Island Blog – Sinklight, Ice and Curiosity

When I was a child, I broke a massive rule. Not one of us was allowed anywhere near a food source and that included the larder filled with delicious leftovers and the big Prestcold fridge, fatly green and bulging into the room like she needed all of the attention. At the top, there was a freezer mouth, with enough room for ice cream, home made lollies and not much else. One day, whilst not being watched, nor followed, which was rare, I opened said mouth and noticed a spill of orange juice from the lolly rack. I could not resist. My hot tongue came out in anticipation of a sweet lick.

You may well guess what happened next. My hot tongue met arctic ice and melded. I was stuck. I could not move. I couldn’t even cry out because cry outs depend on a free tongue and mine was absolutely not that. I don’t remember what happened next, although I do know that my suspicious mother would have been quick after me, no matter where in the house I had forayed alone. I am sure she was kind with warm water. I am also sure she was harsh with remonstrations. My tongue, my poor tongue, was half ripped apart by then, the sheer terror of being trapped my driver.

I do remember, inside that terror of being caught in flagrante, that I did pause to look deep into the void mouth of that fat-bellied Prestcold fridge. I saw, just for a few moments, an arctic landscape. In spite of my mother’s studious attention to levelling everything so she could dust/control it, I saw lift. There was no light in there beyond the backlight from the neon (oh dear) kitchen light, and the gusts of my panic breath, that altered the ice mountains ahead of me. I wondered what it would be like not to be stuck by the tongue, but, instead, free to roam those mountains. And they were mountains. A big grown up woman looking in might tut about needing to defrost, but me, on my tippytoes and absolutely stuck by the tongue saw different.

I like seeing different. Today has been a day of sinklight. Rain from dawn to dusk. Endless, confining, tongue twisting, stuck. We have many of these days, and many more to come. But, through that sinklight we can stand on tippytoe and move into the landscape. It isn’t what we think. It never is. With my vulnerable back to the room and my tongue stuck, therefore the whole of me stuck, I could choose. Panic or look in. I chose the latter, even knowing the butt whacks would come soon enough. I think that was the very first time I made such a choice and the power of it has never left me. Once a curious child learns to look beyond the situation it is like a whole new world opening up. There is this thing, this one thing and yet it is not just one thing at all. The difference is held within the hands of curiosity.

Obviously I am not still stuck to the ice. Obviously it hurt a lot and obviously I was gently melted off, possibly pre butt whacks, I don’t remember that bit. In the days of Now, I see many things that may look dire at first, that may ‘stuck’ me for a bit. But I have learned how to look again in curiosity and it serves me very well indeed. As I care for an ailing, failing husband, a whole lot of what I do might make you recoil in horror. It did for me, at first, but not now. Now I see beyond the obvious drama of it, deeper into the landscape, following with my eyes the contours of new land, ice land, desert land, rolling land or sea, skies that go on for ever. This is hope. This is faith. I am not stuck. Nor are you. It is all in the curious looking.

This is the only way to live.

Island Blog – Sharing the Story

This morning I decided to sort out my freezer. It didn’t take long as there are only 3 drawers below the fridge but you’d be surprised how much of a farrago I can create over time. Most of the bags of bits are translatable into something I recognise but none of the tubs have labels so it is anyone’s guess as to what their contents will thaw into. Something dark could be blackberry compote or red onion gravy and it does tend to matter which one gets served as pudding. I pull out one such tub and a bag of something that looks like meat thinking, rather devil-may-care, that whatever is in the tub will somehow be workable. I am nothing if not inventive.

