Island Blog – Rain, Alice, Getonwithit and no Cat

This morning as I rise from my sleeping quarters at some ridiculous hour I decide that enough is enough. From the moment I stumbled into the bathroom I knew it at gut level. This day is going to be my return to Getonwithit. I know the place well, have lived for lengthy periods of time within its borders during my long life and it offers considerable sustainability and protection. Its gardens are beautiful, long expanses of emerald grass tonguing into the distance, borders fragrant and blowsy with blooms in every colour of the palette; pretty arbours and trellises of clambering beauty, falling like waterfalls to brush against my cheek as I wander through. Birds flit and flutter among the shrubs and trees, butterflies of every hue, bees and other winged buzzy things sip nectar from open-mouthed blossoms, backlit by the nurturing sun, their stripes and wing patches painting magic on the garden canvas. I can wander all morning here, sit to rest on a garden bench whilst my eyes go deeper into the foliage to see more and yet more of nature’s life. In the evening I can watch the light fade to dark, the sun dip beyond the horizon, feel gentle sleep nudge at my edges.

The trouble is that my stay is limited and never long enough. The double trouble is that I am the one who decides to leave, my edgy gypsy wandering mind becoming bored of all this wonderfulness, for no reason the rest of me can explain, and clamouring for the bark and bite of everything harsh and difficult. From simple not-thinking to complex over-thinking. I blame my parents.

So, this morning I considered a few things. Swinging from Getonwithit with all its simplicity to Questions Without Answers is a waste of my resources. The key is to think Child. I had forgotten her, the wee Alice, the one who keeps falling down habit holes, sorry, rabbit holes, and who accepts a smile without a cat as if that’s completely normal. I find her. She is sitting on the stairs, half way up, half way down and I almost ping to the bottom in a tripcartwheel. I start a bit but I am happy she hasn’t abandoned me, me with my edgy mind. How patient she is, I smile to myself and myself rolls her eyes. Children, I remind myself, get on with it. They may not like the things they are ordered to do. They may not like living along the lines of a rule book they had no say in, but in the main they find fun in their lives. That is what Getonwithit shows me when I am there and this morning I am going back. Myself eyes me, knowingly.

It rains today and blows a hooligan. Stripes of heavenly water cut my window panes into slices and the wind batters the seedlings. Petals flee, birds scoot backwards and walking folk look like kites as they pass, their waterproofs flapping out behind them like wings. Dogs drench, woodpiles sigh and soften, the sky frowns and dumps on us. I can go back to Questions with no Answers, to a droop, to gloom, to the whom I had allowed myself to become recently, or, and this is my choice, I can remember Alice and fun and Getonwithit. So I do, we all do. Me, the dog-about-to-drench, Alice, and the rain, join as one this afternoon as we walk out into the wild, lowering beneath the wet beech leaflimbs , dodging the puddles, smelling the rain, the lovely scent of newfall . And there is a smile in the branches as we wander.

No cat.

Island Blog – Plan Be

As the doors re-open into others’ worlds, shops, cafes and space, I acknowledge a little turbulence in that moment when I get out of my car in order to move along a narrow pavement, people heavy. Okay, I am outside now, so…. mask? Not mask? Inside the shop there are thingies on the floor to keep us a metre apart but this doesn’t work in doorways nor when someone remembers they forgot something and makes a U turn between the acres of alcohol and a long colour run of biscuits and cakes. Unable to disappear, there are at best, 12 inches between the U-Turner and the long queue of masked up distanced basket carriers. Suddenly we are, momentarily, way too close for comfort. I help an old lady with her bags, taking her arm on the steps. Of course I do. It wonders me, my choice to do this when I almost felled a structure of pink wafers in my frantic reversement just a few moments ago. This is indeed a time of wonderment. It takes me back to one of those ballets I was in a hundred years ago, one of the Little Swans, I think, all tippytoes and tutu, breathless and terrified and way too close together for ballet shoe freedom of speech.

