Island Blog – A Glorious Freedom

I set myself a challenge. This day I will not say a single negative word about a single soul, and, if a negative thought comes in about any said soul, I will picture them happy, laughing, safe, peaceful. Easy Peasy from my breakfast table, easy indeed from the early hour within which I awoke to a new day. T’was a lovely soft morning, the moon still hovering, the sun rising pink across the over-by hills. No worries.

I set off on the alpine switchback road to the little harbour town to hook up with a friend for a bench picnic, feeling quite the thing, until I met a ‘toddler’. This is a car inhabited by, usually, two old folks, with no plans to hurry. However, the driver does have plans. Whilst he, usually a ‘he’, and his she are watching the sky for birds, the hills for a Wow, the sudden dips that show deep lochs all blue and fabulous, and causing them to slide to an almost stop mid road, I am about to be late for my bench picnic meet. I hold back, understanding, until my understanding muscle is a taught rope, and I, politely, move closer. No change. We swing around another 25 bends passing endless passing places, and still he will not let me pass. Incoming friendly suggests to me that he might now pause so that he and his she can watch the flowers grow without me in my sassy Mini Cooper hooking onto his old butt. No, he pulls out quick. He stays his course. I hear my inner talk. He is telling me I should not be in a rush. I consider this ‘rush’ thingy. Ah, maybe he is right. Maybe I, too, can watch the flowers grow for another 8 miles. I think on the past year when the only people I ever met on this single track were carriers, workers, carers, the postpeople. All of a sudden, the toddlers are back and I know, I know, we need them and they are welcome and I love all people ya-di-ya.

Eventually he lets me by and his face is turned away from my ebullient sunshine thank you smile. Okay, whatever. I collect my friend and I tell her of my personal challenge for the day. She chuckles. Ah, you may have invited in something there my friend. Ha! I say and we swing into the big harbour car park because I need fuel and this is where the garage is located. As I drive in, just as I have done for over 43 years towards the pumps, a big ass vehicle comes right at me, nose to nose. I stop, thinking no judgement, and reverse back. As he (!) comes forward he winds down his window. I smile. I think you will find that this is a one way system, he says. For a moment I am confounded. A lot goes through my head. I have been here 43 years. I know this is the way to the pumps, or one of two ways. I see no one way system sign. Then I feel outrage build. But I cannot allow it because of my stupid self challenge. My friend beside me snorts into her hands and the giggle rises in me. I didn’t say Why, Thank you Kind Sir For Guiding Me Right. Sadly. I wasn’t quick enough with myself. I just looked at him in amazement. I thought, gosh how sad your life is that you need to be aggressive on your holiday. And I binned that because I wasn’t seeing him happy, laughing, safe and peaceful. What shall we we do now? asked my friend. This was an easy answer. We, I replied, are going to drive all the way around the one way system that does exist, the wrong way. And we did.

The picnic was fab. We sat on a bench in the sunshine having bought quiches from the bakery and we laughed like girls. We are both heading for 70 but somehow nothing changes when girls/women get together. We laughed about the One Way Man and sent him whatever he needs which is probably quite a lot, and walked, talked and helped the Navy moor up their ships on the pontoon. What I learned from this, from my self challenge, is that irritation is human, hard not to buy in to. But not to buy into it feels like a glorious freedom.

Island Blog – Plan Be

As the doors re-open into others’ worlds, shops, cafes and space, I acknowledge a little turbulence in that moment when I get out of my car in order to move along a narrow pavement, people heavy. Okay, I am outside now, so…. mask? Not mask? Inside the shop there are thingies on the floor to keep us a metre apart but this doesn’t work in doorways nor when someone remembers they forgot something and makes a U turn between the acres of alcohol and a long colour run of biscuits and cakes. Unable to disappear, there are at best, 12 inches between the U-Turner and the long queue of masked up distanced basket carriers. Suddenly we are, momentarily, way too close for comfort. I help an old lady with her bags, taking her arm on the steps. Of course I do. It wonders me, my choice to do this when I almost felled a structure of pink wafers in my frantic reversement just a few moments ago. This is indeed a time of wonderment. It takes me back to one of those ballets I was in a hundred years ago, one of the Little Swans, I think, all tippytoes and tutu, breathless and terrified and way too close together for ballet shoe freedom of speech.

But I must not give in to fear. I refuse. Stoutly. This is at attitude I have learned and infused into my very bones. The fact that it doesn’t work for me is, largely, my failure. I hear stories of those who have moved beyond the unholy mess of fear and doubt that we currently live in, those who have ‘mastered’ their fear and done it anyway, whatever ‘it’ was. They are beautiful, confident, unreal. I buy into it, and, in doing so, I fail. Again. So how do we ordinary folk doing our best with all our current limitations, whether extraneous or intrinsic (and ps btw how do we know the difference) make sense of it all? How do we correct the imbalance between fear and doing it anyway? It seems to me the biggest map of all, the biggest gap of all, the one between us and where we want to be. It is as wide and as daunting as the Sonoran desert. I have (had) a husband who crossed that desert, that Sonoran Desert with its 1000 square miles of nothing and no-one but sand and massive heat and massive cold and a blast of sudden butterflies to clog the radiator half way across.

