Island Blog – Blow Back

As I write of the years, the caring years for me, the demise years for my husband, immediately a contradiction in perspective, I find my belly shouting in response, as if this old belly is hearing things anew. Did I feel the same reaction whilst caring? Perhaps, but I was too busy being whom I needed to be at any given moment, so, possibly, I flipped any belly talk away.

But now that he is gone, he is dead, he is buried up there on that wild hill where gulls wheel, eagles cant the wind and where sheep shit all over the grass, I see through a different lens. I spider-web connect with memories and moments. I can’t follow the strands, not now. They are the ones, blackened and dust-heavy I will point my Henry Hoover nozzle at just to know they’re all gone. But they are not gone, for they web again, catching me like a fly, and, I concede. And, in that concession, I find peace. It is as it is. What was, was.

Standing firmly in the present, with a strong connection to the past and to a ditherswither faltering reach out to the future, I welcome what comes at me. Sort of. I will resist but that’s my thing. Resist. Then I think. Then hmmmm, that Maybe. I love change until Change comes to me. I love Strength until it is required of me. I love an Upset to my timeline, my plan for the day until it swacks me in my ordinary.

In these days beyond him, I clear cobwebs, sell furniture I wanted to see gone for decades, old dark stuff, old dark memories that nobody ever visited, and that was weird to me. I visit them. I turn the leaves of ancient books, beautiful writings, precious memories in photo albums I can never explain to my, to our, children.

I’m blowing back, in case someone will want to catch my breath,

Island Blog – The sharper the knife

Two days to go. Then it will be a whole year since himself breathed his last. It is hard to believe and yet easy. I cast back to the days between then and now and cannot remember a lot of it. Many days were just a slog, a pointless slog and many other days were full of skips and puddle jumping. I notice more now that Time is my ‘bidey-in.’ I notice puddles, their shape and size and the way they grow, claiming more ground as that primary element argues with another one. I notice the way Spring comes shyly, nervous of pushing out too soon, just like me. I notice petals, watch them fall and wonder how they choose that very moment to do so. I see the turning of the beech leaves and just have to stand beneath them. I hear sounds more clearly, some sharp-slash ear offences, some soft and landing like, well, petals. I am aware of what I touch and how it feels to my fingertips. I notice a founder in those same fingers when I attempt to unpackaged packaging, or lift a heavy pot to the hob. I hear the sound of water coming to the boil in a pasta pan even from the next room. The tic, tic, tic of a clock is Time telling me she is here, as if I didn’t already know that. I can taste the snap-smell of his plaid shirts, the only things I haven’t yet moved on. They no longer smell of him and how could they? Everything was washed and double washed many months ago. I think I might make a patchwork soft mat from cuts of these shirts. They were so his ‘fashion’, a hanging on to the days of being a lumberjack in Canada so many years ago.

Years ago. His life by many stories was a long one. A wonderful one, he said, and often. Funny how we are never satisfied, never able to agree with ‘enough’ when it involves waving a final farewell. I know he didn’t want to live on. Who does in the late throws of dementia? I wouldn’t, for sure. He went happy and peaceful. That’s it. End of. Well, maybe it was for him. But now I feel like a pioneer facing a wilderness. The land endless before me goes right up to where my eyes meet the skyline and I have no map. I am not afraid, not lost, not in despair, no way. But this is so new to me that I confess to a bit of circling and a lot of hiding behind rocks. I go out, I keep a clean and tidy house, I feed myself well, I love music, I write, sew, dance (occasionally), walk every day and, as far as I can tell, house a lively brain. I have humour, mischief, a sense of fun and many good friends.

All this does not minimise the wilderness, that vast maw of sand, rocks, emptiness and maplessness. A load of ‘esses’ for sure. The way it alters, changes my language, my thoughts, my beliefs, my faith. I have faith, I have belief in something for me even if I don’t know what the hellikins that means and I have fun learning a new language. This, in itself, is perusable. Although I am, I confess, a lover of good strong language, words can escape me. I am thankful for Roget, a bible for writers. My battered copy is always beside me so that when I cannot find the right word, the one that accurately describes what I want to say instead of just ‘trending on twitter’ jumps out at me like a sudden-ness and that is okay. I am allowed, I tell myself, to lose the words I once found so easy to lift into the light because most of what I found so easy to lift into the light has been cut away, just like that, in a single not-breath.

I was reminded by my lovely daughter-in-law just yesterday of the final breath moment. She loved her father-in-law and he loved her. Her eyes lit up and her face lifted as she told me something I had forgotten. Remember, she said, as you all sat beside him watching his faltering breaths? Go on, I tell her, trying to find my way back to that moment. Well, she says, he took a big gasp breath and then everything went still. You looked at each other and began to move. This is it. The big man is gone. Suddenly, he breathed again, a big draw of earthly air and you all laughed, turning back to him. The next breath was his last, but that moment, he, the one who always had to be the centre of attention, claimed his right to it one more time.

