Island Blog – Some Time and the God Mother

Recently I have watched change develop, a responsive change to what is happening with the season. Local dog walkers are now clad in jumpers, one or two (jumpers) I recognise from last year, at a similar time. They sauntered by in teeshirts and shorts, it seems like moments ago. Was I asleep for days? Did I miss something and, whilst I did this sleeping thing, did the weather send these goodly folk into their drawers for a wheeching out of warmer kit? No, I didn’t sleep, rarely do, so it wasn’t that. Maybe the gods of weather flipped a switch, laughing at us down-belows and deciding to stir things up a bit, because body language speaks volumes. Instead of ‘sauntering’, these folk are bowed, bent and clad in plastic. Where before they walked with jaunty air companionable with time as if it was a holiday stretching out for days, they now march, get out, get back, wet and longing for a hot cuppa, teeth gritted, defences up against the sideways rain avoiding puddles deep enough to sink a vicar. I feel it myself, the oh-god-do-I-have-to thing pre dog walk. I resent, big time, the reach for the plastic covering, the boots. I feel irritation as the doglet pauses to sniff at every other blade of grass, yanking her on and then carrying the guilt of grumpy yanking for another half mile, at least. Walks are shorter, faster, marchier. Dammit.

Then I remember the discomfort of change. Ah…….yes. Every time a season changes it feels too soon, even when the coming season is Spring and this is why. I like to know where I stand within my environment, my life. I want ‘ordinary’ to remain so, even as I absolutely don’t. Eventually, I get comfortable with the change until it isn’t change at all. It just is as it is. The in-between time, when I am on the cusp of things, I swither, feel out of sorts, resistant. It’s not anticipation of a seasonal change because it slam dunks me. I don’t know what it is, and I get bored of myself looking for reasons. I work not to be crabbit. I poke about in my insides to find some explanation and find none. This finding none thing also irritates me. I like an answer, that lovely well-honed explanation, much like a well-penned musical phrase that jitters, lifts, curves and flows down to an Aha. Nothing. Dammit again.

When dressing these chillsome mornings, I paint my way through my frock layers. This, yes, that, maybe, and this one onatop. No, try again, and again and again. What is wrong with me? For many lovely months I just rose from beneath my duvet, picked up this or that for its colour, or shape, or layering power. Now I am a snivelling child of a morning, with no power at all. I realise, I know, as I write this, that it is a First World problem. I remind myself of that as I stomp down the stairs to yet another dark morning. Is it morning at all?

There are so many who dread mornings. There are so many who have left their last ever morning behind, lost like a full stop in the dark. I have frocks and choice. I have Autumn and change. I have rain-soaked dog walks. I have Christmas ahead, visits from family and friends, my children, their partners and the grandchildren. I have my eyes, my ears, my legs, my face, my arms and a choice for dinner. I have enough money, enough warmth, enough light, enough dark to remember the full stops for others. Again I ask, what is wrong with me?

The Soft Voice comes to me. Nothing, she says, this God Mother, Nothing at all. You are but human (the ‘but’ bit clicking me into pause. And, she continues, there may well be another day, another morning. There may not, but there may be. Keep living, not just breathing. Keep fannying about with your frock talk, keep dithering and swithering and be grumpy if it helps. All is allowed, is normal. But one thing……

Yes? I ask.

You have one time, some time. Use it, dance with it, in it, play with it, have fun with it, make it hilarious and precarious, vicarious, salubrious, nefarious, whatever. But notice which and what. Choose from your own ground, your own roots, where and when you will spread and when you will flower.

She’s wise, the God Mother.

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 – Coming out, Irony and Eye rolling

‘Coming out’ means something in contemporary language, I know, and I don’t mean it that way. However, the process of coming out, of walking into the spotlight and of facing down the imagined and, perhaps, very real reactions this coming out may bring is what I am doing.

Since a long time I have self-medicated with red wine, too much of it. I had good reason, I told myself, as I pushed on through a difficult marriage and then dementia caring, but that good reason has lost its truth. To continue to self medicate when the husband is gone, along with any caring demands, is just lunacy. I don’t want it any more. I don’t want the guilt, regret and sheer terror each morning after a bad sleep full of nightmares. So, I have reached out to an addictions counsellor and our work is beginning. Although I am 67 and old (in my opinion) it doesn’t mean life is now a slow slip down the slope, not at all. There is another book in me, after all, more songs perhaps. I haven’t sat down at my piano for ages. It sits there, open-mouthed, ebony and ivory and beckoning. Why on earth not? Well, I am guessing that this self-absorption is taking over my mind on a daily basis. How blissful might it be to just get the heck on with life, with Life? I imagine wonderful, freeing, energising, peaceful.