My thinking, my counsellor’s advice, is to take baby steps, one day at a time, all that stuff.. Even as I know it is the only way, it bugs me. I’m thinking this. I have got this far, I am 68, mother to five, grandmother to ten plus two steps and surely I have done my baby stepping? I had loads of confidence once. Where the hell is it now? But it seems we still have to work, we oldies, and maybe that’s a good thing, however much it irritates me. These days I notice a gamut of emotions swirling inside my heart bringing thoughts that are not always helpful. The loss of self confidence, the emptiness of this space I inhabit, the feeling that something huge and irreplaceable is gone for ever, all swipe me sideways at times. I walk, I read positive books, I study (deeply) the power of emotions and how to both allow and control them. At first, no, for yonks, I have bought into the theory that moving on or moving through is all about control, self control, emotional control ya-di-ya. This belief has held me up, and possibly down, for most of my life, swooping right back to childhood. Stuff happens. It hurts. Deal with yourself and come back down when you are like the rest of us, aka fitting in and not trying to break the sound barrier. I tell someone I feel sad, afraid, lacking in confidence and angry and they say nothing for a split second, but here it comes……’But look at the sunshine/Spring/flowers/view, as if any of those things have anything to do with how I feel. Such a response is counter intuitive and counter intelligent but we all make that response because we have never been taught how to allow a ‘negative’ just to be.

I walk further, forgetting to acknowledge Lady Larch, for which I will need to apologise tomorrow, not that she is crabbit about such things. She has taken a very very long time to get to her full height and knows a thing or two about distracted walkers passing beneath her graceful branches. I pick up ideas along the banks, from among the self-heal, the wood anemones, sorrel and bluebells, colourful ideas with petals that follow the sun or petals that line a stem, indigo against the bright green grasses. They tumble around in my mind. What is the key to this emotional rampage? Do I allow or do I control or do I both or do I neither? Which way is up? I know about down. Down is always right there.

Listening to a talk today on exactly this subject, I have learned something. I think I have been hoodwinked into believing in the horns of a dilemma, either this, or that, black or white, positive or negative. Our culture promotes Positive, big time. After all, the alternative is pretty unappealing. Who wants to be negative? Negative is glass half empty. Negative is dark, slow, miserable. Negative needs to look up more, look out more. Negative needs to get over herself, get out there, do something for someone else – in other words please make sure you run away from negative as far and as fast as you can. Better, deny it exists, at least in me, in my heart, in my ticketyboo life. As I write this, I chuckle. How utterly ridiculous it sounds as it reads itself back to me. But that is what I have been doing. I have made an art of not being negative, of being insistently positive, of pretending, of not truthing. I am damn good at it, excellent in fact and I am about to deconstruct my own myth, not that I can take all the credit for its pervasive presence within our culture, one that has been fed to us like mother’s milk for generations. So how exactly do I put my inner construct of beliefs back together again in a new shape? Behold all these minute complex parts spread out before me for which there are is no instruction manual? The myriad and tiny parts look up at me and titter. I am not daunted, I refuse to be. That would be me siding with you know who. After all, I have lived almost 7 decades, each one loaded with learnings, with ups and downs and with many an adventure. So, maybe I don’t need to reconstruct this structure of beliefs. Perhaps I just need to let the old lie there in pieces and to walk back out into the world open-hearted, curious and interested. If I just notice my emotions, acknowledge them, all of them, the negative and the positive, then maybe a natural construct of beliefs will form all by itself. I could watch it happen as an observer. I could be emotionally agile, ready to change, ready to adapt at a moment’s notice, ready to engage.

This morning I ‘noticed’ I felt grief, loss, sadness and fear with a sprinkling of anxiety as garnish and with a side of self-doubt. I wrote them down. There they are in a neat list on the page before me. Hallo you. I said. But what I did not say is Go Away. I did not scrunch up the paper and use it as a spill to light my pipe. I did not shut down my heart, draw the dead bolts, pull up the drawbridge, whisper insurgence in the ears of the guard dogs and then hide under the bed. I just watched the list from time to time and said Hallo you. I thought a little about each feeling, brushing over its surface with my fingers, gently. I was kind to each one of them. Yes you hurt. Yes you feel sharp and (interestingly) judgmental and that is when it came to me like a blinding flash. That is the moment I blew up the old belief structure because deciding to be positive always makes a judge of any negatives. I should not feel this way. I do feel this way. Therefore it is I who am to blame. This crime is punishable by a whole stretch of time wherein I will find a gazillion ways to tell myself that I am a waste of space, always was and that there is no earthly chance of anything good ever happening to me because I just don’t deserve it. Anyone relate?

