Island Blog – Twins and Laugh Lines

I wake this morning at 4 to one big golden star. Not in my head but outside my window. The morning smells fresh and cool and I say a big thank you that I live in this peaceful place. Nothing but bird squeaks and chirrups, for now. Later, happy walkers will happily walk by my gate and we will smile at each other as they move into the wild places. They will marvel at my ‘ordinary’, maybe talk about how lucky I am to have that view every single day. I rise and dress, make coffee, plan my hours. For some time now, I have allowed foreigners in to my head, those worries and fears that rumble and twist in my gut. Winter coming. Loneliness. Missing. And others. I realise we all have these. Different shapes, different rumblings and twists, yes, but we all have them and it is easy, as I have discovered, to allow these foreigners to take root, to settle in. But once this realisation lights up the attic of my chaotic head, I can see the old cobwebs, the dust, the decay and I know I must needs perform a clean-up. It laughs me, the state of things. I can do this. I am strong, protected and safe, if I decide to think that way. The foreigner dolls I have pulled towards me of late need a frock change, a jolly good scrub and bows tied into their hair. A dash of lipstick, perhaps.

There is not one of us who isn’t fearful right now. I have not been especially selected for racks of gloom and despondency. My circumstances may not be yours but you will have similar feelings. And that is somehow reassuring. Instead of focussing on little me and my ‘stuff’, I can stretch my mind, rearrange it, clean up the foreigners and turn them into friends. Every fear has a twin and that twin is the stronger by far. I cannot deny whatever fear because denying its existence merely pushes it to the back row where it will always find its way forward again. Fear is healthy, in balance. Fear warns us of danger and we need that fight or flight part of our brains for survival. However, in our current situation, fear can grow meat on its bones, flesh up, work out, strengthen unless we are duly diligent. Okay, so I do feel a perfectly understandable fear of being alone through a dark winter. Where is the twin? Hiding, undernourished and abandoned. Well that has to change. Hallo, I say to the scrawny twin. Come into the light, let me look at you. It moves towards me. Ah, now I see you, you poor thing. I am so sorry I have ignored you for this long. The twin smiles at me, wide and beamy and I can see the gifts it brings me and hear the gentle questions. What do you love? What do you have? What are you thankful for? Good questions indeed and I will busy myself considering them all, making a list and reading it back. I will add to it daily. I am thankful for the smell of this morning, for my faithful little dog, for my home, my family, friends and the happy walkers. For Tapselteerie wild places always open to me, for my garden, the flowers, the space in which I am safe. You will have a list too, the twin to all you don’t have and don’t love, but remember that each one of those also has a twin, one you might have been starving unconsciously.

We can live unconsciously. It is dead easy and the danger of such a way of being is that is creeps in like mould, silent and corrosive until we notice and take action. Sometimes, and I know this place well, the darkness can grow. Life feels chaotic, unpredictable, alarming and overwhelming. There is so much ‘don’t’ and doubt and confusion out there for all of us no matter where we live or what scary changes we may be facing. To remain absent from really living whatever life we currently live will only result in nothing changing. But the good and wonderful news is that we are wondrously strong creatures, inventive and powerful, way more than we may think. By making just a tiny change, such as deciding that this day I will look at all that I do have, all that I do love, and my eyes will hold that looking even as the fears niggle and chatter. I will drown out their voices for they are not helpful, not at all, not today.

And then, I will repeat this exercise the next time a morning rises. My inner talk will not be all about covid and fears and doubts. I will notice if this happens, if the words begin to spill out of my mouth and I will laugh and swallow them down. It takes practice, this practice, but you will be astonished at how quickly it begins to flow naturally. It’s as if my brain is bored of them too. After all, what do they bring but sadness and a downturned mouth. I want laugh lines, not wrinkles.

How about you?

Island Blog – Potluck and Possibilities

As the island opens up to visitors and there’s a load of thronging going on where not so long ago there were long stretches of nothing and nobody we didn’t know by heart, there is a natural confoundmentness. We who live here still long for connectivity, for friend meets, for adventure and for the chance to enjoy our glorious wild spaces and yet, it is almost as if we are on trip alert. I know it is not just us here. It must be the same all across the country. We want to share, of course we do. We want to welcome, to accept and acknowledge that there are so many who have felt trapped and confined for many, many months. We do indeed live in interesting times.

