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.