Accepting that ‘There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ is mildly helpful but the wisdom is not explained very well. If thinking is also a crime, or poor thinking, negative thinking, then off I go again with the self-flagellation. However, if thoughts are unconscious, if such thoughts precede emotions, then they are extraneous, surely? They come at me about 60,000 times a day. My mind is never still and nor btw is yours. There is nothing we can do about this truth but what we can do is to ‘notice’ an emotion, an unconscious thought, to step back from it, to observe and acknowledge it and then make a choice, of action perhaps or maybe inaction. A decision made based on doing nothing much, just noticing, observing, watching or a considered decision that is not a dash for the safety net of positivity. Dashing into a response just gives that random emotion or unconscious thought all of the power, power over me, over you and it ultimately denies the existence of that sad, angry, fearful feeling which achieves two things. First it tells the thinker that he or she was wrong to think that way and second, it fuels up the ‘negative’ feeling for a far greater assault another day.

Bereavement brings so many thoughts and emotions. I want to wind time back and re-do or re-don’t many things. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Even when my relatively sane mind is busy on some project or even fast asleep, my unconscious is working away like a busy little bee so that my decision not to think about the somethings I regret, missed out on or wish had never happened just makes that bee very happy giving it full permission to fatten up the very things I don’t want to think about. Don’t think about an elephant. I know, you just thought about an elephant. But it isn’t just people like me with a dead husband of just a few months who are bursting with emotional chaos just now. The lockdowns, the indecision, the fear of catching the virus, all collude with inner confusion to confound so many of us. We hardly know what to think any more and it will take many of us long time to grow new confidence. And that is perfectly okay. Let us take the time. Let us let ourselves move at our own pace through whatever wilderness we wander, observing, noticing, but mostly not judging ourselves. Thoughts will come all the way up to that last breath. There is no stopping them, but, like a good sailor in a brisk breeze we can work with the thoughtweather. At times we can spill the wind, at others we can let the sails, fill fat-bellied, and just fly. At times we can moor in a peaceful cove, and at others, when the morning is fresh and the wind lively, we can weigh anchor and head far out to sea, laughing in the spray, exhilarated.

In the time between birth and death there are we. I plan to live that time as the very best me I can possibly be.

Island Blog – Add the New and Let us Heal

Well, today was interesting. I went through my check list of new habits, ticking off this one and that. During that process, there were times of momental anxiety, as ever. Self doubt, quandary, up the stairs and down again. The usual. Moments when I doubt myself and never, ps and btw in the moment. I know my moments and they are mine and they are themselves and we work together nae bother. It is the times when I doubt something much bigger and all because a thought comes in. I now recognise these confounding thoughts as those rooted in the past, in childhood, in my marriage, in my gawky and faulty motherhood walk. Oh, Hallo, I say, I see you, I recognise you, I would like you to move back for now so I can see the moment. The moment shows clouds, bird-fly, trees moving in response to the wind, skies responding to whatever shit is going on up there way way way above my understanding.

I walked, although, confessing, I did not walk mindfully today. I walked blind. I was caught up in my thoughts, a gazillion of them and not many of them, if any, helpful nor relevant to the now me. This is the human condition. We are always at the mercy of our thoughts until we learn cognitive management and that is not control, much as we might long for it. No. It is the practice of noticing our thoughts, of stepping back from them and of assessing whether or not they are helpful in the now now. Our new now now. It does take practice. Hoping to be able to cope with a welter of thoughts at anytime is wanting to live in Disney. And, for you Scots, it disnae. I know Ive been at this for years but I am no model student. I can be overwhelmed easy. Like this day.

I am out there in my garden, which happens to be at the front of a lovely old stone house with views fantastic. Anyway, I am out there with seedlings and they are shouting at me to be planted, like we are so tired of this tiny pot, our roots are wound up like Freddie Mercury and Hallo? So I go out there with gravel for the planters and peat and topsoil and other witchy growing helpers and then in they come, the visitors, the lively, lovely dog-tastic, kitted up visitors with bins and backpacks and enthusiasm and a merry smile, their mouths oped for greeting and my peace is shattered. My nearly deaf dog catapults into hysterical terrier barking which has to be in discordant A minor on a badly tuned piano, and because she is fast, I can’t catch her, and because she is nearly deaf she can’t hear my voice and the whole lovely visitor thing turns into a frightful afternoon. Just like that.

They move on with their lovely dogs that don’t bark and I hide within in my turmoil. I know what this is. This is my challenge to get back out there, to get real, to find life again, the new life that I know will come from over a year of being in jail. For all of us. I shower. Change frocks. Look forward to seeing my beloved son tomorrow when his boat comes in to Tobermory. I get over myself. Do you?

