Island Blog 98 The Weight of Words

It’s getting colder they say, and they are right.  It is.  But, if I were to unmorph myself from the Island and re-morph down south, right now, I would be shucking off my semmet and my woollies and be ‘foofing’ about the heat.

I know, whenever I leave the Island to go somewhere south of it, I stand over my heap of clothes and after considering frock requirements and, oh, shoes to go with said frock, I consider temperature.  Apart from the fact that I can manage about 30 minutes inside any mainland shop before melting into an unsavoury puddle, I must think about the street heat and then, oh worst of all, the level to which the central heating is set, which is almost always way up to high – so high I can hardly breathe without seizing up and turning into sandpaper.  Windows are usually closed, against pollution, flies, neighbours and, of course, weather.

We have a woodburner and no central heating, but that baby does all the work here, warming upstairs, downstairs and the lady’s chamber, although not too much up there because:

a.  its not healthy and

b.  The window is slightly shy of the available orifice thus allowing all four winds many opportunities for a knife-sharp entry.

Of course, not all four winds come through at the same time, even if they can on the odd day, as the Island wind changes her mind as frequently as a woman in the make-up department of Fraser’s department store.

The north wind is ‘hard’ black, the south ‘bright’ silver, the east is purple and the west, amber – everyone knows that, especially light-house keepers, as I have learned from the wonderful book Stargazing by Peter Hill.

Lighthouse-keepers………they don’t exist anymore.  Now the lights that save our ships from dashing their brains out on sharp-toothed rocks, are worked by someone miles away, electronically, someone who doesn’t need to feel the wind, taste the salt, watch the other lights as dusk falls, become a part of a new adventure every night for weeks on end – someone who would never need the right clothes for such an adventure.

But, back to packing.  The things I need to make room for in my travel bag are mostly words, and those receivers of words, such as my little laptop and my notebooks.  These are heavy, compared to any bodily flim-flam, but when I weigh my luggage, in my hand, I know that, were I to remove something, it would be in the flim-flam department, and never at the expense of the words I have chosen to keep.

These words can be, and often are, half-inched from wiser mouths than my own.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  I don’t consider it stealing, more the recognition of another’s starry brilliance.  I learn from them, use them in part, or in the whole, as a part of something I want to put into either my own mouth, or the mouth of a character in a story.  They are more precious to me than gold, than frocks, than the right apparel for any given occasion.

So, if I arrive in the wrong shoes but with the right words in my mouth/suitcase/head, then who will notice?

Oh yeah……..my mum.the weight of words

Island Blog 95 Broken Circle

broken circle

 

 

What is the shape of disappointment? I know how it feels, and how it looks on another’s face, how it infiltrates the hours that follow, how it changes an opinion, a truth, a person, but if I had to pick a shape, to visually explain it, I think I would opt for a broken circle.

A broken circle tells me it can’t quite arrive. It began, quite the thing, knowing it was heading for Circledom and then stopped short of completion. Therefore it is no longer a circle, because there is no such thing as half a circle, or a bit of a circle, or, even a circl.

We like to know what lies ahead, or as much of it as is possible through the cloudy eyes of a mere human being. To know everything would surely require considerably more A levels than I ever took, which, by the way, was none. Well, I never got the chance once I was expelled.

And so, we strain to see as much as we can of what lies ahead, completing the circle as we mentally arrive at our destination, factoring in room for the unknowns and unforeseens, but still confident to varying degrees that we will, indeed, arrive.

But what happens when everything changes in a heartbeat and our circle is broken? Not because we faltered on the journey, lost heart and turned back and not because we changed our minds about setting off at all, but because someone, or something took it all away.

Pouf! Just like that.

And all those wise sayings about how Disappointment Will Pass and how it Makes Us Stronger can just go and flush themselves down the loo, because I have a raging miserable fury inside of me right now that just might boil up all over you if you tell me once more that I’ll feel better soon, because I plan never to feel better, ever again.

I remember my first big disappointment very well. Early days of motherhood, dressed for a party and looking forward to it overly much.

We can’t go, he said. The corn dryer’s broken down and I have to fix it.

And then he went back out on the farm.

I sat down on the bed, in my pretty dress and sobbed until all my face had melted into my palms. Then came the rage, which was dark red and black and full of forked lightening and thunderous door slamming.

The circle was broken. I know it was only a party but for a young mother, just to dress up and go out was such a big deal and had meant days of a champagne anticipation.

And nobody let me grieve, including myself. I was spoilt, petulant, selfish with nothing in the fridge for supper.