Now it is all of 9 am and there’s a whole day stretching out ahead of me expecting to be noticeably and productively lived. Can’t disappoint it. So, what next? I know, I’ll strip the beds and wash the linen. Well, my part stops after stripping and that takes ten minutes. Next…….I could hoover the carpet if really pushed or I could ignore the crumbs and keep my eyes on the future. I choose the latter. There is a top and a skirt waiting to be conjoined which may or may not work. My sewing is enthusiastic, my imagination wild with ideas, but my skills at logic have always come home last. I can see, in my mind’s eye, this classy home-assembled frock, wowing all who see me in it (which won’t be anyone till the Autumn) but there is a gap in my Dom Sci training. I must have looked away at some point and it’s too late now. However, this doesn’t stop me forging ahead, and it takes some time to pin, tack and sew the parts together. I take the dry washing upstairs and have a chat with my soft toy collection. They are a motley crew of characters collected over time. A couple of them appeared one day attached to a small child who decided they could do with some granny time; some are left after my own children grew out of them, knowing that I never would; one, Sheepy, fell out of a window in Sauchiehall St Glasgow which is where I found him. He was flat, filthy, sodden, and cross-eyed but after a good soak and blow dry, he fluffed up nicely and has been here ever since. He is still cross-eyed but far less flat. The whole surface of the chest is covered in little people and they all grin at me as I rise the stairs. They are my little team of supporters and I always smile back.

The important thing, I am finding, is to stop my mind falling into slumber. If I entertain myself and my mind with a routine of sorts, allowing the odd dash into spontaneity and unlikelihood, whilst sustaining a healthy approach to the necessary round of small things, I can make it all the way to the evening. To enter into a day with no plan of action just doesn’t work for me. And, yet, it used to work so well. I could plan all I liked but then a child falls into the bog or gets stuck up a tree, or leaves home, aged 6, in a wild fury, to mention but a few of the many things that always happened should I dare to make a plan, it was essential that I moved to plan-less mode. In these unusual times, however, it seems important for a well-laid out daily plan to be well-laid out and implemented. As we are all confined to quarters and some to eighths or even sixteenths, I imagine we all feel this. After all, there is a limit to how many times you want to count the roses on the wallpaper, or sort the freezer, or hoover the crumbs. Small things get bigger if they are given enough attention. And that can be good and it can be bad. If the small thing appears as an irritation and is allowed to grow, I could find myself in a frightfully bad mood by lunchtime. On the other hand if the small thing is a kindness gift, due attention given to detail and presentation, then everyone is happy.

My key is to hold on to the constants and the perpetuals. Okay they might be soft toys or they might be out there in nature, like birds and rocks and daffydowndillys, for those of us who can see nature between buildings. I am aware there are many who would have to look very hard to see nature at all in this time. The odd pigeon might not cut the mustard. Drab streets, rules about going out, and so on. It’s just tougher, as it always is, among those for whom everything is always tougher. But now, here comes the leveller. Nobody is privileged against this enemy. No amount of wealth or privilege makes one jot of difference, and we are all afraid at times.

In times of ‘strait’ and fear, of lack and loss, thinking outside of ourselves is most helpful. The day will take its usual length of time to keel over so we may as well entertain ourselves and everyone else we can think of right up to night. Sharing what we have, teaching each other, working together, thinking outside of self, sharing ideas, recipes, jokes, stories, all these create bonds that no enemy can cut. Developing a relationship by asking questions and really listening with empathy sets that relationship up for life. Investing in what we can do for someone else has consequences, beneficial to all parties. Too long we have only shown interest in our own lives, families, friends, work and choice of sandwich filler. A change of heart demands action. I agree that we need to take care of ourselves in order to stay the right way up, but it is good, nonetheless, to remind ourselves, gently, that we have this golden opportunity to do something we have never done before. Like sending an I Love You message, just because. Maybe someone you know could do with talking about how they feel. Maybe they might need pulling closer to the fire to hear a story.

We will all have stories to tell once this is over. We can start writing it now.

