Island Blog- Rule of Thumb

The dawn turned the far hills blood red. Although Father Sun rises behind my home, he makes his presence known in casts of colour, short-lived but marvellous to see. The sky, flat and brushed with Payne’s grey, Rose Madder and Ultramarine looks like it is unsure about what to do next. Threatened storms may roar around us as they often do, we who stick out into the Atlantic like a determined finger, independent of any weather forecast. It thinks me.

In a few days I will have been married for 48 years. We both will. A lot of what happened over those years were not as I had dreamt, nor planned. My ideal of a marriage is not so unusual. White knight, independence, the freedom to make my own choices, take my own actions, sing my own song and all under the loving and approving smile of a benign king. I would share the throne, choose my own frocks, laugh loudly when I wanted, speak out my truth and be heard. I’m not saying this never happened because it did, but where I thought this would be a rule of thumb, I found, at times, that I was under said thumb and unable to rise to my full stature.

Did it damage me, this thumb thing? It did not. Instead I have learned that on many of those remembered and unremembered times, I had a lesson to learn. I would have been, and can still be, too quick to respond, to act, to speak out. My vivid and often unrealistic imagination could have launched me into trouble without that thumb. I thank the thumb owner, that’s what I do, now that I can look back and join up the dots. I married a man 10 years my senior for a very good reason, even though I didn’t do so consciously. Somehow, my sub conscious knew what was best for me, what or who would keep me safe from danger, from myself.

I would never, even in my wildest dreams, have lived the live I have lived, the one I shared with my king. I would never have known the exciting highs nor experienced the awful lows without him and his thumb. In balance, and this is where the dot joining comes in, my life, our life together has been extraordinary from the beginning and all the way up to the now. When I recall our adventures, the spontaneity of them, the sudden Let’s Go thing, the way we led our children into independent thought, creative action, kindness towards all living people and things; the way we laughed and partied, invited and welcomed, shared and made ourselves known in the work we collectively undertook. The way we steadfastly marched on through bad times, poor times, times when our inventive strengths pulled us through. And the way we made a difference, made memories that so many others share and still remember with fondness and a chuckle.

It was never plain sailing, not for either of us. I doubt that marriage ever is, for anyone. But, to survive and thrive through such a vast ocean of years is to have made many sail corrections. Thousands. Millions. And we have, and we still are making those corrections, working with the winds of time, rising over and over again, no matter how big the waves, how fickle the chop, how far away the next peaceful harbour.

I feel honoured and proud. We did it. We got through. And we are still here, still breathing, still sailing towards a new horizon. Together.

Island Blog – Lock Down Light

Well you can’t do that. Lock down light. Light will seep under a doorway as you sit in the dark, catch you in a flash of lightning, astonish you as you meet it in someone’s eyes. Light will out. And we love it. The thrill of light can turn a dark moment/person/situation/problem into a new possibility and, even if we can’t explain ourselves at that time, or after that encounter, our sub conscious minds will surely find a way. The only way to lock down light is by putting it into a dark and sealed box. Then it is no longer light, but darkness, and so it seems to me that we are the ones who decide on the existence of light.

We use the word ‘light’ in so many ways. Things are illuminated by something, or someone, else. We throw light on something…..in the light of this new understanding, this reflection, this memory…. We choose to stand in the light; we find light in a dark time; we share our light with another who keeps crashing into things; we accept light as a gift when we ourselves are fumbling about looking for a metaphorical candle. Light is us and we are light.

In this lockdown time, light is being shone on all aspects of our individual lives, those of others, and on the whole world. Although the problems #the dark of our lives were always there, we could ignore them, to a degree. We could move over them, overcome ourselves as we acknowledged they were here to stay. In short, we fabric-ed them into our normality, accepting them with varying levels of grace and grit. But not now. Now, it’s if someone with a Big Pen is highlighting those things and we are being forced to look at them, all yellow and luminous in a sea of black text.

This is a good thing. This chance to change is on offer, free of charge. Only in a crisis do we humans stop to pay attention. All those years of accepting this, or doing that the way I did is up for questioning, and we cannot avoid it. Nor must we. There are small businesses going down, people losing homes, work, lives, family. This is a light throw on our whole existence and however uncomfortable it is, however painful, it will show us a new way and will keep us safe in the end. Those who, right now, think the world is ending will discover it has no intention of abdicating the throne. New opportunities will arise for all those goodly folk who feel they are permanently broken. As long as they remember the light, and, when they forget, someone will bring it to them.

I am not one of those unfortunate people and my heart aches for them all. It must be terrifying. But, having lived as long as I have, I know the feeling well and it passes. It passes because we humans are strong, resilient, resourceful creatures with marvellous brains. We are Light. We can think. We can reason. We can flip our whole life if we decide to. Many have. Many have changed everything and, in doing so, become light for the rest of us.

The light of the lockdown will not be contained inside a box and turned into darkness. It is showing, instead, how much we want to give, how enterprising we are, how strongly linked we are to the muscle of survival, and not just with plans to survive, but to thrive once more, shining out new light into a new order.

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 – The Ambience of Time

‘Ambience – the quality or character given to a sound recording by the space in which the sound occurs.’

That’s just one meaning of the word but one I like, on consideration. Quality, Character, Space In Which The Sound Occurs. In other words, the Moment. Life is but a series of moments, so many missed, wished away, ignored, rejected in a lunatic hurtle to either a new beginning or to the end of it. In a quest for happiness we can miss it all. No wonder so many lie on their bed of death in a cloud of regret, not, perhaps at their whole life but at those moments missed, ones that now take on the aspect and the voice of the Final Jury.