Disappointment is not allowed to show its face ravaged with tears and mascara, nor can it open its mouth and roar into the sky, because, firstly, there is something alarming about a woman with her mouth wide open, spraying anger and deep grief all over the place; secondly others share that sky and have seats at the top table and, thirdly, we’re British, with all our lips buttoned up tight.

So what do we do with it, any of us?

Well, I have learned that disappointment is indeed part of life and that the jagged wound it makes, does heal, although I don’t want to hear you tell me that. I’ll discover that for myself.

I have also learned that the only person who can deal with the grief I feel at a disappointment, is me, and if I want to roar into ‘our’ sky, you can just block your ears.

You might consider practising the odd roar yourself.

Clears a whole pavement in seconds.

Island Blog 94 The Right to Write

2013-02-14 14.43.19

 

As the story grows and the characters take form and substance, grow opinions and modes of behaviour, I find myself stepping back a bit.  After all, I am not really there in this game, not really walking through the doors into the rooms, not visible to any of them.  And yet, if I don’t make them move, they stand still and silent and nothing moves forward.

They are not mere puppets, though, and their world not fashioned by me.  I didn’t think them up out of nowhere, paint on their faces, line up their strings.  They came to me and said hallo and I turned to take a good look.  We decided we like each other, tentatively at first, for there are no end of opportunities for us to fall out.  Even when things appear to be swimming along, quite joco, the tables can turn a surprise on us all.

Part of being able to present, if that’s the right word, a believable character, first to the reader, and secondly to the storyline, is through intense observation of all human beings encountered.  I watch dynamics between people, study body language, the way a person shrugs when asked a hoary question, for instance.  What do her shoulders do as she shrugs, her face, how does it look?  Does she turn away in miserable defeat, or do her eyes tell me she is working up a mouthful of bullets to spit right back?  Does she have a dog/child/handbag and where is the dog/child/handbag when this dodgy question is asked?  Is she in a crowded place or on a mountain top at sunrise?  Why sunrise?  Why a crowded place?  Does she like one over the other and is she in the place that feels most comfortable, or the opposite?

These are but minutes in days of writing practice – practice in my imagination first, then lobbed into my left brain to find the potholes in the path it is choosing to go down.  I write down words, ‘how can this happen?’ questions, speak them out into an empty room or toss them into the wind that ever blows around the island shores.  I must not meddle with this process, or try to rush it, or that part of the story, perhaps the whole thing, will turn to mud, as my paintings did when I couldn’t put down the brush to wait patiently for an answer.

In life, we often don’t wait for answers, believing that it is down to us, to me, to fix this thing and right now before it irritates any more of the bejabers out of me and, besides, I can’t think straight with it fannying around my head, because I have a to-do list awaiting me……look, there it sits on the desk with hardly a tick beside any of it!

Wrong thinking.  The answer, when considering options, texture and colours for an inter-weave of characters inside a story is to stop thinking.  Of course, it isn’t possible, well, not for me, to unthink once I am in the deep fabric of a piece of writing because I am already part of the life of it and interested, fascinated, intrigued and excited to know who will do what next, and when.  But, I can push it/them/ gently behind the cogs and pistons of my brain allowing forward another thing or two to busy me a bit, and to give the story time to evolve without me.

Without me?  you cry.  But I must control it all the time.

Now let me ask you this.  If it were down to just you, or just me to control everything in our lives, would it be a good thing, do you think?

Just play back on a few bloomers in the past, when control of a thing was down to you.

The most important and critical thing to understand, is this.  Gazing wistfully at a published writer, with varying degrees of apparent success will not write your story.  Only you, only I, can write our own stories because only we can bring that texture, those colours and that melody into the light, and if you or I never turn to say hallo to an idea, a storyline, a character, it will stay forever in the shadows of regret.  We don’t need to know how to do it. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but, as I reach out my hand in welcome, I suddenly realise that I am not alone.  It is not just me.  And so, it begins.

Island Blog 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams

Tapselteerie

 

 

 

 

Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.

Island Blog 91 – Turn Turn Turn

bth_mothernature

To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn turn turn

and a time to every purpose under heaven.

As I went to pick some mint from where it sprouts between the stones of our drystone wall, I noticed that the new shoots had slowed down.  In the ebullient abundance of full Summer, there is already the touch of autumn.  Nothing that knows its stuff is pushing out too much in the way of new because each plant senses the time of dying and concentrates on keeping its roots strong.  We still see the many greens of life in our gardens, the hedgerows, the fields, but there is a change afoot in the natural world, one we can forget to notice. The wild St John’s Wort has turned overnight, it seems, from wide mouthed buttery yellow blooms to an abundance of autumn fruit.  Yesterday, buzzy bees dipped into its pool of nectar and today it is silent.  Hazelnuts bow the branches and every day ripen a bit more.  Rowan berries turn from blood to crimson in a few short days and there is a chill in the morning air.

