Island Blog – Mythbusters

First I listened to Brene Brown on Vulnerability and Shame on audio whilst I sewed a baby play mat in colours of unicorn, fairies, stars and, bizarrely, dinosaurs in peplum frocks. Next, a recommendation from my little sister, It’s Ok that You’re not Ok by Megan Devine. Another mythbuster, refreshing, raw, a real approach to grief and loss. They both speak my truth, one I can now know for myself instead of all the other ‘truths’ that have no idea. Actually, it isn’t that they have no idea. Not that. It is more that they had no way of connecting with anyone who spoke out their shame, their vulnerability, their grief or loss. Some truth talker throwing their pain into the air confounded me and I did what most of us do. I searched my brain for fixatives. Time will tell. Things will get better. He/she is safe now, home with God, in the Elysium fields. Or, No! you are not weak, not guilty, have no need for shame, self blame, fear. Now, all I feel in the blast of these good intentions, is irritation, anger even. I want to run, to yell at them but I don’t and I won’t because now I get it. Our culture has no coping mechanisms for such a meet. We don’t want it. We hate it. We wish we had never met this messy person and we long to make it better. So, wait, what can I say? I know……Time will heal, things will get better, are you busy, are you eating, sleeping, exercising, enjoying nature? Maybe you should look for another man, way of living, place to live, job, passion? All upturned as querulous questions and there’s me behind them hoping I just said the perfect thing.

I find my home through the myth busters. Politely I always did in song lyrics (acceptable) or books parked in genres, equally politely, in book stores. You don’t have to go that way if it isn’t your thing after all. I always did. The ridiculously trapped genre of Self Help covers a million issues and is the most shelf dusty. I noticed that. Fiction, that’s what we want, diversion, distraction, and for the kids, we want pretty pink unicorns, tutu-ed fairies, equally pinked up, and stars, oh stars, all bright and not dying, no way, and then those dinosaurs in peplum. Happiness. Don’t knock it. It is what we are all seeking, after all and yet who has really found it in its entirety? Nobody, that’s who. Those childhood hopes must be dashed, eventually and yet I can see how it would never work to teach them Grimm, as I was taught. Fairy tales in my day were dark but when I read those tales again I just know I would never put a little hopeful face before those words. But what happens when we hit the adult world of super tough? We are not prepared and maybe that is how life works. Our culture is all about fixing. I feel low Doctor. Here are some pills that will help, just for a little while, until you get back on your feet. And, they do, but the core changeth not, the core that is my pain. The caring professions seek to wrench us from our self-destruct and to point us to our own star. Of course they do. Who wants yet another collapso?

And it doesn’t have to be bereavement, this awkward and uncomfortable truth that walks around with a person. It can be any pain at all. There is no competition. Every one of us who knows how it feels to be abandoned, lost, angry, vulnerable, knows this awkward and uncomfortable truth. It is our truth and not something to be flapped away or fixed. We are not fixable. We are in this for as long as it takes and that is that. However, we will put on a good face for that is what we are taught. Responding to someone who benignly and lovingly asks, How Are You with an honest response is not allowed. We just won’t answer honestly because why? Because we are taught to think of others and this Other who stands before might well fall like a tree if I told her my truth. Awful. Can’t sleep. Am never hungry. Don’t care if I don’t wake up. Feel like a yoyo. Anxious, fearful, afraid, lost, crazy at times. I won’t say any of that. I. Am. Fine. That’s what I will say and always say no matter how much that someone asks. And, the truth of it is this. I am. Fine. Because what I want, what someone navigating the void of pain wants is time and space to get on with this. I won’t even say ‘through this’ because I have no idea there is a ‘through’ at all. ‘Through’ suggests an end result.