This day my friend and I plan to meet for a cafe lunch above a beach. So simple, so ordinary, once. But I falter and she agrees. The sun is out. It is warm. It is half term for Englandshire. There might just be a great big thronging thing going on at lunch time. Fortunately, neither of us are throngers, so we opt, instead, for a potluck bench picnic at my home. It is the best. Uncomplicated by orders, masks and hesitations, we just flow. We talk of everything, of anything and nobody interrupts us. We don’t have to fuss about distance or touching or standing in the marked spot. So very freeing. We also talk about how much we feel we need to tidy up if someone comes into our home, and we laugh because who the flip gives a damn about a clean floor or whatever when the chance to connect is the main goal? Did this thinking, I wonder, make us into islands? Did this need to be, what, perfect, prevent us from free flow, from potluck? I think it probably did. When I remember the ordinary take-for-granted freedom of movement among peoples, my biggest panic was how clean is my house. What hilarious nonsense! I am hoping we can all learn from this, learn to be more spontaneous, more adventurous and less caught up in the old games which were never games btw, but more like paralysing strictures, as if we were in starting blocks with a faulty release mechanism. We long for contact, for connectivity, for connection and yet our nonsense heads tell us we can not unless the home is spit spotless. Let us think on that.

I walk in the sunshine with my little dog, now shaved and looking marvellous. I can see all her wiggles now that the overlay carpet is gone. She trots beside me through glorious tree hang. Bees come to check me out, like right up to my nose in spectacular hover control. Hallo, I say. Welcome. I watch greylags with goslings in tow cross a narrow inlet and there’s a load of chat. These parents are strict about safety, vigilance and behaviour. I can see that. A female lesser spotted woodpecker comes in, close. She is on a fence post, her head snapping left, right, her colours fabulous. A single movement, my hand to my mouth in awe of her beauty, and she is gone. I hear young tits deep inside the drystone wall cheeping. They hear my footfall crunch, think parental boots and call out. You are safe with me, I whisper, but be cautious little ones. Not all incoming is friendly. The wood floor is alive with blooms and the grass still soft and emerald. As the Summer progresses, these grasses will tire, grow sinewy, yellow. This is the time to see the island, when the green is filled with new life and hungry to lift towards the sun, when birthing is so very important. It thinks me. This strong reach is all about the next generation and we are not so different. Creation is a very important word.

As I watch my own children creations parent and adult up, I know they are all good strong humans. They learned how to live adventurously in a wild safe place. No matter that they did not get the latest overpriced something-or-other for Christmas or birthdays. They learned to make their own fun, whooping through trees like monkeys, devising potluck games and surviving them all with just a few cuts and bruises. They had strict parents when it came to table manners, respect for all others, kindness and wide-open thinking. Possibilities are always right there, we told them, just waiting for you but it is you who need to grab them for they won’t grab you. They will just catch your eye, or whisper in your ear and you must be vigilant, ready, prepared for action, my little birds. Always. Now they are teaching all that to their own little ones and it happies me. We did ok, no, we did very well considering the fact that parenting is a terrifying and turbulent process and not one of us can lean on experiential wisdom because we all learn as we go along. It is only when looking back to join the dots can we see how we succeeded and how we did not. The did nots can confound in later years, the guilt glueing a parent to the past. I know it, but I choose to focus on the dids. It is always a choice, the thinking thing, the remembering shape and colour, texture and dimension. I can build on either, as can you.

Possibilities can find me at any point inside this day. I can decide to be curious, open hearted and ready for them. When, as always happens, self doubt or fear or anxiety nudges my elbow, I am vigilant, ready, strict with them. You are not helpful, I tell them, please leave. Then I reconnect the wild in me with the wild out there. It has to be a daily practice because if I am not vigilant then I open up the runway for incoming unfriendly. And, it is not complicated at all, but simply a decision. A decision not to waste one single moment of this beautiful and fragile life.

