Island Blog – There’s something about ‘dead.’

When someone dies you might think, well, that’s that, he or she is gone. I’ll be fine. I am sensible, practical la la la. However, I am discovering that this is not the truth at all. Yes, the person is dead and gone and I am not fine at all, or wasn’t fine at all for a long while. However, something comes alive from that death and it grows and thrives in so many unexpected ways. Beyond the initial shock come a swingle of emotions and they can last for as long as they last. Anger, despair, denial, acceptance, to name but a few and each one of these can burst into life within a single day leaving us exhausted, confused, beaten up. It isn’t possible for anyone outside of bereavement to fully understand, let alone feel these emotions. All they can do is to stay quiet, give no advice at all and to simply walk beside us as we explode into the sky or melt into a cold and dirty puddle on the ground.

But this ‘alive’ thing. What do I mean? I think the best way to describe myself is through imagery. Imagine, if you will, a desolate landscape, one that didn’t appear politely and over time but more as the result of a nuclear explosion. One moment I looked out on trees, flowers, seasons, skychange. I sat by running water, heard its song, watched birds fly overhead, geese migrating, sun rise and sunset. I was complacent in this, expecting my world to look this way every time I chose to look out of my window. I knew, even from behind closed curtains, the promise of a morning. Rain, wind, soft warm air, still waters or the spit and roar of wildflow over rocks. Then in just a single moment, all is desolation, all is grey and empty. I see no green, no landscape, no lift of hill nor fall of valley. The ground is flat and without character, without balance.

Over time I come to accept this new view from my windows. Each day is the same as the one before and here flickers the first flame of ‘alive’. I can see the little spark, watch that spark grow into warming fire. I reach my hands to it. There isn’t much warmth to be honest, but it is the first lift of orange I have seen in this grey nothing and I am keen to fan it into something more. Although the outside shows me same old, inside something is keen to live and I recognise it as the human spirit. I feel a lift in my heart even though all that I ever knew is gone now, and forever. But I am still here and the me in me has no intention of turning grey and flat, it seems. I rise and dress in colours. I decide to cook something delicious. I turn up the tunes and jig a bit around the kitchen. Each time I begin something I can feel the inner flames lift as a new breeze tickles them higher. Each time I begin something I am adding kindling to the fire. I am tending myself. I am saying that, even though the outside of me may stay grey and flat for some time to come, I am the fire of my future and the more I tend the alive in me, the more I realise that this need for living warmth came directly from a death. When the dead one wasn’t dead, I was as complacent as one expecting to see the same world outside my windows as I did yesterday, and all my complacent yesterdays. I took it all for granted without a question in my mouth. Now I have a zillion questions all flying out into the empty rooms like trapped birds. I open the window to set them free. One by one, they fly and as they do, as I busy myself with being alive, I glance out. There is colour, I see it, Look, over there! And there, and there. The grey is beginning to live again. As am I. Although the landscape will never look as it once did, I know now that this blank canvas is aching for me to get out there with my paint and my colours. I have no idea where to begin but that doesn’t matter anymore. If ‘dead’ is going to have any significant impact on me then let it be this inner, cleansing, warming fire of Very Much Alive.

Island Blog – Lady Macbeth

My morning thus far has not been without a spot of eventing. Actually, most of my mornings are somewhat tapselteerie and it’s the way I like them. However, this particular one overstepped the mark. Let me explain.

I am to meet a friend for lunch in the harbour town. We are a good fun duo even if she is half my age. Age matters not when women become women. Instead the connection is that invisible thread of tribal understanding, of hearts meeting for a hug. We laugh, share and lift each other’s spirits every time. Because of this plan, I am dressed in the usual clanjamfrie of frocks, noticing with a wince that it is raining hard, again. Well, dammit. This means a waterproof mac and hood and I and all the others on this soggy West Coast will be doing this wincing thing whilst we apologise to our pretty jackets, now home to many mother spiders and a load of dust. Sorry, we say, stroking the soft fabric, but if I was to wear you this day, together we would absorb half the sky; we would drip all over the cafe floor and our colours would run so it’s best if you stay home.

