Island Blog – Free Thinking

Cicero said, way back in the day when men wore skirts and women bathed in milk, Our Thoughts Are Free. I’ve thought about that a lot. My thoughts seem to come to me unbidden and unsought, triggered by something I have seen, heard or read. Some rogue thoughts are dangerous as they push like an uncontrolled mob into my mind, each jostling for prime position. Prime position requires the loudest voice and that voice is always critical, angry, accusing. How strange. How infuriating. Does this seriously mean that, even at my age, I must needs deal with these uninvited guests? Must I catch them sneaking in through the doors and windows of my mind and fell them with my trusty thought-feller?

I must – and daily. Thoughts are things, or they can become things – things like a choice of action or the decision to develop them inside my mind, bringing in my own resident judge, jury and courtroom full of hissing hecklers. I have done this a thousand times in the past until now. Now I am learning to stop and notice each thought, critical or uplifting; to step away from myself and to watch, a sort of eagle eye view of things, of me and my current thought. If the thought connects with something from the past, a cruel comment, a rejection or a mocking, it grows legs. I watch it happen. Now I have a choice, me on the outside of me. Will I allow this to grow and develop or will I tell it that it does not serve me, is irrelevant to who I am now, and that it should scoot back to the past. Even then, if I am completely honest, it was a cruel put down, unnecessary, point scoring. It was only me not noticing and thus allowing it to feed something I had heard in my youth, an opinion I then adopted. ‘That colour does not suit you at all!’ This just as we are leaving for an evening out. Or, ‘Your bottom is getting fat.’ These cruel comments can lead to a lifetime’s self-obsession, turning a grown woman into a jibbering wreck at the very thought of an evening out with her burgeoning bottom and her wardrobe full of unsuitable colours.

Now I laugh at all of it, now that I can see that my thoughts are under my control and not one other soul, living or dead, can take command. I wonder what life might have been had I noticed all this before, as a younger woman. Might I have laughed such comments away and said ‘I’m driving tonight; move over, my fat bottom needs more room and, just for the record, I am going out to buy another dress in this exact colour. Ready to go now?’ What might the response have been had I disarmed the attack without aggression? I have tried it, as an older woman, being assertive, and it absolutely works a treat. There is no winner because there is no fight. When himself told me, in anger, “You are just like your mother!” thinking to confound me, I responded with a big smile. ‘What a compliment!’ I said. He was silenced.

This morning I woke to an eerie light. Moonglow on the mist, the sunrise red gold through the pines. I watched this moving landscape, this ever changing masterpiece, unframed, free to move, year by year, month by month, day by day and my mind filled with thoughts. One was that I must call the plumber because the thermostat is set too high on the water tank, followed by various others. I noticed, made a list to remind me, set them free and turned back to the morning. Stags bellow, birds sing, the golden kelp floats up and down with the tides, and the moon, circled by a rainbow ring is lingering yet. Blue sky pushes away the clouds, and off they fly to other lands, just memories.

I have many frocks in the colour that doesn’t suit me. It isn’t rebellion. There is no fight. I just love it, that’s all, and now my bottom can fit comfortably in a high chair. I did no work on it at all. I simply began to notice my thoughts, work out the ancient connection to the past, separate and release. I recommend the work. It frees me from anxious fretting, lack of self-confidence, control by another (kept alive by me) and the chance to really live the way I choose to live.

‘If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself. I would find a way. ‘ Johnny Cash

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

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.