Island Blog – A Mouse, A Monday and a Child

It’s Monday, but it could be Sunday for all the quiet out there. On the island we are taking this Covid 19 virus very seriously indeed, unlike other places, or so I am told. We plan to survive this siege and although our drawbridge is now firmly up, we have found a way to keep in touch. I get funny videos and cheery texts and FaceTime calls often and I am very grateful for them. Being a natural hugger I now have to stand far away from anyone I meet, washing my hands before touching anything they have touched, and it feels deeply weird. We are looking in now, finding things for entertainment, edutainment and upliftment. All those ‘ments’ are forcing us to use our big brains, and inventiveness is the key.

So, this morning, I decide to print out photos of my hundreds of grandchildren and their parents, captured moments of fun, in wild places, doing crazy things. I know where my Picturemate printer is. It’s on a shelf in the Land of Mouse, a dark cupboard underneath the stairs. The space is like a mini fairyland, draped exquisitely with cobwebs, the many shelves holding ancient nonsense. There are photo albums that date back to slavery, old recording equipment, wires for nothing we still employ and, in the nighttime bit, the big fat darkness, lie the Christmas decorations, silenced for another year in the belly of an old school trunk circa 1820. I can see where the mouse has made a nest or two, chewed through some obsolete wires, nibbled at the edges of this album or that cardboard box, and I whisper Good Luck Mate. I don’t mind living with you as long as you respect my Importants. Eventually, I find the printer and haul it out through the cobwebs. Now to affix it to my laptop with the right plug. So far so good. I find the downloaded photos and begin.

And that is where I stop. All I manage to achieve, in spite of double and triple checking the settings is one leg of one child on one spit of paper and the other leg on the next. At this rate I will have to assemble 12 photo sized cards in order to make one whole child. And there are 3 of them in this picture. It makes no sense to me, but even though I apply my finest and calmest logic to the matter, I make no headway, much like in the printing process, for the head of child number one never printed at all. I unplug the printer, save the photos in my gallery (I think) and return the box to fairyland. I think the mouse has jinxed it.

In the bigger picture, this little pictorial upset is nothing. But, we must be careful not to let such small things grow. And we must help each other to do the same, to see wide and free and the drawbridge down once more. It will come. And this time will have thinked us all. We will have found strengths we never knew we had, friends we never thought cared that much, ideas that come, that only ever come in times of extreme fear and deprivation. The human spirit marvels me.

I just wish mine could work out how to print a whole child.

Island Blog – Snow Angels

This very day I set sail, winds permitting, for the mainland. Destination the French Alps. I travel with family, kiddies and adults and am away for a week. In theory I will don ski boots and give the slopes a chance to delight and excite me, but my last efforts at maintaining the vertical in such conditions warn me that I may not continue with my lessons. Back in the day when I was a tricky teenager I really hated ski lessons. In fact, I only had one and that was enough. I am a walker by nature, taking my time, gathering no speed and certainly not at the mercy of those long Turkish slippers. In walking, I control myself.

It thinks me. Although I am not interested in gathering unnecessary speed either grounded or in elevated position, such as on the back of a horse, or inside a car, or, even, on skis, I always like to give something my best shot before saying this is not for me. It is the same with anything I do in life. To say ‘this is not for me’ without experiential knowledge of that to which I say No, is just plain foolish. How can I possibly know from the outside of anything? Of course, there are many things in this life, in any life, to which saying No is just not an option. But there are ways around that too.

Say I am stuck in a job I dislike, that doesn’t float my boat. I may dread stepping into another day of this arduous drudgery, among these people who aren’t of my tribe, who don’t respect and value my work, and yet it seems I have no choice if the bread is to be earned. There are two ways to change how this goes. Either I tell myself that these people do not define me, that I know my work is of value and that I wholly respect myself, leading me to research new work and to give in my notice, or I take a good look at my perception of the situation and work on changing it. I know, from experience that this is entirely possible when giving in notice is a million miles from possible.

