Island Blog 156 Another Way Back Home

2014-12-31 09.15.26

I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same.  Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same.  Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.

People throng through these streets.  I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me.  They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more.  Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious.  How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops.  One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy.  I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze.  I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.

I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon.  I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off,  I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst.   Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city.  It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars.  Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is.  The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top.  The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.

We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too.  It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle.  And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine.  If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire.  We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’.  We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.

However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing.  It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work.  Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years.  What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first.  I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.

I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me!   I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run.  Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath.  Simples.

I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome.  Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along.  It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.

I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done.  It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years.  Why should I change it?

But….  if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.

Another way back home.

Island Blog 138 The X Factor

 

 

 

originalityTalking today with my whale-watching son, we discussed, as we cleared out his garage and carted dross to the local tip, music and originality.  He told me that there is nothing really original, as there is a finite number of notes on the keyboard and, therefore, a finite number of possible chords.  I felt my heart flutter at the very thought, me being a fully paid up member of the theory of Originality.  I say to him, if there really is no chance to be original, why do any of us get out of bed of a morning?

But that wasn’t quite what he meant.  He was talking complete sense and truth.  What happens beyond the understanding of that truth is a very different thing.  Park that for now.

Another subject we discussed over a delicious dinner at Cafe Fish (don’t ever miss out on that opportunity) was that of relationships, my very favourite subject.  I talk to myself about them all the time, but it is so uplifting to find a co-discusser who is also interested and who is also a man.  Might be a first!  He is 30 years younger than I but has an eye on this tricksy subject and a way of looking at it that I, sealed up in my own history and experience, might have missed.  We spoke of those that last and those that don’t and of why, although nobody outside of any relationship can ever, should ever, decide they know why or how one fails and another doesn’t.  It is pretty damn easy to play judge and, when we do, and we all do at some time, we might consider our own, and how clever we are at them.  Or not.

Now un-park that earlier thing.

What comes into play with a musician, a song-writer, a business owner, an artist, a wife, a husband, and I could go on forever with the list, is Originality.  The only thing we can ever bring to her table is our own originality, and, in doing so, we can change everything.  For example……..there is a clever, gifted, silversmith, young, newly graduated and about to hit the world.  No experience of anything to do with street wisdom beyond the decision not to go out alone at 4 am in a lycra bodysuit and 6 inch heels through a dodgy part of town. He, or she has this talent, this achievement, but has little or no idea how to walk it out in a way that will guarantee success and profit, long term.  It is all down to the self in this, the Originality and, most importantly, whether we honour that and use it, or not.  We all have it.  We don’t all use it.

Hmmmmmm.

If we listen only to the facts, that tell us there is a finite number of chords, of keys, of chord progressions, of dance moves, of colours mixed, of lives lived, then we might just keel over right now.  But we don’t do that.  We go on, believing, albeit very privately, that we just might have that something that changes everything.  But now we have another problem.  We watch television and movies and we set ourselves lower than we should as a result.  Every story is glamourised and idealised to the point of impossibleness.  How can we ever match up?  We don’t look like this star or that, with their perfect body parts, tans, choices, homes and luck.

To stick with something, in the inglorious (second meaning in the dictionnary) hours, when nobody is clapping or even watching, and to keep going…… now that is Originality. To work consistently, through the cold and the wet, to resist the naysayers who question our sanity and who come, like greeks bearing gifts, of trojan horses, of quick fixes, of a quicker route to the treasure chest, to make ourselves go on, following our own heart belief…..this is Originality.

To give up in the face of the inner voice that keeps asking……Who are you to think you can rise up to meet your dream? leads only one way.  Every single time.

Don’t listen, don’t watch, don’t falter.  Originality has chords and notes and moves and moments that build into something that, one day, people will revere.  Our job may be menial.  Our home may be simple.  Our life, ordinary.  But, wait a minute, this is all of us.  Those who appear to have it all are just like us.  We all have in our hands, whatever our situation, that chance to change everything. We just have to rack up and dust off and step up.We need to say Here I am, and not There I was.

Not one of us is perfectly formed, according to the world.

And yet, every one of us is exactly that.

Island Blog 67 – Arriving too early

Island Blog 67

Soon I will be leaving the island for my long journey south to Jenny’s funeral.  I enjoy journeys, especially by train and especially the first part when we travel through the wild bracken and the bonny purple heather.  Bracken is the name for our land’s plague, although it redeems itself considerably once amber-dead, enough, even, to feature in sentimental songs about leaving and losing love.