But I must not give in to fear. I refuse. Stoutly. This is at attitude I have learned and infused into my very bones. The fact that it doesn’t work for me is, largely, my failure. I hear stories of those who have moved beyond the unholy mess of fear and doubt that we currently live in, those who have ‘mastered’ their fear and done it anyway, whatever ‘it’ was. They are beautiful, confident, unreal. I buy into it, and, in doing so, I fail. Again. So how do we ordinary folk doing our best with all our current limitations, whether extraneous or intrinsic (and ps btw how do we know the difference) make sense of it all? How do we correct the imbalance between fear and doing it anyway? It seems to me the biggest map of all, the biggest gap of all, the one between us and where we want to be. It is as wide and as daunting as the Sonoran desert. I have (had) a husband who crossed that desert, that Sonoran Desert with its 1000 square miles of nothing and no-one but sand and massive heat and massive cold and a blast of sudden butterflies to clog the radiator half way across.

My thinking, my counsellor’s advice, is to take baby steps, one day at a time, all that stuff.. Even as I know it is the only way, it bugs me. I’m thinking this. I have got this far, I am 68, mother to five, grandmother to ten plus two steps and surely I have done my baby stepping? I had loads of confidence once. Where the hell is it now? But it seems we still have to work, we oldies, and maybe that’s a good thing, however much it irritates me. These days I notice a gamut of emotions swirling inside my heart bringing thoughts that are not always helpful. The loss of self confidence, the emptiness of this space I inhabit, the feeling that something huge and irreplaceable is gone for ever, all swipe me sideways at times. I walk, I read positive books, I study (deeply) the power of emotions and how to both allow and control them. At first, no, for yonks, I have bought into the theory that moving on or moving through is all about control, self control, emotional control ya-di-ya. This belief has held me up, and possibly down, for most of my life, swooping right back to childhood. Stuff happens. It hurts. Deal with yourself and come back down when you are like the rest of us, aka fitting in and not trying to break the sound barrier. I tell someone I feel sad, afraid, lacking in confidence and angry and they say nothing for a split second, but here it comes……’But look at the sunshine/Spring/flowers/view, as if any of those things have anything to do with how I feel. Such a response is counter intuitive and counter intelligent but we all make that response because we have never been taught how to allow a ‘negative’ just to be.

I walk further, forgetting to acknowledge Lady Larch, for which I will need to apologise tomorrow, not that she is crabbit about such things. She has taken a very very long time to get to her full height and knows a thing or two about distracted walkers passing beneath her graceful branches. I pick up ideas along the banks, from among the self-heal, the wood anemones, sorrel and bluebells, colourful ideas with petals that follow the sun or petals that line a stem, indigo against the bright green grasses. They tumble around in my mind. What is the key to this emotional rampage? Do I allow or do I control or do I both or do I neither? Which way is up? I know about down. Down is always right there.

Listening to a talk today on exactly this subject, I have learned something. I think I have been hoodwinked into believing in the horns of a dilemma, either this, or that, black or white, positive or negative. Our culture promotes Positive, big time. After all, the alternative is pretty unappealing. Who wants to be negative? Negative is glass half empty. Negative is dark, slow, miserable. Negative needs to look up more, look out more. Negative needs to get over herself, get out there, do something for someone else – in other words please make sure you run away from negative as far and as fast as you can. Better, deny it exists, at least in me, in my heart, in my ticketyboo life. As I write this, I chuckle. How utterly ridiculous it sounds as it reads itself back to me. But that is what I have been doing. I have made an art of not being negative, of being insistently positive, of pretending, of not truthing. I am damn good at it, excellent in fact and I am about to deconstruct my own myth, not that I can take all the credit for its pervasive presence within our culture, one that has been fed to us like mother’s milk for generations. So how exactly do I put my inner construct of beliefs back together again in a new shape? Behold all these minute complex parts spread out before me for which there are is no instruction manual? The myriad and tiny parts look up at me and titter. I am not daunted, I refuse to be. That would be me siding with you know who. After all, I have lived almost 7 decades, each one loaded with learnings, with ups and downs and with many an adventure. So, maybe I don’t need to reconstruct this structure of beliefs. Perhaps I just need to let the old lie there in pieces and to walk back out into the world open-hearted, curious and interested. If I just notice my emotions, acknowledge them, all of them, the negative and the positive, then maybe a natural construct of beliefs will form all by itself. I could watch it happen as an observer. I could be emotionally agile, ready to change, ready to adapt at a moment’s notice, ready to engage.

