Island Blog – Plan Be

As the doors re-open into others’ worlds, shops, cafes and space, I acknowledge a little turbulence in that moment when I get out of my car in order to move along a narrow pavement, people heavy. Okay, I am outside now, so…. mask? Not mask? Inside the shop there are thingies on the floor to keep us a metre apart but this doesn’t work in doorways nor when someone remembers they forgot something and makes a U turn between the acres of alcohol and a long colour run of biscuits and cakes. Unable to disappear, there are at best, 12 inches between the U-Turner and the long queue of masked up distanced basket carriers. Suddenly we are, momentarily, way too close for comfort. I help an old lady with her bags, taking her arm on the steps. Of course I do. It wonders me, my choice to do this when I almost felled a structure of pink wafers in my frantic reversement just a few moments ago. This is indeed a time of wonderment. It takes me back to one of those ballets I was in a hundred years ago, one of the Little Swans, I think, all tippytoes and tutu, breathless and terrified and way too close together for ballet shoe freedom of speech.

But I must not give in to fear. I refuse. Stoutly. This is at attitude I have learned and infused into my very bones. The fact that it doesn’t work for me is, largely, my failure. I hear stories of those who have moved beyond the unholy mess of fear and doubt that we currently live in, those who have ‘mastered’ their fear and done it anyway, whatever ‘it’ was. They are beautiful, confident, unreal. I buy into it, and, in doing so, I fail. Again. So how do we ordinary folk doing our best with all our current limitations, whether extraneous or intrinsic (and ps btw how do we know the difference) make sense of it all? How do we correct the imbalance between fear and doing it anyway? It seems to me the biggest map of all, the biggest gap of all, the one between us and where we want to be. It is as wide and as daunting as the Sonoran desert. I have (had) a husband who crossed that desert, that Sonoran Desert with its 1000 square miles of nothing and no-one but sand and massive heat and massive cold and a blast of sudden butterflies to clog the radiator half way across.

My thinking, my counsellor’s advice, is to take baby steps, one day at a time, all that stuff.. Even as I know it is the only way, it bugs me. I’m thinking this. I have got this far, I am 68, mother to five, grandmother to ten plus two steps and surely I have done my baby stepping? I had loads of confidence once. Where the hell is it now? But it seems we still have to work, we oldies, and maybe that’s a good thing, however much it irritates me. These days I notice a gamut of emotions swirling inside my heart bringing thoughts that are not always helpful. The loss of self confidence, the emptiness of this space I inhabit, the feeling that something huge and irreplaceable is gone for ever, all swipe me sideways at times. I walk, I read positive books, I study (deeply) the power of emotions and how to both allow and control them. At first, no, for yonks, I have bought into the theory that moving on or moving through is all about control, self control, emotional control ya-di-ya. This belief has held me up, and possibly down, for most of my life, swooping right back to childhood. Stuff happens. It hurts. Deal with yourself and come back down when you are like the rest of us, aka fitting in and not trying to break the sound barrier. I tell someone I feel sad, afraid, lacking in confidence and angry and they say nothing for a split second, but here it comes……’But look at the sunshine/Spring/flowers/view, as if any of those things have anything to do with how I feel. Such a response is counter intuitive and counter intelligent but we all make that response because we have never been taught how to allow a ‘negative’ just to be.

I walk further, forgetting to acknowledge Lady Larch, for which I will need to apologise tomorrow, not that she is crabbit about such things. She has taken a very very long time to get to her full height and knows a thing or two about distracted walkers passing beneath her graceful branches. I pick up ideas along the banks, from among the self-heal, the wood anemones, sorrel and bluebells, colourful ideas with petals that follow the sun or petals that line a stem, indigo against the bright green grasses. They tumble around in my mind. What is the key to this emotional rampage? Do I allow or do I control or do I both or do I neither? Which way is up? I know about down. Down is always right there.

Listening to a talk today on exactly this subject, I have learned something. I think I have been hoodwinked into believing in the horns of a dilemma, either this, or that, black or white, positive or negative. Our culture promotes Positive, big time. After all, the alternative is pretty unappealing. Who wants to be negative? Negative is glass half empty. Negative is dark, slow, miserable. Negative needs to look up more, look out more. Negative needs to get over herself, get out there, do something for someone else – in other words please make sure you run away from negative as far and as fast as you can. Better, deny it exists, at least in me, in my heart, in my ticketyboo life. As I write this, I chuckle. How utterly ridiculous it sounds as it reads itself back to me. But that is what I have been doing. I have made an art of not being negative, of being insistently positive, of pretending, of not truthing. I am damn good at it, excellent in fact and I am about to deconstruct my own myth, not that I can take all the credit for its pervasive presence within our culture, one that has been fed to us like mother’s milk for generations. So how exactly do I put my inner construct of beliefs back together again in a new shape? Behold all these minute complex parts spread out before me for which there are is no instruction manual? The myriad and tiny parts look up at me and titter. I am not daunted, I refuse to be. That would be me siding with you know who. After all, I have lived almost 7 decades, each one loaded with learnings, with ups and downs and with many an adventure. So, maybe I don’t need to reconstruct this structure of beliefs. Perhaps I just need to let the old lie there in pieces and to walk back out into the world open-hearted, curious and interested. If I just notice my emotions, acknowledge them, all of them, the negative and the positive, then maybe a natural construct of beliefs will form all by itself. I could watch it happen as an observer. I could be emotionally agile, ready to change, ready to adapt at a moment’s notice, ready to engage.