This is an opportunity to hang on to the old. Or, it’s an opportunity to be curious about every single thing. This is a new world people. Do we want to be an active and loving part of it, or are we going to stay where we were, constrained by old ways and (seriously?) thinking that was ever helpful to a broken world that yearns to heal?

Island Blog – After the Rain, Relation Ships and a Blackbird.

This weekend my daughter came with her girls. I know they all love it here, the freedom, the wild swimming, the spontaneous Let’s Do it thingy. Even I did that. Boots at the ready. My daughter knew little else other than ‘here’, the wild places, the free flow of life, even as she had to go through the awful teenage years, the indecision, the lost and found of herself. But, still, she, like her brothers, think of this place as home. It was a wonderful two days, jam packed with pretty much everything and nothing really planned. We went with our moment, as you have to with all the sudden island rain and the shapeshift of seasons within a single day. If you are busy not paying attention, a whole gamut of weather can swamp you, or, worse, you can miss a sunlift, an elevation, an invitation to connect. Get involved with Spotify or something on TV or your FB page and an opportunity moves on by, missing you as you, with hindsight, will miss it. As a result of this missing thing it is easy to see rain as a continuity. Which, btw, it is not.

The day my girls left, it rained stair rods. I doubt all of you know what the heck stair rods are. They are those rigid steel rods that hold (or held) carpets down on stairs where the horizontal meets the riser. They were ferocious in my rememberings. Meeting one of those in bare feet with the enthusiasm of youth in an exuberant push t’wards elevation and the ensuing pain did stay with that foot for some time to come, gaining no sympathy, despite the bruise. Those were the days when I knew that butting up against a rigid was altogether my fault, as was pretty much everything else involving collisions. Too fast, not thinking, not planning ya-di-ya. But as it still happens to me, although not with stair rods for they no longer exist, I can still bruise and bash myself through sheer exuberance, acting spontaneously and without considered thought. It is either that with me or it’s frozen immobility. I have never managed to be grey.

My daughter is the opposite of me. She always was. She is very obviously a lady. She is calm, quiet, considered, gracious and thoughtful. She would never dive into a swimming pool before first checking it has enough water in its belly. Our differences have been both a perfect match, like yin and yang, or a pulling away. This visit brought a new light to our connection. We are learning to grow an adult friendship. Now it may seem that this beginning has come a little late to those who managed to forge adult relationships with daughters when the daughters first became young women, but in my family it could never be that way because himself required full spotlight, leaving only a little glow for the rest of us to forge anything at all. He was unable to allow us time together without him and so his departure has gifted just that to us. I observe all our relation ships now have new rigging. Slowly, slowly, we are setting sail on a different sea and in a new direction. It is not something I ever expected but I am loving it. How strange life is. How heavy is the influence on children when parents still hold on to their own childhood baggage, that learned behaviour that, on reflection, can be destructive and can keep a unit confined to barracks over many long years. I know I colluded in that confining thingy but, as is obvious, there is nothing I can do to change what was, what I was, who he was and what we did to our children. They are, each one of them, strong, dynamic and good loving people. And, like us, damaged. But I can do something about the Now. I can change, say sorry, listen and learn. I can be humble and encouraging, I can leap into the new with open eyes and an open heart. I can sail alongside each one as we adventure on, working with the wind shifts, the tidal turns, the clouds, the sun and the rain.

‘After the rain’ doesn’t always apply to the outside stair rods making way for the sun. Rain will fall on the inside and the outside of us, and rain is life-giving water. We need it and when it does slow and stop and the world opens up like a smiling face, we can be thankful for both the rain and for the stopping of it. Taking every moment as a gift, not missing a single one, watching, learning, observing and listening, we can change or begin anew at any age. I find saying sorry for being crap at times very freeing. I am learning how to honour whom I was as a mother. Both awful and wonderful, rain and sun. It is the best anyone can be. To have the courage to be vulnerable, especially around children can mean so much to those children. I recommend it. I don’t recall ever hearing my parents say they were sorry for the things they got horribly wrong. Their generation held it all inside, too afraid to be humble for fear of losing control and status. I can see that. But we, my generation, have learned from this and have discovered that, contrary to old beliefs, it is a strong and brave man or woman who steps up, palms open and says I am sorry and who really means it. And, after the rain, the blackbird’s song is pure and bright and completely new.

Island Blog – Come Home Judy

This beckoning request came to me the other day. I pondered it. It thought me a lot, and for some time. What do I mean by this? How and why did it come to me and what do I do with it? I know something about it, however. I know that, as I open to those parts of me I have either hidden or denied for decades, stuff will Out. This Outing is not a wee trip to a cafe for lunch nor a picnic on the beach. Well, not yet, it isn’t. For now it feels, or can feel, like an invasion, as if someone has gone into my most secret drawer and pulled out something I never wanted anyone to find. Or someone has read my double-locked journal by picking the lock whilst I was busy in my pretending world, floating about in delusive frocks and behind good make-up, arched eyebrows, lipstick, slap.