This morning I ‘noticed’ I felt grief, loss, sadness and fear with a sprinkling of anxiety as garnish and with a side of self-doubt. I wrote them down. There they are in a neat list on the page before me. Hallo you. I said. But what I did not say is Go Away. I did not scrunch up the paper and use it as a spill to light my pipe. I did not shut down my heart, draw the dead bolts, pull up the drawbridge, whisper insurgence in the ears of the guard dogs and then hide under the bed. I just watched the list from time to time and said Hallo you. I thought a little about each feeling, brushing over its surface with my fingers, gently. I was kind to each one of them. Yes you hurt. Yes you feel sharp and (interestingly) judgmental and that is when it came to me like a blinding flash. That is the moment I blew up the old belief structure because deciding to be positive always makes a judge of any negatives. I should not feel this way. I do feel this way. Therefore it is I who am to blame. This crime is punishable by a whole stretch of time wherein I will find a gazillion ways to tell myself that I am a waste of space, always was and that there is no earthly chance of anything good ever happening to me because I just don’t deserve it. Anyone relate?

Accepting that ‘There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ is mildly helpful but the wisdom is not explained very well. If thinking is also a crime, or poor thinking, negative thinking, then off I go again with the self-flagellation. However, if thoughts are unconscious, if such thoughts precede emotions, then they are extraneous, surely? They come at me about 60,000 times a day. My mind is never still and nor btw is yours. There is nothing we can do about this truth but what we can do is to ‘notice’ an emotion, an unconscious thought, to step back from it, to observe and acknowledge it and then make a choice, of action perhaps or maybe inaction. A decision made based on doing nothing much, just noticing, observing, watching or a considered decision that is not a dash for the safety net of positivity. Dashing into a response just gives that random emotion or unconscious thought all of the power, power over me, over you and it ultimately denies the existence of that sad, angry, fearful feeling which achieves two things. First it tells the thinker that he or she was wrong to think that way and second, it fuels up the ‘negative’ feeling for a far greater assault another day.

Bereavement brings so many thoughts and emotions. I want to wind time back and re-do or re-don’t many things. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Even when my relatively sane mind is busy on some project or even fast asleep, my unconscious is working away like a busy little bee so that my decision not to think about the somethings I regret, missed out on or wish had never happened just makes that bee very happy giving it full permission to fatten up the very things I don’t want to think about. Don’t think about an elephant. I know, you just thought about an elephant. But it isn’t just people like me with a dead husband of just a few months who are bursting with emotional chaos just now. The lockdowns, the indecision, the fear of catching the virus, all collude with inner confusion to confound so many of us. We hardly know what to think any more and it will take many of us long time to grow new confidence. And that is perfectly okay. Let us take the time. Let us let ourselves move at our own pace through whatever wilderness we wander, observing, noticing, but mostly not judging ourselves. Thoughts will come all the way up to that last breath. There is no stopping them, but, like a good sailor in a brisk breeze we can work with the thoughtweather. At times we can spill the wind, at others we can let the sails, fill fat-bellied, and just fly. At times we can moor in a peaceful cove, and at others, when the morning is fresh and the wind lively, we can weigh anchor and head far out to sea, laughing in the spray, exhilarated.

In the time between birth and death there are we. I plan to live that time as the very best me I can possibly be.

