Island Blog – The Sky, Skerries and Staying

Today it is falling, the sky I mean. Earlier the pocks of deeper grey sat like skerries in a white sea. A few spots of soft rain fell, hardly worth a mention, but the wind was cooler than of late. Now the sky is leaking down onto the land, covering the hills, blanking out the trees, undefining contours of a land I know like I know myself. But do I know myself, I wonder? I think I do, and yet, there are times I catch my reflection and stop, mildly astonished (oxymoron). You do know, I tell myself in my best English student remonstratory voice, that it is impossible to be mildly astonished. This is lazy ‘speke’. Astonished, is, after all, a superlative and ‘mildly’ does little more than dilute with too much milk. It blands itself. And it thinks me.

I studied and loved language. English, French, German, even Latin, and am still a devotee of the way language flows like a river. Or it can do but, if I am honest, less and less nowadays in the ways learned by me. I remember my old dad with his linguistic brilliance, puffing like an old pipe should he encounter poor English, poor grammar, the ‘wrong’ use of punctuation. I also recall a conversation with him about acceptance. As cultures collide and collude, language shifts. We adopt and adapt and before we know it, words fall away like birds. When I read a classic novel, superbly crafted and written, it seems effortlessly and in lingual confidence, I can see that without incursive verbalism such writing would indeed flow like a river for a creator of stories. So do we, the now ‘we’, who must work with the fast moving changes of our world, go with what is, or resist and remain in academic slippers? We could, but we would risk losing a load of readers because language is changing. We might find ourselves moving up a floor, and up again, until the only person left is a lonely one. All the rest have died off, and their slippers are too worn for a charity shop, and burned as litter.

I find new language dynamic and fascinating, even as my eyes roll at much of what I read. Get with it old woman, I tell myself, because if you do, you remain in the game, the game that is life in motion. To refuse to abdicate the throne of those torn and floppy slippers is to choose loneliness. As writers, and we can all be a writer if we just pick up a pen and are ready to learn and grow in the world of words, we are duty bound to be gymnasts. Not actually gymnasts, the thought exhausts me, but acceptance gymnasts. There is another type, the one that holds on to the slippers for grounding, and who does a lot of eye rolling and pipe puffing and shuffles from room to room as if there is no world out there and if there is then I want none of it. I am not this person.

We live with danger, threat and menace. We are hacked and hi-jacked. We are compromised, surprised, confined and defined. Out there racial and sexual prejudice is alive and kicking, literally. The sky is falling. But wait. Look at how the sky reaches down both to confuse and to alter our perceptional lens. See how, in the not-seeing of what we know invites us to look at something another way. We can dismiss this as an opportunity, ignore it, even, say Mist, say Fog, say Close the Curtains. Or we can actually look and if we do, we will marvel. It is the same with words, with language, with change and with people. I get that it is exhausting (nearly said pretty exhausting #oxymoron) to be always required to adapt and adopt, but it is the way the world is spinning, faster and faster. New technology brings both healing and death, the whole circle, and the greys in between are like the skerries in a white sky sea. There are millions of them and each one offers footfall. They are like stepping stones. We might not know where they lead but if we don’t keep leaping from one to the next, we remain lonely, in slippers and pipe puffing at what only we consider lost.

I can write into the mist, or it can blind me. I can see banks of clouds or I can see skerries in a white sea. I can allow new cultures to enhance me or inhibit. I can hold to the old or I can estew the new, allowing myself to simmer and to blend with whatever comes in. Together we can make a delicious meal. I am not a new writer. I am honed from past teachings but I am curious and interested and I want to stay in the game.

Island Blog – Conversation

I miss it. Conversation. Talking to myself is all very well but I know what is coming next, in the main. This morning, from 4 am, I soaked some sun-dried tomatoes in fragrant herby oil, washed spinach leaves for later, ironed my latest baby playmat and ate breakfast at 5. This means I feel like lunch by 11 so I asked the clock not to look at me like that and proceeded to fry 3 small slices of Hallumi cheese, adding salad, tomatoes and olives. Lunch done by 11.15. Now what? I’m bored of you, I tell myself. I can sense her behind me. She is a bit huffy at first but she is me and me stands her ground. We face each other. Look, I say, no offence but we have been stuck together since March 14th 2020 and apart from Himself #compromisedandsilent, carers, nurses and doctors, it has been just us. I think we have both aged ten years. It certainly looks like it in those mirrored reflections. We have just run out of interesting things to say to each other. Oh, we can jibber about what to eat for lunch, and jabber about timing for a dog walk or the rain or puddles or the mail arriving or if this tree will finally land on the house having threatened it, noisily, for days now, but it is just is not enough. Not any more. Our thrill today was two phone calls, one to call me in for a covid jag and the second to tell my my application for a postal vote is being considered. The excitement is deafening.

