The meaning of words

latte

 

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.

Island Blog 124 – Chiaroscuro

2013-04-09 12.03.19

 

It’s not a sausage.  It’s a delicious word, nonetheless, and it is the meeting point between light and dark.  Of course, there is always a meeting point between light and dark, day and night joined together until the sun burns out, the light and dark, or shade, in a painting.  Used in the world of opera, it describes two voices, one soprano, one deep, might be contralto, might be tenor or bass, joined to create a thrilling balance for our ears to hear.

So, this lovely ‘meeting of opposites’ has a pretty name and if you say it with an Italian accent, plus the hand gestures, you can quite lift your day.  Chiaro, means ‘clear and bright’, and Oscuro, dark and obscure.  Five musical syllables, and the ‘Ch’ is pronounced as ‘K’.

This meeting of contrasts is everywhere in our world, and, without one, we fail to see or appreciate the other.  When it rains a flood for weeks on end, and the water moves indoors, it must be a very dark time.  Outside, in the village hall, on the sodden streets, in a corner shop, there will be smiles of light, offers of sympathy, support and hope.  I don’t have to see it for myself to know I speak the truth.  Whenever life feels dark, somebody or something casts light in our path and, with that light, we find we can go on a bit further.  At another time, darkness brings a welcome relief.  It’s the balance than matters.  We want both in equal portions to find a happy rhythm.  But let’s just consider the chiaroscuro of life, the meeting point, and an entity in itself.

As we look we find ourselves, for we are both light and dark.  All of us.  Our relationships, too, for they are also a meeting of light and dark.

Well, you can forget the dark, someone might say.  Who wants dark in a relationship?

Have you ever met somebody quite unbelievably light?  For this person, everything is ‘wonderful’  I have met such people and I didn’t believe they were real at all, for it is against our human nature to be all light and no dark.  Of course, the dark bits can be hidden for years, but they will show themselves in behaviour choices, skin condition, ailments and disease.  We are fashioned in balance, and our journey through this life is one of learning and more learning.  We develop a creative agility in order to survive and this means we must recognise the dark and the light and make them both welcome at our table.  I know I have wished for all light and no dark, but, even as I wish it, I know I am a fool, for how could I ever really feel another’s pain and grief, if I had never felt my own?

I have heard folk banging on about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of benefits, taxes, governmental rulings, as if everything ‘should’ be dished up on an endless supply of pretty plates.  I know that some are struggling, many are struggling, with real problems in their lives, with limitations and deprivations I can only ever imagine, but hand-outs seem to be expected across far too wide a swathe of humanity.  If we sit at home, watching complete nonsense on the tv and building on whatever is currently causing angst, and never step into the light of day, of course all we are going to see is darkness. If we feed Black Dog, Black Dog will grow big and strong.

I remember my old granny telling me that when I felt sorry for myself for longer than ten minutes, I needed to cheer someone else up, with a phone call, a visit, a text message, and never mentioning one word about my own self-pity.  My mum always says she is ‘absolutely fine’ when anyone asks her how she is.  And, do you know what……..  both those women have it nailed, because in both cases, their refusal to wallow, their very act of lifting the collective moment, initiates a dramatic change deep inside.  I can leave a house, having arrived with both my legs heavy as old porage, my chin scraping the ground and all my aches and pains playing a noisy percussion throughout my body, as light as air and thinking no longer about Me, me, me.  Something extraordinary has happened quite silently inside me, something that tells me I am the chiaroscuro of the afternoon, for, in me, the light met the dark and became a thing of balance and beauty.

Next time you look at a wonderful painting, or listen to a piece of music, or a song, remember that, although there is both high and low, dark and light, lift and fall, tears and joy, that this is what, this is who we are too – a glorious blend of opposites.

And then step out and share it.

Island Blog 71 – Letting Go

Island Blog 71

 

Yesterday I took some washing up to the line like a good island wife, in a stout breeze.

That is not an article of island clothing, by the way, but, instead, a good wind for drying things.

As I climbed up the little mosaic-ed garden steps, a bush erupted beside me.  I knew from the sound effects that this was a Blackbird Hoo-ha, at which Blackbirds are pretty good.  They can make one out of nothing with their alarm calls, causing an island wife to drop her laundry basket, tipping her husband’s undergarments into a flowerbed and requiring her to wash them all over again.

I stood still, my back against the wall, my husband’s undergarments safely within the confines of the basket, and waited for the drama to unfold.  For a few seconds, I and the blackbird family listened for each other, neither of us daring to make a sound.  I knew they would give in first, through their natural curiosity and also because time is of the essence for them.  Not so for me.  I could linger here all morning without a shred of embarrassment or guilt, but, then, I don’t have to learn to fly in order to keep a hold of my life.

