Island Blog – Life, Death and Corsets

I thought it would get better, exponentially, as if I had a sore toe, with rest and chicken broth and good nursing care. But this is not a sore toe. This is a yawning maw of days ahead, learning, reluctantly, to begin a new life. Did anyone think this through? If I was 25 again, wiry and with skin that actually fitted my bones, then possibly the prospect of ‘beginning a new life’ might just have sounded like fun. Now, it just feels scary. We get so set in our ways, do we not, even without clocking that this is happening, until it stops, dead, and the future is anyone’s guess.

As a body ages, we deal with it. We harrumph into bigger knickers and aggressive support bras and cover up bits that we used to show off, quite the thing. Our frocks lengthen. Old knees are a bit ‘witchy’ after all. Make up takes longer to apply and should only happen at all in full daylight and with a magnifying mirror. I have seen some shockers out there in my time, orange tipped noses and the face stopping at the jaw as if it wasn’t part of the neck at all, apples on cheeks and lips leaking towards the nose. A wearer of jeans will note that her bottom is sinking. She might need a belt, but that can become a hazard too as it fights mightily to keep a connection between buttocks and the middle bit we used to call a waist. It is so depressing to accept we need either a larger size, or, worse, old woman jeans with legs wide at the top and enough room in the upper part for most of a weekly shop. Fingers look like twigs or sausages and there is no going back.

All of this laughs me. I have no problem at all about ageing. In fact, I am rather proud of it, to have got this far, to be able to bear witness to such an extraordinary change. Animals don’t do it this way. Dogs or cats might get thinner, show some white hairs, but the rest, the wild things or even the not wild things, like sheep or cows just slow down and then stop, dead. I have been gifted the chance to wonder at the conflict between my body and my mind. As a ‘bereaved’ I know that the fears I have are all about my bodily capability and never my mind. My mind is strong and capable, versatile and inventive, but my body may not be able to follow my lead. Ah, I say to myself, I don’t like that. The answer comes back, What are you going to do about it? (Why does she always ask me that irritating question?) I round on her and ask her direct. She says nothing. Just throws me a wry smile like she knows everything and I don’t, which is probably the truth of it.

So it is just us, we humanoids who notice and wail about ageing, or deny it altogether. If I say to someone (is there anyone left out there?) that I am old, they flap like birds in a stramash and witter at me that I am not old, that I am as old as I think, that there are years left in me. That sort of twaddle. I like being old, I say. It means I have really lived and better, survived when so many others have not. There are my peers and younger, good strong loving impossible individuals who fell at a fence. Characters, warm-blooded feisty and hopeless at life as most of us are, getting it wrong more than right, full of regrets and defiance, energy and exhaustion, and yet they forged their trails when they found themselves in a position of responsibility for others, living out that life out in colour and rage and joy and fear and were quite marvellous at the whole thing.

Being stilled is sobering. From a huge and impossible presence in another’s life, in others’ lives, to a flatbed, to pale and cold, to gone. It will take longtime to accommodate that thought, never mind allow it to move its long stay luggage in. Hard, indeed, initially, to remember the actually there person who now is not. But he was always there, like, forever, through my this and through my that, knowing my faults (!) and my successes and very probably highly opinionated about both.

So, now it’s up to me. Me and myself and she is doing a grand job with her snorting and her opinions and her wry smile. She keeps me right and, don’t tell her, I am glad of her company. We are 2 in 1 even if I baulk at the thought of it. I spend much time working on exponentiation. It keeps my mind bright whilst she swans around all febrile and wispy and lifting those eyebrows to the clouds. She hasn’t aged, you see. She is forever young and full of beans and quite infuriating as a result but I do tap her energy as my skin fights to escape my skeleton and I am in danger of a skin puddle.

I remember my first corset, so excited I was, shopping with my ma in the lingerie department of a shiny store. It was so white, with little roses in just the right places and stretchy enough not to constrict my breathing. Ma told me she was not so lucky. Hers had 25 hooks you could never see in the dark and if you got one wrong you yawled sideways for the whole day. The world of corsetry was kinder in my day. I do remember wondering why I needed one at all. What was wrong with my wonky body anyway? I was shushed and marched on. It was the way of things.

Isn’t life always just the way of things? Death too?