The second part of the journey will be in the air, zipping through clouds with barely enough time to knock back an orange juice and certainly not enough time to prise open the hygienic packaging and free the currant scone.

Or, indeed, to re-locate myself.

Half an hour ago I was in Scotland, and now I am in England.  Countries shouldn’t be crossed so quickly, as if they were hardly there at all.  There is no time to absorb the change, the process, to consider a new culture, a new way to hold my fork.

This sudden way of travel may be convenient, but I wonder if it’s all it says it is. In any part of our growing and learning, our minds and bodies need time to sort ourselves out, to slowly absorb a new way, to consider what we do or don’t like about it, and to decide how and who we shall be in context.  To travel too fast through a state of change, finds us leaving our self behind.  We may understand at a logical level what it is we undertake, but unless we have allowed time (and that length of time is not something we can set in stone) for our senses, emotions, body and heart to join us, we will ultimately fall in the poo.  No change works if only based on logic.  Not a single one, and not at any age or level of brilliance or intelligence.  It is, quite simply, un-rushable, a journey into change.

So how do we do this change thing, considering the fact that everything is speeding up in every area of life and we are failures if we can’t keep up?  And there are so many of us who can’t keep up and when we find ourselves at the bottom of the pit, with nowhere to go, worn out and broken, we fall ill.  But I don’t think there is a collective solution to this, I think it will take each one of us, on our own, to decide to look away from the world and its empty promises of success and beauty, and look for something higher.  We know it’s there when things happen we can’t explain, like a coincidence.  We might need to employ our imaginations a bit more, develop eyes that really see the natural extraordinariness of our world and a thankful heart, all day long, for what we do have, instead of wanting what we don’t.

My little grand-daughter has just returned from a family camping holiday.  Each day they visited somewhere new with a picnic and the sunshine overhead.  One day they went to a safari park, another to the river, another through the hills to a lochan for a swim and so on.

I asked her what animals she had seen, and which was her favourite, expecting her eyes to light up and her mouth to fill with names like Elephant!   Lion!  Giraffe!

Tadpoles, she said and the whole room lit up with her smile.

Island Blog 25 – As I believe, I will achieve

Skyline

If we don’t try things out, how can we know if we like them or not, that’s what I ask myself as I hover on safe ground looking into unknown territory.

Such as the Hair Care products in a supermarket, a line of shelves that stretches for half a mile and each brightly coloured tube or tin or tub, all with impossible-to-open lids, promising that my life will change the instant I apply the goo/foam/wax or cream to my head.

And that’s just the Hair Care section.  I could spend 3 weeks in one store bamboozling my brain with options. In fact, if I believed all of it, or even some of it, I could emerge a completely different person, transformed by ‘product’ into Superwoman, or, at least, as someone a whole lot more beautiful than the one that walked me in.

In this world that refuses to allow me to be ‘myself’ I can get lost. I forget to hear only the voice of my higher self, my instinct and listen, instead to all those whispers that dart around my head like swallows catching flies. When I am faced with a bigger set of options, like changing careers for example, I can either follow my heart, or follow everyone else’s opinions and, if I do that, I just go round in circles until I am wheezing with the exertion and still standing in the same place.

What I do is say nothing.

When I decided, after 35 years of doing the same thing, pushed on by need for cash to pay bills, low self-esteem and self-doubt, to leap into Art School, the world was aghast. Well, not the WHOLE world of course, but the little one I lived in, because nobody but me felt the blood rush and excitement at the very thought of changing lanes. Actually, it was more like deciding to walk against the traffic in a fog without a fluorescent jacket, but I had to do it. The idea grew skin over its bones and filled with strong red blood overnight and I was in its thrall; captivated and, for the first time in years, truly alive.

When I take a risk, I know who I am. I don’t follow the flow just because that is what we should do.  I may be laughed at, or ridiculed, or, at the very least, carefully interrogated by those closest to me, but I know now it is not necessarily because they think my nut case idea is dangerous or destructive.  It is more that they are a little envious that anyone could kick against the pricks and still be able to walk and run and dance.

I don’t sit down and draw up a risk situation. Risk comes to me, through the ether, from the clouds, and it will not be denied however much I may flap it away with my tea towel.

If Risk knocks at your door, let him in. For beside him stands Lady Providence and she is the one who will walk beside you if you just have the courage to take the first baby step.