‘The sharper the knife, the less you cry.’ So they say.

Island Blog – Bloomers, Sunlight, Lacklight, and Tatties

Walks for me are meditative and questioning. I cannot sit still for more than five minutes nor pay serious attention to the in and out of my breath without getting the giggles. My breath works just fine without me paying attention to it, as does my heart beat steadfastly on without me bothering it. In the wee small hours I felt about for my heartbeat once and all was silent. Well, I thought, that’s pretty cool. My heart isn’t beating and I’m still alive. I always knew I was different.

Back to meditative/questioning walks. As I wander I notice, stop, chat with or admire something I missed yesterday, or something that wasn’t even there yesterday such as a new bloomer peeking up through the grasses. I see the burst of emerald leaves on an alder or the delicate fingers of Lady Larch, HRH of the Woods, dancing in the warm breeze like the wings of bird flight. I watch blue sky through the branches, squares, diamonds, circles, striations, fingers and whole swathes above a treeless bit, an artistic dash of cloud splitting the sky and in a hurry, it seems, to get to somewhere else. I contemplate it all and then me and me have a conversation. Look, I say, this side of the tree is in full bloom and that one (I indicate the inside of the wood) is only just coming. Why is that? Well, this side has the full sunlight. That side is darkling buried, its allowance of sunlight controlled by A N Other, or maybe a few A N Others if the wood is densely wooden.

It thinks me. If a tree can be affected by the amount of light shed upon it, how much more a human? If I am to bloom, I need light. If I don’t get light, I don’t bloom. If I don’t get light for decades I am in danger of turning the colour of mole, even if I am naturally infused with positive attitude and born with a natural propensity for fun, beauty, joy, laughter and dancing. Eventually my need for light in the form of real love, kindness, to be cherished, complimented, accepted, understood, admired and listened to, will require fuel from A N Other. If the light I am receiving is in A N Other’s control, and if it flashed on and off at will, then I may begin to mole-up, or is it mole-down?

I think of those who have told me of such lacklight. In the workplace, in the home, in school, in neighbourhoods or in family relationships and I have done what we all do when we don’t stop and think. We encourage this person who is turning the colour of mole before our eyes to look on the bright side; to look at what they do have; to count their blessings, to go for long walks, cook, listen to music, sew something……. none of which helps one jot, because what this sad person needs is not advice, but light. And we can shine it upon them just by listening, understanding, caring and walking beside them. We cannot change their circumstances, but they can, and well they might once they start to feel like blooming again. We can be the fuel they need, the sunlight they crave, by doing absolutely nothing.

In the garden, in the woods there is fierce competition. It is no different amongst we humans. Everyone wants to grab as much light as possible, but there is room for us all even if some of us are late bloomers due to lack of light; late, that is, until someone saw us turning the colour of mole and moved their branches just enough that we could feel the warmth on our skin.

I decide it is time to put the tatties on to boil. It’s 4pm after all and Himself needs food early. Why do you need to put them on to boil? asks my other self. In order to feed a human. I reply, eyes rolling. Why do you need to feed a human? Because I am one. Ah……ok….better get the tatties on, then.

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

Island Blog 99 – Bareback

 

_mother-nature

 

I realised on waking this morning for the 4th time, that there is a clunder of whizzing things inside my head.  Actually, whizzing things probably don’t ‘clunder’.  A clunder sounds heavy, thick, like old porage.  A clunder of sticky oats.  that’s better.

Moving on……….this ‘whatever’ of whizzing things can make a girl want to get up and sort some of them out, and yet, on the first 3 wakings, it was still dark as chocolate and I didn’t feel like rising into it at all.  But I did lie there staring at where the ceiling probably still was, to notice each whizzer one by one.  The to-do list is there of course, but being of superficial importance, is quite easily parked.  That list can take over a girl’s whole thinking if she isn’t mindful of its anaconda properties.  After all, if the carpet behind the tallboy is not hoovered today, the spiders will be overjoyed.  I hate losing spiders up sucky pipes anyway.  We need spiders.

So, list parked, now what?

The evolution of characters inside a story is a process I cannot rush, nor can I speed it up.  I can set aside the time to write each day that I am on the island, but if there is a part of the tale that is dependant on something evolving inside my own life, then I am at the mercy of Old Father Time, and I must patiently and mindfully wait.