Snow is both cold and exciting. If I don’t continue with my lessons there is a vast array of alternative pleasures. I could walk over it, listening to the scrunch of it beneath my feet, look back on my footprints alongside all the others of those who have walked this way before me. I could consider their lives, their size and weight, their choice of boot. I could look up to where the mountains point into the sky, imagine the cold up there, wonder who climbed so high and how it might have changed their view on life. I could see the flowers in Springtime, now sleeping beneath their winter blanket, careless of the weight of human trudge. I could hear the laughter, ride on the chairlift, laugh and play with snowballs, breathe in the ice and feel it freeze my face. I could watch the skiers and marvel at their skill, my heart in my mouth as they hurtle down the breast of this huge majestic mountain. I could even see Hannibal and his elephants and wonder at his courage.

In ordinary times, as the West Coast rain rains and rains without ceasing, it is hard to imagine that in a few hours I will be in a very different landscape. I have my writing pad, my books, my waterproof kit and, most important of all, I have me. How this holiday goes for me is down to me, no matter how many others I may share it with. In order to really ‘see’ it all, I must clear my misperceptions and step out naked, obviously not literally or I may not get home at all, and be as a child, ready for any mystery to open out before me. It is no different at home, just much harder to believe in, but it is the key to life and I have proved it over and over again. The drudge is inside a mind, not out there, as is my definition of myself, my love and respect of self, my childlike sense of mystery ahead. And, although it could be hard to make a snow angel from rain, I will give it my best shot when I get home.

Island Blog – Patching and a Merry Dance

As I complete my task of sewing up a hole in Sheepy, it comes to me. All my days I have worked on repairing the tears other people made in things, in each other. From Sheepies to hearts, from fixtures to fittings, through burned casseroles to burned chances, I have pulled out my needle and thread or my magic wand or the car keys and set out to patch and heal. I felt like an angel at times when it seemed to work and an obstacle in the way when it didn’t. This morning’s epiphany showed me that a lot of my actions were, in fact, self-gratification. Although my intent was to dry sad eyes and to mend broken hearts, I had set myself up as the answer to the problem. In other words, it was really all about me, not them. It saddens me to realise this. My own longing for love manifested itself in my attempts to please others, more, to be the one inside their lives who could patch to perfection. A wiser me would have done it differently. A wiser me would have stood beside them in their desert and listened, comforted, told them they can sort this and asked them how they might see themselves doing just that, whilst assuring them I would stay right beside them at all times.

I am grateful, always, for the way life teaches me important lessons. Not as an opportunity to blame myself but to move forward in my learning, with curiosity and acceptance. The way a new understanding comes into my head whilst repairing a hole in Sheepy chuckles me, even if I do immediately dash back over the decades past with a machete in my hand, ready to take revenge on my earlier ignorant self. Woa! I say. Steady girl. That woman back there had the best intentions and did good, really good, mostly. She didn’t know what you know now, old woman. She didn’t know the lack of unconditional love in her own life would drive her to select herself as guardian protector of pretty much everyone in her care. Give her a break and tell her Thank you for all you did in love.

These are wise words. Seeing something old in a new light, one that illuminates all the faulty wiring simply means I tried my very best under the circumstances. No matter that I was naive or seeking to fill my own black hole with good deeds (which never works by the way). Let the judge in me leave the courtroom. I recall my mum saying a similar thing to me once after she had felt criticised and judged by us. She said, simply, I Did My Best. And so she did.

However, whilst we girls and women of good intention repair until our fingers bleed, we may forget that we too need that care and love. I certainly did. I took the smallest portion, the back seat, the last straw. I taught myself to accept mean graces because all the best ones were doled out to others. I was the one who cleaned out the landcover with a smile, allowing everyone else to run indoors for toast and jam. I was the one who couldn’t sleep if a child was troubled at school. I was the soother, I was the warmth and the safety net. But what was I to me? Not enough and there’s another learning. In my day to think of self for more than five minutes was heresy. Women who shared the same turning of the earth, at the same time as I, knew this too. To be accused of being selfish was devastating.

