Island Blog – Waving

It laughs me, this does. Here I am with a pulled muscle in my back for no good reason at all. I was not grabbing a ewe, or is it ‘an’ ewe, who planned to hurtle away from me with half her yet unborn lamb swinging like a water bomb from beneath her tail; I was not hefting half a tree from A to B; I was not saving someone from drowning. No. I just rose gently from the outside bench to move elsewhere. Elsewhere has a lot to answer for, let me tell you. That was five days back and still the muscle is playing games with my walking, my sleep and my patience. I mentioned it to someone. Twice. Two different Someones. I said, I tweaked a muscle in my back the other day. The other day being anywhere from two days ago to last month. Neither person asked me how. Instead they both, in their different ways, told me of their mishaps with muscles. I hurt my back too, said one, again, and smiled such a lovely smile I could almost see myself leading him centre stage. Oh? I said. and the polite woman in me invited more. He gave it, blow by blow and then he left. I stood, gobsmacked for as long as it took for the next frickin hail storm to hit, and then returned into my home with the full description of how I tweaked my own back still held behind my teeth. The second scenario went much the same. I got full description of how her particular muscle had let her down and how she couldn’t sleep and how painful it was and so on and on and on. Gobsmacked was I, once again. Neither of them have a scooby about which muscle is hurting me, nor of my sleeplessness, nor of my pain. This is what laughs me.

As I reflect on these encounters, I swing from fury to empathy, to understanding, to compassion. Perhaps a therapist might tell me this is the wrong order but they might just get a punch for saying so. When a person tells you, or me, of their pain, whether it be emotional, historical or muscular, there is, and I admit it, a desire to counter their story with a better one. Oh, let me tell you…..I know how your feel (no you don’t), because my mother’s late sister’s aunt had the same thing. What… 1948? Seriously? But, the polite woman in me will stand there, inviting more, feeling-compassion-fury and kindness. I won’t hold up my hand and confront. I am just not that person, even if I wish I sometimes was. And, let’s be honest, I have done this myself, this “I have a better story” thing. Where I wanted someone just to listen to my whole story, they could not and who could blame them because it would probably have gone like this:-

Well, so (two utterly unnecessary pre-responsive words) I was sitting on the outside bench (as if I had an inside one) drinking tea with my friend Sarah, no, not Sarah, it was Helen, yes Helen (who is Sarah?) and she had just brought me my birthday present of – oh such a lovely bag of gifts and so thoughtful. Well (unnecessary) there was herbal tea bags, dips, crackers, chocolate and flowers! No, wait, were there flowers…..? Oh I can’t remember. Anyway (unnecessary) where was I? Oh, yes, the bench and Helen. Well (!) we were sitting in the sunshine and it was warm (is sunshine ever cold?) and we were chatting about this and that and I just got up to go elsewhere for some reason I twisted at the same time and ping! that was it. The pain began and it hasn’t stopped no matter how much I tell it it is not helpful to me right now.

But nobody ever heard that. We just don’t listen. But I get it, I have done this myself. The impulse to counter and to win over another’s story is within us all. My pain is bigger than your pain. My dad is bigger than your dad. My life is tougher than yours is. It seems to be natural within us. How to change that is what I am loving learning. Noticing how my instant and thoughtless responses rise in me with such power as if they just know they are right, is intriguing. Makes me curious. These responses are from my brain and my brain is a computer and I am the pilot. I am in control. Easy as it may be to believe that what my brain tells me is the truth, I would be a fool to attend that class. No. I am one of those, expelled from school, expelled from college, sacked from my first job. I am a corridor walker. I move in between and initially it was not a conscious decision. I just knew I was not one of the mob, the shoal, the pack. It was, I admit, a very lonely place but with age and experiential learning I have come to celebrate the ones I meet in corridors. They look like lurkers to the pack, but not to me. Once I realised I needed guides to show me who I really am at my core, I found them. In books, mostly and I was hungry for them. They showed me how to notice, how to step back, how to allow, to stay quiet, to understand the human need for recognition and love. I won’t say it was a doddle because I fight it still, but it makes such sense to me that I cannot give up this path.