When the horses in my mind are pulling me along, straining at their bits and pounding along a wide sunny path, everything flows like honey, but when they come across a fallen tree, they have to stop and so do I.  I can get off the wagon, study the obstacle, tell you all about how it lies and why I think it fell, and whether or not it is deciduous or evergreen, but I can’t move it one half centimetre out of the way.

I am not in control at this point.  Or am I?

Well, yes, I am.  I am in control of my response to the fallen tree, and I have two options.  I can puff and snort and shake my fist at the skies, creating not one ripple.  I can shout and swear and give myself a sort throat.  I can turn my wagon round and go back the way I came.

Or, I can water the horses, loosen their girths, let them refresh and graze.  I can sit on the trunk and notice the mosses, touch the places where the bark is torn away, lean my head to the trunk and listen for the dying heartbeat.  I can think into the shade it has offered and the lower leaves it offered to passing deer.  I can hear the chatter of nesting birds inside the protection of its many arms, and I can see the roots, wrenched from their moorings and reaching now like old fingers into the light.   I can notice the shine on the worn leather harness as it lies against the warm chestnut necks of the horses and I can smell their sweet grassy breath on the breeze.

And then I realise that I don’t really need the wagon at all.  I can leave it here, pull it over into that rocky scoop.  It is laden with a load of bahuki anyway.  Clunder I don’t really need at all.  I can flip off the harness and ride one horse bareback, the other in tow.

So, the situation I had set the characters in, had become awkward and clumsy.  I could feeling it growing more so, but kept writing them into it and then tried to justify it, when any reader would have spotted my error in a heartbeat.

It took a fallen tree for me to realise that.

Going back over an early draft is not how I work.  Initially, I just flow, knowing that the energy of first words is a powerful one, although I will need to pick out the strands of that energy from a load of self-indulgent twaddle at some point.

However, if my instinct is to doubt the situation I am painting my characters into, then I must listen to that voice and allow it to manifest itself in a tree across my path.  Often, the idea of re-writing any part of a story can be scary and tiring just to think about, but, once I begin, I can find happy surprises, like the moss on the trunk of it, brilliant green with tiny fragile flowers I never knew were there…..or the scars left by the torn bark, showing me a filligree beauty no human being ever designed……or the finger roots, twisted in search of life-giving water, once hidden, now a visual symphony just for my pleasure.

I can take off the harness and ride on.

Bareback.

Island Blog 59 – Dolphins

Island Blog 59Never let it be said that journeying is for the young. I never journeyed so much in my life as I am these days and all because I wrote down my life and Two Roads Published it. It is not just the trip tomorrow down to Glasgow for an interview with Jane Garvey in the BBC Studios – Woman’s Hour ‘Celebrating Extraordinary Women’ (oo-er) May 27th 10 am; it’s not just the trip the following week for an interview with Sally Magnusson, a sort of Desert Island Discs for Radio Scotland on June 2nd, called Sunday Morning; it’s the journey my mind is taking, and my body, both of which, to be honest, have obviously been resting for quite some time.

The trouble with growing older is that we ‘allow’ ourselves to step out of the slipstream. And everyone around us allows it too. When something or someone requires us to step back in, we begin, at first, to spin, understandably, having not had so much exercise for years. We resist and fall back onto the verge, wheezing and flapping our hands in the air, laugh, if we have the breath and say something like…….oh I’ll just wait here for you and admire the view…….!

Not an option for me.

So how does a woman, like me, part way between young and old (not saying which part) find her way back into the slipstream, the rush and tumble of life, a life where people and things become faint memories overnight?

Colour. Attitude. Confidence. Letting go.

I remember learning once this wisdom. ‘Fake it till you make it.’ and I instantly liked that way of turning life on its head. I realised that just because I might feel frightened, or unsure or too young or too old and wheezy, I could, if I so chose, act a part. Now, you will know, if you have read my book, Island Wife, that acting a part was something I did often as each challenge rose up before me, like a Rachel Whiteread sculpture, blocking all exits. It requires not my own strength, not my own experience, even, but simply a willingness to let go, and to find quiet moments in which to sharpen my sword/teeth/wits as preparation for whatever comes next.

I couldn’t cook until hungry guests arrived expecting dinner. I had no maternal instincts until I gave birth. I knew not the rules of engagement, nor of wifedom until they took over my life and woke me each morning with a to-do list. I had no idea when I wrote down my life that so many others would want to tell me how my story sang out to their own, thus creating a new harmony, one that cannot be contained or filed away, for it has taken wings and will make a new journey, all of its own into new skies and over uncharted lands.

Maybe, just by refusing to wheeze and flap and admire the view, I have become the pioneer I always secretly hoped I might be.

And dolphins often play in a slipstream.