Island Blog – Not One Word

Although I make a considered choice to live in the present and always did, there are times when my brain and I are not working in sync. Like today. Today I feel 107 and furious at myself. I ask, Why are you feeling like this? even as I know the only way to trudge through such a day is to allow the unpleasant feelings to come to me so that we can have a wee chat. I don’t want to, nonetheless. I want to bat them away and for them to go bother someone else. But they are ours, says Myself and I roll my eyes at her. So damn wise she is and infuriatingly so, especially as I know her to be right. I whine a bit and decide to write a blog on the whole fiasco because writing is my therapy. There is nobody here with whom I can discuss this, speak out my feelings and receive reassurance. Not any more. The ordinary little conversations of old are now firmly parked in the past as I would not assault a passer by with my whines and moans. It just isn’t done, duckie, I hear my old ma say to me and I bat her away too.

My way of meditating is to walk entirely in the present moment, noticing everything and so I trudge out for a walk, noticing. I notice that the hungry deer are stripping the moss from the base of the big old trees. I notice a new primrose and the fat slug of an incoming tide as it squeezes through the narrows. I notice the sky, flat white and remember I need milk. I notice that the potholes have been filled in and that my neighbour’s attempts to keep out the rabbits is failing again. By now I am bored stiff of noticing and my brain still whirls and whorls, chuckles and gloats. Shame, it hisses, guilt and shame, regret and a refusal to accept that it is as it is and it was as it was and it will be…….Stop! I yell, and startle another walker, causing her wee dog to bark. Sorry, ignore me, I say and she smiles kindly. We wander together, my brain finally silenced with its ‘you are never enough’ nonsense, its criticisms and judgements, its false truths, the lies it tells me about me. I tell her I feel ancient as those trees today and she tells me she is going stir crazy with being stuck at home. She also finds her meditation in walks and we laugh a bit together. It helps.

I listen to an audio book for distraction, empty the bin into the wheelie, lob the wine bottles into the glass bin, the empty ones, of course. I think about supper. Good lord girl, its miles till supper! I know, I know, I snap back but this day has lasted a whole week and I am bored of Time and her achingly ponderous walk, as if she’s in trudge mode too. Next door my young neighbour is busy with planks and angle grinders. He is doing up the kitchen or the somewhere inside the house and he is positive and occupied and productive. As you were once, says Goody Two Shoes. I sigh. I remember. I also remember wishing I wasn’t any of those things but could, instead, sit for a long while watching a sunset or a bird or the grass grow. How strange is this life, so full of care etc etc. Used to be my favourite poem. Nowadays my poems of choice are on loss and loneliness, empty days and long. sleepless nights. Perhaps I need a poetry rethink.

I know that days like these come unbidden and unsought, that they blindside me and that I am always ill prepared for their assault. I know I have to get through them and that they will, like all things, pass. I imagine I am stronger, have grown in some way because of them but it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time. Acknowledging that I am only a newish widow, lonely, looking back on my life and the mistakes I now regret, is key. The judges are there and probably always will be but they will fade if invited in for that chat, or so the books tell me. I am not sure I can trust myself to be civil, however. What will they look like? My mother? My husband? That crow of a teacher who decided I was the devil in a frock? Probably all three and others too who helped me feel I was never enough. How does anyone converse with such a group without losing their cool? I don’t have an answer for that, not yet, maybe I never will. But wait……maybe I just let them in, pour them tea, sit them down and let them have their say. Once the tonguing is done, perhaps I rise with dignity, smile and show them out, saying not one word.

Yes, that’s what I will do. Let them think what they like. They think they know me but they don’t, not as I do. I check my brain. It’s asleep.

Island Blog – Repeat Daily

The way I see things when I am tired, stressed or fed up is never how they really are. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In certain moods or when pressure feels heavy as a truck on my head, I slip into a weird world, one full of victims with me being the biggest. I am at the mercy of whatever comes my way; my seeing becomes slanted, ditto my hearing and my poor underused brain turns into an untethered disco ball. Instead of being inside this body, I am all over the place, running here and there like a headless hen.