I write this because I am betting there are many folk out there caught in a similar trap. Addictions come in many shapes and sizes. Drinking, drug use, running, over-eating or eating disorders, spending money, and many more. It isn’t anything to be ashamed of because every single one of these is birthed from a deep inner pain, one that may well date back to childhood. At first, it feels great. At second it creeps silently in to claim more territory and before you know what’s happened, you cease to exist without it, cannot imagine a day without this addiction. However, the great news is that there is help out there, gentle, empathetic, intelligent guidance and support. Hallelujah!

I don’t feel shame writing this. Living covertly, unauthentically, is crippling and there comes a time to stand in that spotlight, to come out, not to shock others but to admit to being human and caught in a trap. So here I am. I know that once a person has the courage to admit, to speak out and to lay themselves bare, the healing has already begun, even if there appears to be no way ahead. This is faith. Faith in self, in life, in the power of experienced guidance and in believing that, no matter how old a person is, there is plenty more to achieve in this single glorious life. And, just maybe, someone else will read this and know that they, too, can claim back the ground if they can just find the courage to come out.

My son, Ruari, has just won the Spectator’s Innovative Entrepreneur of the Year for Scotland and Northern Ireland with his work on encouraging and supporting people (of all ages) who want to stop drinking too much; to turn their lives around. Check him out at http://www.oneyearnobeer.com.

The eyes of my brain are rolling with the irony.

Island Blog 150 Space and Time

 

 

 

Space station 1Space station

 

 

Last night I watched the International Space Station move across the starry sky. A golden orb it was, arcing overhead, just a tiny dot. Six atronauts are aboard. I waved. I know, sad really, but you never know what a welcome wave can impart across space and time. I’m thinking ‘butterfly wings. The illusion of ‘just a dot’ in the wide sky of a sparsely inhabited island would be no less to anyone who glimpsed it last night between high rise buildings in a big city. And, yet, six whole living people are aboard. To them, we, the whole WE, that is, the Earth, is also illusive. They know we are millions, we are legion, and yet, all they see is a rolling ball of mountains, plains and seas. They don’t see us and we don’t see them, but because of our vast technology, we know we are all where we are.

Let’s look closer.

Up there, last night, NASA emailed a racheting socket wrench. Well, not quite the actual wrench, but a 3D image via a 3D printer that guided the Commander to fashion one himself. It would have taken months for supply vessel to deliver one. Months.

When we look up, we imagine stars to be small sparkly lights dinging about when the clouds are away bothering someone else, even though we know that some of them are much bigger than our own world.  Still, as we point them out to a little one, to gaze up in wonder, we don’t think of great lumbering planets, already dying, but of diamonds in the night.

The International Space Station travels at 27,000 km per hour at an orbit height of 431 km, and here I am wondering how long it will take to drive to Doune for Christmas with all that festive traffic.  But, my place is down here, not up there, and here is where I need to remember the illusions of time and of space.  We know both are always with us, always influencing our decisions, our routines, our days and our nights, but because we cannot control either of them, tame either of them, rule over either of them, we just have to let them be.  We must walk with them, through them and around them as fellow miracles.

Now, we may not think of others as fellow miracles.  In fact, some are way off miracle grade, in our opinion.  But again, this is an illusion.  I know that, at this time of year, everyone is ‘goodwilling’ themselves to death, smiling when before there was no smile, giving when we only take for the rest of the year, lifting our care-worn spirits  and tired bodies in frightful jumpers and paper hats and telling ourselves it’s fun, and I never did understand why January is all about diets and New Year’s Resolutions.  Why don’t we eat sensibly and employ self-control all through the year?  Why can’t we give to those who need something we have, and they don’t, every single month? It seems we turn back to ourselves after this crazy happy festive season to face the big black hole inside every one of us all over again.

Black holes.  They’re in space too, and in time.  Those who are lonely are often closer by than we might like, often in the family.  In space, they eat you.  As they do down here.  For all the technology, the space research, the developments in education, social media, lifestyle (for some) and health care, we are still lost.

And yet, we are found too.  If every one of us chose not to turn back in, to scrabble around in the illusion that we are not enough, not clever, not destined for greatness, not important, we might learn, bit by bit, to look out, to see other walking miracles, to learn from them.  It isn’t easy for any of us.  We all have black holes, black illusions.  But those who do make a difference, who do become important, who are clever and definitely more than enough, are those little people who choose not to be consumed by self-pity, guilt and regret. Not one of them was born with anything more than the rest of us.  There’s no magic here.  Every single one of us grows a black hole.  Once we acknowledge that, we can move on beyond it, whether we have ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’.

Another human illusion.