Island Blog – Not One Word

Although I make a considered choice to live in the present and always did, there are times when my brain and I are not working in sync. Like today. Today I feel 107 and furious at myself. I ask, Why are you feeling like this? even as I know the only way to trudge through such a day is to allow the unpleasant feelings to come to me so that we can have a wee chat. I don’t want to, nonetheless. I want to bat them away and for them to go bother someone else. But they are ours, says Myself and I roll my eyes at her. So damn wise she is and infuriatingly so, especially as I know her to be right. I whine a bit and decide to write a blog on the whole fiasco because writing is my therapy. There is nobody here with whom I can discuss this, speak out my feelings and receive reassurance. Not any more. The ordinary little conversations of old are now firmly parked in the past as I would not assault a passer by with my whines and moans. It just isn’t done, duckie, I hear my old ma say to me and I bat her away too.

My way of meditating is to walk entirely in the present moment, noticing everything and so I trudge out for a walk, noticing. I notice that the hungry deer are stripping the moss from the base of the big old trees. I notice a new primrose and the fat slug of an incoming tide as it squeezes through the narrows. I notice the sky, flat white and remember I need milk. I notice that the potholes have been filled in and that my neighbour’s attempts to keep out the rabbits is failing again. By now I am bored stiff of noticing and my brain still whirls and whorls, chuckles and gloats. Shame, it hisses, guilt and shame, regret and a refusal to accept that it is as it is and it was as it was and it will be…….Stop! I yell, and startle another walker, causing her wee dog to bark. Sorry, ignore me, I say and she smiles kindly. We wander together, my brain finally silenced with its ‘you are never enough’ nonsense, its criticisms and judgements, its false truths, the lies it tells me about me. I tell her I feel ancient as those trees today and she tells me she is going stir crazy with being stuck at home. She also finds her meditation in walks and we laugh a bit together. It helps.

I listen to an audio book for distraction, empty the bin into the wheelie, lob the wine bottles into the glass bin, the empty ones, of course. I think about supper. Good lord girl, its miles till supper! I know, I know, I snap back but this day has lasted a whole week and I am bored of Time and her achingly ponderous walk, as if she’s in trudge mode too. Next door my young neighbour is busy with planks and angle grinders. He is doing up the kitchen or the somewhere inside the house and he is positive and occupied and productive. As you were once, says Goody Two Shoes. I sigh. I remember. I also remember wishing I wasn’t any of those things but could, instead, sit for a long while watching a sunset or a bird or the grass grow. How strange is this life, so full of care etc etc. Used to be my favourite poem. Nowadays my poems of choice are on loss and loneliness, empty days and long. sleepless nights. Perhaps I need a poetry rethink.

I know that days like these come unbidden and unsought, that they blindside me and that I am always ill prepared for their assault. I know I have to get through them and that they will, like all things, pass. I imagine I am stronger, have grown in some way because of them but it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time. Acknowledging that I am only a newish widow, lonely, looking back on my life and the mistakes I now regret, is key. The judges are there and probably always will be but they will fade if invited in for that chat, or so the books tell me. I am not sure I can trust myself to be civil, however. What will they look like? My mother? My husband? That crow of a teacher who decided I was the devil in a frock? Probably all three and others too who helped me feel I was never enough. How does anyone converse with such a group without losing their cool? I don’t have an answer for that, not yet, maybe I never will. But wait……maybe I just let them in, pour them tea, sit them down and let them have their say. Once the tonguing is done, perhaps I rise with dignity, smile and show them out, saying not one word.

Yes, that’s what I will do. Let them think what they like. They think they know me but they don’t, not as I do. I check my brain. It’s asleep.