Or do I?

Anyway, the male jumped out of the bush first, which is quite proper for a Father Protector, and he locked eyeballs with me and said something rather sharp and double syllabled.  I looked away, knowing that this removed me as a confrontational threat, and waited some more.  He chirruped at the bush and out bounced three youngsters – all bigger than their dad, followed by a rather ruffled mother

After a few aviation tips, he told them to get on with it, and led the way, landing on the apex of the roof.  Eventually they followed, but not without giving dad a whole load of lip about this flying thing and his overly high expectations of them.

This morning I noticed them all around the compost bin, which has overflowed with an excitement of worms, thus providing the family with three good meals a day plus healthy snacks.  How wonderful it is, I thought to myself, that this adult pair are likely to have pitched their nest around this very spot precisely because of the overflowing compost bin and the excitement of worms.  I wonder if we are clever with our own nest pitching – considering what is best for the family, and, then, moving if we find a danger too close at hand.  I doubt it somehow, not with all that mortgage angst and debts and work commitments, although none of that makes it right to be living in the wrong place.

At my little grand-daughter’s naming ceremony, the words for her, in poetry, promises and songs, offered gifts and wisdom and freedom.  She must learn from her parents, her guides and then be free to take that learning and shape it her own way.  We all want this and yet few of us get it or give it, not really.  Through our own fear, we try to keep hold, of our children, our friends.  How many of us ever listen to someone, anyone, announce their new plan, a completely bonkers and impossible one, in our opinion and make no comment whatsoever?  No word of caution, no opinion, saying something like this:-

Wow!  That sounds incredible?  How will you achieve that do you think?

And then listen and learn and encourage and only ever give opinion if asked.

Bet you can’t do it.  We are all jailors of someone in order to feel free.

Island Blog 45 – Small Giants

Island Blog 45I am an old fashioned sort of girl.

Big statement that.  Sounds like it defines me, but don’t stop there if you please.  I can be new fashioned in many ways when it suits me.

The thing about Big Statements is that they can confuse.  For instance, if I were to say ‘That man over there is an irascible old bore’  and you didn’t know anything about him, you could think that being irascible, old and boring is the sum of the man.

Which it most definitely is not.

Nobody is that simply wired.

I love language, the rise and fall of a phrase, especially, in the way my dad used to deliver them for maximum impact.  He used short words now and again, when he was playing the irascible old bore and the tonic water wasn’t cold enough, but in the main, he made language sing and he taught me well how to communicate.  This is not to say that in order to communicate we need to be graduates in English, or Scottish, or any other language, for that matter.  Words in the wrong mouths however cleverly phrased and delivered, can be as welcome as a fire in a paper factory, and as destructive.

In the world of technology, this new crazy fast non-human way of communicating, I find the old fashioned girl in me lurching into the foreground.  I know it is the new way to tell out our latest product, opinion, story, but it is not the only way.  We do not need to drown our voices in an ocean of electronics.  Deep inside every one of us, is the need for human contact, for the soothing velvet sound of a loving voice, for the kindly helpful efficiency of a stranger on the other end of a telephone.

No electronic recorded voice can do that for us.  We need voice to voice in order to reach a new place together.  Yes, a recording can guide us through a button-pushing and monotonous process as we plod our way to submitting our white meter reading for the quarter, but oh what joy it is, what heart-lifting warmth fills us when a real person says those loving human words ‘Mary speaking, How may I help you?’  I can almost hear the angels in the background, as she pauses for my reply.

I remember meeting my first robot.  She (was it?) answered with tick-tack words and no music to her phrasing.  I thought, this’ll never catch on.

So, Big Statement.  I am an old fashioned girl in the world of Communication.

I can also dance you off the floor when the DJ racks up the beat, and I can weep when Piglet gets blown off his feet in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Island Blog 35 – Speaking without Words

Island Blog 35

 

For the first time since beginning this blog, I really don’t know what to write.  Perhaps it is, as my youngest son used to say with all the confidence in the world, that my daily allocation of words has been quite used up.  He didn’t actually use that big long word, but in his ‘little boy speke’, he communicated clearly enough.

The conversation that morning had been about his brother who talked sometimes in his sleep.

‘It’s because he hasn’t said all the words he was given for the day’ said the tutfy-headed small boy as he munched on his toast and ‘hunny’.

Perfectly logical of course, and why not?