In homes where only seasonable vegetables and fruit are eaten, the turning of life is presented on a daily dinner plate.  My dad had a big veg garden, fruit cloches and trees, so we always ate according to the seasons and never thought a thing about it, although endless parsnips caused childish bother now and again.  Fruits were preserved, jammed and chutneyed and I remember the steaming jars and the delicious taste of a ploughman’s lunch, or a generous spread of deep purple damson jam on an after-school slice of toast.  As the seasons turned, Mother Nature provided the right foods for us to live well in body and mind.  Now it is hard for anyone to remember what country we live in, never mind what season it is, and that confusion can look like lack, (try saying that without your foot tapping), and such confusion can prevent us living in the Now.

Did my own mother watch the seasons turn, make her plans accordingly?  I do know she had a big ottoman chest to store our Scottish vests and big woolly jumpers by the end of Spring (Ne’er shed a cloot till May is oot) and our shorts and tees in the winter months, but I don’t know how she felt about it all.  Did her heart sink a little as she noticed the slowing of growth in the mint bed I wonder, or see the damsons turning dark and plump and picture herself stoning pan-loads, whilst we children ran and played and never asked a single question?  I will have to, now!

When we first moved to the island, we lived according to the seasons.  Tourists decided that for us, in the main, although I was hungry to learn the language of the seasons, become part of the turning, engage with it and learn to love it, but it was comparatively easy for me, out here in a wild place.  It must be very much more difficult living in a concrete-lined city that never sleeps – one that can create whatever money can buy and loudly enough to drown out nature’s gentle music.

I remember living for a short time in Glasgow and finding it very hard to find any balance to my own natural rhythm.  I did enjoy Glasgow, mainly because the people are so wonderfully raw and honest and good-hearted, but it wasn’t the way for me to live.  Blackbirds sang in the dead of night for starters, because of all the street lights and that really threw my sleep pattern out the ‘windy’.  On the island, I wake with the birds and sleep when they do so my nights became days and I was sad for the blackbird and concerned for his singing career.  I also found fences very upsetting.  Ownership and fear of loss or trespass seemed to rule everyone’s life, and make each one lonely as a result.  I used to have to hang my washing out on the communal ‘green’ on Wednesdays, even if it rained on Wednesdays and nobody hung their washing out there anyway, in case it was pinched.

Oh dearie me.

I believe we are out of kilter with ourselves when we ignore the heart beat of Nature and try to drown out her voice with electronic hums which, even put together, which they never are, cannot make a melody, let alone a harmony.  If we want to live long and prosper we don’t follow money. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work for it, use it to make a good life for ourselves, of course we should, but it isn’t everything.  After the tsunami, money lost its value overnight.  That’s how fickle it is.  But our natural world, now there is something worth looking after.  Even after disaster, the earth can grow again, but she won’t if we don’t tend her garden, and care for her creatures and her people.

In Glasgow I waited half an hour for a bus.  I was nervous and felt very ‘on show’ as the cars and bikes rolled by.  Bus comes, I hold out a fiver and ask for one way to town.  No change, he said, the driver, without looking at me.  I don’t have any, I said, wishing the ground would take me down.  Then off you get, he said.

Suddenly someone called from the back.  Here you go hin!  A wee woman in a plastic rain hat tottered up and shoved a pound coin in the driver’s face, like a punch.  We both knew I wouldn’t see her again to pay it back.

Island Blog 86 A Big Stretch

Island Blog 16 (1)

 

 

In the early hours of this morning, I wake.  It isn’t night and yet it isn’t day, not quite, although a weak light through the curtains tells me that it will be soon.  I check my clock with my little torch.  3.30 am.  In an hour, I will hear the sparrows in the creeper begin their chattering and the neighbours cockerels, sounding a little gagged from within the thin walls of their wooden huts, will begin to greet the morning.

I stretch and can feel the familiar cramp begin sort of half way down.  This time, I let it come, but it rises too high and I am forced to shift and bend my knee until it ebbs away.  I lie thinking of how I need to stretch, and not just my limbs, but my mind too.

As folk gain the weight of age, I notice many stop stretching.  We’ve done our stretching, they say.  Now we don’t do that any more.  And they begin to compress and to rust.