Island Blog – Thinks on Why

This morning I was discussing various outlandish things with my faraway son. We don’t bother, he and I, with myopia, moving with a zip straight into deep thinks on even deeper things such as ‘how is it I can remove my feet from my boots without unzipping the zipping and yet find it impossible when inserting them?’ That sort of deep think.

We spoke on the Why of things, the Why that explodes you out of bed of a morning, so excited are you to get the day rocking. Without a Why, we agreed, we would remain in bed considerably longer, rising with a sad sigh of resignation. The day would not rock at all, not even once. So what is your Why? I ask him. He doesn’t know, yet, but with his investigatory brain, he’ll locate it I feel sure. Sometimes it is there, the Why, but playing hide and seek with you. You have to look for it until it leaps out from grandad’s old chest on the landing with a loud Wahoo!

I think about my Why as I walk, reluctantly, the dog this afternoon. Why reluctantly……when the sun shineth down on all his people and the sky could set up a sailor’s trouser factory to match the largest in China? Why, when you have had lunch, prepared supper, brought in the wood, sorted the palaverous palaver for tomorrow’s journey to the care home, affording you a week of peace, no wheelchair motor thrumming like a bee stuck in a strip light, no spills or crashes, nothing lost that can never be found again, not even the wifi going down, deliberately timed for maximum upset? Because I am exhausted. So you will understand that my Why is not in Grandad’s chest on the landing, nor any of the other likely hiding places. My Why is awol.

However, forcing my tired old brain into action I took a wee donder through the limbic region for something that lit my fire. I meandered through sewing, knitting, caring, holidaying, making money, painting, singing, playing my piano and into writing. That stopped me. Writing. Yes. Is this my Why? Perhaps I wouldn’t have to ask that question if it was. I know that, when writing I am totally engaged, time slips by without me noticing and in a life (nowadays) when I could scream at the slow slow ticking away of the seconds as I wait for a day to run out of puff, this is exciting. Had I even begun Book Two I might be so absorbed as not to notice the dull drudge of caring for decades. Is it a truth, then, that I am actively not seeking out my Why in the vain hope that soon this will be over and I will be free to write without endless interruptions? I am not sure this is a healthy, nor a realistic, way to live.

I know one Why that explodes me up of a morning. I am out so fast that it may take all morning for my bed to regain its comfortable calm. My children. And their children. Whatever skirmishes are going on inside my own brain, if one of them is going through shit, or facing an exam or a life test, I am fired up like a rocket. I can’t manage their stuff for them but my support, my texts and voice messages can tell them I am here for them, always and as long as I draw breath. Probably long after that too. But it isn’t right to live inside someone else’s life, or for someone else’s life. It is the Why inside my own that needs finding, naming, sticking on the wall, fastening to my heart. This Why must be writing. It has to be. Writing is the only island in this turbulent ocean, the only thing that eats the indigestible whilst feeding me at the same time.

There are no books at all on How to cope with long term caring, beyond suggestions for joining groups or taking up community singing. Not that I have found, and, believe me, I have looked. With a How there needs to be a What. If the What, for me, is a book to help others caught in this cruel trap with no sign of an ending that is in any way pleasant for anyone, to make them laugh out loud at the funny side and to let them know they are not alone as they plan murder or an imminent departure from their post, then this book is begging to be written. Experiential learning is critical, as it is to pretty much anything in life. I have that in spades. The How is to flaming well get on with it, find a space, make a space, defend that space. Now, not when it’s over. Right now.

And the Why is the writing. No matter that I have no idea how to begin, nor how to couch the awfulness, the drudge and boredom and frustration of it, in polite language; no matter that there are a zillion stupid tasks inside this myopic life all needing Only Me to fix them, from finding a jersey that doesn’t exist, never was red, nor did it have buttons down the front, this jersey crucial and of great value that will never be found, to relocating the wifi dongle that I deliberately put away somewhere deep and dark out of spite, and with many others in between. Many. Others. Not even these can take away my Why, My How and my What.

How I do this, I have no idea. But what I do know is that if I don’t flaming well get on with beginning it, I might as well howl at the moon in the vain hope she will howl back. And I don’t think that has ever happened. My head is a jumble right now. I am scrabbling around inside my knowledge of a day in my current life and there is no space left. And yet, and yet, I seem to recall great people who made space for a dream, who planted its seed with no assuredness of future growth; who tended and nurtured and waited patiently for a green shoot, for validation.

So, if them, then why not me? Why not you?

I leave you with a quote from one hell of a fine woman.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.