Today the ice is wild and spectacular. The sea-loch shoreline is capped with rainbows. No unicorns. As the sun hits the smokey ice cover, it flashes back at me, colour shift and then flat grey again, in a nanosecond. I live in those nanoseconds so I get to see. Other walkers might miss it but not me for I am greedy for it all and I am always watching change. A lone woodcock lifts from the bracken and flies right over my head, her wings speckled, spectacular, her flight unmistakeable, her aloneness palpable. Did you see her? I ask two walkers deep in conversation. See what? they smiled. I just smile back. This is my life and yours looks like this. Cosy, designing supper for two, a warm fire, sharing, plans for tomorrow, next week, next birthday. On the track I see dichotomy. On the north side the granite is cold and dark, ice-sheered, silent. On the other side, snowdrops respond to the sun warmth and open like hope. Icicles as long as a spear head and too fat for my fingers to encircle hang northly. Across the track, sun dapples the plane tree bark, warms the new buds, smiles me. I feel at home as I always do when I am alone. One side of me is frozen. One sun warmed and beginning new life.

I am fine. I want solitary. I have no idea half the time how to get through a minute, an hour, a night, a day, but I will not tell you that because you, as I once had, have no idea what to do with such a raw and bloody truth. However, with these brilliant myth busting women and their courage to speak out, I finally, finally, find a path I can walk that is ok with me.

Island Blog – Grief, Music and Cooking

I miss him. It’s like I am forgetting the last ten years of caring and remembering the before times, the good times. I wake at 2 am, cold, and turn to borrow his warmth. It really shakes me at first until I remember where his body now lies, in the frozen ground. I feel the warmth of his hand in mine, that I Am Safe Now feeling. I never slept well, unlike him but he always woke enough to calm whatever storm was going on inside me. I miss him. I wish I had told him he was my everything but I did not. The way we changed, the children who came and whose needs became our modus operandi and our division bell, the way life upped and downed us, all stopped my mouth. Why didn’t I say it? I just don’t know. My deep need for independence was of such importance to me that I forgot to remember the basics. Ah, regrets! All I can do now is to talk to him as I move alone through my days. I am thankful for the rise of good memories even as they do not come without guilt and regret. This is grieving.

Downstairs I flip on the radio. The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. A tad cruel. I think back on Mike, Angie and their two sons in our big kitchen at Tapselteerie. We are sharing tea and cake and Mike is telling my kids, whose eyes are on stalks before this celebrity visitor, that he had never had a guitar lesson in his life, that he taught himself in his bedroom. It is just what they needed to hear. it doesn’t matter how you develop your passion, he says, just as long as you do develop it. Remember that. When I look at my five children now, as adults, passionate about their work and with barely a qualification between them, I know they took Mike’s words to heart.

I empty the fridge drawers of veg. Onion, garlic, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, apple, ginger, lime, red pepper, leek and kalamata olives. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, tinned tomatoes, white wine, herbs and seasoning. It simmers now on the range and will last me days. I always cook for a platoon. Old habits die hard. I make a flavoured olive oil (extra virgin) mix and pour it into one of those sealable jars. I soak more sun-dried tomatoes for a little, chop them and add them to the oil mix, for later, for lunch perhaps, in a tortilla wrap, not that I have ever worked out how to fold those damn things effectively. I always need a shower after a tortilla wrap. The music plays on.

Poppy dog comes downstairs. She doesn’t mind that it is still night time for most people; she just works with my wakefulness and if I am up then it must be breakfast time. I boot her out into minus 2 degrees for a quick pee and prepare her food. Dried kibble topped with raw carrot slices and a few bits of chopped chicken to draw her in. Kibble, after all, is a bit dull on its own. I order a small extending lead for our daily walks for she is going deaf and no longer hears my callback should we meet another dog. Although she is all bark and no bite, or all fur coat and no nickers, it can alarm folk, the noise and the rush of her. I think of how it is these days without tourists and of how all that will change when they return to walk around Tapselteerie, to lose themselves inside her wild beauty. We islanders have enjoyed a year now of peaceful bliss even as we need visitors and their cash. One side of the coin and the other. It thinks me.

Ten years of caring and I am glad it is over. 49 years of marriage and I miss him. How tricky it is to find perspective in those two opposing thoughts. How fine it will be when I do. When he was declining, I became practical and cool. I stayed that way right up to his dying. Perhaps I became what was necessary and productive for the times but now, as I begin to soften, I have regrets. Can anyone hold balance when facing the appalling horrors of dementia? Perhaps not. One day I will write on this, but not yet. My inner writer tells me there are many miles to go yet. Many miles too, till morning.

