Island Blog- Balance

I realise something and every something is something.

For over a year I have been completely involved with myself and my situation. Although it is understandable, it is also, at times, questionable. I don’t mean to question the depth and length and horribleness of grief, no. I get that bit, even if it is clown-tripped by a happy face painted on to a sad one. The ‘process’ is both eye-rolling and unavoidable, dammit. I am a woman who makes things okay no matter the shards, the damage, the blood and the disaster. It is hard to step away from that and to allow this slowness to inhabit my mind, sleep, body and mind.

Every alert alerts me. I have learned this, being a woman who will not, will not, be confined by someone else’s peripheries. I have allowed that too many years back and back is back and I am a forward person. My ankles are strong, my body agile -ish, my soul questing, my mind curious. All good so far. Far. A wonderful word. We all love ‘Far’ if we are honest because not one of us wants the opposite, which might read as Not Far, at best.

My alert is twofold. Not one being the either to other, nor more powerful in impact. How strange life is. One is the birth of a new life, a new girl, a new little girl within my huge family. The other is a death of a woman I know to have fought like a battleship throughout her life and who is dead too soon. I do the scale balance thing in my head, see the ancient star sign, Libra. I make no sense of it, of her, in my head. Balance, after all, surely, is something I can understand in a worldly way. This balances that out, that balances this in. No. Never.

When we try, when I try, to make sense of awful things happening to good people, I founder on the rocks of confusion. I draw back, pull back out into the ocean and still I can’t make sense. Am I counting the rocks, feeling the tide pull, the onslaught of a capricious onshore wind as if somehow the math in me will come up with an answer? Yes, perhaps I am, but no amount of worldly knowledge will protect me from the unknown. The new birth, a celebration, something wonderful and then a death, too young, too unfair and with no explanation. I think that’s it, the no explanation thing. It is almost impossible to explain, and let me rest there because what I want to do is to honour her life and what she meant to me.

The new girl is but 2 days old. The dead girl ditto. I am working on balance.

Island Blog – To Fathers

I am not a father. Never will be and there’s somewhat of a relief in that secure bit of knowledge. I don’t think I realised just how much of a weight a wife and children were, and still are, on a father’s shoulders. He mustn’t cry, of course, no matter how lost or useless he might feel. At least, not in public and most of his life is in public, wife demanding, children requiring clothing, adequate food, toys, space, tuition, guidance and a massive Christmas gift. Never mind that there are five all expecting a massive Christmas gift, whilst taking all the rest for granted. I did too. I took him for granted and that is what we do until we notice something, or look back and join the dots because unless you have experienced living life as a father, you, like me, haven’t a scooby. Not a clue.

On raising children in the most humanly perfect of ways, which, naturally, was our plan, fathers have to take the buck, one that always stops with them. Fathers, if they are the main breadwinner, must leap out of bed every morning for decades in order to be whoever they are required to be on any given day. If it is an off-to-work day, then the mental suit is on and the tie tied right. All the way there, he must leave behind the father role for a few hours and immerse himself in whatever business or job lies ahead of him with all its associated demands. Then, knackered and possibly fed up, he must come through that front door and become husband and father with enthusiasm and wisdom. Blimey. That is quite a lot of requiring.

If, like me, a mother is exhausted herself by end of day, she may nip and criticise, demand and wheedle. She may offload her worries, fears and reports on the children as she might empty a dumper truck full of multiple flotsam, jetsam and other random things right into his lap. He may have only just sat down, but she hasn’t had that pleasure since he left at 07.30 so why should he be allowed now, now that she has to cook dinner, clear toys, bath the unwashed, read stories and all in the secure knowledge that Groundhog Day will come tomorrow and all the tomorrows until the children become adults and fledge? Blimey. That is quite a thixotropic thought.

Good fathers are often judged by the memories they make. Bad fathers, ditto. Of course, the same applies to mothers but this blog is not about them. I doubt there is a single father anywhere in the world, one that wants to be one, that is, who doesn’t take great care to be the best he can be, all the way up to the end. Then Life kicks in, a rogue player on the field, one with tremendous tackling skills and a complete disregard for empathy. Demands overwhelm, families get noisier, cost more money every year and never seem quite as happy as this father saw in his mind’s eye. The happy toddler becomes the door-slamming child who refuses broccoli and ignores all pleas for a stable conversation. Blimey. This is the truth and then some.

So, please raise a toast to all fathers, to yourself if you are one, to your dad, your work colleagues, your neighbours, your friends and your extended family. Consider, and remind yourself of the sacrifices these fathers have had to make in their lives. Fathers…..remember the times when everything swam along like happy fish and then remember the times when storms lashed your shores and terrified you. I salute and celebrate you. All of you excellent, strong and resilient men.

To Fathers.

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.

Island Blog 161 In Pursuit of Excellence

wisdom

Unlike the pursuit of happiness, which is always the end goal of any human being and never the right one, the pursuit of Excellence is one that must be embarked upon to elevate our own sense of self.  Happiness is a secondary part of this pursuit, for, in each success, therein happiness lies.

