Island Blog – Eloquence

Two jock blackbirds argue from somewhere underneath the quad bike. I sit inside the garage, the morning mist and rain framed like a painting by the wide mouth of the open door. The birds are wetbacks, bedraggled and hungry and in no mood, either of them, for negotiation. I had obviously dropped some seed yesterday as I dove deep into the seed barrel with my plastic jug and these two are sparring for first dibs. Earlier I watched a sparrow hawk strike, the frenzied chase as one of them hit the window and recovered, the subsequent lift of hawk with empty talons, and the out breath of relief from my mouth.

Two gulls fly overhead, rising from the tall pines that flank the sea-loch like old seamen looking out. One dips and lifts, drawing wide circles in the smoky sky whilst the follower cuts a straight line through the air, closing the distance between them. I have no idea if this is a friendly or the opposite. I don’t speak ‘gull’. It is so much easier to follow, is it not? I say out loud. And it thinks me.

So many times I don’t say what I want to say. This, I accept, is learned behaviour, learned through the narrow corridor (in which I must never run) of parental, marital and societal design, the walls of it confining and defining me. Or so it might appear from the outside. Inside, however, there could be a fire raging. In the face of such duality, the tension and frustration can lead to minor, or major bodily manifestations. A headache, for example, or a nagging back pain, indigestion and sleeplessness. And those are the minor ones. I wonder why any of us keep doing it, denying the truth, too scared to speak out for fear of ‘public’ opinion. I have done it brilliantly, burying my voice in deep ground leaving only a squeak to push through, too late for the season past, the words losing all relevance of memory in anyone’s head. What are you talking about? I might be asked, when the squeak produces a wimpy flower, brave but pointless and dull of hue. As I disseminate, I watch the flower grasped by a new wind and tossed in sprawling tatters across the lawn of today. Too late now, for that speke to vocalise itself. Stupid me. I should have said it at the time. But I didn’t.

As I grow older and inhibit my voice less, I can encourage others to find their voice, develop it, practise congruence and honest talk, no matter what or who flaps them down. To practice eloquence. Knock down those corridors, I tell them, or find your way back into the light, your own light, not theirs. But, I don’t know what the response will be, they reply. So? That is their problem, not yours, no matter who they are. Finding a voice is one thing. Tempering your choice of words, your tone, your body language, well, that takes practice. Lashing out in anger may feel great at first but it will often result in guilt and remorse, not because of what you say, but of how you say it. And practice is just what it says it is, a repetitive process, over time, with intelligent attention to detail. It is not cutting through the air. It is drawing circles in the sky, of feeling the lift and luff of greater forces, of noticing a slip of change and of responding to it.

We get nowhere suddenly, not if the destination is worth the journey. And if the destination is being true to self, then it’s a long walk to such a freedom. However, just one step, just one in the direction of congruence will give a new lightness to the heaviest of feet. Walking along someone else’s corridor is not living a healthy life. Eventually the mind will dull along with dreams, hopes and aspirations. Our own song will forget how to sing itself. Too many comply in order not to upset others, deeming it acceptable to upset ourselves instead, as if self doesn’t matter at all. This headache, this indigestion, this itchy skin, this nagging pain is fine, I’m fine.

And we all know the acronym of ‘Fine’.

Island Blog – The Still

The air smells of sweetpeas and change. Unlike yesterday’s crazy dance, the troupe is at rest. Yesterday there was enough bluff and bluster to lift a woman’s skirts right over her head, as the wind forced the flowers to bend and twist at his behest. But there was sun on the back of that wind when this morning there is no sign. The silence is eerie beneath a milk sky. We are all waiting in the space that wind created as he blew on to other lands. Straight from the Sahara, someone said, warm and crackling with desert stories. I could feel them, as I walked the Tapselteerie track, touching my skin, wanting in. I hear you, I tell them, even if your language is not mine, even if I cannot translate your words, I hear you. And I wanted to walk further, just to hear more.

