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 – Hide and Seek

Peering out this morning, through rain smeared windows, the birds look like they are fraying at the edges. The flowers too, poor bowed soldiers in the face of a strong opponent, flagging beauty, ripped petals, but still standing firmly rooted. I had a wee chat with them this morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders. Stay strong, I told them. This too shall pass. Returning to the warm and coffee and a chattering woodturner, I think today will be a day to hide in. Not from, but in.

As a child, hide and seek was the best game ever, especially in a friends house where there were many more rooms than people. Connecting corridors, secret doors, lofts and cellars. the ‘hider’ could disappear for days on end in that rich man’s castle. However, the slightest sound of incoming sparked a rich anticipatory excitement in my young breast. I wanted to be found. I had been inside this old wine barrel for ages, my twisted legs were sound asleep and I wanted one of Cook’s jammy dodgers. Funny how things change. At first, I wanted to stay hidden forever and then, at the first creak of a floorboard, I longed for deliverance. It thinks me.

At times I want to hide away. I can see me now, in my mind’s eye, dropping like a stone behind the sofa when someone knocks on the door. I remember dashing upstairs to dive under the duvet, blocking my ears from the ‘Hallooooo!’ noise as someone just walked in. I don’t answer the phone, avoid the picture window through which everyone looks as they walk by. In short, I invoke no intrusion on my hide-ness. Of course, on Hide days everyone and his wife call, visit or peer in. On Seek days, when I would happily host a convention complete with light refreshments, the world is silent, mouthless, happy doing something else that doesn’t involve me.

Hiding during isolation and lockjaw (down) is simples. Almost nobody is out there. In fact, for all I know, the island has set sail for other lands; perhaps Englandshire is no longer attached to Scotland; perhaps all the islanders, bar the odd one or two who walk by, have emigrated to Australia and there is just us left, hiding from nothing and no-one, never again to be sought. The thought smiles me, but only because I know it to be imaginary nonsense. Of course everyone is still here; of course we are still joined from south to far north and of course all the islanders still inhabit the homes I know belong to them. That’s true……isn’t it?

Half the fun of Hide and Seek was getting lost myself. If I was seeking, creeping on silent toes, avoiding old creaker boards, and not committing to memory the way I had come, I could find myself half way down a completely unknown darkened corridor with someone coming my way. It could be her ladyship, in full sail, as ever and with a tongue inside her thin strip of a mouth that could cut through steel; or it could be his Fumbleship, the ancient old grandpa who thought everything a chuckle, especially his sharp edged daughter in law. I remember overhearing her tell him once that he was only living there because of her great beneficence. I didn’t know what that word meant, but he did, and after a great hoot of laughter, one that nearly carried him downstairs rather faster than usual, he continued his merry way leaving her pink faced and puffing. He found me that day, hiding behind the desk he always sat at to read his paper. Hallo little one, he whispered. My eyes were wide with rabbit terror but he just chuckled softly. Shhhhh, he said. I won’t tell. And I was more than happy to remain hidden, hearing his gentle breathing , the snap of news pages, my nose inhaling the smell of his pipe.

I felt both hidden and sought. And in that moment I knew I could be both at the one time. It filled a space in me I never knew was there. Instead of either this or that, either black or white, either yes or no, there was a whole wonderful world in between and I for one decided I would step into that world, curious as Alice.

And so it is, still.

Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.

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.’