I have begun an aspiration list. For very many yonks I scoffed at such a thing. This is for children, for young people whose inner beliefs are learned from parents still living, whose vision of their world is a mirror of those who went before, until, that is, the red rebel rises and everything becomes confusion as a young mind fights to find its own voice, its own shape in a world that really doesn’t help at all. Now I accept that even at my age, there is much for me to unlearn because it is never too late to change. Never. I am also learning, as I allow the opening of my secret drawer, the flip through of my double-locked journal, as I expose myself, that self I never ever wanted anyone to see, not never, that personal exposure is really okay. The learned rule book to which I adapted from childhood, through the red rebellion that only created an uncontrollable fire, is no longer helpful to me. The long marriage to a good man who had no idea how to open his own heart and who, therefore, lived in response to what he believed was the right way to do this living thing, just created a broken line of hope with no chance of change. He was not prepared to let anyone check his secret drawer, nor to read his secrets. Not even me. He is gone, yes, but never, not even once in a thousand years, did he tell me how he felt about anything of import. His jealousy, his insecurity, his closed heart, all were just who he had become, reflecting what he had learned. There was never a useful conversation about any of that, no matter what mental and phsyical gymnastics I studied and perfected in foolish hope. I do not blame him. He was who he was and I was who I was and it worked through 49 years of being together.

Perhaps, as I slog through the grieving thingy, feel the sharp bite of loneliness and fear, I am growing stronger. Now the controller is gone, I am left both bereft and free. Free feels delightful at times, horrible at others. Like a pendulum swing, I did go from one to the other. There is nobody now to rage jealousy at me should I sparkle at a good looking man. There is nobody now to monitor my singing in the house (good god no) or the way I suddenly do things. My volume is not commented on. My choice of where I go and to whom is all up to me. As I said, both delightful and horrible. Why is this? Because I have known no other way for almost 50 years. This is learned behaviour and thus, oh glory be, I can unlearn and find a new way. Sounds good, yes? Ouch. How do I do this? Well, after months of panic, I have a glimpse of knowing. I reach out for help. I speak to someone who has experiential wisdom to impart, who (and this surprised me) is not blaming me for anything, not for my. bad habits, my panics, my anxieties, my fears, my floundering. Quite the opposite. They are all about encouraging, about telling me Good For You being brave enough to seek help. I am so proud of you. How shall we work this? Tell me about you.

At first, this made me cry. I don’t remember hearing that before. And it hasn’t changed, even though I kept expecting the emotional slap because that is what I knew. My bad habits, my mental health stuff, my addictions, all of them are like ‘easy’ puzzles to solve now that I have found my helpers. Oh yes it took me a very long time to finally ask. I avoided such vulnerability for years. I even kept my secret drawer and my double-locked journal secret. from myself. However, even though I am still baby-stepping, I feel that I am coming home to me, even as I have no shape to give that ‘me’. I have, heretofore, reacted to my primary relational control and I was damn good at it, so good that I made a shape that has never been my own true shape, like I have been bashing my square peg into that round hole with a sledge hammer for my whole life. And the good news/sad news is that I absolutely know there are squillions of others out there who know what I am talking about.

Well, friends, if I can countenance that change is possible at my age, that there is hope, that I do have a future that is bright and light and fun and joyous, then so can anyone else. This future is mine to walk out. As yours is your own. This habit tracker/aspiration list thing is not to count my sins, far from it. I have a list of good things. Walks, Music, Listening to a Ted Talk, reading an uplifting and encouraging chapter, watching the birds, the sky, writing my blog, saying my prayer, reciting out loud my affirmation “I am enough just as I am. I believe in myself. I am truly loved. My future is bright.’ And reciting it often, especially when that guffaw rises about ‘my future being bright.’The key, however, and hence the list, is that I must attend to each one every single day and not just when I feel like it. I need to re-brain my brain, to gradually and gently and with patience, to lift away old paternal/patternal beliefs and to replace them with new beliefs based on me.

What I did not know until I did reach out for guidance and help is that I am admired for doing so. I thought it meant I was weak. Far from it. Quite the opposite in fact, although I never knew that on the far side of reaching out. Most of us have survived bad management. We can keep surviving. Or we can decide to really live, to really come home to our own lovely selves.

Island Blog – My Home, Music, Changes and Fun

Today the sun shone like it was in a competition. Brazen, warm, loud in the sky. The pufflet clouds moved around it, I think deliberately, because it showed them in their best light. Edges like fire and brimstone, smokey dark below. Quite the picture.