In the space, we wait, me, you, the flowers, the trees, the songbirds. The sound of bird carries easy inside a space like this instead of being flung at my ears in a luffing staccato. A bit of Robin, no, wren, ah, no, blackbird, well, just the black of it to be honest as the rest of it rode off on the wind. As I worked in the garden, I noticed again how the flowers move with it. I, on the other hand give myself a hard time pushing against it, forcing my way through, dividing the punch of it into fingers. I pulled out stalks of this or that, now tired of life and turning yellow and watched them skitter across the grass as the wind played mischief. Unrooted, they are as fair game to a bully. I also noticed how, within the natural confines of this little island garden, the wind has to round on himself in order to keep momentum. Out walking in the wide-open, he can get up some speed, chunnelling along the track with only the odd corner to interrupt his fun. Further on, further out, he will meet the sea and then he will be free to lift and swirl and somersault his way for hundreds of miles, his finger plucking at the waves, making them fractious.

I consider spaces, like the one out there today. How easy it is to miss them in our rush for the next thing. Waiting for the forecasted rain, we bring things inside for protection, close car windows, carry down the washing from the green. In short, we fill the space without standing in it at all, without watching the silence of it or hearing its voice. And yet this space, this silence, this sense of waiting, if noticed and considered, is soul food. Life cannot be all wind and noise. There must be calm or we would all be deaf, our bodies exhausted from pushing against the blast, our metaphorical skirts up around our ears. We would hear nothing of the silence, nor understand the space it affords us in order to still our minds, bodies and souls.

I meet a young man on holiday. Attached to his right ear is a mobile phone. At last he has reception and can sort out the glitch in his business back home. Waiting patiently his lovely wife sits nearby. Not so patiently their small son jukes and scoots around the space, longing for action. But dad’s glitch needs immediate attention, then he’ll be done. It thinks me of my own life spent waiting patiently for family time uninterrupted. It happened, but rarely, and it seems the same, if not worse, is the truth today. Work comes before anything, holiday or no. I can see it is the way of life, but I also see it sizzling with danger. In my own experience I could never understand why everyone but family got the best attention. There was never a NO in the mouth of the man should business call, no matter how inconveniently. But there were plenty of NOs for me and the children.

I had rather hoped that would change in a new generation, but it has not. There is little room for spaces, it seems, let alone the time to stand inside them, to still the mental jibber-jabber and to wait for the outside calm to gentle in. Like a garden, stilled, between the windfire and the rain.

Island Blog – In Song I Sing

I wake at 4.30 to the keen of gulls and the wish-wash rhythm of sea meeting harbour walls. Boats of all shapes and sizes pepper the fractious surface as they bob and shift like restless birds, their mastheads singing spooky in the wind. Somewhere beyond my view, the big engines of a cruise ship keep a steady bass line as they have night-long. Below my second floor window a lone council worker in luminous green safety gear picks litter with a long grab. He works slowly, moving along the pavement, one cigarette butt at a time, sometimes at first try, sometimes after two or three attempts. I want to ask if if he bends in the middle; if it wouldn’t be quicker to use his regulation gloved hands, but I keep my silence. The ways of council are quite beyond my ken.

Yesterday afternoon I drove the switchback to get here, here being the local town that almost sinks with the weight of tourists in the summer. As I came down the hill and saw the street paved with cars, cheek to jowl, bumper to snout with barely room between for a cat to sleek through, my heart sank. I just knew there would be no space for me, and if a gap appeared I would need to do something terrifying like go into reverse; to snake my mini into an impossible unspace whilst holding up a line of critical drivers. I always think the whole town stops to watch me cock it up, which I generally do. I abandon my car wonkychops but safe enough and check into the hotel, for I am here purposefully. I have come to see the singer sing me a lift, and I am not disappointed.

It’s over 30 years since she and her band, Capercaillie came to us for a ten day first recording of their album Delirium. I remember the excitement I felt, the panic that sent me checking and re-checking their rooms, picking flowers for every surface and cooking delicious meals. It was a happy time and the band so easy to be with. Music spun its magic throughout Tapselteerie over those days and nights of change and development, of repeat after repeat, of a single instrument making its own voice heard and then folding like velvet into the cut and colour of the finished garment. And above it all the singer soared like a bird, canting on the breeze, sunlight on her rainbow wings.

Age has not fallen her. Her voice is exquisite. But what impacted me most last evening was how she throws her whole self into the melodies and the words. Taking songs from way back in history, songs from all across the world, songs of waulking, grieving, loss, joy and hope, she gifted them to us. Even not understanding a word of Gaelic, I knew about what she sang. She showed me with her face, her body, her hands describing the air around her, and the music beneath her voice was no less emotive. Lifting and rounding, punching and raging, weeping and sighing, the instruments in sensitive and dynamic composition gave flesh to the bones as she sang them all, one by one, calling them by name.