Someone once said that needless consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, and I agree. Until I broke free, and not from others, but from my own fear and doubt. Our minds are not small at all, and each one of us can move a mountain, if we just believe.

‘Make the Jump’ 

Island Blog 14 – Oh the falling snow

First it was a threat, an amber warning, and then, by 8am, a reality, falling in big soft silent flakes, from a sky that looked like my granny’s double damask table cloth.  And every single flake is different- no two ever the same.

In no time the snow is over my boots- something I discovered fairly smartly as I rushed out to build a snowman.  The first of the year.  Even at nearly 60, snow people fascinate me. With our frozen fingers, we can fashion these crystals into a magical creature, letting our imaginations fly.

I read a book recently called The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey and it took me into a fantasy world of snow and trees and silence and magic.  Even though the story is unbelievable, in that a snow girl comes to life, I believed it, because I choose to inhabit such a world where anything can happen way outside what is seen and explainable.  Too many unexplainable things happen and not just to me.  What I see, can touch, and explain, ends right there;  it can never go any further, but if I turn instead to my imagination, there is absolutely no limiting punctuation whatsoever.

 

Snowman - Boog 14

Island Blog 10 – On Thinking Too Much

Actually it can be bad for your health.  Well, don’t people say, as you wander through some complicated quandary over a cup of tea, or six……..’You think too much Whatever-your-name-is!’  as if that sorted it out for you.  And that is how you respond.  You nod, chuckle, or try to, at your own sillybilly-ness, and wave farewell, still puzzled and slopping with tea, and now with a label on your forehead that says I Think Too Much.

 

This knowledge adds to your problem.  What you need now, you tell yourself, is a bell to ding as you plod miserably towards the frozen goods, to find something for supper.  After all, aren’t you a leper of a woman among all these bright bustling ‘others’ with purposeful step and cheery lipstick?  How could you have got it all so wrong for so long?  And, didn’t your old mother, now frozen boned and 6 foot under, always tell you that thinking too much is really self pity?  She never felt it.  No time for that.  She had to win two wars all by herself and that’s no task for a moaning Minnie whose self esteem forgot to leave the birthing ward with her and whose brain goes into cramp every time anybody asks a really difficult question such as ‘Would you like tea or coffee?’

 

I should have learned by now, you tell yourself, remembering all those wise words of advice you thrust on your daughters whilst they faced their own dilemmas, sounding just like your own mother and just as ridiculous.  After all, what did you know about ‘popping’ or ‘tweeting’ or ‘shots’?  I would have said, in order, balloons, birds, guns.  But I would be wrong on all three counts.  And that makes me the fool.  Not because I don’t know what these new descriptions mean, but because I pretend its the same as in my day and it isn’t and never can be.  What we old folks need to do is look to ourselves.

 

On that note, back to you over there mooning over the McCain chips.  I have some ideas, based on my own search for self-esteem, which has been 60 years in the lower end of poor.

Yes, yes, I know I LOOK confident, but so do you when you put on your slap and pull on your sensible kit even though you just know you look fat in that pair of crimplene slacks, and will look as exciting as a poinsettia in June by the time you have lugged all those heavy groceries back up the hill.

I’m just a mother, a granny, a housekeeper, we tell ourselves.

Poppycock I say.  Burn your crimplene slacks, as I did my dresses, although don’t do it, as I did, in a cane waste-paper basket.  Way too dangerous.

And who invented crimplene anyway?  I have never worn such an uncomfortable aberration of fibres; fibres that can set off an 80 kilowatt spark whenever anyone gets too close, which is probably its whole purpose.

 

Whilst thinking too much, I consider that once we women become mothers, we are thus defined in the eyes of the world.  It gets worse at that glorious time when one of our own children gives birth to their own.

Now, we are Granny.

What happened to my name?

I know I should consider myself fortunate to be called anything as long as it’s not ‘Old Bag’  But what, I wonder became of me? Who am I, who was I once?

 

During the scary crimplene-burning process, I realised that I alone must dig deep inside to re-locate my self-esteem (yes, it was there all along only nobody said) and get to know it, to tend it with care, regardless of the smirks from those who much preferred me with none. I am not defined by my husband, my children or my grandchildren, nor my friends, nor my neighbours, nor my peers., and I can have my own opinions.  I must begin to look at who I am, at what I believe in, at how I respond to something, to anything, and to bravely find my own voice and speak it out into the world.

I have no idea how to do it, but didn’t someone once say that stepping out into a fog is better than watching it through the window?

That way, at least we can cause some havoc.