Island Blog – Up to Me

Morning has broken on this beautiful island and I am ready for the day. I write down all my sins of yesterday, something I do in order to release them. I see them fall away into the earth as neutral energy. Any actions I regret, thoughts that don’t serve me and, in particular, any poor-little-me conversations with my inner self, are all dealt with pre the boiled egg. It has become a habit. Once a habit is formed, it begins to trust in me and grows roots whilst pushing up a bit of green to catch any sunlight that might just be available in between hail showers. Life is like this, I think. I may be alone with nobody now to correct the trim of my sails with a raised eyebrow or a ‘shush’ or a ‘do you mind if I tell you something’ pre-cursor to criticism, but I am still responsible for my behaviour at all times. I yawn. It was so much easier when the judge lived with me (not that he always donned his wig and banged his gavel) to live in a well-established state of defence and defiance. Now that all of me is down to, well, all of me, I can spin a bit on my axis, if I am honest.

When everything, every moment, is my own choice, I no longer have to fight. I longed for that back when the naughty step grew flat and submissive beneath my butt. My voice does not rise in a whine and nor does my wordsmithing brain need to find big long words to justify or explain myself, as I sought to confound him with eloquence and delivery. Arguing with myself takes longer, seeing as both of us are wordsmithing away with equal power and a shared determination not to lose the battle, and it seems pointless anyway, because I know what I am going to say and what the impact of it will be and so does she. It’s like playing scrabble with myself.

Once I have written down my sins and before delivering them, mindfully, back into the earth as neutral energy, I eat the bit of paper. Biro tastes better than felt tip pen, I have discovered, even if it does turn my tongue black. The symbolism amuses me. Eat your sins, swallow, digest and let them go. Then decide not to sin again. Roger that, I say, even as I know that I must stick to my habit forming programme if I wish to avoid falling into the same sinship today. To be honest, my ‘sins’ are more like errors of judgement but I use the ‘sin’ word because it fits me like a crown, or it used to. Believing that you never quite get it right for decades makes it harder to budge such a belief, for it has big strong roots and a good ear for triggers. The cadence of a voice can flip doodle me; certain words or the catch of a sideways look; a silence; a less than welcome ‘Welcome!’ And these are fed by my incredible imagination, one that scoots me from Alice to the Wicked Witch of the West in a heartbeat. I hear what I think I want to hear even if I never want to hear it again.

What to do?, I ask myself, but she is as clueless as me and just sits there looking like a spare part, her face vacant. Well, someone needs to think this through and that’ll be me and so I write down everything from my thoughts, through to my ‘sins’, and on beyond to my goals and aspirations. Then I jot down the ‘how to’ of each and I’m already rolling my eyes at all that homework. But homework always was and is the key to change as I discovered by not doing it when at school. When Penny or Liz or Melanie charged forth in History or Maths or even Latin, with smug smiles and a pat on the head from Teacher, I was sent to the naughty step. What I didn’t seem to understand is that being a rebel is all very well providing you have a cause, and know clearly what that cause is, the how to and what and why of it. I have learned since those days that homework is essential, whatever life I choose to live, that daily practice (yawn) is the key to that door into a new place, and the only one. I honestly believed that something or someone would come to save me, make me happy and free of sins, but, of course, this is just a fairytale and never happens to nobody, including me.

So, once again, and with renewed energy, I start stepping through the morning, the hail stones, the beauty of this sea-girt land. I notice everything (excluding the un-hoovered carpet which is an exception to all rules) mindfully. I notice how I feel and what I think. I notice what tries to push me forward into action. Will it serve me, make me feel good about me, ease my troubled conscience? If t’is a no, then no it shall be, even though it is much harder to stay strong when there is only me and myself watching.

The naughty step is lonely now. I feel a bit sorry for it and sit on it now and again whilst I read from a book on self-improvement or happiness or self-control for we are long time friends. Then I look up and I smile out into the empty room, remembering that if it is to be, it is now entirely and exclusively up to me.

Island Blog – The Maker of Days

This day woke me at 3am. It happens sometimes. I know it isn’t morning for the light. It’s a night sort of light and greenish, weird. The morning light is like a hand outstretched, a golden warmth, even if it comes with a cold wind and a slamming of rain against the window. It has a different voice. The one at 3am is discordant, like a jay or a crow.