And then the next day comes, the next songbird dawn, the new light, and what happened yesterday seems small and insignificant, solvable in a few simple steps. Why I couldn’t see it that way yesterday beyonds me. Yes, I was tired of repeating things, gently; yes I was upset about the rain getting into my post box; yes I was lonely and wondering when life would begin and yes I was pitching for a fight. I guess the nice lady from the Council, just doing her job, is fortunate I didn’t get to speak to her. I have no idea what she called about, beyond a vague and fluffy explanation (and even that word is too long to describe what I did learn). Are we still shielding? Are we allowed to see anyone and would that be from Now or from July 31st, and are we still getting the food deliveries? I know the answer to the last question having just learned it from a friend, but the rest, himself nodding and saying No and Yes and then No again could mean he has signed us up for a pilot mission to Mars. I guess I will find out eventually, if a space suit arrives by carrier.

My point is that, in my strong and right mind, I can see all the mild irritations and the intense enfuryments as just things colliding with my just thoughts and just feelings. I can step back, breathe, observe and quantify, deconstruct and take appropriate action. When in a compromised state of being, it looks and feels as if I am under attack from a mysterious, invisible band of mercenaries, with me in their sights. Of course, it would be impossible, being an ordinary extraordinary human woman, to sustain such a peaceful equilibrium at all times and in all sets of circumstance. life isn’t like that for any of us. Tsunamis will rise and threaten to destroy; rain will seep into post boxes, mushing paper and packaging, days will feel trudgemonkey and food will go off in the humid heat, just before I go to re-heat it for dinner. Life is not plain sailing and we all know that. But, if I can set up an inner programme of self-encouragement, write down uplifting affirmations to stick on walls, seek conversation with friends and read good guide books – if I eat well, exercise, laugh a lot, show kindness, share love and think more often of others that of myself, I will have prepared myself for anything that might come my way on any given day.

Which is what I am doing this day. One day at a time.

Repeat daily.

Island Blog – Tribute

I always feel better after writing a blog. Is it, I ask myself, to offload, to teach, to preach, to, in other words, misuse my public forum? It’s a goodly question to ask myself. Once I have ferreted around in the cellars of myself, once I have come up feeling strong in my purpose, sure that it is not about me but about anyone else who may click with something I write, I write. This is one of those well-ferreted writes.

Today was troubled. The way it works for a full-time carer is this:- Day begins hopeful, trusting and light. Then one becomes two as the one in care descends the stairs, floating on metal poles and thanks to Major Tom, aka the chairlift. This is when the mode and mood of the day is proffered as IT. Now I have a choice and a decision to make. If the gloom descends with him, then I must attend to said gloom. I can resist it, but we all know resistance is futile. I can poke at it, ask questions, play bright, but I can hear my voice, in a slightly higher key, sounding sharp as badly cut tin. This won’t work. I lift my ass from my seat, round to the kitchen, make coffee, hot strong and black. Not enough. This gloom is following me, I can see it, smell it, feel its touch on my back. I swing about. Go Away! I hiss, but hissing works no better than resistance. I can feel it pulling at my skin, seeping in, changing me.

The day rolls slow. At 10 am I bake a cake, thinking, this will do it. It’s my usual flat pancake but with cherries which makes flat okay. Taste is everything, after all. We wander through the morning, him restless, moving moving moving all the time, the click and whir of the wheelchair setting my teeth on fire. Ears, I say, stop listening! I have always believed, and proved, that ears are obedient souls, if you organise them right. Pulling birdsong forward and pushing clicks whirs and other unpleasant noises back works well, for a while, but I must be vigilant. One relax and the click whirs are wild in my head whilst my teeth could burn down Rome, even from here. I read the affirmations on my kitchen wall. You can do this. I’m doing great. I believe in my dreams. This too shall pass. Those sorts of affirmations. Ya di ya I tell them today, but I don’t rip them down as I have in the past because that is resigning myself to the gloom. I cook, walk, feed birds, watch the clouds, berate Lady Moon for not showing me herself at 4 am and keep going, keep going, keep going.

