Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

Island Blog 136 Brave Heart

 

Popz and Poppy

 

 

In life there are times when something huge happens whilst I am somewhere else.  I might feel a chilly hand on my neck, or the sensation of it, without having a clue why.  Later, sometimes much later, I might discover that, at just that time, this huge something was going on with a loved one.

Last Friday I caught the noontide train down to Glasgow.  I was supposed to be visiting a girlfriend but she called in sick and, as I was packed and arranged-up, I decided to go and see my sister instead.  The train was overly packed with not enough seats for all, or, only just, and only just is no fun when half the inmates bear heavy loads they cannot lift onto the overhead racks.  Nobody can.  In fact, as they ease off the shoulder straps and shrug a massive rucksack into the gravitational pull, I am amazed it doesn’t go right through the carriage floor.  And that was just one of the many.  The rest of us with less baggage, clasp it to ourselves on our narrow seats and decide to wait until the stock rolls before flicking our eyes around for a more acceptable resting place.

This is when a furry-voiced announcement slinks out from the speakers.  Something about a bus being laid on for those who can’t fit on board.  We look at each other eyes rolling.  Way too late, they say.  Way too late and, besides, we are now all fankled up in rucksack webbing, too many legs, big shoes and well-fed travellers to move anything other than our eyeballs.  It crosses my mind to suggest that the man who sold us all those tickets a few moments ago might consider counting them up next time, a fairly logical plan and one that might decide the bus option before we struggle aboard and meld into one living creature. We are all hot now and a bit grumpy and those lads just up ahead have obviously been on the sauce for a while now, their voices cutting sharply into the mumbled air.

The weekend was lovely and the journey home a very different kettle of fish.  We all had room, we travellers with less baggage, dotting ourselves throughout the train, pulling open our ziplock lunches, to munch contentedly, elbows out.   I thought everything was calm in my world, because, as far as I was concerned, it was.  But, there was a chill at my neck, like cold fingers and yet all the windows were closed.  I pulled out a cardigan and wrapped it round me, but the chill remained.  Back home, a huge drama was beginning to unfold, the facts of which I now have, and will tell, as best an absentee can, through the eyes and experience of my old China.

The boat had landed the passengers back on the pontoon and Popz had taken Poppy up to the grass for a pee, as usual, returning to the boat to clean up and take her back to her mooring, way out in the bay.  It’s about 500 yards.  Once the mooring line was secured, the crew and skipper set to cleaning and tidying, turning off electrics and engines and checking the heads for all those forbidden things people think can disappear down a tiny pipe.  This cleaning process can take a while.  Popz was aware Poppy wasn’t with him, but, then, she often joined the crew whilst they worked, so he wasn’t concerned as they all clambered into the dingy.  They presumed she had jumped back off the boat at the pontoon and that they would find her, as before, sitting waiting for their return.

No sign. Concern is now rising.  They asked everyone, looked everywhere, called and whistled.  Perhaps someone had taken her?

They turned again for Sula Bheag, crossing, once more, the distance through the waves.  Searched everywhere, above, below, inside and out.  Nothing.

Back to the shore.  Time is passing now.  Up the street, into the town, asking everyone, Have you seen a little brown dog?

At the harbour, some kind people with boats cast them off and set to, searching the expanse of water for this little brown dog.

Once more Popz and the crew returned to Sula Bheag, although by now hope was dwindling.  No human being could survive this long in the icy water and it was obvious she must have slipped overboard.  Then, as they fired up the outboard to return for the last time to the shore, Popz noticed some gulls circling, looking like they were looking down at something, way out in the bay.

And they were.  Upside down, four legs above the surface, plus her nose, but barely, was Poppy, all but given up the fight.  As Popz grabbed her, the flea collar snapped and she began to sink.  In desperation, he lunged for her, and caught her before she became part of the darkness.  She was almost dead, her breathing just now and again, frothing salty bubbles from her mouth, but, nevertheless, alive.  A crew member drove like the wind down to the vet, with Popz cradling a defeated Poppy on his lap, wrapping her round to bring back some warmth.  The vet held out little hope.  Salt damage to lungs and kidneys, shock, cold, hypothermia, the oil and muck in the harbour, all threatened to take her out, and he decided to keep her overnight to monitor her progress.

The next morning we phoned, and he said he couldn’t believe the change.  Sitting up, weakened but alive, our little girl had decided not to die.  Although we had to wait a couple of days to be sure the salt hadn’t destroyed her inner workings, we can now say she is a miracle.  Thinner, yes, and not eating much yet, but bouncy and bright-eyed and we are filled with thanks, to the crew and their hearts, to those who took their boats out, to the callers and well-wishers, to the vets.

She may have gone overboard, and you may think ‘careless’ but life happens whilst we make other plans and we can all remember times we didn’t pay enough attention.  But, now here’s the thing.  If the old seadog didn’t have the instinct that he does have, then those gulls might have got their lunch after all.

 

 

Island Blog 39 – The New Old

Me on the boat

Today I am 60 years old.

When I was a young thing, bouncing carelessly through my days and nights, my greatest concern was that I looked like everyone else whose stocking seams ran in a straight line all the way up to their sensibly clad bottoms, and whose mothers approved of them.

I never managed it.  In fact, it was rather fun to see just how many winds of seam I could wrap around my leg before I choked and fell over.  When tights came in, everything went to pot on the wrapping fun, for reasons I am sure you can quite well imagine.

Those women of 60, to whom I looked up, or so they thought, and, to be honest, some of them earned an upward look, seemed ancient as fossils.  They had looked like their mothers since they were 25 anyway, but somehow, at 60, it all set like concrete, in their attitudes, their faces and in their moral confidence.  I can still roll my eyes and want to hide up a tree just thinking about them, as they pinged my mother’s doorbell and were allocated seats for luncheon. It was there in those lips pursed for ‘a small sherry’ and in the hush of gossip.

Is this now me?

No flipping chance.

I and my 60 year old peers are breaking that mould.  We are no longer ‘mouldy’ nor are we up for being moulded.  Although we may have become shape-changers, we are doing it our way.  Not as a group, which is what the previous generation seemed to do, but as individuals.  It is not necessarily easy nor simple this being an individual thing, but the more I speak with my daft female friends, the more determination I hear and because we support each other, not to be the same as we are, but to be whoever they are, through the filter of their own life, their own heart, I do believe we are about to cause chaos.

I can see that such a change might not be too everyone’s taste.  After all, our mothers happily retreated behind mounds of fluffy scones at just the right time, allowing us to leap out of the conjurer’s hat and into a surprised world as the ones to watch from now on.  Our mothers’ sensibly clad bottoms became just bottoms, when ours invited conversation.  Their voices fell back into an appropriately domestic hum, whereas we say blow to baking on a regular basis (not least because our husbands might grow too fat), and the confident voice of the new olds reaches up and out and can silence a room of men.

Now there’s a thing!

So get ready world, for we are coming and worse, much much worse, our daughters are watching.