This morning I ‘noticed’ I felt grief, loss, sadness and fear with a sprinkling of anxiety as garnish and with a side of self-doubt. I wrote them down. There they are in a neat list on the page before me. Hallo you. I said. But what I did not say is Go Away. I did not scrunch up the paper and use it as a spill to light my pipe. I did not shut down my heart, draw the dead bolts, pull up the drawbridge, whisper insurgence in the ears of the guard dogs and then hide under the bed. I just watched the list from time to time and said Hallo you. I thought a little about each feeling, brushing over its surface with my fingers, gently. I was kind to each one of them. Yes you hurt. Yes you feel sharp and (interestingly) judgmental and that is when it came to me like a blinding flash. That is the moment I blew up the old belief structure because deciding to be positive always makes a judge of any negatives. I should not feel this way. I do feel this way. Therefore it is I who am to blame. This crime is punishable by a whole stretch of time wherein I will find a gazillion ways to tell myself that I am a waste of space, always was and that there is no earthly chance of anything good ever happening to me because I just don’t deserve it. Anyone relate?

Accepting that ‘There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ is mildly helpful but the wisdom is not explained very well. If thinking is also a crime, or poor thinking, negative thinking, then off I go again with the self-flagellation. However, if thoughts are unconscious, if such thoughts precede emotions, then they are extraneous, surely? They come at me about 60,000 times a day. My mind is never still and nor btw is yours. There is nothing we can do about this truth but what we can do is to ‘notice’ an emotion, an unconscious thought, to step back from it, to observe and acknowledge it and then make a choice, of action perhaps or maybe inaction. A decision made based on doing nothing much, just noticing, observing, watching or a considered decision that is not a dash for the safety net of positivity. Dashing into a response just gives that random emotion or unconscious thought all of the power, power over me, over you and it ultimately denies the existence of that sad, angry, fearful feeling which achieves two things. First it tells the thinker that he or she was wrong to think that way and second, it fuels up the ‘negative’ feeling for a far greater assault another day.

Bereavement brings so many thoughts and emotions. I want to wind time back and re-do or re-don’t many things. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Even when my relatively sane mind is busy on some project or even fast asleep, my unconscious is working away like a busy little bee so that my decision not to think about the somethings I regret, missed out on or wish had never happened just makes that bee very happy giving it full permission to fatten up the very things I don’t want to think about. Don’t think about an elephant. I know, you just thought about an elephant. But it isn’t just people like me with a dead husband of just a few months who are bursting with emotional chaos just now. The lockdowns, the indecision, the fear of catching the virus, all collude with inner confusion to confound so many of us. We hardly know what to think any more and it will take many of us long time to grow new confidence. And that is perfectly okay. Let us take the time. Let us let ourselves move at our own pace through whatever wilderness we wander, observing, noticing, but mostly not judging ourselves. Thoughts will come all the way up to that last breath. There is no stopping them, but, like a good sailor in a brisk breeze we can work with the thoughtweather. At times we can spill the wind, at others we can let the sails, fill fat-bellied, and just fly. At times we can moor in a peaceful cove, and at others, when the morning is fresh and the wind lively, we can weigh anchor and head far out to sea, laughing in the spray, exhilarated.

In the time between birth and death there are we. I plan to live that time as the very best me I can possibly be.

Island Blog – This Woman, Risk and Fear

I have always loved poetry, not that I can write it, not like those who can distill waffly thoughts into 3 words that say it all, enough to gasp me. As a child I remember my mum making up ditties and rhymes, fun poems, poems that rhymed and made my feet want to jig along with her words. My dad, a wordsmith for sure, would entertain us around the Sunday lunch table with limericks that had us in stitches. He could think ahead as his mouth spoke out the line so that the follower came just like that in perfect rhythm and rhyme. He loved the iambic pentameter too and was a big fan of Shakespeare. Words were everything in our home. Words of remonstrance, of encouragement; jokes at our expense and jokes we could share. One game was that someone began a poem, oftentimes a limerick, There Once was a Bandit from Neath, for example, whereupon all eyes turned to the unfortunate required to come up with line two. It always ended in laughter.

But my favourite poems are those about life and loss, pain and rising, hope and despair. Short lines, no punctuation, thus allowing me to drift down the page all the way to the end. Some poems rise instead, beg to be read again and again so that I undulate the page and find that it doesn’t matter where I land for the lines themselves are each an ending, or a step to the next line, but not necessarily. It thinks me for I have noticed something about me in these times. I want to play my piano but I don’t. I want to paint but all I do is cast a wistful glance at the stack of canvas, the brushes still in their plastic wrapper, the paints quiet inside the dark interior of the kist. I want to write my second book but I find endless reasons. and excuses not to even begin. Why is that? I have found an answer. There is something, some part of me, deep within who does not see the point. If there is nowhere for this new song to go, this painting to go, then why would I bother to begin? If I start this book, how do I know I can still cut the mustard, or is it custard? I forget.