Island Blog – Fair Warning

Yesterday was dire, the whole way through to evening, when everything lifted. Sometimes I wake beneath a cloud, heavy like a cloak or a shroud that pushes me floorwards, or tries to. However, being a woman of Lift and Light by nature, I tolerate this not, even if it is a big struggle to reach my full height. I have flexible knees, strong limbs and eyes that look out, although it feels almost impossible to keep those eyes from flipping inwards. When they succeed they peer into all my private corners like snoopers in the attic, opening this old box and that in search of treasure. In other words, Reasons To Prove I’m Not Good Enough, Not Coping. Believe me, there are billions up there, in those old boxes. I know this because I lugged them up there myself. I don’t need you anymore, thanks very much for nothing. That’s what I said. I should have burned them, I know it now, but I always thought, and still do, that the old beratements have a purpose and need acknowledgement and recognition. On most days I can do this. And then yesterday comes at me full face and loaded with power.

This, apparently, is grief. It makes me furious. Why on earth am I gifted days, weeks, even, of feeling the healing, only to be cloud dumped and snooped on and to know that I have just landed on a snake and slidded back to square one? How completely cruel is that! Not only do I plod like an old cow through the minutes, which is so unlike me with my quickquick scurryings, but this cloud fills my mind too and it doesn’t have a single positive thing to say about me. A double attack. It is, was, tempting to believe the lies in my yesterday state, the criticisms and judgements in old voices and to lose sight completely of tomorrow, of hope, a future, freedom and the Springtime. I felt like Miss Haversham, even finding the cobwebs and dust and fluff to complete the scene. You should hoover, dust, clean, sneered the attic snoopers. I ignored them.

Now it is today and you would be forgiven in thinking there is a new woman in this dusty, fluffy, needing cleaned house. I had to check in the mirror myself. What changed? I have one idea. In the soggy black of yesterday I was invited to supper with my bubble family. I didn’t want to go. Wasn’t hungry. Wanted to melt into the evening with my cloud wrap and my snoopers, all chuckle and blame, the judgements and criticisms, fear, sadness, self-pity and Miss Haversham-ness. However I did go and as I walked in the door I was hit by light, music, granddaughters, the warm arms of son and daughter-in-law and the delicious smells of roast pork with all the trimmings. As I sipped the wine and crunched the crackling I looked back on the day. It was just a day, that’s all, part of the process. Perhaps the snoopers were also cold, lonely, longing for connection and interaction. Perhaps the cloud helped me allow myself to rest. Perhaps the silence, the no contact with the outside world was just what I needed. Perhaps.

I can accept that, from where I am now, inside my bouncy-happy new morning. However, I have one demand. The next time you decide to come, Heavy Cloud and Chuckling Snooping Judgemental Critics, please email me first. I want plenty of warning so that I can be out when you come.

Island Blog 119 Do less and achieve more

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Oh ho ho ho and isn’t that just the easiest thing to tell someone else?

I am reading Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel and learning much goodly-grounded advice on how to fly.  Although Life throws us curveballs just when we think we are on a home straight (probably mixed up two sportsfields there….) it is really possible to live in the moment as long as somebody can show us how, and not just tell us.

As a writer I know the art of ‘show not tell’ and even the most lightweight reader (no offence intended) will yawn wide if an author reads like a schoolmarm. We are adults now and have spent way too much time being told what to do and how to do it.  Adulthood begins when a child decides, not when we with saggy skin and a certain way of doing pretty much everything tell them they may now be privy to certain conversations, once whispered, or, worse, spelled out, in shady corners of the house.

So, back to reading………….well, this writer knows how essential it is to read avidly.  For me, it is a pleasure, a need, a drive because in reading other’s words I form my own, not as a copyist, although it has been known.  I have decided that, should I find an angry ‘other’ at my door, spear raised, I will tell them they might think my pinching to be a huge compliment, and not a robbery. I take on other’s wisdoms so that my own reflections on what they have to say might shape into a new form, one that works for me.  There are as many ways to think as there are thinkers, more, and we all must find that which will comfortably settle within our own lives, among our own circumstances – circumstances that will always change, sometimes drastically, sometimes in a more kindly way, but we can still learn how to ‘be’ inside each moment, each day, whatever the challenges may be.