Although our bodies have the most wonderful capacity to repair on a day to day basis, we do have to work harder to stretch, to keep supple, but we also must understand that our repair mechanism will never be as efficient as it was when we were 30, or even 50.  And why should it?  Bodies break down, of course they do.  Not one of us can live for ever, and our own aging process is just the way it is, for us.  Some are ‘lucky’ some are not, but we all must face it and accept it with grace.

However, and I always have plenty of howevers up my sleeve, this is not the same with our minds.  These hidden computers can kick ass long after our bodies, and this is where we must sustain the stretch mechanism.  We must oil it and work it, love and cherish it, make it new every morning, no matter what.

When I face something I don’t want to tackle, I am sorely tempted to push it away.  Nobody would judge me for that, or even know, or perhaps, even care, but I would, and there’s the rub.  Is it just me who thinks that to stretch is to reach, or, at least, to try?  Not to stretch is not to know and then to wonder and then to regret.  For me, anyway.  I don’t want to waste a single moment.

As a young woman I thought I would live without effort.  I don’t mean that life was without effort, quite the opposite in fact, but I spent no time bothering about my physical or mental demise.  Nowadays, with two close friends gone too soon and too young, I understand both the fragility of life and its strength.

And its strength lies in my control to a great degree.  Not by re-action to whatever life sends me, but by action.  Not ‘waiting to see’ but watching and grabbing everything that comes along with a can-do attitude, even if, after trying, I can’t do.

I think, in answer to a recent question, this is how self-confidence grows.  Not because I am brilliant at this, or at that, but because I gave everything, every single thing, my best shot, and each time I do, I feel good about me.

And then, if I miss the target completely, I can laugh at my failure, because nobody minds and nobody remembers it.  What they remember is that I made that stretch.

Island Blog 85 – Coming Home

2013-07-25 09.56.40When I go anywhere I take me with me.  Now I know that sounds, at best, numptyish, at worst psychotic, but I don’t mean it physically.  It is obvious on a human level that I am pretty much stuck with me till death do us part.  But the natural desire to escape my inner self, that part I cannot see, can sometimes overwhelm.

No-one admits to it of course.  Well, it is possible to keep this tricky creature well and truly hidden, and for a whole lifetime if I so choose, which I do not.  As I ‘open my heart’ to someone, I let them glimpse into my very soul.  Sometimes it really helps.  Sometimes I regret it.  I can feel trampled.

As I skitter about the country on this new adventure, I can feel as light as a bird, catching a ride on the thermals, soaring through the clouds and into wide new skies, or I can feel like a desert tumbleweed with sand in my eyes till I’m blind.

What I have worked out is that it has less to do with whatever I meet on my journeys and everything to do with how I feel about me.  Not in a ‘will I be good enough for them? sort of way, but more…’will I be good enough for me?

For it is always me who judges me, and my judge has a knife for a tongue.  When I meet new people, they don’t hear my judge.  In fact, if I was to tell them what she thinks of me, they would laugh out loud.

Now, if I, with all my confident energy, who can write, paint, sing and dance my life…..if I am still trying to co-ordinate the inside with the outside of me, in my final trimester, what on earth is it like for the rest of the world? And why is it we have this constant search for peace?

Well, I think it is what life is all about.  I don’t think anyone has it sussed, lives a perfect life.  I don’t believe in material wealth as the answer, nor academic brilliance.  Most of us don’t remember those who made no impression on our lives, and remember clearly those who, through struggle, did something different, made something happen.  These people, the ones we do remember had the same judge we all have.  Some people call it the devil.  Some people think it’s what they eat, or where they live, or who they live with, but I think we are all born with it all fankled up in our DNA and it’s quite impossible to hide from.

The good part of it tells us to be careful, to watch our step, to consider our actions.  In balance this is all good.  Out of balance, it becomes growing self-doubt, and, if we keep feeding it, it takes over our inner garden, rising high as weeds that eventually block out our sun.

What a waste.

Well….. I have said, What a waste to myself a million times and still crouched there behind the weeds, peering out at a passing crowd of confident others and snivelling into my pocket handkerchief.

Travelling through new lands I get time to think things through.  I never thought anything through for decades as there was never more than five minutes available for such indulgence.  But now, I can, and I do and its very exciting and encouraging, because I realise this.

It is never ever too late to begin again and I begin with one conscious decision.

To get on with it.

To thank the judge for her protective presence, but to take charge of her.  To listen, but to respond with confidence.  When she tuts and shakes her head and says in that ‘I know what’s best for you dear’ voice…..’You can’t do that.  You never did it before and got it right.  Just give up the idea and stay where you are…….’ I will stop, turn to her and say………

Just watch me!

And then I will spin on my sassy heel and step into my life.