Although I know, and preach, that it is the process that matters not an end result, perceived and imagined, I find my own self stultified and frozen at the starting block. It is indeed a block. So what to do? If I believe that anyone can write, paint, write a song or form a poem, which I absolutely do, and if I maintain that the only difference between a successful writer, painter, poet and the rest of us is practice and the refusal to stop trying, then what the heck am I doing sitting on my lardy arse being wistful? It ridiculouses me. But the block is still there no matter the logic I employ for what I am facing is the fear of failure. I am basically saying it is better, safer, for me to say I cannot do this than it is to peel off my armour, to be vulnerable, to risk. After all, my armour, despite being heavy and restraining, is comfortable. I have grown used to it clanking about me, learned how to move with it. It is my concealment, my hiding, my protection. From what? Failure, that’s what.

Back to everyone else. Someone said yesterday I Can’t Paint. I Wish I Could. The feeling part of me rose like Venus from the waves. I asked her this. Have you tried? yes, she said, but I just made a mess. So did I, I said, at first, but with determined hard work and the refusal to give up I suddenly (!) found my paintings in galleries all across the country. Really? she said. You must have a gift. No gift, I said, not me. It was pure determination and the refusal to give up. Oh, she said, then tidied herself up. I don’t have time anyway, she smiled, but I had heard the timbre of her longing. Wisdoms tell us that we can do anything we set out to do whilst Life says Sshhhhh to that nonsense. Look at you! You are so busy, so old, so compromised, so restricted, so disabled, so poor at grammar etc etc. And we listen and we concur. After all, isn’t it true that only young people can start something new, learn the language, play the instrument, write the song, or other people who have time, space, the perfect environment, the supportive partner, and the right level of self belief? No, it is not. When I wrote Island Wife I sat in this room whilst my husband padded around me. I was freezing cold and had small spaces of peace and a lot of interruptions. My drive was simple. I am sick and tired of not doing what I want to do, of waiting for the right light, the perfect environment, the ideal room temperature, the permission from a partner. Lunch was late if served at all, the phone disconnected, the doors shut and visitors shunned. I won’t pretend it was a comfortable time, not least because I had shucked off my armour and it was February and most of February was inside the house. And I had absolutely no idea of this book’s success. All I knew was that I was going to show up every single day, take the flack and the crap and focus on what I wanted to do. My achievement was not in the end game, but in the process, the work, the grit of determination against real and imagined odds.

So, clever clogs, why are you not sitting at that piano and working new songs? Why are you not throwing colour at that canvas with no end result in mind? Why are you not writing your next book? Because I am afraid of failure. What is failure to you? Is it not being published, not having a body of astonishing artwork to display to the public, not producing the song that will go viral on Youtube? Seriously? Well, yes. So, continues my feeling self, what shall we do about all of that? Shall we sit here wistfully till life folds into death or shall we pull up our long johns and begin something, risk something and then fail and fall, get up and try again, over and over and over till we create a momentum that takes us who knows where? Is life a daring bold adventure, even now, or is it nothing at all but a clean house, a silent piano, an unused voice, an unwritten book and an empty canvas?

My Hobson’s choice indeed and not just mine. If there is something anyone wants to do but who lets the naysaying voices win over, I’m with you. However, this woman is not listening any more. This woman is about to begin something in the face of fear, of imagined failure, and of being armour-less, vulnerable and scared. Risk is everything. Take one.

Island Blog – This and That

Sitting here, this evening, I reflect on the past couple of days, the content, or imagined content of which halted my footsteps for many days before. I had found a breast lump. Bad timing even for a positive woman, fettered as I felt by my long isolation from the world ‘out there’. In fact, I haven’t been out there for over a year now, cocooned within a leather protective casing of caring for a very vulnerable old dude. It suited me, if I am honest, the not going out there thingy. I am, by nature, happy being isolated, solitary, independent with more work required, individual, content with my own company. I have barely been to the local shop since last March and my everything is delivered either by the post or by hand to my door. One could get lazy inside this. I know that.

Anyway, there I was facing a ferry trip, masked like a bandit, humphing a rucksack of overnight-ness and stringing a small Poppy dog alongside. How will she behave? Will she pee on the ferry carpet? (she never would) Will I find a close encounter too close? Will my house fall down whilst I’m away; will that old tree fall on the garage roof; will floods come and wash my home away; did I turn off the lights, lock the doors? All that hoo-ha. Never mind what you call it and how you chortle, it is still real, still clusters beneath a person’s panic button all ready to burst forth once pushed, especially, and I have clocked this, when that person has been cocooned for so many months, apart from the rush and bustle of the out-there world. After all, it could be unrecognisable to me. People could be walking around in pandemic suits for all I know, slow stepping, avoiding each other by miles and breathing stored air in order to avoid breathing in the real stuff, the air that is ever changing, morphing, floating over oceans and over lands and continents with all sorts of names, full of all sorts of stories and holding within its gasp a potential lethal. Shopping bags might be obsolete. Maybe the out there folk have to pull on their pandemic suits for a shopping trip that can only be as successful as the hold of their arms.