I did a bit of this and that. I lifted some paintings to the walls of the rooms that used to be his and are now not his anymore. His bedroom, a tangle of hospital bed, aids, plastic receptacles etc, all gone now. There is a king sized double for visitors, a new carpet, a blackout blind and curtains. In the office, now not the office but instead a wee kiddies room, a new carpet flats the boards, soft and cool and slightly sea coloured. I joined an online church group and it was very lovely indeed. Then I marched out, plus wee dog, to corral some beech leaves, soft limbs, gentle emerald leaves, for preservation. I watched my old and ferocious mother-in-law do this thing. Glycerine and water mix, pop in the limbs and wait. The stalks draw up the mix into the leaves that take on a shine and are preserved for ever. ish. I can hardly believe I am truly becoming Granny at the Gate, and if you haven’t already read my book then do it now. The replication of a life in every single sense (only I am never ferocious) is bizarre. God bless you old girl for your powerful spirit. It lives on. As you can see from your vantage point.

As I re-designed the rooms that were his, I felt a falter. Although he is gone and this lovely home is now mine, there is yet a sense of notmine. It never was when he lived. It was his or it was his mother’s and I find it quite hard to brush that legacy away. As I arrange for my friend, an antique dealer, to come when he can to remove the old maple dresser, the mahogany thingy full of ancient leather bound books, I get the whiff of traitor around my person. This would never have been countenanced when he lived. Now he lives not. Now this is my lovely home and I crave white space, minimalism and the moving on of old, maybe valuable stuff, that will bring money in for my kids. For our kids.

I chose music that kept me in the bubble of me and him. Sibelius, his favourite. The Swan of Tuanela, Valse Triste, and Grieg, Peer Gynt. I played them loud as I worked. Then I brought in my favourite, thinking, this is my house now and my music is also important. Beethovens’ 6th, the Pastorale. These have been on a loop all day as the sun beats in and the birds sing like they were the choir for the Second Coming.

A good day. A day of change, of down and then up. And I look around my lovely light, bright, open home and say to myself, How fortunate am I. How lucky, how glorious is this island place. And my neighbours have just come back, all children and garden talk and fun.

Island Blog – Balance, Demons and Sightlight

I watch a paddle boarder skim up the sea-loch. She is travelling at one hell of a lick on an ebbing tide but I know her and she is experienced in such matters. She stands straight as a die, the salt surface flat and unruffled. I can’t see her smile but I just know there is a wide one on her pretty face. Balance. She has it, knows it, holds it. I find myself envying her, not for the paddle board thingy, but for her ability to balance. I have never been balanced, not like that. I am not saying I am clumsy because that wouldn’t be the truth. I am a dancer and know my feet, the ground beneath them, my space available, my pivot, my spin, or I used to. I don’t mean that sort of balance. I mean mental balance.

I know we have weeks for things, for awareness, for an alert that shows us, to a degree, how others are living, the others we might not think about much at other times, or, at least, not with a mindful engagement. Last week was Mental Health Week. My ears pricked up. I am all over mental health, being, as I am, essentially unhealthy in that arena and with a backlog life of working to control, manage and accept it. In my youth I saw people with obvious external evidence of mental compromise. So did you. But what I did not see were those who look just fine, are beautiful, kind, high functioning, holding together what looks like a normal life and who are really going through inner hell. Now I can see them, when they let me. Having noticed the PTSD in my own father, my father-in-law, my uncles, my mother, my aunts and a load of other relatives, myself included, I know how incredibly exhausting it is (and was for them) to maintain that ordinary life, the one that gets you out of bed, into clean clothes and down the stairs to live another day.

When I had the hand of Life always at my back, was the IT for absolutely everything inside a day, I paused not for thought on mental health, mine or anyone else’s. There was no time for pausing. It was go, go, go from the second my tired feet touched the floor and all the way up to the moment they finally lifted back into bed. Sleep was an exhausted one and not always refreshing. Days wove around me like ropes until I honestly believed I would drop strangle-dead half way through making soup. I remember driving down to collect children from school with an evening ahead of dinner for 16, gourmet, plus at least 10 for a kitchen meal plus children to bed, cocktails to pour, bright chatter and lift-light required from me, the hostess, the mother, the wife, the IT, and seriously considering driving on until I ran out land. Often. The inner strength of a human being extraordinaries me.

This day I walked a corridor. On the one side was exhaustion due to poor sleep (again) the tears like a rising wave behind my dry eyes, the feeling of failure, of alone-ness, of pointlessness and on the other side my always ready clean page on which I dutifully write what I am thankful for, what I did today, that sort of nonsense. Of course, it isn’t nonsense at all but it can feel like it sometimes. I do it anyway. I do it so that my demons won’t get me. What I really want is a lobotomy, even though I don’t. Some of us seem to be born with demons, or we readily pick them up as children. I am not good enough. I fail. I don’t deserve love and when it comes I push it away. I do things to make someone happy and when they thank me I brush them off. No matter how much I appear to succeed, I fail according to me. Whatever I start, I don’t finish. When I have the sudden inspiration to do something the demon comes in to remind me it will never work. These demons have big voices, are so believable, and it seems to me that no matter how many daily practices I employ, no matter how good the going can be for a while, they are just patiently waiting for me to get a bit tired, a bit down and in they come like a West End show I can’t not watch. (double negative, sorry Dad). Like today.