Ah, foolish man, foolish woman. There is enough well-crafted literature out there for us all to become professional livers of life, words gifted to those with eyes to read, ears to hear, minds to learn and feet to stay grounded in each moment, turning up for every one of them. It is easy to understand the rightness of such thinking, such a way of being but the world is loud as a bully and equally as daunting. Although we know that a bully is all fur coat and no nickers once ignored as we might a persistent bluebottle, the daunt is still there like an overwhelming fear, and it can confound the best of us.

However, knowing something is for the logic brain. Feelings, by contrast, riddle our minds, our hearts, our choices and our definition of self, like bullets from a machine gun. It’s spaghetti junction inside, a tangle of ups and downs, rounds and backs again, and appears beyond our control, as indeed feelings are. But here we have a choice. My choice is to say ‘Okay, I hear you all. All the feelings, all the logic learned from others way wiser than I and nothing makes a jot of sense. There is no flipshot way I can sort this tangle out. None of you agree for a kick-off and I am down here, little me in my frock and wellies wondering how deep the puddles will be today, bothering about my piddling worries, the state of the world and whether the battery on my phone will last until I get home again. So here’s the plan. You carry on disagreeing and tangling and arguing with each other and I am going to spend this day watching the moments as they come to me. I’m going to notice each one, be thankful for them all as they come and go and when this day is done I might check in on you bickering brats, or I might not. I know you are a gift. I know that all you feelings and all you counteractive logicians are, and have been, wonderful guides throughout my life, barring the times you meet each other across the valley of my mind with staves and spears, guns and a lot of yelling, but this day you are too much for me. There is a life down here being lived and it is I who am living it. So I choose to ignore you and to settle like a fatling hen upon her eggs for this day alone’.

I only have today. So do you. So does every living soul, regardless of status (perceived or real), colour, creed, race, history, size, plans and wealth. Just today. How will I live it? How will you? Will we hurtle in our steely rockets, slicing the moments into forgettable fractions or will we stop and share a smile, buy a beggar a burger and mug of hot tea, ask a colleague how they really are, phone mum, write an encouraging letter or email, study the pidgeon on the window ledge until we really see it?

There will always be a tangle within. We are humans with tangles. But if we forget to live our lives moment by moment, our life will still be lived without us being a part of it. Letting go of the tangles won’t bother them much, at first, but in choosing to notice everything and by some magical and out-there process, this tangle is no match for a person who lets go and who lives just this day as it is, who simply turns up, curious and wild at heart.

I leave you with a wisdom from Sarah Manguso:-

‘Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments – an inability to accept life as on-going.’ and, in her writing about keeping a journal…..

‘I just wanted to retain the whole memory of my life, to control the itinerary of my visitations, to forget what I wanted to forget.

Good luck with that, whispered the dead.’

Island Blog 94 The Right to Write

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As the story grows and the characters take form and substance, grow opinions and modes of behaviour, I find myself stepping back a bit.  After all, I am not really there in this game, not really walking through the doors into the rooms, not visible to any of them.  And yet, if I don’t make them move, they stand still and silent and nothing moves forward.

They are not mere puppets, though, and their world not fashioned by me.  I didn’t think them up out of nowhere, paint on their faces, line up their strings.  They came to me and said hallo and I turned to take a good look.  We decided we like each other, tentatively at first, for there are no end of opportunities for us to fall out.  Even when things appear to be swimming along, quite joco, the tables can turn a surprise on us all.

Part of being able to present, if that’s the right word, a believable character, first to the reader, and secondly to the storyline, is through intense observation of all human beings encountered.  I watch dynamics between people, study body language, the way a person shrugs when asked a hoary question, for instance.  What do her shoulders do as she shrugs, her face, how does it look?  Does she turn away in miserable defeat, or do her eyes tell me she is working up a mouthful of bullets to spit right back?  Does she have a dog/child/handbag and where is the dog/child/handbag when this dodgy question is asked?  Is she in a crowded place or on a mountain top at sunrise?  Why sunrise?  Why a crowded place?  Does she like one over the other and is she in the place that feels most comfortable, or the opposite?

These are but minutes in days of writing practice – practice in my imagination first, then lobbed into my left brain to find the potholes in the path it is choosing to go down.  I write down words, ‘how can this happen?’ questions, speak them out into an empty room or toss them into the wind that ever blows around the island shores.  I must not meddle with this process, or try to rush it, or that part of the story, perhaps the whole thing, will turn to mud, as my paintings did when I couldn’t put down the brush to wait patiently for an answer.

In life, we often don’t wait for answers, believing that it is down to us, to me, to fix this thing and right now before it irritates any more of the bejabers out of me and, besides, I can’t think straight with it fannying around my head, because I have a to-do list awaiting me……look, there it sits on the desk with hardly a tick beside any of it!

Wrong thinking.  The answer, when considering options, texture and colours for an inter-weave of characters inside a story is to stop thinking.  Of course, it isn’t possible, well, not for me, to unthink once I am in the deep fabric of a piece of writing because I am already part of the life of it and interested, fascinated, intrigued and excited to know who will do what next, and when.  But, I can push it/them/ gently behind the cogs and pistons of my brain allowing forward another thing or two to busy me a bit, and to give the story time to evolve without me.

Without me?  you cry.  But I must control it all the time.

Now let me ask you this.  If it were down to just you, or just me to control everything in our lives, would it be a good thing, do you think?

Just play back on a few bloomers in the past, when control of a thing was down to you.

The most important and critical thing to understand, is this.  Gazing wistfully at a published writer, with varying degrees of apparent success will not write your story.  Only you, only I, can write our own stories because only we can bring that texture, those colours and that melody into the light, and if you or I never turn to say hallo to an idea, a storyline, a character, it will stay forever in the shadows of regret.  We don’t need to know how to do it. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but, as I reach out my hand in welcome, I suddenly realise that I am not alone.  It is not just me.  And so, it begins.