusion, a splitting of the ways, a confoundment on boundaries and with a big hole in that wall which offers an opening into something new and scary. If you have that drive, do not die with your song still in you. Do not accommodate old rules, confinements, mockings or perceived prison bars. Fly. Do it. Write. The experiences each one of us have tucked under our belts over this past year are fuel for Talk, for Story, for Ideas that break boundaries of space, time and language.

Come on people. I know there are many out there and I will tell you why. We have so very much to say now. We have gone through loss, grief and struggle, pain, abandonment, sleepless nights, eating up, eating down, evasion, confusion, anxiety and identity crises. In the old days (I remember them) we knew who we were, where and when we met. We collided, avoided or we came together. We knew parameters and levels and the land on which we stood. We knew the way forward and the way back. This all came from the ‘elders’. They spoke and we believed, well, not me, but I went with it anyway because there was no other direction on offer. Now we are spinning like tops. Circling each other, unsure. And it is a writer’s perfect space. Use it. Talk about it, write about it. Let the pain rise and the sky fall. Let the anger out and watch it turn into rocket boosters. Let it out. ‘out’. because it if doesn’t ‘out’ we, as dynamically creative individuals, will just join the ranks of those with mental health issues who have gone beyond inspiration, inventive creativity and a Sunday dinner with pavlova instead of tinned custard; those who will bury this year of troubles and sink down into a permanent Lower case.

Just saying.

Island Blog – Still Snow

This morning I walk at 07.30, marching out into the freezing wind without a jacket. I test myself. Just walk, I say, get on with it. Once you have gone a short way, your ice blood will click into action, to warm you. And, it does, although I am very aware of the windwhip with its icy fingers going where nobody goes but me. I am fit, strong and wiry. I can do this. However all this ‘I can do this’ thingy does distract me somewhat from paying attention to the trees, their brave change, their pushing out of leaves and buds against such a chill. Spring is playing games with us, I tell them, once I forget myself and connect with them. One of them replies with a creak. I hear you, I say, even as I know that I have a cheerful woodburner to welcome me back into the warmth. It is a sycamore, all leaved up and hosting a zillion little birds who, with no respect at all, are tweaking off the buds to get to the juicy snacks. The floor of the track is a rainbow of colours. I roll my eyes and, yet, I know that this tree and others have allowed the Spring snatch for centuries and it doesn’t affect their subsequent growth and development. Good for you, I say, to the sycamore, to the larch, to others whose first burst of excitement ends up on the ground, for they know this game and have learned the ways of it and grown into acceptance. How wise is nature and how far behind we are in this. It thinks me.

A cuckoo flies right over my head and rasps at me, looping away into the beyond. Did you choose a finch nest, a warbler, a pipit, some poor overworked mother who will probably lose all her own babies because your fat chick will wheech them overboard before they can fly? I wander past banksy flowers, huddled to the ground, primrose, sorrel not yet open to the sun, anemones, bluebells, celandine, speedwell and self-heal. the colour they add to the ground, a heart lift after such a long winter. A winter of change, of doubt and of fear, of connection and of precious moments on zoom. Further, and I come to the huge beech trees, silver limbed and spread wide across my walking. The ones in sheltered places are leafing up now, the ones facing a sea blast are holding back, for now, but they are ready. Blackthorn explodes into blossom, pinkly white and frothy like vanilla milk shake. The larch trees are dancers, long fronds of emerald hanging from their ancient limbs, ebullient. I watch sheep rise on hind legs to grab a morsel of green, graceful and surprisingly so considering their short fat bulk and even shorter legs. The sea rushes up to greet me and I can smell the coconut gorse, the salt and the seaweed, fresh as a hit of sudden joy. I stand awhile to savour the wild smell, to take in the stories, these ones from the northern lands and I remind myself to take note for soon the winds will swing and only the southern tales will barrel in for me to hear and to learn from. These stories are centuries old and I don’t know the script. I just know they are coming to me, to anyone who has the ears to listen.