There are many broken people out there, me included, but I have learned to celebrate my brokenness and to turn it into flight and sight and light. To all of you who know what I am talking about……I’m waving.

Island Blog – Woman

I’m thinking about her today. I am one, after all. A woman I mean. As Dennis rages like a husband outside my door, threatening to uplift the new conservatory, I turn in to my thoughts. After a Dennis sort of morning I put on music – my sanity these days. Have you heard Disturbed sing The Sound of Silence, or Elbow’s Fickle Flame or Lily Allen sing Somewhere Only We Know by Keane? I research music a lot and am helped considerably by my youngest, equally in love with music. Lyrics, musicality and beat can lift any soul from a dark place. I recommend it if the dark surrounds you this day, or any other day.

I add something super dull to the shopping list, holding said list in place with a heart shaped stone as if Dennis might get in somehow and snatch it. Actually, he is welcome to it. I get dead bored of shopping lists, of washing clothes on the right setting, of wiping down tables, of mopping spills I never spilled. It seems to me that women are always on the move and it is just as well or most of the world would just sit down and wait for a sandwich. Not only do we end up on the sandwich rota but we are required to pop here and collect that on a regular basis. Then there are screaming children to squeeze into clothes they don’t want to wear ending in a fraught drive to school. There’s a flaming mother-in-law to appease and toilets to clean; there are beds to make, rooms to tidy, gardens to tease back into life; phone calls to answer, batteries to replace, dogs to feed and supper to be planned, bought and prepared. I am sure there are modern women who fold their arms, say something colourful and then go out for Prosecco with the girls but I don’t meet too many of those. From girlhood we are conditioned. I see it with my own little grand-girls, the unconscious teaching by their mums, the learning they absorb through example. I want to throw fireworks at it all, but (and there’s always one of those) I cannot see how the family would survive if women stopped being IT. That indomitable spirit is in each one of us. How else would we survive? Although life does dump on us, despite the fairytale wedding and all those impossible promises, we find an inner strength we never knew we had. It seems we can take pretty much everything on the chin and still keep our sense of fun and fight.

A man once said, a man I admire to the skies, that he had no idea how we women kept so full of life. Observing the very obvious attitude of the world, that of demoting women at every opportunity, plus the lie that they believe in equality, this man made his own mind up. God bless him. We need more of him. He can see our spirit and he loves it. Loves it! it doesn’t frighten him at all, which is, of course, what it does to men in general. Strong women remind them of their mothers and they really don’t want that image in their minds.

This fighting spirit is powerful and dangerous. Powerful when guided right and dangerous when left to turn into low-boil anger. I have learned the difference between the two, often. I know when my angry puts down roots and applies itself to the whole garden, and it needs uprooting. Power is quite different, something precious to be nurtured and loved and admired. It is a part of every woman. Although young girls learn submission and polite behaviour in order to survive the early years, that spirit is still alive inside them and it will out, trust me. And it scares even them, the first time; the time they see injustice, feel it, are hurt or attacked. It will rise like a hot dragon breathing fire, one who needs teaching. Not now Dragon. Yes, now Dragon. That sort of teaching. We learn this as we form into the women we will become and it is a good thing. I have met women whose dragon controlled them and their life was not a happy one.

However it is good to just know the dragon is there, to feel her power and strength and to know she will always be there for you, and for me.

The meaning of words



Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context.  Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen.  Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.

We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community.  To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle.  How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work?  It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat.  I have a friend who is colour blind.  He sees everything in shades of grey.  I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle.  I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour.  Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.

That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads.  I want white walls and you hate white.  White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms.  I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil.  But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine.  One of us has to accept.

Or, is that resignation?

My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room.  He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise.  He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word.  Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive.  ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind.  It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.

Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer.  I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production.  It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me.  On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part.  When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like?  Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me.  To him, they mean nothing much.  He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well.  I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear.  I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.

Then, there is resignation.  I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak?  Am I giving in?

Absolutely not.  In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself.  I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away.  I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything.  And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words.  It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.

If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk.  I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off.  I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own.  I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands.  ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’  And the response doesn’t change.  Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?

So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground?  We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.

If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling.  It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.

More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.