So who decided this day for me? Not me, for sure. I would make all my days happy, given the choice. Or I would, at the very least, explain myself when presenting a day to someone, were I in charge of it. I would explain that, in the great scheme of days, there needs to be the odd one or two that are shit. But that is not how it happens. The shit days come like a slap in the chops. They explain themselves not, nor do they forewarn. You go to bed all chipper from a day spent in productive this and productive that and go, trustingly, to sleep. Then comes the morning, or, in this case, the not morning, the green impish twister of an hour that offers nothing. Even if ignored it chatters on, fiddling with your legs until they twitch, and your head until it can take no more and must arise for herbal tea.

I am not the Maker of Days and I am glad of it. I think of it as a job given to some failed wizard who has been relegated to the outer circle of Middle Earth. I see him alone in his poorly assembled cabin in the middle of nowhere with no mates and no chance of a hot chai latte, with an outside latrine and a fire that refuses to draw. I see him lonely, pouring over his charts and drawings by candlelight, for he has a big job to do. There are millions of us waiting for our Day prescription, every 24 hours and all across the world. He can never sleep.

Tomorrow, I know, will be a gift. Tomorrow will be a good one. How do I know this? I know it because this is just how it is for me. One day wonderful, one day shit. They alternate and have done for many years but I only noticed the pattern recently. No matter what I do, nor how I think, nor what I eat, nor who I speak to or don’t, the pattern stays in place. On the days that are wonderful, I can see forever. I notice everything as just everything. On days that aren’t I see that everything crumbling or menacing and loud with it. I see fear and destruction in things that seem laughably simple on wonderful days. I doubt I am alone in this. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, the Maker of Days is stuck in his rut and it will be as he designs.

This day, this day that began at 3am with a weird green impish light and twitched my legs and refused me sleep, I know I am greater than the Maker of Days and I told him so. I pushed through chores, played music, spoke with a friend, got through to lunch. I ate well (home-made beetroot hummus, salad, oatcakes), rested and read. I sewed, fed the birds, chopped and barrowed in a stack of wood, swept floors and changed a bed, loving the fresh snap of new sheets and the final result of a pretty and welcoming bed for guests, which may have some waiting to do.

On my walk I watched the flip and snatch of a wind that reminded me of a pre-menstrual woman. All over the place. The luff and fist-punch of the wind this autumn is surprising. Hail meets rain with no lessening of the slam dunk. And, yet, it isn’t surprising at all., It has always been thus. It is my widow walk that elevates each single thing, each slam dunk, each moment, each day. I know this and I am impatient for it to be done. You listening, Maker of Days?

In my imagination I wander into the interior of Middle Earth and right up to his bothy. I know I would do this, in reality, were it an option. He is not scary. He is a fallen wizard, remember? I would ask him questions, sit by his fire, share stories and laughter and then go. He cannot change, not with that sentence over his head.

But I can.

Island Blog – Keep the Girl – Write the Woman

I watch the little bus round the sea-loch from the warmth of my conservatory. This bus looks warm, cosy even, all lit up like a party, although I know that inside there will be a smattering of grumpy teenagers heading for school. The headlights sparkle the frost, caught in the beam, striations of fairy dust. Then it is gone and the meadow settles back down again. The top of my car is white. White on black. Startling. Sweet peas, still standing, show me soft pinks and purples; a rose lifts crimson against the sunrise as the songbirds line my fence awaiting breakfast.

I remember waiting for the school bus. Grumpy, teenage, cold, isolated even inside a group. The world was a stinkhole. I wanted to join a circus, flee the country, anything to get me out of those awful school shoes that were made of steel and offered me no warmth at all; that uniform; that ridiculous beret that perched like a mushroom on my head. I blush now even to think we were made to stand out in such a way, like jokes. Does nobody think it through, this uniform business? Scratchy all the way down to the knickers, rigid enough to negate the chance of running anywhere, never mind to the circus, and all of us looking the same. Except we didn’t, of course. Some of us looked positively svelte inside those confines. Some of us had mothers who bent the rules a bit, thinking of the child first and the design of shoes, second. I had a friend whose mother bought her soft leather with pointed toes and a subtle design on the tongue. My tongue was also made of steel and stood up like a cows ear no matter how tightly laced into submission. My toes froze. Frost was my anathema.