The people who have chosen not to turn back in are the heroes, the warriors, the fighters for life. And they began right here, taking one step at a time, one day at a time.

It’s a new day today.  Christmas is coming.  But Christmas will also go, leaving us behind.

What will you make of yourself when it does?

Island Blog 114 Two Shadows

 

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Well well well – here I sit to tell you that I have done all my Christmas shopping, wrapped it and posted or stored it under the skirts of my easy chairs.  When Sula was alive, that would have been impossible for she would have joined them, cooried in to the crackly nest and torn the cheap skinny wrappings into a gorgeous cosy nest.  I would have heard her, of course, but probably not in time.  I would have grabbed her waggy tail and hauled her out, whence she, astonished and alarmed would have embedded her sharp claws into the soft winciette pajama bottoms or the fine weavings of an expensive cardy, exacerbating the situation skywards and threatening me with spontaneous combustion, for which, at this time of day, there is only one cure. The Chilean syrah.

I am mindful, as I wander into houses where most of the inmates wear very small pants, that their days were mine, once.  The only large-panted members of the Tapselteerie clan, numbering one, (that’s me) were far too sensibly grown-up for such fun, hence the elevated size of pant.  We, or, rather, I, would never have bothered tiptoeing around by torchlight to rustle, as quietly as possible, under any skirts in search of a label with my name written upon’t.  Certainly not.  I was the one, with the megaphone and steel toe-caps, who stalked the dark reaches of the baronial mansion house, in search of rustlers.  Even the island husband could be caught snooping, although, to be honest, he could, quite easily, and did, lose a chainsaw under a sheet of A4, so he was never the leader in this shenanigan.  It seemed to me that everyone worked in secret, as if they didn’t want to be caught by anyone, let alone Miss Trunchbull.  I would find them, red-faced and jabbering with guilt, often in gumboots and hand-me-down jama bottoms, pretending to me, their Trunchbull of a mother, that they were looking for a book to read.  Like I was going to believe THAT!

And yet, a wistful part of me longed to be them.  Being sensible is deathly dull on a good day.  As my pant size changed, it seemed I had to become my clothing.  As a child, pulling on just something to get me down to my cornflakes was all I cared about.  How I looked meant absolutely nothing.  I didn’t consider what would happen if I was cold or if my shoes didn’t go with my outfit.  I didn’t consider my outfit at all.  I just yanked off my nightie and pulled on something a little more robust for my descent into the day.  I don’t recall wondering what I might feel like if the milkman caught me without a good 2″ of slap across my face, or if my jumper might be too warm for the time of year.  I just got dressed.

Admittedly, there were times, many of them, as my pants got bigger, when my mother might smirk at my bonkers assemblage of gold sequinned jumper over hotpants, but it was only her smirk that upset me, not the clothes upon my back. At Tapselteerie I fussed like a hen over my children’s casual attitude to clothing.  Wear a warm jumper out there, I would say, trying to thaw out the collie dog currently frozen to the ground by her girly bits.  She only sat down for a minute.  But they ran out, wild and skimpily clad into the day, into every day, and there were times I hated my job.  My Miss Trunchbull job.  At the shore, they swam in the freezing sea any time of the year, emerging sapphire blue and making wonderful percussion with their teeth.  I couldn’t even catch their jumping knees to rub them dry.  There, I said, now NEXT TIME……….. but next time was just the same as the last and still they laughed at me.  I think they probably still do, because I still do it.  If they had listened to my fears, they would be locked up by now, terrified by the voices in their heads, portenting doom if they so much as open the fridge.

Now, at my big pant age, I think back and I wonder.  What if I had just shut the hell up?  Well, I will never know what the answer to that, and I cannot change the past, but I can make a new future for myself.  I watch them with their own children, letting them fall, letting them burn a finger or two, warning quietly, then letting go.  I watch other people, other nations, like today at Madiba’s memorial service in Jo’burg and I see the wild musical African women, bopping and singing and ululating, and all in very much bigger pants than mine, and I see a new freedom.  I also see the stiff backed British sitting with stiff backs and not letting go at all.  Well, it isn’t British, is it?

There are times, many times, as I find myself in a train station of grownups, or a shop or just walking down a street, when I have the intense desire to spin around, to begin a song and to sing it right through.  Not for an audience to boo or applaud, but just for me.  The other day I went out at dusk in Glasgow, to collect something from a shop.  As I walked back among other grownups, intent on their mission, their Iphone, their deadline, I had this feeling and just spun around, my arms wide.  There was a fingernail moon in a clear cold sky, and, as I walked back feeling very delighted withe myself, and smiling like a loon, I saw two shadows on the pavement.

They were both mine.

Island Blog 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.