I hear trouble. It sounds like a domestic. Moving on, I see starlings flitter and scream between the branches of an oak and know there is a predator nearby. I stop to watch. One tawny owl lifts from the branches, a young fledgling in its claws. Another follows, empty handed, but I know and the starlings know, it will be back. It is daylight, 3 pm. Owls hunt at night, don’t they? It thinks me again. If owls are hunting easy meat in the daylight, they must be hungry. On this island of many predators, the sea eagle, the buzzard, the osprey, the hawks and the owls, perhaps there is not enough food to go around. I don’t know enough to know that but what I do know is that I was lucky to see the gentle lift of two magnificent tawny owls through the trees and, also, to witness the pluck and collective determination of, well, about 8 starlings in their collective defence and attack on those who would steal their young. I watched those starlings spin and dive against the owls in a way that taught me. It doesn’t matter how small you are, you can still stand against injustice.

And there is still snow on the Ben.

Island Blog – Avoiding Collisions

The big window is speckled with raindrops, held in stasis and they glisten. I look through the children’s doodles, the glistening raindrops, my eyes moving into the garden and the brave early flowers. Grassland flows down towards the sea-loch and up the other side, up and up until I find the clouds, a tangle of them, I think at first, and many shades of grey. Watching most closely I can see the layers. Up front, the cobwebby dark fast moving clouds, see-through and spitting rain. Behind them the fat blowsy white ones, lazy, taking their time too respond to a rising wind. They are weighty with knowing and in no rush, not see-through at all, like old professors who know they have a job for life. Further back, the clouds that don’t seem to move at all, flat like naan breads, backlit by a little flash of sun, and beyond them just whispy white sky, acres of it. Acres. How many layers are there? How far back, up, across do they stretch? For ever? I see these levels as closely bunched, micro managing their individual trajectories, but I am wrong. There is only accord. Room for all of us, they seem to say, effortlessly avoiding collisions.

The birds are more than ready for me this morning, one of cloud and cold rain. Many goldfinch, greenfinch, redpoll, siskin, sparrow, blackbird, robin, hawfinch, thrush, starling and rock dove. They line the fence, balance on shrubs, flit and flutter like music notes blown off the stave. Time to reel them in before the wind speed confounds and the rain turns weighty. I fill each feeder as the braver musical notes play around my feet, my head. Two goldfinch watch me from the inside of an ornamental maple, red now, red as good claret. The second I leave, they are down like a swarm of bees. As walkers pass by they rise back into the air, flitting between the feeders, between the shrubs, between each other, to land down again the moment the coast is clear, and all the time they chatter. Some feed young on the fence, some feed themselves, and in all this flitting and lifting, fighting and feeding, rising and landing, there is perfect precision. We know what we are doing, they seem to say, naturally avoiding collisions.

This land is walked on, now, by many more feet. The ferries are booked, the accommodation scrubbed and ready. In the air around us, anticipation, anxiety, excitement and fear layer up, cloudlike . We are grounded and can only go on, steady, determined not to hide away any longer. Peeping through fearful curtains, opening doors that squeak from lack of use, scrubbing doorsteps, we emerge tentatively into a world that barely recognises itself. Who am I now? Who are you, now? Do we still know our way around each other, feel the same way about this, about that, about all the important things that ran strong within us but whose names I have forgotten? My sense of import has changed, my value rating. Has yours, and, if so, will we know each other, have anything to say in this changed world? We know we must brave up and out for we are not moles or worms to need the dark because we have no seeing eyes. We need the light, crave the light, the sky the birds the clouds the sun the tidal moon shift and the story-carrying winds that blow from one side of this planet to the other and back again. We need each other, even if the otherness has become a hesitation when we meet once again. Like all other members of our natural world, we can adapt. We are not going back to normal, an eye-rolling ghastly grammar-makes-no-sense contradiction of a sentence if ever I heard one, because that ‘normal’ is light years behind us now. There is only forward and we are all unsure of our footing. Let those of us who refuse to bring the past along with us hold fast to not having the faintest clue about what happens next, what the ground is like, what clouds will come, what shape the future. Burn the old book that speaks of separation, segregation, prejudice and domination. That book needs to go. It has been outdated for many many years. We might write a new book together. Meantime let us step out, step in, step through and around, consciously avoiding collisions.