In those days, when mothers and teachers, doctors and policemen told me how to live my life, giving no quarter whatsoever to my opinion, likes, dislikes or dreams, I gave in, as many others did. The svelte ones with avon guard mamas and papas were just lucky, that’s all. They were probably rich, owned lots of land, and sat on the board of directors. They had big homes and holidays on the Costa Del Sol twice a year, at least. Their daughters weren’t lumpish, or limping from chilblains, and they actually looked good in berets. They both fascinated and repelled me. I wasn’t allowed to write my own life, not even a line or two. I decided to go under cover.

Writing my own life was not the breeze I thought it would be. There was something deeply scary about stepping out of those steel shoes. The world is a very big place, buzzing with opinions and temptations and I felt I was walking into danger most of the time. When someone asked me what I wanted, my brain emptied of all thought. Nobody had asked me that before and now here I was, in a mini skirt, a tight-fitting top, lipstick and kohl, swinging on a bar stool and completely confounded. I won’t pretend I got it right first time. Babycham is disgusting after all. So were most of the men who slithered up to me looking like wannabe Bee Gees, all smiles and roving eyes. I was way out of my depth and I knew it. As I walked myself home, feeling colder than I ever did in my steel shoes, I decided there were as many ways to live a life as there were people and that I could choose for myself. I wrote down my plans.

Find a man older than those idiots. Get Married. Have lots of healthy children. Live in a wild place right beside the ocean. Cook warming stews and bake bread. Fill the home with laughter and song and people. Write a book. Keep the wild girl but write the woman.

And that is exactly what I did.

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 – Windstitch,Cloud Shadow, Birdlight and Fox Gloves

This wilderlight dawns a beauty. Sunshine goldens the little garden and birds catch it in their wing feathers as they lift and flutter overhead. Rainbow snow. Birdlight. I wonder if they know how much they delight, these little wild things. How on the grass they look like jewels and how, above me, they trill a healing melody. The poppies have survived another night of sea-wind and I welcome them with a smile and a word or two of encouragement. This morning, however, someone has sewn a stitch or two into that cloak of chilly salt-laden breath, arresting it, offering a challenge to change, to turn about face. The resulting warmth eases my bones, kisses my face, softens the tension in my skin, like a promise of something wonderful.

This morning a carer came back after 18 weeks of me managing on my own. She was almost as beautiful to see as a bird caught in sunlight, which is what she was. Together we showered himself and tidied up and the bubble of chatter, the catch up of news and opinions on various subjects lifted me yet further. Although I would not have welcomed any incoming before now, I am glad of human encounter that isn’t all about one person’s needs, moment by moment. Suddenly I found myself present in the unfolding dialogue. She complimented me on my hair cut. I told her she looked really bonnie, even though she was gloved up, face half hidden by a mask and crackling like a bonfire in her plastic apron. We discussed the village, a place I haven’t seen for weeks, the number of visitors cars, the walkers, the camper vans, the motor bikes. I had not realised how empty my mouth has been of anything that isn’t care related and the words flew out like birds, the laughter too.

Although we will remain isolated for some time to come (my choice), it is good to hear that life is waking up once more. Some folk have been trapped in small flats in cities, or alone in bed sits, and these folk must be twisting in the wind by now, desperate to catch on to its tail coat and to fly once more. To share a view, a joke, a meal, a conversation is what we all need and what we all miss, like fresh water when access to it is denied.