Over breakfast I peer out of the rain-striped windows just knowing there is a world out there, a sea-loch, birds and my mini, even though I can only see rain. An idea leaps into my head. I know! I will try out that scarlet red wash-in wash-out hair dye, just a few strands for fun. Donning my binoculars I manage to more or less understand the minute instructional text and I begin. Shake the tube. I shake vigorously. Squeeze the dye into the affixed sponge. I squeeze. Squeeze again. Once more and out it comes at approximately 108 mph narrowly missing my eye, covering my face, my frocks, the floor. I gasp and lift my face to the mirror. I can already see the chuckle in my, thankfully, clear eyes. I rise to my full height. I am Lady Macbeth without the dagger. I can’t smile nor laugh for fear of poisoning myself. Back into the moment, quick. Although this dye purports to be wash-in wash-out, that reassurance applies only to hair. What about my frocks?

At a speed I had left behind in my 20s, I strip and check the damage. Running a basin of hot water, I scrub and scrub. The floor can wait. The red turns pink, stains the basin, yes, but the dye seems to be lifting. I turn to walk downstairs, heading for the washing machine, forgetting the puddle of scarlet on the floor. Ooh, foot art! Those footprints heading that way, then remembering into a stop and turning back. A real painting. I might let it dry. I clean up, change and laugh my way into the next moment, quite thankful to leave the last ones in the past. Then I remember my hair, which did catch some of the explosion of red. Hmmmm. It’s drying now so I’m stuck with it. The whole thing laughs me into new frocks and with a story to tell. Although this could be seen as a disaster, I don’t do that, not with my mistakes, not with those of others. Most so called disasters are decidedly First World problems, anyway. If the hair dye does run in the rain, I will simply run after it.

And, for just a moment, I was Lady Macbeth.

Island Blog – Nowhere to go but Here

I am gradually learning the art of engaging fully with the day. Yesterday is gone and we all know tomorrow never comes no matter how fast we run. I suspect this engaging thingy may be age-related. It is also a time in my bonkers life when there are few demands on either my time or my superwoman skills, although a dash of those colours is always welcome and I am the first to leap on my motorbike in order to save someone’s day. But living fully inside the warm arms of this day is key to peace of mind, a softly pumping heart and no need for the Rennie packet. And the arms are warm. The weather is just weather. The hours are the same length they always have been and always will be, the ordinary daily tasks much the same even if I sometimes hoover/wash up/ repot geraniums or make soup in my neon tutu and top hat, at others in my dressing gown. I am a thankful woman. I have learned how to be that woman and she, me, is so very full of gratitude for all that comes my way, be it the excellently wonderful or the totally shit. All of it. And why is this? Because I have woken up once again, can spring, more or less, out of bed, choose my breakfast, watch the birds and the garden, the sea-loch and the sky taking not one look for granted. There are millions of ghosts who would give everything for just one more day in this beautiful world.

Worrying was what I did when my kids were, first, around my feet and peering up my nose or skirt, then later as towering sort-of-adults, able to wheech me over their shoulders. I worried, oh I worried. They are imaginative, enterprising and full of mischief, just as we taught them to be, but we were sensible and they absolutely weren’t. However this worrying was never a good thing, mainly because every disaster I imagined never happened at all. Also the art of worrying is not a pretty picture for the one being worried about. It indicates to them, quite clearly, that they are not to be trusted, that they don’t really know what is best for them. It turns their straight line into a curve at first, rounding into a circle of control in the end. Not healthy at all. And, for me, it unfocused my mind, addled my brain, upset my kidneys and unsleeped my nights. In short, worrying is always a pointless exercise, no exceptions. Oh I get the feelings of fear, anxiety and sometimes sheer terror, of course I do, but worrying is a choice and above all a method of control, even though most of my worries back in the day were more than justifiable. Just putting them on the school bus did not necessarily guarantee they arrived and and the simple act of coming home from the village was not without hazard. They lay in wait for each other with weapons of mass destruction and many a bruise or cut called for the nurse in me, the soother, the sorter out of complexities, the cool angel of peace, moving like Florence, over a wilderness war zone. A tapselteerie childhood and motherhood by the way for I was right in there, enmeshed in a time when compassion and fury lay together in my heart like unhappy bedfellows.