So, off I go. Two sons, two strong men, two young men, two sons, gather me up and the rucksack and the non-peeing-on-ferry-carpets dog and we head onto the mainland. The ferry is all masks and the two metre rule. Good for Scotland, I remember whispering to myself, thus muffing up my glasses and rendering me momentarily blind. Scotland is getting this right. I work out how to talk to myself by holding my fingers over my nose and breathing down, like a puff. Now I can see. But, there is nobody. There are 3 passengers on this massive ship capable of carrying many hundreds. I have been aboard with those many hundreds and watched them, the families, the dogs, the way the children burst upstairs to see, to see from the ‘flight’ deck, or the way the exhausted parents find their way to the outer deck to drink in the astonishing beauty of the passing hills and their sharp defines as the sky comes down and says Stop Right There. This time the ferry is empty, like a ghost ship. I feel a bit foolish behind my puffing blue spectacle-clouding mask, but nobody is laughing at me. I arrive on the mainland and off-loading is barely that. Three people don’t take much off-loading.

I am driven the almost 3 hours the the hospital the following morning through mizzle and cloud. He knows what he is doing, strong, calm, googled. He will mind the non-peeing dog. Go Mum. I follow the signs to Clinic 3, very clearly marked. There is almost nobody here either. Nurses, come and go, masked and chirpy, friendly, welcoming. I burst into a waiting room. The chairs are wide apart, tape markings on the floor. There are a few other women waiting, nervous, as we all are. One jiggles her foot, one taps her fingers on her knee, another is busy on her phone. They guide me to Reception and I clock in from behind a big barrier. I have to repeat my name as she is behind bullet proof glass and this big barrier and I am thankful she is of good hearing. I take my seat. We are all quiet beyond the jiggling. Someone opens the doors to the almost outside, for air flow and we have no shared body warmth to soften the push of cold air over bare ankles, old skin and the generally accepted loathing of draughts. We hold. For an hour, for more. Every name called by one of the bright buttoned nurses is one we wish we owned. The relief of being named, of our own name being called into touch is a whole body/mind thing. If that name belongs to another, we wish them well from behind our masks and our fear. We don’t need to ask what these women are here for. We know. We feel their tension as we feel our own.

First the doctor, then the mammogram. Not one of us will avoid this. Some of us know it well and for others it’s a first. There are young women here, skinny teenagers and I wonder of their stories. Some partners or mothers try to be here, but a very kindly nurse tells them Only Patients Here, I’m Sorry. I can feel the bereft as they unwillingly leave. Text me, they say, or mime. The woman remains, legs crossed, jiggling, telling herself to be strong, saying I can do this, I am not afraid, and then spending the next hour working on convincing herself of that.

Mammogram. I am an old hand at this. I cast a backward glance at the young woman who smiled at me, who connected. Your turn soon my lovely girl, I say from my eyes. The process moves on. The nurses at every stop and turn, every confusion, every arrival are more than magnificent. They are Grace and Humour. We are undignified to say the least within this place. How trained they are. How emotionally intelligent they are meeting our diminished but ferociously determined woman strength as they strip our clothing and pull across the rather attractive curtain, through which our boots poke. So, here we are, unclothed and yet booted, as if we just know we can do this, whatever comes of the pummelling and the indignity.

For me it was a lucky escape. I have the all clear. There is nothing to report. I wonder of the rest. I can see their anxious faces now, still, and will for a while. Their Glasgow humour is remarkable. These are women who do not live as I do; who do not have it easy; who live lives I will never experience. And, yet, within that chilly blast, that fear, that doubt and worry, they could banter and laugh and pick up the nurse’s joke and take it on and in doing that I learn from them. They have known tough, and may yet know it again, as I never have.

As I left them behind, still waiting, their eyes asked me. I smiled an ok. They were happy for me. What they face right now, I cannot know. But, we met in that place. I came home to warmth and safety and an all -clear.

Did they?

Island Blog – Pock, Shot, Falling and Holding

Early. I am up for the silence. The silence of snowfall. I hear something that sounds like nothing. A flip and a flop against the roof, the window, like something soft landing, politely. I know rain. I know hail, the blatter and scattermongery of it, the slap and splat against doubled glass, the alert of ice. Rain is easy. Like a friend. A well-known. It may cause me to sigh or raise my thinning eyebrows when it comes in the night but I know it nonetheless.

Waking, too early. Darkness with cold fingers, pre my ineffective central heating set for 0600, those ancient radiators puffing like old women losing the will to breathe, the ones affixed below windows as if that was ever a good idea. Hunkering behind thick, light refusing curtains, they pump their lightbulb warmth into a wide open space. But, I tell them, thank you. Good for you, you little cobwebbed fatlings. You do your best. If I had the money, I would sentence them to the metal tip, to landfill, and buy myself those svelte flatscreen daughters of effective heat. I don’t tell them that.

Walking in snowfall. It feels cold but is, in truth, warmer, or there would be no snow. My boots pock the elevations. I am old enough to know that it is wise to walk upon the elevations, the fresh-fall, where other booted feet have been equally wise. Where the tyre marks ride lie ice and a potential slip. I don’t beckon a slip, potential or otherwise, with my spindleshanks and my old bones that, apparently, break on contact, first with gravity and thence with a landing. We are not so good at landing as we age. Too much caught in the fear of it, tense, awkward, doomed.

