Island Blog 127 Reasons to Stay

sailboat

Since writing my book, Island Wife, I have received many emails and letters from women whose own story relates to my own.  Some of them are short, some long and detailed, but many of them have the same question to ask me.  Why did I stick with my marriage?

The ‘how’ of it, I can answer.  Despite what appeared to be going on, and growing shape and form, I could always find one good reason to stay, one reason, however small and squeaky.  There may well have been a thousand reasons to leave, but it only took one to keep me in place.  In the early days, the reasons numbered five.  My five children.  I was confident and strong in the knowing that, were I to abandon ship, they would be damaged.  I make no judgement, nor did I ever, on women who do leave.  In fact, as I re-investigate my heart right now on this matter, I feel no critical twinges, nor any sense of superiority beside those good women who made a choice, a really tough one and one not without considerable personal angst and pain, guilt and fear.  I just couldn’t do it myself, not for long, anyway.

I used to watch other wives and mothers, as they flew in on warm winds to stay at Tapselteerie for their family holidays.  I warmed myself in the light of their eyes, eyes that told me they had found a nourishing bond in their own relationships, and that they were, yes, happy.  Of course, I have no knowledge of them now, but those glimpses into another’s life both helped and hindered me.  On the one hand, they made me envious.  They had managed to find a man who honoured them just as they came to him, not in need of any re-arranging, not faulty.  The new light they brought to the marriage was something he needed, wanted to be around, in order to find fulfillment.  He basked in it, sought her wisdom, let her be.  On the other hand, they made me feel that, had I been like them, I would also deserve such freedom within a relationship.  Oh poor little me.

As the children began to try out their wings and, eventually, flew the nest, I became increasingly aware that I was being abandoned by the five who gave me context.  Who am I now?  is a question I often asked myself, as the rooms hollowed out and the quiet of ‘just us’ settled like dust.  People, friends, told me that this was now my time to do something for me, and, yet, after decades of not doing something for me, I had no ideas at all.  When someone has ploughed the same furrow for that length of time, investing fully in the work of every day, and night, it is almost cruel to take it all away and to offer a wide horizon.  What could a no-longer-girl like me do with a broad horizon?  I’ll tell you what she does.  She stands there looking at it, mouth open, eyes wide and head empty, and then dives back to wash the kitchen floor, just to feel safe again.

In a different sort of relationship, one I observed in others and dream-wove from novels and movies, this woman would be given free rein to investigate, to research new roads, and, most importantly, encouraged gently to find her own wings, to grow new confidence as just herself in a new context – that of the big wide world.  If that encouragement is not proffered, and if it matters as much as I think it does, then she will hold to what she knows.

I know about monkey mind.  That chatter inside a head that always works to undermine walking out a dream.  I have worked hard to quiet that voice, and still do, for it is not the truth.  To imagine another life, without stepping into it, is just that.  Dreaming.  I found my way, by writing my story and setting it free in the big wide world.  You might say it was written in the hope for understanding, for empathy.  You might say I hoped it would bring a flash of remorse and a new beginning.  And it might do all of these.  It has already brought me a new self-confidence because to have a well-known and respected publisher take up your book, you must be able to write, and in these times of excellent writers, doubly so.  It has also taught me that feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing to change my situation is, well, pathetic, at best.

In those times of finding just one reason to stay, I discovered other ones, hiding in my attic.  In any relationship, there are at least two people, each with a very different perspective on life and ideas on how to live it.  Bring into each mix, parental baggage, school history, sibling rivalry and so on and then dress this damaged person in cowboy boots, or high heels and call it an adult.  Then shove it out into a world of high expectations, judgements, parameters, boundaries, social constraints and no mappage, no DIY manual on the subject, but only other opinions formed by those who came before, each one lumbering along under the weight of their own ‘stuff’.

I believe I have just found a new definition for Chaos.

Living now, each day as it comes, I learn something new.  Something new about me, about my marriage, my choices, my life thus far.  I still find reasons to keep walking, keep looking around, keep my heart soft and my stride strong and purposeful.  I have bad days, black dreams, bouts of self-pity and I can still make the house shake with a powerful door slam, but these are just a part of the whole.  What I love is a challenge and life is always thus.  I find only momentary delight in winning an argument if my opponent just backs down, remaining certain still of his own belief.  I find there is little (if any at all) point in going over who said what and when and in what tone of voice.  I find no future in paying the slightest attention to either of us in a grumpy mood. I am learning that perspective is king, and that grace is his queen.