Now we know different and thank goodness for that. However, it does present us with a problem. If we have loved and patched and healed others for most of our lives, how can we now place ourselves centre stage? The super trooper is too bright and we have forgotten our lines. Do we have opinions or did we just repeat the ones we heard others opine? Do we like pasta, kangaroos, thunderstorms, cats, driving, dancing naked in the rain? Can we quickly make a decision when someone asks Early Grey, Darjeeling, Builders, or coffee? Oh……I’ll have what you’re having. Wrong answer. But we all make it. We have spent so many years obliging that we have mislaid ourselves.

Recently I have been stopping myself from answering like a well trained robot when faced with a question. I pause. this pause can irritate the questioner. It’s a simple question after all but I am tossed on a stormy sea and feeling seasick. In the past I was a I’ll Have What You’re Having sort of woman and she is quick to come forward at such times with her pinny on straight and her bright voice loud in my ears. I push her back. Hold………! What is it I want? I know what I want but I don’t think it will be popular so I can’t let it out. Speaking my truth takes balls and I am terrified of critical judgement, of upsetting the others, the applecart. However, it also feels free-ing.

I suspect it is never too late to learn. I’m curious, too. I might discover what I do like, what I do want and that learning might lead me a very merry dance.

Island Blog – The Great Sadness

I have no other name for it. Nor can I explain it, although I have tried, many times over the decades of my long life. In the search for meaning, for an explanation, we are forgiven our walks up blind alleys. It is only human to want an answer. As a child I felt it. It would suddenly invade my mind when I was most definitely looking the other way. Suddenly, even in a gathering of family or peers, in what seemed to be a happy moment, it would hit me full whack. At a young age I had no way of understanding it. I just thought that it was because Angela had pink flashing socks and mine were ordinary white, albeit with a Daz sparkle. Or that Mary had a hamster.

Later, as a supposedly intelligent and educated young women it still hit me. At a party, for which I had taken about five hours to dress, and surrounded by friends and music and a short term freedom, or walking down the town on a Saturday morning with money to spend on something ridiculous like shiny hot pants or chain-rattling tough girl boots, the Great Sadness would punch me in the gut and stumble me. it would leave me completely alone in a huge crowd, like a girl on a raft mid Pacific. Sometimes someone would spot the change and ask a kindly question, but I soon lost them as I explained what a weirdo I was. I think they were scared they might catch something dodgy. I find the same now, in the evening of my life. The only people who don’t run for the next bus are intuits, counsellors or very close friends. Friend, actually. She gets me, even if she does also consider me a weirdo.

As a child I was considered strange, difficult, obtuse etc. I could be brilliant, and I was, supreming at music, writing and insight, but the latter threw even the most open-hearted guides. I was too young, too confounded by the Sadness and, thus, too much of a threat to my peers who seemed not to ever think beyond hamsters or pink flashing socks. I felt alienated and had no idea why. This huge thing I still cannot explain shows me much. I have now learned to welcome it and to walk beside it, even if it really hurts. I used to hang it on pegs. Must be this thing, this person, this event, this fear. Not now. As I grow a stronger connection to nature and to the wildness around me, I accept the Great Sadness as an integral part of the whole point of things, of life and not just this one but the millions of lives already lived to the end. I consider myself privileged to have been visited by it from childhood, even if it did cause a tapselteerie; even if it did label me a weirdo; even if my friends’ mothers shook their heads and scuttled their daughters away; even if my own mum looked at me as she might look at ET.

There are times when I cannot lift my mental boots out of the mud. It is not that I am depressed. There are days when I imagine flying off a cliff. I do not plan to. I am just the honoured host for the Great Sadness, one that shows me all the pain in the world. I hear the cries, feel, intensely, the agony of struggle and cruelty, feel the joy and the happiness too. It’s like being in balance. I can hold the pain and the joy inside me at the same time without having to explain or justify a thing. Nor does it fear me. It gives me a real good look into the truth. And that is something most of us avoid. We would rather push it away when it hurts, buy something, plan a holiday, phone a friend, turn on the TV. But to sit with it when it comes in is not for the faint hearted. It is uncomfortable at best, and this visitor stays just as long as they like.

