Island Blog 142 Back to the Sea

2014-06-05 11.16.07

 

I have come to a conclusion.  One I might have come to long ago but didn’t, not least because I couldn’t really explain it, should anyone ask for my ‘workings’.

Workings are what art teachers demand when they stand before a huge canvas, liberally splodged with texture, glue, sparkly bits, string, and fat brush strokes telling them absolutely nothing.  ‘Where are your workings?’  they asked me.  I had to find out first what they were talking about before answering.  Once I knew, of course, I back-dated said ‘workings’ on paper, parchment,card, board and copper plate and stuck them into my Workings Book, which I didn’t know I had till a fellow student found it stuffed into my locker – another thing I didn’t know I had.

When a painting is abstract, there is a process.  You begin with the real thing.  A duck for example, or a pot of flowers, a seascape or a human form.  You draw that bit first, kind of whizzily with a loosely held pencil or bit of charcoal or even a paintbrush if you’re jolly smart.  You might be out of doors doing it, perched on a cold stone wall in the middle of Linlithgow, or you might have hooked a buttock or two onto an old tree stump on the shore of some spectacular place, or you may just be at your desk beneath the blue light of those vile tubes.  Wherever you are, you are supposed to be capturing the thing of interest onto a bit of paper in your drawing pad.  We were for-bid-den to call it a sketch pad.  We are not sketching, class.  We are drawing.

Semantics.  It amounts to the same flipping thing, but it’s always best not to argue, when the argument is about words and what they mean to other people, especially teachers.

So, you capture this interesting thing and then you loathe it to death.  It is, at best, dreadful, and looks nothing like it should or even could and even less than nothing like the interesting thing.  If it was a naked being, then I was doomed from the outset.  I could have a deliciously formed adult male just feet away from me under the blue lights and, in a matter of one short hour, he would be reduced to a Lowrie figure with no blood pumping through his veins, nor sinewy life in his supple limbs, both of which were there until my pencil removed them.  Picasso, I kept whispering to myself, fighting back the tears of shame.  Picasso.  Gee-ed up by such thoughts I stuck one eye on his thigh and thought I’d got away with it until Miss Fineart mosied over and snorted, alerting the class to do their own spot of mosying over and snorting.  The young man in question couldn’t move, for which I was deeply grateful as he was facing away from us and stark naked.

So much time was spent on ‘workings’ for pretty much all of my pieces for End of Year Show.  In my case it was both a lottery and a farce because not one back-dated working had entered my head for a single second as I plunged headlong into the world of the abstract.  Abstract just comes first for me and that’s that.

Back to my newly drawn conclusion.

I believe without a doubt that I came from the sea.  Not as a mermaid, or silkie, or even a fish.  I am not talking about the body of me, but the spirit of me.  Whenever I am by the ocean I am at peace.  I can go there carrying tension, rage, frustration.  I can feel heavy and old and tied down and lumpish. But, when I have stayed awhile, listened to the tide roll in or out, felt the salt spray in the breeeze and tasted it on my lips, I am a new woman again.  I don’t just believe that it’s about dumping my baggage for the old tide to take away, because whatever I took down there doesn’t join me as I walk back home.  I never see it again.

When I am in busy places, far from the ocean, I can do whatever I need to do, for a while.  But after that while, which isn’t very long, I feel the old scratch I can never itch, the one that tells me I am not all that wonderful, in fact, not wonderful at all.  I feel irritations niggle at my gut, threaten to spill out of my mouth.  I feel claustrophobic and find it hard to breathe.  No, it is not a panic attack.  There is nothing my logical mind could find to panic about.  It is true that all around me is concrete, noise, people rushing here and there, traffic, lights, dirty pavements and man-made deadlines.  I know how to cross a road safely and what bus to catch.  I know where I am heading and the time arranged for me to arrive.  There is no panic in any of that.  So it’s not a panic attack.

It’s just that I am not in the right place for me.

I know the rocks on the shore.  My eyes need to see the broken mussel shells, left by geese or an otter.  They need to see thrift, purple and trembling in the salt breeze, gulls white against the sky, calling out to each other as the new tide brings in the sprats.  I watch them poppling the surface of the water, pushed up by a predator deep beneath them and out of sight to me.  I must see the kelp thrown high upon ancient rocks, the little pools left by the flood tide, the tiny shrimps stranded till the next one comes in, perhaps whilst I sleep.  I have to see sunlight on the yellow lichen, turning it to gold, to hear the popping of sea-gorse seeds, marvel at the darting of goldfinches on the barbed stalks, and hear their animated chirrups at the abundance therein.  I absolutely must watch the single snow goose leading four, no five families of greylags across the sea-loch in serried ranks cutting perfect lines across the water.   I know the state of the moon by the tides and the state of the tides by the moon. I know the sea and the sea knows me.