Sunlight tunnels through window slits as we move around the sun, illuminating the ordinary. A line of carpet, a vase of garden flowers, the shiver of iced tea in a sparkling glass. The doors are wide, the soft breeze fluttering the bird-curtain. Before the bird curtain, there were oft more birds inside than out, bashing against windows, terrified hearts pounding in tiny ribcages. When we are suddenly trapped, we panic. All of us, humans, animals, birds, insects, all of us. And we were trapped for a long time.

I watch cloud shadow on the far hillsides. Foxgloves disappear into it, then leap back crimson purple. We are like that. Lost in shadow at times, or caught up in a twist of wind, swept off our feet or shivering in sudden dark. It passes. Everything passes, be it what we want or what we don’t. Over this, over wind, time, sickness, cloud shadow; over times of exhilaration, loved ones, intense joy. Over all this we have no control. The very best we can do is to stand tall, rooted, blooming, ready for whatever comes.

And equally as ready to let it go.

Island Blog – Tribute

I always feel better after writing a blog. Is it, I ask myself, to offload, to teach, to preach, to, in other words, misuse my public forum? It’s a goodly question to ask myself. Once I have ferreted around in the cellars of myself, once I have come up feeling strong in my purpose, sure that it is not about me but about anyone else who may click with something I write, I write. This is one of those well-ferreted writes.

Today was troubled. The way it works for a full-time carer is this:- Day begins hopeful, trusting and light. Then one becomes two as the one in care descends the stairs, floating on metal poles and thanks to Major Tom, aka the chairlift. This is when the mode and mood of the day is proffered as IT. Now I have a choice and a decision to make. If the gloom descends with him, then I must attend to said gloom. I can resist it, but we all know resistance is futile. I can poke at it, ask questions, play bright, but I can hear my voice, in a slightly higher key, sounding sharp as badly cut tin. This won’t work. I lift my ass from my seat, round to the kitchen, make coffee, hot strong and black. Not enough. This gloom is following me, I can see it, smell it, feel its touch on my back. I swing about. Go Away! I hiss, but hissing works no better than resistance. I can feel it pulling at my skin, seeping in, changing me.

The day rolls slow. At 10 am I bake a cake, thinking, this will do it. It’s my usual flat pancake but with cherries which makes flat okay. Taste is everything, after all. We wander through the morning, him restless, moving moving moving all the time, the click and whir of the wheelchair setting my teeth on fire. Ears, I say, stop listening! I have always believed, and proved, that ears are obedient souls, if you organise them right. Pulling birdsong forward and pushing clicks whirs and other unpleasant noises back works well, for a while, but I must be vigilant. One relax and the click whirs are wild in my head whilst my teeth could burn down Rome, even from here. I read the affirmations on my kitchen wall. You can do this. I’m doing great. I believe in my dreams. This too shall pass. Those sorts of affirmations. Ya di ya I tell them today, but I don’t rip them down as I have in the past because that is resigning myself to the gloom. I cook, walk, feed birds, watch the clouds, berate Lady Moon for not showing me herself at 4 am and keep going, keep going, keep going.

It’s like holding up a bridge every single day. Just me (or just you). Mostly I can do this (so can you). Mostly. But it is exhausting, endless and with no end in sight. I have to be cheerful for two every single minute of every single day (so do you). I have to think ahead, plan, make sure the way is clear, be kind, laugh, smile, show up no matter how I feel or what I want. I could go a bit further for a walk. Easy. Not. I still could, but I don’t. On Gloom days I am fearful. What if he falls, gets more muddled about this or that, what if he just feels scared and needs me to hold that heavy bridge up?

This is caring. You who do it, already know. Outside of our lives are many who support us and show great compassion. We need it, oh boy we do, but they haven’t a scooby about what it’s like for us, minute by minute, day by endless day and I hope they never do. Holding up a bridge, alone, scared, ageing, tired, exhausted, doubting, weak and sleepless is something we have fallen in to. We won’t abandon our post but the ask is great.

I salute all of you who care enough to be caring. This is my tribute to you.

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.