Island Blog – Tribute

Yesterday at 0600 we set off for a day in Kruger Park. This vast expanse of wild bush covering over one million hectares is the home of the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant. However, there are many more species living in symbiosis. The Ground Snail (size of my clenched fist), Leopard Tortoise (the only one who can swim) Golden Orb spiders whose webs are as wide as I can throw my arms, Giraffe, Zebra, Wild Dog, Jackals, Vultures, Fish Eagle, Warthog, Hyena, myriad birds of spectacular colour and size and so much more. My eyeballs threatened to fall out with all that looking. Just a tiny movement through the thorn trees could mean, well, anything and it is so easy to miss a sighting. Camouflage is everything. Although we didn’t manage to find Lion or Leopard, we saw many species just doing their thing over the course of nine hours, including a newborn elephant beside his dauntingly huge mama. A gaggle of parked cars meant ‘something’ and so we stopped too, to look. Refreshment stops en route kept us sustained and it made me see how easy life is for us in comparison to all those creatures who must always be on the hunt for their next meal.

As I sat in back of the truck I thought about that. I also thought about the driver, the guide, our protector, my son. He, who has lived a long time surrounded by wild animals and the ways of Africa, marvels me. All my children do. I observe their traverse through adulthood. I watch them deal with daily thingumabobs and disappointments, news both good and bad, ups and downs, people, animals and things, horizons foreshortened and expanded, and, most tricksy of all, unforeseen changes to their inner maps. Although their innate goodness and respect of all life may have had something to do with the way their father and I guided them through childhood, they have each developed their own set of rules, grown their own characters, chosen their own considered paths and set out to walk them down. They have moved on a long way since those days of learning values from us, and now they are parents themselves, teaching values to their own children, probably as clueless as we were, stumbling in the darkness of inexperience, their lights always in need of a re-charge in order to keep the momentum up and the noise down.

But it is their core selves that lift my heart. How did you become so strong and wonderfully good? I whisper that to myself, for I fear they would not have an answer to that. Not one of them is a ‘product’ of their parents. They have become themselves, each one different to the rest and yet with a set of principles that sing in harmony. I admire them beyond admiration and observe their daily ordinariness with a smile. I have also learned #amstilllearning to observe without comment at times when I can see things going a bit diplodocus, for my own words can only come from my own experience and there’s the limitation spelled out for you. It doesn’t mean I can’t be of use at times of trouble and strife but go canny old girl and keep quiet unless asked for help. That’s what I whisper to myself. This is their life now.

I reckon I am blest beyond blessings. In ignorance I helped to grow these remarkable human beings. Each one has gone through a big load of trouble on their journeys and from that trouble, they have grown strong and light. Their ability to see the fun in life, their attention to detail, their love of and respect for all living things and the way not one of them ever gives up marvels me. And now, they teach me too. They tell me that life will always go on, that hope is full of beans and goodness will never be out of fashion.

And, yesterday, traversing Kruger Park, I thought about all of that, as my youngest guided us through one of the last reaches of natural, unspoiled, raw beauty; where life and death walk hand in hand and where very few live to tell their tale.

Island Blog 156 Another Way Back Home

2014-12-31 09.15.26

I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same.  Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same.  Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.

People throng through these streets.  I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me.  They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more.  Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious.  How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops.  One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy.  I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze.  I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.

I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon.  I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off,  I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst.   Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city.  It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars.  Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is.  The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top.  The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.

We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too.  It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle.  And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine.  If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire.  We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’.  We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.

However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing.  It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work.  Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years.  What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first.  I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.

I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me!   I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run.  Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath.  Simples.

I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome.  Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along.  It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.

I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done.  It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years.  Why should I change it?

But….  if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.

Another way back home.