When it was over we talked. It thought me of our different paths over 3 decades, our lives lived out in very different circumstances and, yet, we have a bond, like a stave of music, solid and strong no matter how long away or how far. I walked down the hill beneath a darkling sky, the town silent as midnight moved closer. I am so very glad I came because there is a new song in me this early morning and it sings out clear and strong.

As I drive home, back into the ordinary, the song comes with me. I can feel it like a bird, right here beneath my ribs, just waiting for its time to fly.

Island Blog – The True Story

In Greek mythology there was a goddess. Actually, there were quite a few of them, but this one rose into my mind just yesterday from the lines of a book. Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Daughter of Uranus (heaven) and Gaia (earth) and mother herself of the nine muses thanks to Zeus. Quite a goddess. She is the one, I am guessing, that you prayed to when you had lost something. Your kingdom for instance, or a battle, or your marbles.

On another shore of the heavenly endless spaces a very different goddess was breathing first life. Lethe, the goddess of forgetting, of oblivion. She, according to mythology was the daughter of Eris, meaning Strife and was named for one of the five underworld rivers in Hades. Anyone who drank from the waters of Lethe forgot everything – their whole life just gone, both the good and the bad.

There is a theory that these two were actually twins. Two fathers, one mother they grew facing each other in the womb. Obviously, Mnemosyne was born first. It would be hard to forget everything without a memory being there in the first place, after all.

This idea thinks me. I know that in a tough life, or in a life where terrible awful things have happened, it is natural to want to forget the terrible awful, to let it float away on the waters of Lethe, for ever gone from memory. But, as is always the case in this life, things are not that simple. In order to forget the terrible awful I must forget all of the rest, all those joyous memories, the history, the experience, the sharing of a metaphorical sandwich on the trudge road.

Well, I don’t want to do that. Just imagine beginning all over again with not a footprint recognised as I look back, not even my own. No thanks. So, how do I, or does anyone, manage the rough with the smooth, make it one shape, a shape that works for me, that takes me forward in joy and hope and not in dread?

I think it is a mistake to seek oblivion, despite wishing, often, it was not. If I consign the terrible awful (and mine is nothing compared to so many terrible awfuls) to oblivion, what has it taught me? Nothing, it would seem. But in denying the existence of it, I achieve but a short term lift. In a hunt for memories without the awfuls getting in the way, I paint an untruth. This happy memory is just a cupcake, a cameo. It doesn’t feel real and that’s because it isn’t real. Real is both joy and awful and within any given scenario, we must have both or we just don’t believe it. It becomes a child’s fairytale, one in which everything is quite marvellous and leaves us with furred teeth from too much sugar. However much we might want that sugar, it will never be enough. The awfuls must be interlaced through the whole picture or we simply tire of the story long before it ends.

But how do I manage to conjoin these two as I look back down the track of my life, of my tears, fears, denials, joys and delights? The way I have learned to embrace such a big challenge is this – when an memorical awful shoots into my mind like a missile, I catch it. Stay right there, I tell it, for I am in charge here, not you, not this time. It came to me via a trigger, something said or done that shot me backwards into the awful, and because I had arrived in person, I brought breath into the lungs of it. Like doing CPR on a memory. I go into a quiet place with the awful and sit with it. I tell it that it has overly inflated itself over the decades and I am not impressed with all those feathers and bling and that fat belly. It tells me, with an impressive amount of well-flourished detail, the whole story. I, of course, play the victim. But, wait. I wasn’t a victim, oh no. I was an integral part of this awful happening, or, at the very least, of allowing it to happen by not taking action at the time. I consider this. I know that taking action at the time would have been dangerous and not just for me. I also know that I was worn down, fooled, oppressed and controlled. That all sounds very dramatic for the teensy awfuls of my own life, but not so for some who really had no power at all at the time.

However, it is not back then we are talking about here, but the right here and now. How to manage this memory. How to allow it space to be there at all. I sit some more with the awful and, as I watch it, replay whatever amount of scene I can truly remember. Soon, I feel the soft and reassuring hands of Mnemosyne on my shoulders, light as sunrise on a summer’s morning. The fat belly begins to deflate and I really want to laugh. The surprise on the face of the awful is a picture. The bling dulls and dissolves, the feathers flop until before me sits a very small awful indeed. It looks like it’s been through a 60 wash and a long fast spin.