At the end, whenever that may be, I will reflect on my choices, made by me, for me, and be content to know, not that I got it right, but that I got it at all.

Island Blog 72 – Back to the Future

Island Blog 72

I’ve been digging.  Not in the garden, which, this year is doing without me.  First, I announced I was no longer the Little Weed Weeder.  No, not true.  First I looked out across the brown shrubs and trunks of winter resisting furiously the spring urge to spring, and not surprisingly, as the sky was still the colour of ice and the wind sharp enough to cut through fast food packaging. Although part of me longed for the warmth, there is a price to pay for warmth I have found and it arrives overnight in wide seas of determined green, growing more determined as the days follow the nights.  I had gravel outside the door a month ago.  Not any longer.  Now it is a wondrous display of dandelions, plantains, campion and thistles.  Much softer underfoot.

That’s when I made my announcement.

Yesterday I did waiver eversoslightly when Guilt nudged my elbow and made me take a good look at the sloppy trollope I have become.

No, I said, No….go away (or words to that effect) – for I have a book to write, a new one and if I start following your fat batty guilt as I have done for centuries, I will find my gravel but lose my raison d’etre, and, having only just found it, I don’t plan to do that.

Back to my digging.

In boxes, cupboards, drawers and the like, I am finding trinkets and gewgaws from 200 years ago and marvelling at the quality of materials and workmanship. These things may be cracked or damaged, and they all smell funny, but they still work, still open and close as they did at first and that is a lot more than can be said of pretty much anything for sale on our high streets today. I am careful how I word that bit for there are indeed exceptionally high standards of workmanship spread right across the material world, but the attitude of care and accompanying skills in crafting each item as an individual piece is no longer something we expect.

As I find each piece, I can tell you nothing about it.  Chaps no longer keep a personalised manicure set bound in leather, each piece resting in a nest of soft blue velvet.  For a start, it is cumbersome, and would probably make his hand luggage too heavy.  For the ladies, a weighty and heavily ornate ladies make-up mirror.  Something else to dust and polish and blow that for a lark.  Leather bound snuff boxes, cigarette cases, monogrammed and silvered up enough for royalty, silver lighters, personal ash trays, also monogrammed, for waistcoat pockets or handbags.  Nobody smokes anymore and those who do have packets in pockets and hide round stony cold corners.  There would be little interest in the sporting of flashy pointers towards the habit they would dearly love to break.

And so on and on.

So, what to do with it all?  Do we, as Keepers of the Past, keep it?  And for what?  Our ikea children?

I don’t think so.  I think we should hold the stories and tell them into the ears of the children who want to know.  After all, not everyone is interested in great granny’s trinkets, having never even met the old girl.  And then, I think we should clear our attics, empty our veneered cabinets of decorative cups and quaintly useless fal-de-lal, and move them on.  Otherwise, trust me, when we are pushing up the daisies, some poor soul will have that awful job of clearing it all out in a volatile atmosphere of ignorance, guilt and sentimentality.  In my own role as Clearer Out, I struggled a lot.  Not with the clearing, for we could hardly breathe in this little place for lumpy trinkets and I could hardly wait for the new wheelie bins to be delivered- but with the familial tussle over letting anything go, as if, in doing so, we would threw out granny’s memory as well.

What we need to learn is to let go of things that do not take us forward in our lives.  So many of us, including this sloppy trollope, waste our precious days in general maintenance, allowing our God given gifts to float away into the recesses of our minds like clouds.  Come the day we lie, wondering what on earth we have achieved in our life, we just know we didn’t get it right.  Oh we may have polished, and labelled, looked after and managed, but did we create something completely new?  Did we say Poo to all that grey mind-numbing drudge and turn towards doing what we know we love, even if we don’t yet know how to make it work?  Did we risk?  Did we clear out the ‘granny junk’, still remembering her sparkle, her wisdom, her humour, those things that changed us and made us who we are, or did we store it in the loft, in mice-chewed boxes, moaning every time we had to dust or polish things we hate looking at?

Letting go is not easy for most.  And yet, it is the only way to clear space for the new and I do not mean substitute material trinkets.

I mean space.  Emptiness.  Nothing.  Patience.

One day, an idea will come.  Let it settle.

Then begin.