Island Blog 154 Reality Check

Rumi wisdom

As I sit here tapping on the keys of a laptop, waiting for my friends to wake up to another glorious morning in Argyll, I consider our conversation last night over dinner, on Perception and Reality. We had spent the afternoon developing depth and texture on one of my songs. Again, they said, sing that again, only, this time, shorten the vowel sound and give it more breath. Slowly but surely, a single line of melody took on colour and light. There were six of me in the end, in as perfect a repeat as made no difference. It’s interesting how difficult it is to sing exactly the same over an original melody line, not so much the rise and fall of the notes in sequence, but more the length of beats in a single word, such as ‘gold’ or ‘right’. If the consonants don’t land at precisely the same point (and a nanosecond matters) then it can sound like a shower of bullets. T-t-t……etc. I considered bringing the importance of such perfect repetition into ordinary life, hence the conversation. I may walk through exactly the same situation as you, but our perception of it can be chalk versus cheese.
Why is that, and is it okay, good, even, to have different slants, sometimes as many as there are people involved? Of course, it can make for war, and often has, and will continue to do so as long as people walk the earth; one that seems to be managing to extinguish rather a lot of its inhabitants. On a goodly sunshine day, and in a warm, easy, light-hearted situation, such as a merry meet in the bakery or on the street, our differences in perception and ‘reality’ matter little. We can walk away, wave, think what we like once the meet is done, but life isn’t about merry meets all the time.
Sometimes we butt up against an opinion we do not share, but however skilled we are at marketing our own, however loud we talk, however clever our words, we can never change the perception of another soul. We do not live their life, share their dreams and longings, feel their pain, know their joy, understand their song. And we have never looked through their eyes. We may try to do just that and call it empathy. We learn to listen, some of us, and then to mindfully consider that our own perception of reality, the one we are absolutely convinced is the blue print, just might be a blur to another.
At the moment we are all facing a Perception/Reality check, as the country moves towards election day. Some of us will shrug it off, not bother to vote, asking What’s the Point when Nothing Changes? We are bombarded with arguments, one party shouting its promises, another berating those promises as so much rubbish. Accusations of past failure, one-upmanship, clever quips and outright slander is all around us. Who is right to lead us and do we believe in the depth and texture, the perfect unity of their song, or do we feel bullet-battered and uncertain of the melody line?
One thing is for certain. If we bother to vote, at least we make it clear that our own reality matters to us, however we perceive it.

Island Blog 106 A Timely Light

Fungus2

First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who comments on my blogs.  Your responses to my own thoughts, thrown out into the world, come back to me like a soft warm morning full of birdsong.  I write as I feel, looking not for a Well Done, but to touch on another’s life, to connect a couple of dots perhaps, to feel I am not alone, not physically, but in my innermost self, that woman I am stuck with, as she is, with me.

It makes me consider these two women – the visible one and Her Indoors, and the oftentimes mismatch between the two of us.

In the early hours before dawn, I ask myself big questions, such as who are you?  and what do you want of this life? and why do we get in the way of each other?  and why is it we aren’t perfectly aligned in our thinking?  I know it may be a tad late to be addressing these major issues, but I seem to be doing it now and, besides, time is an illusion, whatever that means.

When I meet someone, I observe her intently.  I learn much about her from how she says what she says, her body language, her choice of dress, the pitch and volume of their voice.  I can hear clearly what the inner person is saying, however much talk comes out of her mouth.  Is she really herself or is she fitting in to the shape either she, or others, require of her?  Is her confidence real or built only on the sand of her expectations?  What drives her?  The need to be thought of as a ‘good’ woman, or the need to be true to herself, or a bit of both?  Does she feel she has done her very best in this life, or is there an ache of regret and loss, and how well has she managed to conceal it under bright merriment and high rise cheese souffles?

I often feel there is a wasp in between me and someone of whom I have just asked a personal question.  One like….. Are You Happy?  Oh, I will get a list of all those things she may quickly pull into the room like the success of her children, the fact that the Co-op now sells mixed peel outside of the Christmas period, the arrival of the Redwings to colour up an autumn scene, but she won’t answer me direct.  After all, what she feels about her life is not important at all.  What is important is how she can make others happy, and this the point when I am in danger of falling out with Her Indoors, because I understand it completely and it is surely a goodly way to live, isn’t it?