I am still a student. for over 60 years I have run from the Great Sadness, but it won’t go away, no matter what I do. I think when a person is very creative, the Great Sadness comes too. I see it in art and writing and music that gasps me. Oh, I think, there it is. It won’t be explained, nor justified, nor hung on a peg. It makes its choice. The key is to let it in, like a visitor you don’t much want, who has arrived at the most inconvenient time, and who has no plans to leave for a while. It will not be rebuked, nor thrown out. I am only sad I didn’t read the Great Sadness manual aged six.

Might have been just a bit further on by now.

Island Blog 155 Should or Must

 

Should Must

 

I read an online paper called Brainpickings.  I recommend it highly.  Someone miles away spends all her time researching and presenting thoughts on pretty much everything.  What I most like is her choice of material and the way she delves deep into the inner workings of her subject, supporting it with other writers’ observations, scientific fact and personal comment.  Her funding for all this work comes solely from voluntary contributions.  She obviously feels she ‘must’ do this for her life to be as fulfilled as she wants it to be.  I doubt there’s a ‘should’ in sight.

How many times a day do we say, or hear another say, ‘Oh I should be doing such and such….’ or I ‘ought to get back and get this job done’?  In our very words we are saying how terribly much we would rather not do those jobs at all.  Any sentence with an ‘ought’ or a ‘should’ inside it needs challenging. It means we are not doing what feels right to us and yet we fail so often to question our own sense of integrity at this point, mindlessly performing tasks like circus animals, for the benefit of others.

I am not saying that we do only that which we want to do.  How riddickerluss would that be?  A great number of us would spend all day in bed, or on a beach, or watching Friends Series 256 from start to finish. No dinners would ever be prepared and the housework would go to pot.  Dogs wouldn’t be walked, nor windows cleaned, nor gardens gardened, if on that particular day we didn’t want to do any of it. Nobody would commute to work and the world of commerce would die on its feet.

I am also not saying that we should swing the full 90 away from ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ because daily work is good, regular ordinary tasks essential to our lives, our businesses, our jobs.  The key is to walk away from the should, just a little and check out the view.  If I didn’t do this thing, this mindless thing that I hate doing, and no longer want to do to please this person or that, what would I do instead?  It wouldn’t be nothing, no, it would be something, so what something feels right to me?  What, in fact Must I do, for my own sense of what is right?  Now that, my dears, is the right question.  Must is when the task ahead, not necessarily an exciting one, becomes exactly the right thing to be done, in order to move on; to reach the goal, the fulfillment, the sense of achievement.  I must do this and so I will.

Simples.

In my experience, inner questioning is essential.  It’s the beginning of Mindfulness.

Did you know that 99% of all the work that leads to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the painting that sells for millions, or the grown child who says Thank you Mum for teaching me all the right things in life, is done alone and unnoticed?  The glory world we live in now, the glamour of it, the annorexia of its body and spirit, the fast-track dash to ultimate success, is one of illusions.  Watch less tv, read no newspapers for a month and then see how you feel about life around you.  It is a remarkable fact that what we do/watch/listen to/surround ourselves with, on a daily basis, can turn us from ourselves, can tell us ‘this is what the world says, so it must be true’ and can corrupt our glorious human nature.

I say read more Brainpickings, read more books that lift our spirits, either novels or non-fiction.  Read ‘Feral’, read ‘The Road Less Travelled’, read anything, but read.  We writers have some good things to pass on.

This now from Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my heroines, a woman way ahead of her time, independent, strong, beautiful and wise.”  When you adopt the standards and values of someone else….you surrender your own integrity……(and) become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.”

Following her is Elle Luna from her book The Crossroads of Should and Must.   Read them both, and then walk off into silence and reflect. And then, question every move you make.

“When we choose Should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.

Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires – unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own – and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive”

‘Must’ be the difference between being alive……

and merely living.