Yesterday, or last week, or last month, life was in ‘this’ shape.  Overnight, let us say, it flips and now looks upsidedown and most precarious, leaning (just) against the props that seemed tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and now look like my old washing line poles after a force ten gale.  Let’s look at them – let’s just stand here and look at them and do nothing.  Just look.

I can joke about it, to get a laugh, but the truth is, it is the only way, and not just for me.  Whatever comes, whatever goes, it all passes.  It cannot help but pass, because life moves on, with or without us.

As a young wife and busy mother, I knew I could not hold onto control and to a great degree, I let go.  Perhaps I was lucky in that.  Perhaps feeling out of control all the time, taught me to live by my inventive wits and to consider control a disadvantage.  But, for all of us, this is possible, no matter how valuable our props might appear.  In the event of extreme disaster, like your house slipping over a cliff, this way of observing and moving on is essential. I am not saying don’t grieve, or ululate for that which is lost, but there is a time for grief and a time to get past it, and not by force.  Accepting some new truth, any new truth on our road is like letting in a new light.  It is not something anyone can memorise by rote and commit to memory.  That is for O Level maths (in my case) and it is impossible to retain that learning for long as I discovered on exam day.  No, we must ‘allow’ the understanding to lightly settle in our bones and there is no other way to do that than to simply ‘accept’ the curveballs, do what we can, if possible, to make good from disaster, and then walk peaceably onwards.

If you are intrigued, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Try it.  There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If you say you are too busy to read, you fool yourself.  When you are gone, what will you be remembered for?  Being too busy?

I hope not.

Island Blog 95 Broken Circle

broken circle

 

 

What is the shape of disappointment? I know how it feels, and how it looks on another’s face, how it infiltrates the hours that follow, how it changes an opinion, a truth, a person, but if I had to pick a shape, to visually explain it, I think I would opt for a broken circle.

A broken circle tells me it can’t quite arrive. It began, quite the thing, knowing it was heading for Circledom and then stopped short of completion. Therefore it is no longer a circle, because there is no such thing as half a circle, or a bit of a circle, or, even a circl.

We like to know what lies ahead, or as much of it as is possible through the cloudy eyes of a mere human being. To know everything would surely require considerably more A levels than I ever took, which, by the way, was none. Well, I never got the chance once I was expelled.

And so, we strain to see as much as we can of what lies ahead, completing the circle as we mentally arrive at our destination, factoring in room for the unknowns and unforeseens, but still confident to varying degrees that we will, indeed, arrive.

But what happens when everything changes in a heartbeat and our circle is broken? Not because we faltered on the journey, lost heart and turned back and not because we changed our minds about setting off at all, but because someone, or something took it all away.

Pouf! Just like that.

And all those wise sayings about how Disappointment Will Pass and how it Makes Us Stronger can just go and flush themselves down the loo, because I have a raging miserable fury inside of me right now that just might boil up all over you if you tell me once more that I’ll feel better soon, because I plan never to feel better, ever again.

I remember my first big disappointment very well. Early days of motherhood, dressed for a party and looking forward to it overly much.

We can’t go, he said. The corn dryer’s broken down and I have to fix it.

And then he went back out on the farm.

I sat down on the bed, in my pretty dress and sobbed until all my face had melted into my palms. Then came the rage, which was dark red and black and full of forked lightening and thunderous door slamming.

The circle was broken. I know it was only a party but for a young mother, just to dress up and go out was such a big deal and had meant days of a champagne anticipation.

And nobody let me grieve, including myself. I was spoilt, petulant, selfish with nothing in the fridge for supper.

Disappointment is not allowed to show its face ravaged with tears and mascara, nor can it open its mouth and roar into the sky, because, firstly, there is something alarming about a woman with her mouth wide open, spraying anger and deep grief all over the place; secondly others share that sky and have seats at the top table and, thirdly, we’re British, with all our lips buttoned up tight.

So what do we do with it, any of us?

Well, I have learned that disappointment is indeed part of life and that the jagged wound it makes, does heal, although I don’t want to hear you tell me that. I’ll discover that for myself.

I have also learned that the only person who can deal with the grief I feel at a disappointment, is me, and if I want to roar into ‘our’ sky, you can just block your ears.

You might consider practising the odd roar yourself.

Clears a whole pavement in seconds.