After we have talked awhile, she suggests, as we are both extremely tired, that we watch some TV. TV? Inside the daylight? You are so kidding me, no way. Aw, come on, she soothes. I know that tone and I bristle. We are weary and bored of each other, she reminds me. I feel a bit uncomfortable as I hadn’t considered she was bored of me too, but I got over that quickquick. Stand, ground etc. I capitulate. I don’t want to sew, nor clear the mess in the garden, nor lug in the logs, nor pretty much everything else. Ok, I concede and make tea. Call the Midwife, that will do nicely. I turn my back to the light, to the view, to the window and the rain and slump down in my horrible cream leather armchair with push button leg elevation thing. I bought these horrible cream leather sitapons for easy wiping down when Himself was dropping food like there was no tomorrowland. Anyway, once I have watched one, cried every time a baby was born and moved on to the next, I know she made the right decision for us both. It passed the time for starters and somehow calmed me. Now that thinks me.

Triggers. I was told and in no uncertain terms by my mother-in-law that sitting down in the daytime was unforgivable, as was buying myself flowers or a ring, definitely not that. Watching TV in the daylight was about the worst of them all. It was perfectly fine for men to do that, to watch cricket or football or Parliament in session but not for we women. Good god no. We should be ironing, washing, preparing food, preserving fruits, shelling peas, that sort of thing. We could read a book as long as it was a cookery book or one that guided us through the vast and imprisoning rulebook on wifedom, motherhood and active community engagement. It seems that trigger is alive and kicking for I feel it sharp-toothed and even have to check that my guide on How To Be The Perfect Woman isn’t standing right behind me with that look on her face. Ah. Let us take a look at this. It bizarres me in this considerably more freeing but not finished yet by a long chalk culture around what women should and should not do or be, that the voices of my past still hold sway.

I walk the dog, a bit wearily I must confess and she, the dog, was a tad miffed at the shortness of it, but it was raining and I was weary and just how much do you think I care about that? All over her face, yes, it was. Home, and some exercise for Henry who was surprisingly agile considering all that time he sits on his butt in the cupboard under the stairs with the spiders and the mice and the old photos of people nobody has a clue about. I am glad the gale has blown herself out. She was way too loud for me. I wonder where she is gone? Does a gale dissipate, fliffle away to nothing or does she hit another shore with the same ferocity she brought to bear here? I don’t know. I am just happy to have her gone. I see the branches, limbs, strewn across the track, in my garden. The bird seed is everywhere but on the table. But it is quiet now. There is peace now. And for that I am thankful.

The fire burns merrily. I am safe with myself and she’s a good egg to be honest. I suspect this marriage of minds is complex. We have never had so long together, never. There was always someone else, or someone elses to chip in comment, demand, decide, guide, lead and support. Now it is just us. It may take awhile to learn how to live together.

Island Blog – This Journey

I will agree that these lockdowns have given us time to reflect. It has also given us fear and a stuttering of easy movement. Any journey holds both. Even going to the local shop on a little island. Imaginary demons lurk on every door handle and in every breathy encounter. Even from behind a mask we are cautious of guffaws so we try not to be funny, even if being funny is our absolute thing. For those of us who love to cheer others no matter what, our vocal chords are compromised if not fettered, our lungs on hold. We turn our faces away from other faces we know so well, pushing out a gentle Good Morning with as little puff as we can, for we must not forget the responsibility we carry. Touching anything is risky. Touching each other, forbidden, even if touching is our absolute thing. It is stultifying at times and we must not give in to imaginary fears. We must keep journeying for we cannot hold back the days any more than we can hold back the virus. Both are invisible.

Other invisible things also keep coming, rolling beneath our feet like thunder. These things can confound. Not now, we say, Not Now! But they do come anyway, bringing birds into bellies, all a-flutter and a-twist. Some of us must go to another place, a hospital, perhaps, for a check up or an essential operation. We must ride the road, traverse the water, open doors, breathe in air that may or may not be healthy and fresh. I think of these folk, compromised, fearful. I hope they have good family support. I wish them the very best outcome and enough courage to push away the fear. These journeys, in ordinary times, were bad enough. Now it must feel like a walk into Dante’s Inferno. I know of some who are back home now and healing well, who have journeyed through the Inferno and are cool again and safe. This is how it can be and this is what to focus on, never mind the flutter and twist of belly birds. It is natural to be afraid at such times. We feel thus as we face the unknown.

My way is to look at the other side of things, the flip side, the arrival and not the departure. When a journey is inevitable, no matter how badly we might wish it away, there is a choice. Look at the fear and feed it, or don’t. Instead look at the smile on your face when it is all behind you, when this journey that looms is already a fading memory. Look at what you can learn as the journey flows beneath you. Notice and reflect and store these observations away for a future think. Precious are these observations, the shared chuckles, the muffle of masked conversation. Look out and up at Nature as she flies by the car window. See how the clouds part and conjoin, how the sun takes a quick peek at you, enough to dazzle. See how quiet are the roads, how the rain spits up from the car ahead, how crimson are the tail lights. Listen to the music coming from the speaker. In other words create a distraction, create many of them. What you allow into your mind is what your mind will develop. It is such a powerful lesson to learn. No matter the journey, no matter the timing, we have a chance to learn something we never imagined was there at all.