However, and the cheerleaders out there will be waiting for this, for me to present the positive even if I don’t really believe in it. I did achieve quite a few things. I played music (to drown out the demons). I welcomed the carpet fitters, cleaned up after them, re-assembled the bedroom, changed the sheets, potted 15 seedlings, walked the wee Popster, completed 3 more baby quilts, washed clothes, hung a few paintings, ironed 3 frocks, lugged wood, spoke to one of my lads, did some paperwork.

And I am thankful for quite a list. I forget my talents at times. I forget who I am and writing this list, even as the pen wiggles in my fingers and my eyes roll and I sigh the biggest sigh, I make myself write. I am thankful for:-

My singing voice (even if the song is what……resting just now.

My home

My kids, my life, my friends (name them), my ability to cook (don’t feel like it much these days), my sight, strength, the way I can repair things others would throw away, my new carpets, the way I can pick out a tune on my piano with chords first time off, my gift of writing. Even my demons.

Because what I have come to realise is that strong demons are just one side of the coin. The other side is a sort of lift-light brilliance with no idea how or where to shine. They say it is not failure we fear most, but success. Although I am still working through what the heck that means, I am beginning to get it. I know I have a very high IQ. I also know you don’t want that. It is a lonely place and a place where confusion reigns. In a school environment it is just fine if you have a high IQ and behave yourself, but if you have that high IQ and rebel you become a monster. I was the latter.

I write this just in case there is some other beautiful, kind, high functioning humanoid who relates to demons and lift-light. I just know there are many, even those who would tell me they aren’t bright, aren’t this, aren’t that but, in some deep place, relate. I salute you. We have a great deal to offer the world but first our single task is to shapeshift from demon rule to lift-light rule. This is not simple. I have a counsellor, no, two counsellors because I know, as I know that I cannot take apart a tractor engine and reassemble it effectively, that I need help. I may always need help. It bothers me. I am 68 for goodness sake. I should know my way by now. After all, don’t all other 68 years olds, other 40 year olds, other 20 year olds, know their way? (They sure look like they do) However, the answer is an unequivocal NO. Just because others look like they know their way and appear completely happy with it, is one socking great delusion. They are just good actors. You are you, unique, as am I.

However if you, if I, are one of the ‘tapselteerie’ ones, then let us learn ourselves. We may have mental health issues, according to the world, be awkward around the rule book, feel lost in an inner silence, but maybe, if we can flip the coin, we can be the ones with vision who can fly over the ordinary, the limitations of life and be the ones who might, just might, see further that Debenhams closing or whether or not the one way system in Edinburgh is causing everyone to be late home for their tea.

Island Blog – One Mum and her Dog

I have a grainy big ass photo of my mum sitting in brogues and tweeds with a stick and a border terrier at her feet, smiling, and somewhere in the Cairngorms. I say hallo to her every time I descend the stairs and touch her face. That border terrier is long gone now and mum is dead these 3 years, yesterday. It thinks me.

As we get older and our mum dies, it seems like it is okay. It is never ok. Even though the mum in question could be difficult, ornery, awkward and refusive, she could also be, when I expand my memories, loving, supportive and actional. She was decisive, immediate when required. She could slap, she could say the most awful things, and she could say the most longed for and fabulous things. She was, in short, a human being, who had gone through a great deal of awfulness in her life and yet still stood. Not only stood, she walked, she led.

This day her beloved and current border terrier, aka hearth rug because she was never stripped on time, died in the arms of the lovely woman who took her on when mum faltered towards Alzheimers. I spoke with her, not mum, obviously, but Jayne who took Scally on, and she was devastated, numbed. The name Scally? Well it came from the name my dad had as a Commando. Scallywag. I would love to be remembered with a name like that. When I saw Scally at mum’s funeral, she looked grey but still lively. To hear that she is gone is like the last dot on mum’s line. That, at any age, takes a hold on time. It means something. This day is not an ordinary day, not now.

Hey Ma, you old eejit, you party queen, you ridiculous old slapper; the one we always came home to, even the grandkids, just to enjoy your welcome and your well stocked drinks cabinet. Thank you. For all of you. And Scally, btw is on her way.

