Island Blog – The Dive Board, the Door and the Girl

As the days roll on my thinks shift and settle in new shapes. Although it is written that grief has seven stages and are sequential, it is a lie, unless I am the weirdo I always believed myself to be. Please note the past tense. Initially, in other words just a year ago, I spent some weeks feeling I was in control. I could do this. It wasn’t so hard after all and ‘after all’ is relevant here because I had been watching him die slowly for years and that is all consuming, all demanding, all scary, infuriating, debilitating and many other ‘ings’ beside. Then came the crash, the inner questioning, the confusion and self-doubt as the past, our shared past threatened like a courtroom with me in the dock. Now, a year later, a year when without has taken me within and within is somewhere I had avoided for about 60 of them, years I mean I am opening like Strelitzia. It is a mess in there, I told Myself, a mire, a slough, a war, a holocaust. Don’t go there. So we didn’t, she and I. Sometimes within would scratch at the door, mewl and scream out, but we ignored it. The very thought of opening that door to be floored by a boiling wave of recriminations, of bloody fury, of lost times, of regret, shame and self-loathing was enough to keep us hunkered down, backed against a wall, listening with our hands over our ears. How is it, I asked her, that some people can ignore within for a whole lifetime and die with a smile on their faces? Myself takes my hand. I don’t know, she says, but we are not ‘some people’ now, are we? We are curious and we long to heal. I nod, but my jitters are jittery and I feel nausea rise.

At first, the first time I considered opening the door to within, I had support from a counsellor. I trust him completely and have known him some years. His wisdom and experience in the ghastly arenas of caring and grief are not in clever words but in his gentle eyes, and his empathy. He responds to something I throw-away say with a hand to his heart. Ouch, he says, and his eyes tell me the rest. He gets it, he hears me. I have a voice. I am important. I am all that I longed to be and was sure I was not. I feel like I did back in school on the high dive board, the pool about 3 miles below me and a load of anticipates watching, watching just me, the skinny kid in a sleek black costume and on a strong, safe and flexible dive board. Climbing those steps was just climbing those steps. Once aloft and singular, shivering and terrified and alone, I saw the turquoise water like a puddle under my gaze. I had done this many times before, of course I had, but that was in the noisy swell of other girls, of friends, of a be-skirted swim teacher with a whistle between her lips. It was almost fun, but not this time. This time the team depended on my timing, my poise, my perfect arrow dive, my perfect arcuation and subsequent rise to the surface, sans snot and apoplectic coughing.

This state of being heard and valued is a like the foundation stone for a new build. At first I didn’t trust it. Soon, I told myself, it will be snatched away as it always has been, had been. Myself says nothing and keeps me walking. I am in the mood to keep on keeping on, so I concur and comply. I am tired of ignoring the wails and whines and fingernail scratchings of within anyway. As we walk through the days, I stumble often on the rocks of regret, am straked by the barbed wire of self-loathing, burned by the fire of fury and iced to freezing on the snows of regret and shame. Hmmm, I snort, this sequential thingy is a load of tiddley pom (I didn’t put it that way, to be honest). I have gone from roundabouts to swings, from trust to abandonment, from warm safety to cold ire and all inside one hour. But, very gradually, the wasteland is showing me a tree or two, the song of a bird, the comehither tinkle of fresh running water. I am seeing new, I am seeing hope, I am also able to look back without reaching for my sword, my armour. I don’t need protection because with help I have opened that door and let the within out. When I finally did open it, instead of a wave of furious rapacious fire, brimstone and demons, there was silence. You coming out? I said, once I had recovered from the surprise. Was my imaginary enemy not as I thought he was? My looking in rounded the open door. A girl, just a girl. Me, I recognised her at once. For all that wailing and whining and the fear, she was just a girl.

Come with me, I said, holding out my hand. Tell me all about you.

I have a writing on my wall. It reads thus :- ‘I love who I have become because I fought to become her.’ Although, at this time, the ‘love’ bit seems a bit strong, I am watching it each day and it is beginning to gravitate within. My sister asked me today ‘what defines a victim?’ A very good question. I considered, taking it immediately to myself. I was one, I answered, but not now. I allowed myself to be one, whined and wailed and railed against my victim state when, in truth, all I had to do was to open the door that was never locked, to climb those steps and then to dive, like an arrow, into who I always really was and can be again.

Island Blog – A Glorious Freedom

I set myself a challenge. This day I will not say a single negative word about a single soul, and, if a negative thought comes in about any said soul, I will picture them happy, laughing, safe, peaceful. Easy Peasy from my breakfast table, easy indeed from the early hour within which I awoke to a new day. T’was a lovely soft morning, the moon still hovering, the sun rising pink across the over-by hills. No worries.

I set off on the alpine switchback road to the little harbour town to hook up with a friend for a bench picnic, feeling quite the thing, until I met a ‘toddler’. This is a car inhabited by, usually, two old folks, with no plans to hurry. However, the driver does have plans. Whilst he, usually a ‘he’, and his she are watching the sky for birds, the hills for a Wow, the sudden dips that show deep lochs all blue and fabulous, and causing them to slide to an almost stop mid road, I am about to be late for my bench picnic meet. I hold back, understanding, until my understanding muscle is a taught rope, and I, politely, move closer. No change. We swing around another 25 bends passing endless passing places, and still he will not let me pass. Incoming friendly suggests to me that he might now pause so that he and his she can watch the flowers grow without me in my sassy Mini Cooper hooking onto his old butt. No, he pulls out quick. He stays his course. I hear my inner talk. He is telling me I should not be in a rush. I consider this ‘rush’ thingy. Ah, maybe he is right. Maybe I, too, can watch the flowers grow for another 8 miles. I think on the past year when the only people I ever met on this single track were carriers, workers, carers, the postpeople. All of a sudden, the toddlers are back and I know, I know, we need them and they are welcome and I love all people ya-di-ya.