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 – Bloomers, Sunlight, Lacklight, and Tatties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Island Blog 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 147 If Not Now

georgebernardshaw385438

 

 

Today is Halloween and I already have a witch or two in my head, and if crossed, in my mouth.  Not a really bad witch, but one of those ones that knows her power and won’t take any messing.  I like her.  She is a tad unpredictable, but we work together pretty well in the main, perhaps because I am also a tad unpredictable.  Witches are really ‘storybook’ to me, I don’t do black magic at all, although the white ones are worth a second look. I pull them in and shape them up for whatever hurdles I need to cross on a daily basis.  My witches are humourous and feisty, clever and quick, kindly but firm, independent, solo, and able to lift above any situation with a switch of a wand.  They don’t sport warts, nor crooked chins, nor do they cackle unless it’s whilst watching the ‘bad’ guys fall into their own come-uppance, in which case, I cackle too.

My time on Skye was wonderful.  Every time I travel to new places, I meet new people and people fascinate me.  I watch them and I listen and I learn.  I stayed as a guest in a lovely home overlooking a sea-loch that raged and spat for days, driven mercilessly into a right stooshie by strong winds and heavy rainfall.  The rain travelled sideways, whipping into my face and grabbing the breath out of me.  It was hard to stand up whilst walking two lively spaniels whose main aim was to find rabbits and chase them, not possible whilst held firmly on a lead, but nonethless, their aim.  When we had the rare sighting of a car approaching along the single-track road, we had to bundle into the grass in a fairly undignified heap, the spaniels panting for breath and the blood cut off from my lead-holding fingers.  Waving was tricky, lifting just my hand and not a whole spaniel into the air.  I was treated like royalty and yet welcomed as part of the family and now I have new friends, new people to learn from, a new bond between us.  Just as an aiside, I belong to the Scottish Book Trust who can sponser such trips and I am always delighted to be invited anywhere in Scotland to talk about Island Wife, to sing my songs, to reach out to people who relate to my story, in book groups, libraries, or at any public event.  I know, shameless marketing!

Moving on…….

In every area of life, there are people.  Machines do a hec of a lot to assist communication, its reach and the speed of it, but we need people or there is no heart.  Talking of hearts, I believe hearts are inherently good, even when the outside of someone challenges that theory.  Nothing is black or white, we are all both, plus all those rainbow colours in between.  Of course, life can throw us from time to time, but none of us want to be remembered, or pidgeon-holed at such times, especially if the outside of us says different.  But we can and do define people, if we’re honest, by their behaviour on a certain day/week/month or year.  We may be asked to describe someone.  We may say…..well, she is very good at her job but dreadfully overweight.  Now why do we add that last bit?  Is it that we must balance a good thing with such an unnecessary comment?  It’s irrelevant to the profile of that person and, sadly, the one thing that will be remembered.  Her overweight is something she doesn’t like either, we can be sure of that.  I have heard such defining often and, to my shame, said nothing.  I remember one of my boys saying once ‘I wonder why we don’t stand up for each other’ and he is right.  Why don’t we?  Perhaps we don’t want to be the reason for any awkward feelings.  After all, we can just remove ourselves can’t we and think how judgemental that comment was and the person who made it.  It’s easier that way.  But aren’t we judging too by keeping quiet?  It has a name this keeping quiet thing.  Although we didn’t directly commit the crime, we affirmed it by omission.  We omitted to stand and be counted.  In this climate of not standing, we need to make changes.  I have a rule for myself.  If I wouldn’t say something direct to a person, then I won’t say it at all.  I can’t always manage it.  I am human.  But what I aspire to, and practice, will eventually become a habit.

We are all doing our best to manage our lives.  We fall, we falter, we stumble and we crack, but we are not china cups and we can mend.  Not one single one of us knows what it is like to live another’s life.  The saying that we should not judge another man till we have walked a mile in his shoes, is a good one.  Even living closely with another human being tells us little of what lies in their hearts, what dreams are shattered, what disappointments hurt, what shame or oppression has done to their sense of self.  Little choices make up our pathways, but we cannot all walk straight and tall if those pathways are not going the way we want them to.  We redress the balance as best we can, and it takes time to find the normal, sometimes a long time, often a long time.  If I have learned anything in my life it is that I am not an island.  Although I love solitude and am happy on my own, I still crave a warm smile when life feels like it’s wrapped me in chains and thrown a tsunami in my face.  Stopping to smile back, to ask How Are You? and to listen to the answer can lift me far higher than any job-well-done will ever do.  I may rush by you, Can’t Stop, and you may understand my busyness, and I may complete the housework in record time, but, I am smile-less deep inside and not lifted up at all.  Better, by far, that I dally a while with you beside the dried goods and coffees for a human encounter.  We are dead a long time.  Life is for us to live or it will carry on without us.

If not now, then when?