I go back into my life. I don’t forget the awful but I no longer need to give it CPR. It has a place in my journey and it always will, but what I have learned from it, and all the others, is priceless. They made me strong and colourful, defiant and loving. They made me complete.

And the truth is that, without these awfuls, there would be no story to tell.

Island Blog – Talking Bird

When I step out to fill up the bird feeders and to sprinkle the lowground table with no-mess, no-grow seed, the garden birds hide deep inside the potentilla. Buttery blooms coat the outside leaves, their faces upturned to a tissue paper sky. There is rain up there somewhere, but this bothers not my feathered friends. I hear the chattering. Sparrows, always in a group, finches, gold, red and colours of the earth, coal blackbirds, glint of eye with orange beaks, their mates speckled breasted and altogether bigger. Not that being bigger means much in Blackbird World. The women always get second best. It’s the same for us, I tell them in my soft bird voice, as one male scoots out in angry pursuit of his hen. They eyeball me and scoot just as quickly back into shelter with a storm rise of accusation v justification. She gives as good as he, I can hear her having the last word. As I complete my round, the brave ones appear. Siskins on the sunflower hearts, goldfinches on the nijer, blackbirds still busy fighting over who gets what. I watch them through the window.

Yesterday I met a friend for lunch. We haven’t seen each other for a year so I knew our meeting would have no struggle with a word exchange or two. Add the woman who took our order and served us. Now there are three women engaging in each other’s stories, ideas and opinions. Very dynamic and enough to send all males running for the hills. Women talk too much, they mutter into their pints, returning almost immediately to that infuriating silence that tells all women men are basically not interested at all in anything beyond their work, football or the politics of the country. Certainly not in how someone is feeling. We don’t mention feelings, we men. In fact, I think you will find we don’t feel at all and we most certainly never use the word in public.

Birds Talk. Birds talk Bird Talk. In a short hour or so, we women covered more ground than Yosemite National Park and by the time it came to goodbyes, we knew a great deal about each other, about many other others, about how they must feel about this or that inside their lives. We also know how to apply the best calming oils to ageing knees, how awful it must be for so-and-so to still be waiting for the builder to come make window repairs after over a year; how to shoot rosemary through a lemon posset and where best to plant echinacea for a strong healthy crop. I learned about leaving the broken child in the past, about holidays planned and appropriate clothing purchased. I heard of loneliness and despair, of a good manicurist, of where not to go for a haircut or colour. I learned of those hurting and those healing. I heard of nature and the metaphysical world, the chances sent to all of us to connect with our otherness. And I heard and discussed so much more. In one little hour, three women, sometimes talking all at once, forged a bond that will remain in all of our minds for sometime to come. At times when we feel blue or black we will dive deep into the colours of that random connection and find new strength, particularly the one we all need so badly around our silent menfolk.

Women talk too much. Well, thank the gods for that.

Island Blog – In Between Worlds

A pilgrim has to start somewhere and it’s usually the beginning. But who is to say where that beginning begins? I suspect it appears, this beginning, when something or everything needs to change and radically. To discover new lands a person needs imagination, possibly a boat, certainly new footwear and the courage to walk away from what was, when what will be is hiding in a forward fog. Turning pointless circles prior to a launch into the unknown is, well, pointless but I can turn pointlessly for months, scared of making any sort of wild song break, my imagination delivering witches, disasters and empty pockets each morning as I wake. I swing on a trapeze of should I, shouldn’t I until get airsick.

But Life is kindly and oh so patient. I can just see the eye rolling of this beneficent matriarch as she looks down on my swinging ditherments. She knows I have time on my side, but I don’t, so that every swither and dither eats away at me as I block my ears to the persistent knocking of opportunity on the door of my soul. I have writ before now on the slow ebbing away of my self-confidence #primarycarer and this ebbing thingy is all very well until it imprisons me. I go through the whole shebang inside my head, speak it out to no-one and why is that? I’ll tell you why. It’s because there is no-one who can truly fit their feet into my shoes. Even another primary carer is some distance away because of the human factor. I am not them, they are not me. I care for a someone and that someone is not their someone. My home is not theirs, my daily round not theirs and vice versa. Simples. But, pondering anything the shape of a dilemma all by myself just sets me a-spinning so that now I am dizzy and airsick.