Island Blog – Open and Close

Because I live at both ends of the day, like the animals, like the flowers, I see much. At 5 am the dandelions are closed, the daisies too and other sun-following flowers, the intelligent ones. The hybrids, I notice, just stay open, to night, to cold, to frost and I do, I confess, roll my eyes a bit. Your mummy didn’t teach you things, I think, but you are still beautiful. Maybe not long living, not survivors, not canny, but still beautiful short term. And that is how some people are, how youth is, supple and without dents and the lashes of life, the experiences. An one show. We have all had one of those had we just noticed we were having it instead of wishing we could just get to the next bit.

Slowly, and with the sun, the dandelions open, cautiously. I so get the cautious thingy as we have frost most nights. Just putting my nose and toes out there draws me back in to wait. That’s what the knowing flowers and birds do. They have centuries of experience in the fickle dance of nature. You say it is May? Ha…….let me play with you awhile. I think of the patient understanding of this. These flowers, these birds, adapt. It thinks me.

As we floundering humans with more intelligence (apparently) than the flowers and the birds, adapt, or attempt, to our release back into what we once thought Normal, we are foundering. The way things were will never be again. We are facing a new and uncharted terrain. How glorious. How natural. But we may have forgot the ‘Natural’ within us, that ability to adapt, to confound the voice of May, of any month in our given situation. I hear so many folk say they are relieved we are going back to normal and I recoil, like a snake. Hopefully unnoticed. How can anyone go back, first off, and then back to normal when normal is far from herself. She is ways off what she once was and we need to get that. Okay, I get the yearning for what was, what we understood, what we knew as absolute, the very ground beneath our feet, but that ground is no longer there so don’t think it will hold you up. This Covid has been a warning and one we must pay close attention to. I am no catastrophist other that the times when I have been. But not on this. We are perennials. We know how to follow the sun, our faces lifted and glowing in the light. We also know how to close and to go within, in to the warm, in to the loved ones, away from the cold and the winds that could blow the walls of Jericho down in a nanosecond sans trumpets. Are we paying attention? Life from now-now is not normal. It will be about acceptance and compassion. It will not be about waving fists at camper vans. It will not be about exclusion. It must be about the opposite, about sharing, about kindness, about, let us say, learning how other people work, those who do not have the mummy training that we did.

I watch the dandelions slowly close. I can see it happen because I can sit long just to watch. No other agenda now. Time? I have plenty. No interruptions. I recall agonising about the lack of it, yearning for it, shouting and raging for it. Now it is here, in abundance and if I am not engaged with that state, I can get angsty, fretful. But I am learning and in the main I know it as a gift and I am thankful, although not all the time. I remember my days as a thoughtless hybrid, dancing the light and believing it would last. I remember the sprinter in me and I also remember the long distance runner and my vote, now, goes to the latter. I am with the dandelions and the daisies, even as I love the short term glorious flourish of those blooms that have no flipping idea what they are doing.

So. We open and we close. We might like to think about that, as the borders open, the doors open. We are going to meet others who have really struggled through this past year; those who were stuck at home with those they were, before, able to live with only because they could get away to work. We are going to meet angry, upset, resentful, pressured beyond what we can imagine, on roads, in cafes, in pub gardens, in doorways and outside our safe picket fence. Let us allow everyone to regain some hold on what it is to be a part of the human race. Let us be kind, pull back, let forward, offer, pause, consider and, most important of all, deal with our own anger and frustration within ourselves and all by ourselves without projecting our pain on someone else who has more than enough to deal with anyway. Who said that if we really want to heal the pain the world, first we need to heal our own pain? I forget, but it is worth saying again.

Let us close to what we knew, what was and let us open to whatever comes next. After all, not one us has a scooby.