The truth is, and always was, I want my children to fly free, to make their own mistakes, sort their own lives out, find their own paths through the tangle woods even if this letting go wotwot is the hardest of all letting go wotwots. I know I don’t need to watch their every move unless of course I have made chocolate mousse. Dunked finger holes in the chocolate mousse, particularly if said finger kinks into a curve for maximum effect, is not a good look either for the mousse or for me, the cook. There is a limit to how much whipped cream can disguise such mining.

Needless to say I am always there if my help is needed and always will be, but that isn’t worrying. Instead it is an awareness and a readiness, boots at the door, my mini fuelled up, cash in my purse and a clear head to help sort out a problem; my ears open because I know that just by listening to the issue, asking the right questions and keeping quiet (a lot) will find them their own answer. It will also tell them without saying so that I believe in them, that they know how to deal with this, that I know they can sort this, because haven’t they sorted such warsle many times before? As, indeed, did I, this clueless wife, mother, nurse, storyteller, sorter of problems, such that threw me shapes I did not recognise at all. However, the temptation for we mums (and dads) is to think we are IT and without this IT, our children, friends, anyone we love who has just been blasted into space without a rocket, or a parachute, or breathing apparatus, is first to worry ourselves into a tremble of an eejit and then to buck forward with rocket, parachute, safety net and hot soup instead of what really works.

I see you up there. I am watching. Can you feel your toes? Look down and aim right. How does this bit of ground look to you? Do you think you can point towards it? Yes I know it’s the unfamiliar but you have moved on since yesterday and, as we know, tomorrow is a right pain in the neck because it absolutely never comes, no matter how fast you run. Yes, I am watching. I’ll be there with a sandwich and a flask when you land. No, I am not going anywhere. It’s ok this bit of ground, this new bit. There’s heather and saltgrass, orchids too now that it’s spring and birds…..you should hear the birds and you will. Soon. Then we will sit together, marvel in the moment and you and I will walk, not back into our lives, but forward. Not yet, thought, not yet. For now we will sit quietly in the present moment and say our thank yous to the love in the sky, the love that is always there for the asking. After all, there really is ‘nowhere to go but here’.

(not my words but borrowed from another)

Island Blog – A Plan, A Shanty Rickle and Life

We make a plan. We hone it, condone it, refine it, mine it for pitfalls whilst utilising the elasticity of space, just in case, corridors of empty air in between the lines. We have faith in this plan. And then something too big for corridors and too structured for any amount of bend or twist lands in our path. This path that seemed so clear ahead of us is suddenly heaped up with stumble stones, huge boulders and standing tight together, telling us clearly that the path stops here, right here and right now. For a few moments the darkling sky falls in around us like old ghosts or loft webs long ignored, solidifying into a thixotropic blanket of No Go. Our heart sinks, our eyes fall to our boots for what good are they now in the face of this rickle of stone, this wall, this sharp edged decision across our path, one made behind our back and without consideration of our feelings. A total disrespecting of our marvellous plan.