My boots follow the high riser boots that have gone before, invisible walkers who only came today. I am enough of a tracker to know this. Pock, pock, scrunch, scrunch, my boots louding the sound of distant gunfire. I think of the trenches, of war. That sound must have brought such fear to listening hearts hiding in the dark. I notice the tracks. A man here, a bit overweight, or maybe just confident and well-balanced, his head and body strong above his striding legs. A child here and another, a bigger child. but both walking at ten to two, as we were always encouraged (enforced) to do. Here, someone, a woman perhaps, lighter of foot, and distant from the familial group. Or, maybe she walked alone and the other prints relate not to her snow traverse. I will never know. The scoot and slush of a bicycle, hollowing out the resistant mud of the woods, easy to slop and skew, wiggling and re-founding on its passage through the trees, beneath the moss-covered trunk of the massive Elvish Beech. Rounding back onto the other track, I study a flush of blown snow from last night creeping up the almost fallen trunk of a massive pine. It has fallen, but not quite, against another somewhat weaker tree. It makes me think of family, of sisters and of brother. I am huge. I falter and fall, but you are there and I know I am putting an inhuman pressure on you, but look at you……you are holding me up.

Do trees brace? Do they make a decision when they are fallen against, to hold and hold and hold for both? I like to think so. In human terms I know this. I can fall, but I will be held. But, as I watch this ‘a deux’ I can only see a final crash to the ground. The roots of the holder are still beneath the goodly earth, but the ‘leaner’ is showing her underpants and is so much bigger. Time will tell.

Today I did not feel great at all. It was a big thing to walk at all in the sunlit snow where most folk are out sledging and laughing and being eejits. But I did walk and I did track and this has to be a tick in my box of who-the-hec-am-I-now. There are so many fears. Fears that were possibly always there but were swashbuckled away by Himself, and, now, my kids. But the bottom line is just me. And that is my biggest ever learning curve and not one, if am honest, I really want to learn. I gave my final statement to the police this evening. He tells me the abuser has been located and will be contacted. I said, Oh, just a warning? No, he said. This is a crime. They will let me know once they have knocked on his door, but to be honest I can only guess at what the Met has to deal with on a 24 hour basis, real dreadful crimes, real imminent fear, and I am patient. Nothing has come since my number change.

How bizarre that it unnerved me so very much; made me fear shadows, look for footprints at ten to two or not; when I live hundreds of miles away from the caller, the sad, lost, angry man who, randomly (obviously) targeted an old woman.

The snow stands. The light it gifts to the evening, the way it answers the inside twinkly winky lights, marvels me. I will not shut the outside out. Is that a double negative?! I will embrace the inside and the outside of my life. I will not live in fear. I reach out, right now to anyone who is afraid. I won’t say Don’t be Afraid, because you might punch me as I would you if you said that to me. I am just waving. Just saying Hallo. I know how this feels and I so wish it wasn’t happening to you or to me.

Salut.

Island Blog – Inside Out

My washing machine, which, by the way, has behaved normally for a long time, has suddenly begun to turn clothes, bedding and other things, inside out during each wash. At first it annoyed me. What do you think you’re doing? I asked it. I mean, you have washed things as I rendered them into your maw for, oh, years now, and all of a sudden, without consulting me, you turn things about. Yes, I know that most goodly women wash everything inside out. We are advised to do this. It says so on the label. But I never read labels and there was a frisson of excitement that arose in my goodly breast as I pushed everything in with the outside on the outside. I love to break the rules anyway.

As I fight with a huge cotton/linen duvet cover that is half inside out and half outside in, I have some thinks. Going deeper, I wonder if the Universal Mother Protector is trying to tell me something. What could that be? Is she advising me that, before it is too late, I begin at the age of 67, with a hec of a lot of washing years under my belt, to obey the rules? Surely it can’t be that. This bedding, these jeans and tops, frocks and socks have managed with my disobedience for as long as I can remember and nothing has fallen apart. Well, not many things, anyway.

Then I walk my thinks into other areas of life. I ponder the inside and I ponder the out. I know only too well that if the inside of me does not relate and connect with the outside of me there is trouble. If I feel one way and communicate another, I am lacking congruence. My inside, feeling as she does, is sloshing about in my drum if I don’t show her to the world. If I see injustice, feel the pain of it, the wrongness of it, and say or do nothing, I am disconnected from my own self and I will carry that disconnection like a lead weight for a long time. Regrets, shame, crimes of omission, admissions of guilt, apologies proffered, wounds healed, all will fester in a darkling silence, challenging the health and well-being of both my mind and my body. You, on the outside of me will see none of it, feel none of my disconnection. But I will.

The start point is to admit this disconnection to myself. To acknowledge that I am outside my inside and that the two haven’t been on speaking terms for way too long, is critical. Do I want to? Well, no, not really. I want the outside of me to look goodly. I want the inside of me to catch up, to hurry up and fit the space without me having to do any of this tedious inner work. But this is not how we learn, not how we grow, develop and understand the vital need to be inside out. Now, I am not saying that we need to rush out to tell folk a thing or two about what we don’t like about them. Not at all. In fact, what we find, as we admit our fear of being inside out, is that we don’t want to do that at all. What we find, as we gently open up to our own fears of being naked before all men (dreadful thought) and women (slightly less so) is that compassion arises like Venus from the waves, gentle, soft, loving and at peace with both ourselves and all those who are not us.

As I pull out the washing nowadays I smile at the inside out-ness of random things. I know this washing machine, this behemoth of importance, has a lesson to teach me. Nowadays I can inside out-flip a big duvet cover in minutes. In paying attention to something that most of us would dismiss with a worldly snort, I am learning to reconnect with the inside of me. I recommend it.