The old-fashioned encouragement of our elders and leaders, in the form of teachers, parents, guides, will tell us to strive on, to do better, to make something ordinary into something extraordinary, In order to be the best, but this teaching needs further explanation.  We do not pursue excellence in order to beat someone else.  We pursue excellence in order to beat ourselves, that negative monkey-mind that keeps us always just below our own par.  In truth, it is ourself we make extraordinary and not the thing we do.  Although each success results inevitably in a ‘thing’ such as a published book on a shelf, a painting sold, a medal awarded, our name on walls in hallowed halls, the real happiness lies in the knowledge that we worked on, through difficult times, through darkness and doubt, cold comments and hot criticism, to achieve what now glows with light in the eyes of the world.  Despite all the difficulties we may have encountered, we continued with our work, perhaps in a lonely silence, until suddenly everyone wants to shake our hand, or bake us a cake,  even those who disbelieved and doubted as we faithfully marched on down our chosen path.

It doesn’t matter to me if this work is in the public eye or not.  Most good work is done alone.  It is easy, so easy, to be seduced into thinking that successes come with the genes, but we can be astonishingly good at many things, do little to develop them, giving up, saying ‘It’s not working for me’ and ultimately waste a gift, flush it down the loo, walk away from it.  Each one of us is placed just where we should be, and it is our job in this one life to locate it and build.  Not one single soul is without a gift.  Perhaps it is for caring, perhaps handywork or bending metal into shapes.  It might be to uplift others, to paint, write or make music.  It could be staying calm and strong at times when others panic.  It might be with animals, with parenthood, with teaching or entertaining, cooking, translating, sports or marketing.  The list is endless.

The problem is nowadays that everyone seeks glamour and judges themselves on that basis, especially the young, although it doesn’t stop in youth.  People consider their lives ruined when life drops a boulder into it, but this is not the truth, for just like that any one of us can lose a job, our looks, a lifestyle, a loved one and yet life is not done with us yet, for somewhere in there, after the grief and the mourning is past, there is something still at which we can excel.  We may not feel like it, but who does want to start again?  And yet, I have seen it too many times, the indomitable human spirit doing just that.

Pursuing Excellence is a way of being, not something for those born with a silver spoon.  Someone washing dishes can wash them consistently with excellence, if they have that burn inside them, that need to do everything to its highest level.  I meet so many people who seem to be waiting for something to happen.  I want to tell them it already is.

Consider this…… it isn’t the great thinkers and do-ers of the past who will make history now, but each one of us.  I don’t mean ‘out there’ in the world, I don’t mean an OBE or a spot on Britain’s Got Talent, but inside our own families and friends, and, more importantly inside our own hearts.  No recognition is worth a fig once the hype has died away.  What lasts for ever is the knowledge that we worked and studied and focussed and never never never gave up.  We alone made this happen. This is what will carry on, will carry us on, will be told down through the generations, will make others think, consider, re-evaluate their own priorities and make a change.  This is what really tells us we can do it, wherever we are placed, despite our limitations, our commitments, our troubles and strife.  One person, one gift, one chance to excel.

As one door closes, another opens.  You’ve all heard that one.  At times I scoffed at it, seeing nothing but closed doors, and considering that open door to exist only in the Secret Garden and other winsome tales, but that was simply because I had my blinkers on.  Thinking we are too old, too tired, too sick is to die whilst still alive. Someone said to me, at that difficult time, ‘It is my opinion that the only way out of any gloom is to turn the light on someone else.’  I thought, Cheeky So-and-So, but it did think me over the next while.  And, he was right.  Initially, when gloomed-up, we need to begin to forget ourselves, because the habitual thinking is poisonous to our minds.  Once we have shone the light on loads of others, seen their lives, heard of their troubles, we gradually realise how much we have at home.  Much that seemed so little not days ago.  Then, once restored, once our mouths are full again of laughter (most of it at our own self) we can ferret about inside our own life with fresh eyes for that ‘something we can do.’  Then, we baby step it out of the attic, dust it off and, without anyone else having a scooby about it, we begin to fashion a new thing, a thing that will challenge us, for we have never done this before, upset and confound us, meet with difficulties and comments, doubts and fears that we are being complete charlies, until one day we discover that we believe in it;  we believe in us believing in it.

And then, my friends, we are off, because we are now in Pursuit of Excellence.

Island Blog 12 – As you sow, so shall you reap

I love that saying, although it is written in a rather old fashioned way.  To me, it means I put everything into everything, from cooking supper on an ordinary Monday, to dressing up for a book launch.  Haven’t got to that bit yet, but when it comes, I know I will give it wellie.  Its not always easy to do, especially around the dull to-do list, month after month, nor is the ‘sowing’ part always obvious to the naked eye.  For example, as I spend my days with my son and his wife and very new baby, quietly in the background, just helping as best I can at this time of immense change in their lives, I notice things.  I notice that he orders baby clothes with great care and enthusiasm.  I notice that he changes nappies and takes the baby out to give his wife time to sleep, for her nights are no longer her own.  I notice he bothers to shop for groceries after a long day at work, and these are just 3 things I notice.

What he is doing, is ‘sowing’.  He is investing, not only in his child, but more importantly, in his wife, in the woman she really is and this investment will pay off for the rest of his marriage.  Not that he has planned it this way, of course not, but he is doing it because he is unafraid of looking soft in the head.  All the young fathers I have met nowadays are similarly unafraid.

So Hallelujah say I for this ‘informed’ generation! They must have read all the right books, for they have certainly U-turned on their own fathers technique, or lack of it.  Or, is it simply that Love will ‘out’, no matter what, given enough time?

Either way, my heart is smiling for the little ones of today.  The big ones too.