For a while we are confounded, ungrounded, flying up there one minute and burrowing into the ground, the next. We are in short, lost in time and space, no grace, long face. But soon our human spirit tickles at our edges, whispering encouragement. Come on, get up, shut up flapping, get those boots back on the ground. Just because this block is stopping you does not mean there is no other way. There are millions of ways. Think, listen, learn, look. Your spirit is 86 billion cells. That brain of yours is considerably untaxed, if you don’t mind me saying. There are acres, miles, continents worth of active brilliance in between those ears of yours. Engage. Ask them to help, not based on your experience because, well, look at you now all scuffed and battered and standing there as if your are at the end of everything and all because that plan of yours was never meant to work out in the way you decided it would. Drink from that freshwater stream over there. Watch the fish, the birds, the insects. Tip your head to the sky and follow the clouds as they shapeshift across that big wide expanse of hope. Turn, now, to see the way sunlight catches the sharp edges of the shanty rickle of stone. Those boulders are a million years old and there are so many stories held in their folds and twists, don’t miss them. Lift your face to the wind. Let her soothe and smooth your furrowed brow. She carries stories on her back, tales of others who would give everything just to be where you are now for just one more day of life. Now, rise and decide. Up and over or maybe not. Maybe this path is not yours and never was. See, over there? A ley line, a narrow way, one you just marched past unnoticing, you with your plan and your big stomp boots. Deer come this way when night falls, every single nightfall. They know where they are going and from whence they came. Lift up now, breathe deep and step into the unknown for it is there you will find the way ahead, the one Life always wanted you to take.

Island Blog – A Wasp and a Think

There’s a wasp. With intentions. She flies into my garage-cum-woodstore at this time every year. I know exactly what she is up to. She is planning to build a nest but I am not having that. However, I am no killer of anything, even if I am sorely tempted to thwack her with my niblick. Envisioning, as I am, the shrieking of grandlings at barbecues or picnics, the panicked swatting and the wasp in the wine thingy, I do some research and what I find is a lookalike hornets nest, made of nothing hornety but giving out a clear message to this small and dangerous zeppelin that this spot is already taken by folks who would actively discourage, with stinging precision, any such property development near their own. A pack of four is already ordered. If it works, my forays into the garage will no longer need to be at night and I will be free to walk through my garage-cum-woodstore and on up to the back garden without having to don my wet suit for protection, because no wasp, hornet, nor bee will happily sit back to observe a human, dog, deer, cow or horse moving close by their home without having to have a few words. I know this well because once, and only once, I walked a little too close to the front door of a bee hive.

It thinks me about perception. The aforementioned insects see their world through their own eyes, as we do our own. Then (break it down) a bee, a hornet, a wasp also see their own world through their own eyes, each perception different to the other. Just imagine, then, all the people who also see life according to their own experiences, colour, culture, age, creed and opinions. Unless we all allow this, we will not find unity, nor peace, for we are obliged to live close together unlike the animal kingdom who will not. Each of us seeks safety, love, acceptance and friendship amongst a zillion other things but we don’t all necessarily see X as X. It might be Y to this person, A to another, 9 to a third and 257 to a fourth. Stepping back from this chaotic melee, I can see Banksy got it right. He sees this clearly and probably wonders why on earth we are still expecting others to think the way we do, to live the same way, work to the same principles, when this will absolutely never happen. No. We must learn to observe only and then to respect without judgement. Some people eat with their fingers. So what! Others stick their knees under dining tables that need constant repair in order to hold up all that cutlery. Again, so what! If we simply observe, learn, acknowledge and respect, then now we are talking. And we probably are – talking – instead of muttering opinions just out of or just in earshot, our backs facing that which we don’t understand and are not prepared to allow, not on this street, in this school, at this event, inside our own home.

The thing about radical change is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t come through a new law. It comes through one ordinary person deciding to change his or her own heart around this issue, then another, then another until a whole street is so busy acknowledging, allowing and respecting and living in harmony with a zillion differences, judging none, that people come from further afield to see what is making this street so much happier than their own. The ultimate power, the game-changing power lies exclusively with us, the ordinary people. History will bear me out for it has aye been thus. When resolute people join together they can topple anything and anyone but we have forgotten this. Settling comfortably into the confines of the nanny state, our voices have grown hoarse at best, silent at worst. We have grown weak. But none of us really want war, not against another country, another creed, another culture, another vulnerable human being. Our world is changing. The peoples are moving whether they want to or not and we must learn to live well with that or nothing changes.

We might want to think about it a bit.