No, it is not enough, and becomes glaringly clear when the children fly the coop, and she is without purpose, unless she has been ‘selfish’ during the busy years, and taken time to develop and grow her own interest, one that can support her to the end of her days.

When I look back on my own life, I see how fortunate I have been in my choices.  I found a man who has never understood for one second the shrieking sharp-toothed Her Indoors, but has loved her anyway, even if he did have to walk about in full armour-plating for many years, which was wise of him considering my deadly aim.

I think we don’t need to seek acceptance, nor understanding for the inner person, except from ourselves.  The big mistake is to bury her, or him, for this applies to both species, and then to blame an outsider for our own refusal to let light in.

Without light, nothing grows but fungus.

Island Blog 102 – Memories

2013-07-13 21.22.06

 

 

 

They are funny things, memories, but not necessarily in a ha-ha way.  If anyone has ever asked a couple to describe their rememberings from any area or time of their shared life, you will have felt, as I have, that they definitely weren’t there together.

When my own mum recounts something from my childhood, she tells it in a way that assures me I was in another family at the time.  I used to think she was right and that I was wrong – ever the swing from either to or – and that this ‘wrong’ in me was because I……..what?  Wanted it to be different?  possibly.  Refused to acknowledge the truth?  possibly.  Had blanked out reality in favour of fairyland?  possibly.

Nowadays I see it differently because I understand that she saw me through her own eyes, as a child inside her life and that wasn’t how I saw it at all.  I looked with my own eyes, filtered each experience through my own emotions, needs, hopes and dreams, which were never hers.  She has ideas for me that I didn’t like or understand or even want.  So, the battle begins early in a life, the battle for a good hold on reality.

And who is to say what Reality is?

Even in a marriage, where two supposed adults, really still children themselves, encounter days and times and moments together, the looking will differ to varying degrees.  Where one sees rain, the other sees the light inside a raindrop.  One feels he cold, the other doesn’t, so was that house a cold, uncomfortable one or was it a wonderful home, or was it both at the same time?  And, in the spinning out of the tale of of it, who will name it?

Then, there are the ears that hear that tale.  Are they on one side or on the other according to who or what they personally relate to?  If I am angry about something or someone, I will, however ‘good hearted’ I may be, paint them in certain colours, and colours stick, words stick, take root and grow.

It isn’t as simple as the glass half-full, half-empty cliche.  Cliches are always too simple, sounding like goodly truths but lacking substance, texture, depth and context.  They may help to elevate our thoughts and this is helpful indeed, but no living soul is ever one type of person or another.  To get from black to white and back again, we must allow and embrace a thousand shades of grey, and it is inside those greys we mostly live out our days.

So, now, as an old woman (I love being an old woman, choosing, as I do, the picture of old age as a cumulation of experience and wisdom and of letting go) I can hear a story re-spoken and learn, from it’s presentation, more about the person speaking it out than I ever do about the ‘facts’.  I even hear my own voice doing the telling and notice where I put the emphasis, what colours I choose, what body language I employ, what tone.  And it often smiles me a lot.

On days when I only see the rain, there is a moan and a whine in any telling out.  The simple question How are You? can see me grabbing someone’s hand and leading them into a miserable dark wet cavern littered with the old bones of all the women I hoped to become and allowed to die without a voice.  On days when I am energetic enough to slip between the raindrops, pausing to catch the warmth of their reflected light, I can swirl us both into the sky along with the fairies and the angels and actually feel critical of their need to tell me about the bunions on their big toes.

Same circumstances.  Exactly the same circumstances.  The days are the same, the tasks the same, the view the same, and yet everything is different.

So, although we are all within the parameters of this day Friday September 20th, and even if we spend a part of it together, we will tell very stories about it’s 24 hour span.

Which of us is ‘right’ I wonder?

Island Blog 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams

Tapselteerie

 

 

 

 

Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.

Island Blog 59 – Dolphins

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

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

Not an option for me.

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

Colour. Attitude. Confidence. Letting go.

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

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

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

And dolphins often play in a slipstream.