Island Blog – Silence, Shape and Change

I notice everything these days in sharp butts or gentle whispers. Funny how it happens. I notice new and surprising ‘friend’ requests from widowed men. I notice kindness from friends I know and trust. I notice how the expanse of life both confounds and cuddles me. I never noticed such dynamics before, busy as I was with marriage, with kids, with letting go, with caring, noise that took up my whole hearing. Now there is silence. I never got to know silence. It never came to me. there was never silence. Now there are hours of it, days of it, eons of it, both outside and inside me and we are learning each other. A greater part of me thrives on silence. I have craved it for my whole life. Stop. Talking. Stop. Telling me what to do. Stop thinking you know me. Just Stop. And now the stopping is here, like a shout, like a whisper, like a sharp butt. Well, there is work to do my lady. I know, I know. I am ready and I am open. The shape I have been for decades is no longer my shape. I can feel it shift, lift, split and become fractal in a whole new universe. It is very weird, very odd, very confounding, very welcome. Two opposing thoughts, held. A bit, no, a lot, like a marriage.

I walk today beneath cuckoo flight and an encounter with a pair of bullfinch. They, the bullfinch, are such an astonishment, such a gift for anyone, those big blood red chests, that black head, that unmistakable lift and flight, that hurries away. The Cuckoo also gift. I am guessing the same bird, for the location is always the same, but, nonetheless, a gift. The raindrops on the leaves make diamonds. It lifts the light, the shine of green, making each blade of grass like a newborn. The rain came on heavy, like way too loud for me to hear my audio book. I had to shut the doors to the sunroom with its plastic roof, as it sounded like the end of the world. Once quieted, I watched the way sound muffled and it reminded me of parents talking behind doors. An almost hearing but not enough to explain their concerns and not enough to make any sense at all. And there is a yearning there, to know more even as my hands back then were twists of troubled meat and bone. This doesn’t change. I know the Cuckoo is an adventurist, a taker, not a giver, but I still thrill to hear one, to even see one fly over my head. The ultimate human confusion. We want to hear and we don’t want to hear at all.

The rain popples the search. There are diamonds in patches, in swirls, moving but not with the tide. These patches are individuals. They hold, shift, move on and then concede and become a part of what must be. I like to think this is what I am. For ever I have conformed (not just me but all women/wives/mothers) to the ebb and flow. And yet there have been times and will be again to flash popples and diamonds just for a moment, just for a time. How wonderful is that!

Island Blog – Ebb and Flow, Days of Minutes

This life without himself can feel like a loss even thought he was (often) a pain in the ass. As, I imagine, was I. The days are minutes to be filled, and I am advised thus:- to write my list of things I want to do in this new life when nobody ever asked that question in the old one. Not never. It begs the question. What do I want? Well, I don’t know. Can someone tell me please because I know that place, a place of ‘no I don’t agree’, of ‘seriously….what?’ of ‘okay then, if I have to.’ This is my comfort zone which btw has abandoned me. The peripheries of my world are blown like a bubble burst and the world beyond is one scary zero. I turn back. I oftentimes (love that word) do. But what I turn back to is a day of minutes and there are many, oh so very many. So, I don’t like this minute thing. I don’t like this nothing, nowhere, nobody thing. So what? Hmmmmm. So what.

I was once alone, for about five minutes having been expelled from school(s) and college and my first job. Sacked. I was, so they told me, a muttering disturbance, a rebel in the corridors of whispers. Had I been not me, I probably might have led a revolution but I was never that courageous and I laud the ones who did, who will do in times to come. I was taught to be a lady. Not to upheaval, not to upset, but nobody taught me the wisdom of being such a creature. It isn’t about being a doormat. No. Being one of those lady women is to be wise living with attitude. within structures, confines and male domination without aggression, without fight, without loss of self, but clever enough to get what this lady wants. I wish I had learned it from my mother’s milk but she had not the skills to help me there. I am learning them now.

So, I walk, run, dance, play within the minutes of days. No, it is more than that. I am loving the journey. Yes there are times I wring my ankle on memories, on moments, but I am still a dancer. I watch my bone-awkward fingers as I work my keyboard. I say, hallo, swollen joints, well done you. Just see what you have done, achieved over the minutes of days in your life. My toes, bent and bony, my body skinny and scarred. Hallo you all. Well flipping done.

And then, suddenly, as though my thinking has been heard and taken to heart, in comes the painter to redecorate the upstairs rooms, ridding them of short term history, the falls, the clutches at cupboard doors pre a fall, the rust, the grease smears, the smoke of an old pipe. All opened up in brilliant white, fresh, the promise of a new future, a new strength of days. Then comes the gardener, to cut my grass. I kept my grass long, my dandelions fierce for the bees and butterflies till now and he gets that. Now the bees and the butterflies are sucking from the bluebells so it doesn’t feel so bad to cut the heads off my favourite butter yellow sun-followers.

This is the flow. People come in. Someone leaves the table. Nobody else can take that seat, but the loving hands that reach out can somehow help the day of minutes into something else, something that has new life, that can move on into more days, more minutes and can, with their investment, change everything.