Eventually he lets me by and his face is turned away from my ebullient sunshine thank you smile. Okay, whatever. I collect my friend and I tell her of my personal challenge for the day. She chuckles. Ah, you may have invited in something there my friend. Ha! I say and we swing into the big harbour car park because I need fuel and this is where the garage is located. As I drive in, just as I have done for over 43 years towards the pumps, a big ass vehicle comes right at me, nose to nose. I stop, thinking no judgement, and reverse back. As he (!) comes forward he winds down his window. I smile. I think you will find that this is a one way system, he says. For a moment I am confounded. A lot goes through my head. I have been here 43 years. I know this is the way to the pumps, or one of two ways. I see no one way system sign. Then I feel outrage build. But I cannot allow it because of my stupid self challenge. My friend beside me snorts into her hands and the giggle rises in me. I didn’t say Why, Thank you Kind Sir For Guiding Me Right. Sadly. I wasn’t quick enough with myself. I just looked at him in amazement. I thought, gosh how sad your life is that you need to be aggressive on your holiday. And I binned that because I wasn’t seeing him happy, laughing, safe and peaceful. What shall we we do now? asked my friend. This was an easy answer. We, I replied, are going to drive all the way around the one way system that does exist, the wrong way. And we did.

The picnic was fab. We sat on a bench in the sunshine having bought quiches from the bakery and we laughed like girls. We are both heading for 70 but somehow nothing changes when girls/women get together. We laughed about the One Way Man and sent him whatever he needs which is probably quite a lot, and walked, talked and helped the Navy moor up their ships on the pontoon. What I learned from this, from my self challenge, is that irritation is human, hard not to buy in to. But not to buy into it feels like a glorious freedom.

Island Blog – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

Island Blog 10 – On Thinking Too Much

Actually it can be bad for your health.  Well, don’t people say, as you wander through some complicated quandary over a cup of tea, or six……..’You think too much Whatever-your-name-is!’  as if that sorted it out for you.  And that is how you respond.  You nod, chuckle, or try to, at your own sillybilly-ness, and wave farewell, still puzzled and slopping with tea, and now with a label on your forehead that says I Think Too Much.

 

This knowledge adds to your problem.  What you need now, you tell yourself, is a bell to ding as you plod miserably towards the frozen goods, to find something for supper.  After all, aren’t you a leper of a woman among all these bright bustling ‘others’ with purposeful step and cheery lipstick?  How could you have got it all so wrong for so long?  And, didn’t your old mother, now frozen boned and 6 foot under, always tell you that thinking too much is really self pity?  She never felt it.  No time for that.  She had to win two wars all by herself and that’s no task for a moaning Minnie whose self esteem forgot to leave the birthing ward with her and whose brain goes into cramp every time anybody asks a really difficult question such as ‘Would you like tea or coffee?’

 

I should have learned by now, you tell yourself, remembering all those wise words of advice you thrust on your daughters whilst they faced their own dilemmas, sounding just like your own mother and just as ridiculous.  After all, what did you know about ‘popping’ or ‘tweeting’ or ‘shots’?  I would have said, in order, balloons, birds, guns.  But I would be wrong on all three counts.  And that makes me the fool.  Not because I don’t know what these new descriptions mean, but because I pretend its the same as in my day and it isn’t and never can be.  What we old folks need to do is look to ourselves.

 

On that note, back to you over there mooning over the McCain chips.  I have some ideas, based on my own search for self-esteem, which has been 60 years in the lower end of poor.

Yes, yes, I know I LOOK confident, but so do you when you put on your slap and pull on your sensible kit even though you just know you look fat in that pair of crimplene slacks, and will look as exciting as a poinsettia in June by the time you have lugged all those heavy groceries back up the hill.

I’m just a mother, a granny, a housekeeper, we tell ourselves.

Poppycock I say.  Burn your crimplene slacks, as I did my dresses, although don’t do it, as I did, in a cane waste-paper basket.  Way too dangerous.

And who invented crimplene anyway?  I have never worn such an uncomfortable aberration of fibres; fibres that can set off an 80 kilowatt spark whenever anyone gets too close, which is probably its whole purpose.

 

Whilst thinking too much, I consider that once we women become mothers, we are thus defined in the eyes of the world.  It gets worse at that glorious time when one of our own children gives birth to their own.

Now, we are Granny.

What happened to my name?

I know I should consider myself fortunate to be called anything as long as it’s not ‘Old Bag’  But what, I wonder became of me? Who am I, who was I once?

 

During the scary crimplene-burning process, I realised that I alone must dig deep inside to re-locate my self-esteem (yes, it was there all along only nobody said) and get to know it, to tend it with care, regardless of the smirks from those who much preferred me with none. I am not defined by my husband, my children or my grandchildren, nor my friends, nor my neighbours, nor my peers., and I can have my own opinions.  I must begin to look at who I am, at what I believe in, at how I respond to something, to anything, and to bravely find my own voice and speak it out into the world.

I have no idea how to do it, but didn’t someone once say that stepping out into a fog is better than watching it through the window?

That way, at least we can cause some havoc.