It’s like holding up a bridge every single day. Just me (or just you). Mostly I can do this (so can you). Mostly. But it is exhausting, endless and with no end in sight. I have to be cheerful for two every single minute of every single day (so do you). I have to think ahead, plan, make sure the way is clear, be kind, laugh, smile, show up no matter how I feel or what I want. I could go a bit further for a walk. Easy. Not. I still could, but I don’t. On Gloom days I am fearful. What if he falls, gets more muddled about this or that, what if he just feels scared and needs me to hold that heavy bridge up?

This is caring. You who do it, already know. Outside of our lives are many who support us and show great compassion. We need it, oh boy we do, but they haven’t a scooby about what it’s like for us, minute by minute, day by endless day and I hope they never do. Holding up a bridge, alone, scared, ageing, tired, exhausted, doubting, weak and sleepless is something we have fallen in to. We won’t abandon our post but the ask is great.

I salute all of you who care enough to be caring. This is my tribute to you.

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

Island Blog 119 Do less and achieve more

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Oh ho ho ho and isn’t that just the easiest thing to tell someone else?

I am reading Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel and learning much goodly-grounded advice on how to fly.  Although Life throws us curveballs just when we think we are on a home straight (probably mixed up two sportsfields there….) it is really possible to live in the moment as long as somebody can show us how, and not just tell us.

As a writer I know the art of ‘show not tell’ and even the most lightweight reader (no offence intended) will yawn wide if an author reads like a schoolmarm. We are adults now and have spent way too much time being told what to do and how to do it.  Adulthood begins when a child decides, not when we with saggy skin and a certain way of doing pretty much everything tell them they may now be privy to certain conversations, once whispered, or, worse, spelled out, in shady corners of the house.

So, back to reading………….well, this writer knows how essential it is to read avidly.  For me, it is a pleasure, a need, a drive because in reading other’s words I form my own, not as a copyist, although it has been known.  I have decided that, should I find an angry ‘other’ at my door, spear raised, I will tell them they might think my pinching to be a huge compliment, and not a robbery. I take on other’s wisdoms so that my own reflections on what they have to say might shape into a new form, one that works for me.  There are as many ways to think as there are thinkers, more, and we all must find that which will comfortably settle within our own lives, among our own circumstances – circumstances that will always change, sometimes drastically, sometimes in a more kindly way, but we can still learn how to ‘be’ inside each moment, each day, whatever the challenges may be.

Yesterday, or last week, or last month, life was in ‘this’ shape.  Overnight, let us say, it flips and now looks upsidedown and most precarious, leaning (just) against the props that seemed tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and now look like my old washing line poles after a force ten gale.  Let’s look at them – let’s just stand here and look at them and do nothing.  Just look.

I can joke about it, to get a laugh, but the truth is, it is the only way, and not just for me.  Whatever comes, whatever goes, it all passes.  It cannot help but pass, because life moves on, with or without us.

As a young wife and busy mother, I knew I could not hold onto control and to a great degree, I let go.  Perhaps I was lucky in that.  Perhaps feeling out of control all the time, taught me to live by my inventive wits and to consider control a disadvantage.  But, for all of us, this is possible, no matter how valuable our props might appear.  In the event of extreme disaster, like your house slipping over a cliff, this way of observing and moving on is essential. I am not saying don’t grieve, or ululate for that which is lost, but there is a time for grief and a time to get past it, and not by force.  Accepting some new truth, any new truth on our road is like letting in a new light.  It is not something anyone can memorise by rote and commit to memory.  That is for O Level maths (in my case) and it is impossible to retain that learning for long as I discovered on exam day.  No, we must ‘allow’ the understanding to lightly settle in our bones and there is no other way to do that than to simply ‘accept’ the curveballs, do what we can, if possible, to make good from disaster, and then walk peaceably onwards.

If you are intrigued, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Try it.  There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If you say you are too busy to read, you fool yourself.  When you are gone, what will you be remembered for?  Being too busy?

I hope not.