However (love the flip of that word) holding on to the horns of a dilemma may give me an elevated view of the roads before me, but it will not offer me the chance to pilgrim. Pilgrims travel ground-fastened and alone as a rule, urged on by a dream for change and absolutely no idea what lies beyond the fog. Journeying in between worlds is what most folk never want to do. In fact, neither does the pilgrim. He or she would far rather google map the journey and know from the little red icon precisely where she will make new land, and when. Me too. But that is not how pilgriming works, more’s the pity. Instead there is fog, and if not fog, then a sharp-toothed slip wind and a lurk of roadside dangers whose eyes I cannot see through the tree-laden darkness.

I dilemma often. The bedside wraiths gather like judges around me at first light. They only have to give me that look, the one that tells me I absolutely cannot do this thing, which might be a very small thing or a circus tent sized thing, and, ps, I am an utter fool for even thinking I can. And I am defeated. But not for long, and why is that? Because I get straight out of bed, shoo the undead away and pull on a pretty frock. Even when it’s blattering rain outside and the flowers dip their fragrant petals in submission; even when I just know that something will happen today that is beyond me and that I will need to boot up and deal with it; even after a turbulent non-sleep and the sudden remembering of a bill unpaid; even when the echo of yesterday’s guilt won’t stay in yesterday, even then.

Life is for dancing through. I will not trudge across the stumbleground of this day in a sensible mac pushing bodily through the waterfall that the rest of you call rain. No. I will not. I will dance. Music, song, beginnings, middles, fog, all of it pilgrim fodder. And I have no intention, nor do I have the right, to let Life slip along without my eyes on her every moment. She gave me heart, lungs, backbone and freedom.

And the eyes in the tree-laden darkness could well be friends.

Island Blog – Black Salt, Worcester sauce and Noise

Why is salt white? Of course, the answer is obvious once you consider the whole process of salt-making, all that seawater landing, drying out in the sun and the wind and turning hard. There is no room for black. Pink, yes, if the crystallisation work is done in pink areas of the world. But not black. Why not? This is a question from a young and curious mind, a soft wild muscle yet to be world-handled into a stultified realism. In this mind, anything is possible and to be on the receiving end of such a question is to breath childhood back in to ageing lungs. Refreshing, it is, and in a split second, half listening whilst I consider whether or not to add Worcester sauce to the stir fry, my mind firmly sat sitting in the stop of what is and what is not possible, I gasp. Wow! What a great question! (when did I stop fiddling with the boundaries of possibles?)

I don’t know, I reply, turning away from the pan. The should-I, shouldn’t- I of Worcester sauce suddenly lumpates me into a block of lard. When did my head get world-handled into a sort of predictable stagnation? I look down at her face, all smooth and wide-open and I want so much to wander with her around the globe in search of black salt. I want nothing more right now. We could go to books and study and flick Google into life, but I just know therein lies disappointment so I don’t even suggest it. I have, however, lost all interest in the useful, or not, properties of Worcester sauce and my childmind heads off to Brazil or to the days of Viking Kings, or even into the land of Grimm wherein can be found all manner of black things.

In older children I can see the wane of the breathless moon. That’s nonsense Granny, one might say as I weave a lunatic web of sticky fairies and sun-dappled magical woods in the land of Faraway. But there is a smile and there is silence as I take them with me. The older ones are learning the ways of the world, one they will need to inhabit with both feets on the ground. It feels like a leaving, like an ‘either this or that’ dilemma, well horned up and I want to run after that forming mind and call out…….never forget…..never!

In the ferry queue, sitting in sunshine and surrounded by excited travellers, my eyes turn to a granny, like me, with two little boys in a double buggy. One is quietly watching seagulls flip and toss over his head, the huge ferry making land, the men in flak jackets catching ropes. There is shouting, and beeping and a voice on the tannoy urging passengers to disembark from Deck B (as opposed to leaping overboard of course) and for dogs to be controlled at all times and la la la-di-da. The big ferry mouth begins to rise, making a shin-ding of a noise about it. Slowly slowly, too slowly, it reaches its zenith and the noise stops suddenly, leaving a huge gap in everybody’s listening. The other little boy asks his Granny ‘What happens to noise when it stops, Granny? Where does it go?’

She catches my eye and we smile a shared granny smile. I don’t know, she replies. Maybe, just maybe it goes on to someone else who needs it. ‘What, all the way around the world? he asks, twisting his head to eyeball her.

Maybe, she says. Why not?