And so, it is.

Island Blog – Threads

This morning I saw two hinds on the hillside across the sea-loch. Their calf-rounded bellies confused me at first. I am used to seeing them more slimline, hungrier. My long sight is excellent. It’s quite a different matter when I need to see something at close quarters, such as 23 count needlepoint. For me, it is just a spread of white with dots and any attempts to align a needle with one of those dots ends up in complete failure. My cross stitch is decidedly cross.

I wander through the day from this to that and back again, each time scrubbing my hands to two Happy Birthdays. I’m amazed there is any skin left. It thinks me. The hinds are blissfully unaware of what we humans are currently facing down, the scrubbing and the fear and the ridiculous overbuying of things that should be shared out equally, as are the mint, the daffodils, the buds on the climbing rose, the siskin (just returned) and the perky little robin building a nest in the bonfire pile down the road. The other thing that has no idea what we are currently facing down is the skin on my hands. Beyond being rather startled, it stays firmly in place. How wonderful is that! I remember people saying how amazed they were that the world kept turning as they fell into the dreadful darkness of bereavement. How can this be? Why doesn’t nature know what we are going through? I guess she does but keeps on keeping on anyway and thank the holy crunch for that.

Like everyone else my ears are glued to the news. Changes radical and maybe catastrophical come moment by moment and it ain’t going to stop. People are being sent home, pay-less, their businesses going under, the forecast more than gloomy, but through the brume of these times we are seeing the effulgent power of the human spirit. Heroes and heroines are popping up like toast from a toaster, offering kindnesses that lift all other hearts. It is as it was in wartime and perhaps this is just that. Isolation, depression, fear and loneliness will grow. They cannot not. What we choose to do will keep us together, like those flaming needlepoint threads that are so skinny as to be invisible to me unless I took myself to another room, thus employing my long-sight. Each skinny thread, each act of random kindness is going to turn this thing around. We will remember the tough times, of course we will, but these will fade into nothing when we remember the chiaroscuro of human kindness. Those moments when someone else stepped up, delivered groceries, called to calm with a warm voice, wrote a letter that came at just the right time or sent a text saying I’m right there with you. We are in enforced lockdown, many miles apart and yet we can all send a gleed, a glowing coal, to others so that they can rise the fire in their grate.

Thoughts change things. Keeping positive when we see and hear of the dreadful circumstances of others, of our own perhaps, is not always easy, I know this. But if we can keep hold of the threads that join us, we will get through this if we can just see beyond our own perceived fears. Too long we have made ourselves islands, working just for ourselves and not thinking as we were always meant to do, of the community in which we live. There are always, no exceptions, others who are worse off than we are, no matter what our circumstances.

And it begins with one action, one thought, one single thread caught and followed and sewn (if you aren’t me) into a beautiful picture, multi-coloured and, ultimately creating the most perfect blend.

Island Blog – Wild Heart

“Strong back. Soft Front. Wild Heart” – Brene Brown

Some mornings you just wake up happy. I did this morning, helped into sentience by a big rumble of thunder and the tickle of rain dripping from the thatch outside my bedroom window, splatting on the stoep like the marching feet of tiny soldiers. Rain! Good rain, and at last. The birds lift from the sand floor to snatch at flying termites and other members of the flighted macrosystem; too small to be of interest on a sunshine day. Inside this wet dawning the symbiosis of natural life is centre stage, visible and buzzing with life. Without the rain, the insects wouldn’t fly; without the insects there would be no birds; without the birds no germination of precious seeds; without the seeds, no green shoots for giraffe, zebra, elephant, buck, rhino, both black and white, buffalo, nyala and so many more. Without the herbivores, no predators, no leopard, lion, cheetah, hyena, painted dogs, jackals and I could bore the pants off you with a much longer list. And it all begins with that rumble of thunder, the clouds heavy with precious water, more than ready to off their loads. The Blue Mountains are part-hidden in cloud, their heads lost in in the lowered sky. I can almost hear the parched ground sigh in a delicious relief.

The symbiosis found (when studied and understood) is no different to the one we humans need as we need water for our bodily thirst. But here’s the thing. We have forgot. We think, in our foolish ignorance that we don’t really need each other all that much in order to be a ‘success’ in life. We need our families, of course, and our carefully selected friends but the rest of humanity is just there and sometimes we wish they were not. People come with a load of irritating, nay infuriating, habits that we simply do not want to be around. So we circumnavigate these other humans, judging them cruelly whilst not really knowing them at all. ‘It is hard to hate a person close-up’ (Brene Brown). We can happily snigger together about colour, creed, race, religion and an opposing political view, sticking, instead, to those who think as we do. There’s a comfort in that, but it is unsustainable and ultimately unsatisfying for anyone who is curious enough about a life’s journey and who wants to learn more about the path ahead.