It’s not a fairytale.  it’s a conclusion. Mine.

So I go, as I will always go, every day of my life.  I will go to where I came from.   Back to the sea.

Island Blog 132

2014-03-28 12.29.53

 

 

We never talk about shrimps up here.  In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word used anywhere in Scotland.  Up here, across the tempestuous border, we talk about prawns, and they are quite believably so.  Shrimps I remember from Norfolk days, and you needed 3000 of the little so-and-so’s for all of seven sandwiches.  I have been served up a plate of ‘prawns’ before now, and knew fine I was being ripped off, but not up here.  Folk can’t believe their good fortune when they order a prawn dish, savouring the fat pink bodies, dense and firm and tasting of a fresh wild ocean.

In Tapselteerie days, I would drive over the hill to meet the fisherboats coming in, bartering with the raw and ruddy-faced hard-working ‘boys’ for an overflowing crate of still-twitching jewels, the huge aga pans left to bring themselves to boiling point as I travelled.  The eyes of the guests grew wide with amazement as I laid down plates of them, pan fried with garlic and fresh herbs.  Then I would make bisque from the shells.  Nowadays, you can’t buy them on the quay, as I did, because they all go for export.  But there are a few choice restaurants who either make sure they have their own creel boat, or have found a way to do as I did, and connect with the fishermen. Some of these ‘boys’ are still fishing, some have stepped back to let their sons carry on the good work.  After all, shrimp or prawn, lobster, oyster or mussels are always a different experience when they are fresh and still full of personality.

Much like us.

So why am I talking about shrimps and prawns and the like?  It isn’t to lead on to the obvious Bigger is Better thing.  What I am talking about is choice and quality, yes, but more about paying attention to the strings that bind us.  Driving over the hill to find fresh shellfish meant I had to know and befriend the fisherman.  If he thought I was a stuck up little madam, he would have said nothing was available and I wouldn’t have blamed him for that.  I know that the lonely process of buying goods, any goods, via the interweb is easier, cheaper often, but it involves no human contact, or very little.  In fact, we seem to enjoy  as much ‘very little contact’ as possible these days, and, yet, it is only through a bonding process that anything in life really works.  Oh, I am not saying we don’t need, use and value the internet, but out of balance we can find ourselves clumsy and careless at times when we are with another person.  Out of practice.

When I go shopping for clothes (I hate shopping for clothes and am the very first to look online), I will avoid with great energy, huge shopping malls, caves of blue lighting, plastic walls and no air, or none already breathed in and out again.  Instead, I will choose the little shop with a ‘ping’ as I open the door and a welcome smile on the face of the assistant.  I don’t want ‘NEXT!’ yelled at me.  I have a name, and it isn’t that.  Although I absolutely do not like a pushy sales person, I do like the question ‘Can I help you with anything?’ and then, when I say I just want to browse, to be left to do just that.  If I buy something, I want her, or him behind the pretty counter, to be interested in me and my choice, as I will be in them.  I want to walk out feeling very chuffed with myself and with my purchase, and, more, the pleasant memory of our human encounter.

If I sound stuffy, I don’t mean to.  I blog, I Facebook, I text and tweet, but it isn’t all I do.

Recently I came to realise that my work is lonely work.  Writing, painting, loving my little home and being in and around it, walking with Poppy in the fairy woods, none of these get me in front of people. This is my choice.  I am, at heart, solitary and I need that space around me to feel creative and healthy, but, out of balance, I get fearful in crowds and resist meeting friends.  The good news is, that this is instantly fixable, once recognised.  Driving through Glen Coe, beneath the craggy snow-covered tops of the Three Sisters, I pulled over to call Lisa, my publisher.  We talked of mice and men, cabbages and kings, and, as I turned back onto the road, I felt a lift.  It wasn’t the content of our conversation that did that, but her voice in my ear, connecting me once again to the outside world and, in doing so, raising my confidence in me, making me feel important and interesting and changing my whole outlook so that I was, once more, fresh and full of personality.