Island Blog – Alone and Together

This morning I see one bushbuck, one giraffe, one warthog. The bushbuck, nervous, ears twitching for sounds of danger comes to the water hole. He has probably been tossed out of the family group, the herd, if, indeed, there is a herd, and is alone in this vast terrain. He will be seeking another group, a mate, the chance to clack antlers with a rival in order to earn his place. The giraffe looked at first like a movement of tree trunks as I could only see his legs but as he slowly wandered onto the track he was caught in silhouette against the rise of the African sun. He looked back at me through velvet eyes as I looked at him, then turned to lope away, all speckles and sand and alone. The warthog is a grumpy old bugger. Yesterday, as I walked the pup around the house, he started forward and I took off like lightening. Nobody wants to meet the front end of one of those horned-up wild pigs. His vision is poor but his temper is rich and his sense of smell very strong. It was the pup he didn’t like, being a natural wimp around humans, for which I am always grateful. I lifted the pup over the rails of the stoep and arrived shortly after in what must have looked like a very ungraceful half-somersault, my dress up around my ears and my sandals all wonky-chops.

It thinks me of wandering alone. Although I know full well how precious are community, family, friends and other social encounters and relationships, I also know we all walk alone through this life. Each one of is an intricate tangle of nature, nurture, experience, choices, personality and character. We also all look different, which if you think about it is quite a miraculous feat of engineering. Even as one of identical twins, the word identical is an overstatement. Deep inside both will have an unique pattern, no matter how the outside is designed. One can sing, the other can’t hold middle C without slippage; one finds this joke hilarious, the other puzzles to find more than a polite smile; one loves eggs done this way, the other, that. And so on.

When we were five young children and travelling north for our Scottish summer break, our mum had us knitted and kitted in matching jumpers. We could choose the style but not the colour. Yellow, one year, blue the next and so on, always in bright primary colours. We had to wear them for the journey. Mum said that it was so she could find us in places like York Station or on Princes St, Edinburgh as we skittered like excited monkeys through the crowds of moving feet, eyes level with a thousand navels and worse, even more handbags that could deliver a mighty head clonk if we weren’t paying attention. I don’t think we looked after each other much, being intent on our own agendas and deeply fed up of being One Of Five. Although I didn’t visit the same knitted uniform on my kids I do remember those wild times such as boarding the right train intact as a family, or shopping in a mall where, quite frankly, havoc could be wrought at any moment and always by One Of My Five.

I see that the world thinks in terms of numbers now. We are number this on a plane, at work, in school, in a theatre, the tube, the office and it saddens me because we are not numbers, we are individual people, no two alike. We are Just One among many other Just Ones, linked through culture, our job, our street, out village, our church, our market, our orchestra, our singing group and more. But I is not always We. Paying attention to the ‘I’ is something we may have forgotten altogether, such is the pressure of group thinking. We may also have forgotten how to nurture and nourish and listen to the I. In this fast moving world of apps and social media, advertising, subliminal or overt, competition, addiction, poverty growing disproportionate to wealth, corruption and the general malaise of apathy and defeat around Big Brother and his Nanny State, we (no, I) must remember what it is to be unique among millions. I must stop running and think for myself. This might take a while because, if I am honest, it is easier to go with current worldly thinking, which has a strong and powerfully persuasive voice but which is really relieving us, ever so slowly, of our own unique voices. I might wonder what it is I do think. I might come up blank, at first. I might not know where to begin following my own inner voice, once I can hear it again. I might find myself stopping to talk with a street beggar and feeling deeply conspicuous. (it gets easier with practice). I always wanted to, to give, to show respect, but none of my friends do and if I have ever faltered beside such a sad picture of a human life, I would feel a firm hand on my elbow, guiding me away, and a bright schoolmarm voice in my ear suggesting ‘Coffee?’

We travel alone, and yet together. We need each other for friendship and so much more……..but it is our prime duty to respect our own unique individuality, to relocate that inner guiding voice and then to take appropriate action, because every single one of us is here for a purpose, one purpose per living soul. It is our job to work that one out. Alone.

Island Blog 62 – Saying Yes

Island Blog 62

There are two of us leaving the island tomorrow.  One is me heading to Edinburgh for a book signing day in quite a few goodly bookshops and then on to Glasgow for my interview with Sally Magnusson on Friday for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’ which will air at 7.05 am on Sunday June 2nd.

Note for diary.

And the other is my little red laptop because she has decided to air her rebellious female side and has taken the initiative to add extra letters to the words my fingers ping out on her shiny black keyboard.  Although I do like a rebellious woman, am one myself and recognise the song of another in a crowd of hundreds, to this behaviour I have to say NO.

Now don’t get all ‘aw’ about it.  She is my tool and I need her to stay in line.  When I am writing a song, a blog a tweet or a piece for a monthly (is that why they are known as ‘periodicals’ one wonders……?) I must know that what I decide to lay down as a word smith, is what is laid down.  I cannot have random violations of that rule, any more than a pianist can have a sixth finger ping out a discord right in the flow of some enigmatic cadenza.  It just wouldn’t win the audience.

So, my lady in red is off to Germany for the second time.  As you may remember from her last ‘collapse’ into depravity, I diddled about for ages in the worldwide web to find the Laptop Hospital.  This time I knew my way and answered all the questions correctly.  I know this because that rather handsome delivery man is coming to collect her in the morning and I have the Collection Number.

I thought me a bit about saying No.  I think we women find it hard.  I know we do.  It’s something to do with our mother’s mother’s mothers who rarely said no to anything, just to keep the country going.  I honour their way, but it doesn’t work today, and it may not have worked for them, but they were way too good at stepping back into the wallpaper without a murmur and giving their lives as a gift for just about anyone who stepped into their space.

Not us girls.  I say ‘girls’ and laugh at myself with all my wrinkle potions, but you know what I mean.  Saying no is still hard.  Oh, I can be so very wise with someone else’s No dilemma.  I can advise them into a very tight corner, where all they can do is nod because the rest of them is pinned down by my Wise Words.  It doesn’t change them, even if they recognise the wisdom and hope they can walk it out into their own lives, but when they leave thinking how remarkable I am, I think for a moment about how well I manage to say NO at times in my own life when I am scared of rejection and judgement.

The answer is that I am full of wind (as they say up here) and the work I need to do on myself is still there.

But, what I can tell them, all these women, young and old, who fight to say NO to something, someone and to rise beyond the fear of rejection and judgement, is this:

Try it.  Just once.  And taste it.  The freedom of it.  The wild crazy headiness of it.  Ok, the person you said No to didn’t like it.  Of course they didn’t.  Would you?  But they coped with it and they reset their internal picture of you and they left feeling weird but really rather intrigued.  They might have said…….wow, good for her!

Because, what I do know, is that when you say No to someone else, actually say it, gently, without anger or blame (recognising that you have fed this all along) and with love in your heart for them, for yourself……..

You say YES to you.