Mid-life crisis for example is simply, in my opinion, boredom at the thought on continuation in the same footwear and on the same path. This is quite natural. Boredom, dissatisfaction at our current way of living, with the same old faces appearing in our doorways day after endless day is a vital part of a human’s life. It comes, this huge discomfiture, as a gift, but few of us see it that way. We may think we need to abandon a relationship, or move house, or change jobs and all of those may indeed be a part of a new change (sorry, oxymoron), but none of those are It. It – is simply that we are bored with what we have done for ages and now is the time to think outside the bodily box, to use our big brains, to research, to study, to be open hearted and curious as a child. I know it isn’t easy because our first thoughts are loaded to with all sorts of unhelpful lies such as the one that tells us we got it all wrong to date; that it is my partner’s fault, or that of my boss, or, and this is always a safe bet, that of my mother or father.

Well all of that is bullshit. However, even knowing that isn’t enough. I must decide not to welcome into my ‘boring’ life, all those critical and lying judges that tell me my life has been a waste of time, that I got it wrong about 30 years ago, that someone else is to blame for these uncomfortable feelings and instead to say Oh Thankyou for the wake up call. I must look into something else, a new direction and what is more (and this is the key) I must invite other people, strangers perhaps and homies, my kids and those existing friends who won’t panic when I tell them I am bored with my life, running back to their own, locking the door and refusing my calls, to talk this through with me. I will be vulnerable. I will put my ego to sleep by bashing it on the head with a mallet and I will look out with curiosity and humour. So what if I have lost my job and with it my sense of superiority before my peers? So what if I lose my looks and now wonder who I am without them? So what if I have absolutely no idea what to do next? I have myself, my huge brain, my body #mostlyworking, my memories, my lived life thus far, my family, my friends (who remain) and now I am going to find more friends because this is inevitable when someone chooses to stop trudging down the road alongside everyone else. There are plenty of other everyone elses. I just haven’t met them yet. I can step out onto a new path and risk. If I leave that ego behind, deflate that self-important chest, shuck off that protective armour and just begin to walk into the great wide open, I will eventually see that all of this is just what I need right now. In trepidation I have made the decision to be vulnerable, to risk and to trust, to be without answers and to allow myself to be cluelessly dependent on the wisdom of a stranger in order to learn new rope tricks. This, the path less travelled, has been walked before I ever stepped onto it. The guides will appear just when I need them. I may not eat sausages on Tuesday or a roast on Sundays, as I may have done from habit for decades, but I will taste the bite of new fruit in a new place and it may just be delicious. Under a big sky, alert and interested, curious and fearful in parts, I may find out who I really am, and those stranger-guides could become new friends for a new life.

I leave you with the wisdom of others:-

” If you can see your path laid out in front of you, step by step, you know it is not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That is why it is your path.” Joseph Campbell

“You are only free when you realise you belong no place. You belong every place and no place at all. The price is high. The reward great.” Maya Angelou

Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

Island Blog 148 Dark and Light

 

Dark room wisdom

 

 

We were talking, my small-panted grandchildren and I, about the dark.  Was I, Are you, Button Granny, frightened of the dark?  I was having a ying tong at the time (ying tong piddle etc) and she, the smallest pants, burst in, quite the thing with this fairly big question.  Well, I said, thinking, or looking like I was…….I used to when I was little, and then, later, when I was bigger than little, yes I did.  Why?  she asked.

Good question.  They ‘why’ bit always throws me unless it’s obvious, such as Why did you not put your fingers in the fire Button Granny?  I thought more, albeit in a slightly compromised state (I can still think at such times, being a woman) and said, Well because I know the dark now.

How?  she continued.  Oh dear.  Well, I said (what would we do without that wonderful word of delay?) I think that I know that, that……there is nothing to frighten me in the dark anymore.  Oh, she said, and dashed off to complete her Angry Cabbages Puzzle, which, by the way, I do wonder at.  If cabbages are angry in her little mind, then what hope is there?  I had, earlier, read both herself and her bigger brother a story about an Elephant and a Bad Baby, who, together, stole two pies, two pork chops, with no thought for the poor pig, nor, I might add, the butcher, two ice creams, two buns and two apples, so I guess Angry Cabbages are small fry by comparison. I am consoled greatly to know that their parents think the book ‘dickerless’ too.

The dark is just the other side of the light.  I remember my lovely dad saying just that, as I shook him awake, about yay high, my little heart beating like mad, my feet light and running all the way to his side of the marital bed.  He rose and guided me to the bathroom, his voice soothing, regardless of his broken sleep, sleep he badly needed for his busy working day, yet to dawn, and laid a towel on the edge of the bath.  He turned on the taps to run tepid water into the tub and then lifted me onto the towel so that my feet dipped into the soothing water.  He talked about this and about that whilst I calmed, and then, softly dried my feet and lifted me back to bed with a gentle voice saying gentling things.  I don’t know if he stayed till my eyes grew heavy, but I do know that I never saw him leave.  He never asked me to tell him of my fears, just seem to understand them and then he washed them away.  I thank him for that, although he is now long gone, a Marine Commando, another dad who never talked about the war he lived through, at least, not the dreadful bits.

As a teenager I was still afraid.  Not outside, bizarrely, but within the walls of a house.  Once, when invited at stay with a schoolfriend, the daughter of a pig farmer, for the night.  I lay in the guest room, weighed down with warm bedding and I just knew there were rats in the room.  I said to myself, Don’t be Dickerless, but the rat-knowing part of me stayed resolute. Then, as I began to doze off from complete exhaustion, the house around me quiet (which meant the parents were in bed too…..) a rat ran over my blankets.  I saw it and I felt it.  I spent the night in the cupboard and cried so much at breakfast that my poor mother had to come and collect me, effusive with apologies and, no doubt, embarassed for ever and a day.  But I Saw the rat!  I wailed.  Uh-huh, she said.

The dark is something personal.  To each one of us.  Maybe it isn’t the night sort of dark, although it can be, but perhaps the inside dark stepping out.  A fear of something or someone.  Doubts can bring the dark.  Crime on television just before bed can continue to play out and develop in our dreams.

Dark is the other side of light.  As adults, sentient adults, we know this.  But knowing something and it settling into our bones can be a universe, a lifetime apart.  I know that when I am troubled, my dreams bring more dark than light. I have downloaded a Sleep App on my android phone (get me) by someone with the most boring voice I have ever heard, whose control over the english language would have sent my english teacher, Miss Machoolish into one of her dizzy spells, and it works, the boredom treatment, never mind the bright lights, the secret garden or any of the stuff he drones on about.  I just want out, so I fall asleep.

Now, I love the dark.  I know that, inside it, there is calm and peace.  I also know that night creatures move at such times, but they don’t want me, they want mice or wandering birds, and, although I may, indeed be a wandering bird, I am way too big for their taste.  I sincerely believe that television, for all its great dramas has bigged up the darkness with fear and we believe it.  Although I do acknowledge that, living on an island, my dark is just dark with not much inside it to worry any of us, I still think fear as food is something we don’t need.  We spend too much time, me included, looking at how things might go wrong.  Why should that out-balance them going right?  Perhaps more looking at the light in our lives would gentle the dark in us.

Dark is dark.  Light is light.  It is enough.

 

Island Blog 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes

 

 

I am excitedly working just now on new songs for recording, well,not recording yet, but more for designing and developing.  All day long I am humming little phrases, changing keys, changing words changing rythms.  Once I meet up with the Talented Two in a week or so, we will take my scribbles and mood-inspired poems and fashion music around them.  They, not I, will layer melodies and harmonies, suggest quirky add-ons that create depth and texture, colour and light.  And dark.  All I am required to do is to spend this preparation time doing what I do know how to do – put words together in a way that tells a story, that give a hint of pain or laughter, to show and not to tell it out too much, for we all like to fill in the spaces allowed us with our own feelings.  This is why some songs last forever and, to be honest, a lot of them make very little sense once we try to explain them.  A Whiter Shade of Pale was scribbled down in the back of a van in between gigs, so I am told, and, when asked what it meant, the writers just shrugged.  It’s not like schoolwork this song-writing thing, not at all.  I don’t have to show my workings, nor do I have to justify them, but what I do have to do is sing them with emotional connection as if what I am telling you is really how I feel.  I don’t write songs about Percy the Pig, or Nellie the Elephant, although that song is great to sing to grandchildren if I include all the actions.  I write about feelings.

It thinks me about doing what I do best, and not wishing I was best at something else.  At school I longed to be an athlete but I was so very far from getting beyond ‘ath’ that it would have made a whole heap of sense to do my best, loathe all of it and spend my free time writing.  The problem with writing is that the only time I found the limelight is in English Lit classes and that was providing I kept to the letter of the law concerning Good Composition.  Nowadays, it is fine to write slang, a lot of which has found its way into the Oxford Dictionnary, which is fine if it works for the piece.  It is not ok to swear, but, then, what is swearing now?  I can read words that would have had my school mistress dialling the emergency services had she ever seen such an assemblage of letters in print, let alone heard them read out in class.  The book would have magically disappeared from the Reading Shelf and parents would have been informed.

In songwriting, words can be hinted at, the front or the back of them lost in a rising instrumental.  It’s infuriating for those of us who want to cover a song and we must needs leap to Google for the lyrics, but I am encouraged by the Talented Two that it sometimes really works best that way and that my Elocution Prize might consider staying in my past.  Enunciating every word as if the whole world depended for its survival on my clear conscise rendering of a particular phrase, is, it seems, vanity of vanities.  Who gives a rip?

As I wrote my book, I let go of the Eng Lit teacher, pushed her off my shoulder and reminded her she was most probably dead and should shut up.  Although I love good prose and therefore find bad prose irritating enough to put me off the whole story, I find that I look more for a gentle sway, an easy rise of words that don’t trip me up with their brilliance, but, instead, show me an unfolding about which I am fascinated to know more.  I want to be led outside of myself and into another world and, yet, I still want that pull on my heartstrings, that connection to my own experiences, my own feelings.  When I read the tale of someone who is living through something I hope I will never live through, something that involves the loss of a child, perhaps, I will think about my own children, my love for them, my fears for them, and, in my heart, I will re-affirm my vow to them, the one I made as each one was born, a vow to protect and defend them to the death.  If I read of a world catastrophe, as a back drop to a tale of people, I will re-jig my priorities in that light.  In short, I will make changes because, through the words of another, I am changed.

I hope I can do the same with my songs.  For now, I am playing word games, reducing sentences down, questioning the need for all the adverbs and adjectives to be there at all, for what I can do, through my voice, as long as it is emtionally connected, is to pull back to indicated thoughtfulness, pain, fear, gentleness, or bring the air more forcefully across my vocal chords to show power, anger or determination.  I can leave out the paraphernalia and keep just the crystals……ones that should make it sparkle, if I get the light

just

right.