It also means that the converse is probably true as well.  So, when I cannot find a single thing to say, it isn’t necessarily because I know nothing of the subject under discussion.  It could simply be that I have used up my daily quota, sprayed words across a wasteland where they may just have fallen on stony ground and come to nowt.  Or, worse, launched them at some poor soul who couldn’t be less interested in whatever wisdoms I might think crucial to this point in their life.  Those words either fly off into the sky over their heads or they land in the wrong place and cause that person, who was fine thank you very much before I and my ego came along on our white charger suggesting they required certain repairs, much inner angst.

I’ve done it all, and may well again, in spite of all my good intentions.  My mind can fox me into all sorts of do-gooder situations. With heavenly choirs, soaring violins and a strong wind section,  I can ‘Mother Theresa’ anyone whether they want it or not.

And, often, they do not.  I can see it on their faces.  It’s either frustration or irritation, neither of which was in my plan.  What I foresaw, in the bestowing of my gracious wisdom, was, first, the early dawn light.  Then the epiphany.  Then, over time, the transformation.

Oh for goodness sake!

The good news is that, if I shut up and observe only, I won’t land in the poo.  If I come with no agenda of my own, such as a long list of easy things they can do to make their life so much better, but simply walk beside them, if indeed they have asked me to in the first instance, asking the odd question that relates directly to whatever they have just said to me, and then listen again, I may just help a fellow traveller a little way down their own road.

Not mine.

 

Island Blog 28

This afternoon a gaggle of women sat down to discuss our personal responses to a study we are working on.  Although the time in which the words were written dates back over 2000 years, it has a relevance today in ordinary lives.  The language is dated, the context not relevant to us in this western, and predominantly material, world, but how we feel as humans changes not that much.

One of the main topics, that seemed to inspire us all to make comment, was on our own gift, or gifts.  A gift, by definition, is not something we have earned, nor learned, but, instead, something beyond ourself, something of a surprise, perhaps.

What is my gift?  We asked.  I am just an ordinary island woman, leading a life much like any other life.  I cook and clean, I sew or don’t sew.  I organise to varying degrees, my own life, and those of another or others.  I do nothing astonishing.  I am not a prima ballerina, a rock star, a princess or a surgeon.  I am just me.

Or am I?

What we learned, over cups of tea around a table in a warmly lit room, is that not one of us is ‘ordinary’.  For a start, we each have certain problems and challenges to wake us each morning.  These are specific to us.  As we pull on our sensible warm underwear, we each consider these challenges and make our decisions in context.  One of us is good at being cheerful.  She says her mouth goes up at the edges naturally.  Another is good at writing letters, at remembering those who often forget even themselves, and she loves to take out paper and a pen and begin.

Dear You….

Another can bake seriously risen cakes and buns and does it for pleasure.  Another paints and is lost for hours in the process.

I write and the same goes for me.

What we all realised is that we do what we do because it comes easily, because time loses its grip on us, because we forget context in the content.

Now see-saw that word.

Content.

We are content in our work.

And that is the whole point of a gift.  It is not something we struggle to achieve, nor do we have to study it to get good.  We just do it, effortlessly.  The skill is to recognise it and then, to take it out into the world for the benefit of others who don’t have the gift we have. Not for our own validation, although we all look for that, but for the good of humankind.

Or the village.  Or maybe, just for next door.

Island Blog 20 – On Relations and Ships

Island Blog 20 - Dude Dog

 

I’ve been thinking about relationships recently, about the width and length and depth of them, about their shape and colour.  They are randomly dotted throughout our lives like wild poppies in a cornfield; bright, nourishing, individual and personal; at work, at home, at school, in our village street and every relationship unique as a snow flake.   Relationships matter from the moment we rise until the moment we lay us down to sleep at night, and, without them, or with destructive ones, we humans falter and weaken in spirit and confidence. We wander as lost souls in what looks like a cold and unfriendly world.

Which it isn’t.

As a child I don’t worry about the dynamics of any of my relationships for the language is not yet grown in me,either to explain or understand.  I just am.  I run and play my way through my days, trusting (although I don’t even know that word yet) that I will be dressed and fed and loved and cared for.  As I move into the angst-ridden and angry teenage years, I begin to question, I begin to understand, but I have not yet learned how to communicate, other than with my peers in ways that cause my elders considerable puzzlement.  If I am a boy, I grunt in varying keys and laugh in staccato bursts, often rather unsure of the joke. And that’s about all I can say about boys, not being one myself.

If I am a girl I learn to talk a lot and giggle infuriatingly every time anyone opens their mouth. I have a little more awareness of the world I have arrived in, but fight a daily battle with myself over the size of my bottom or the spread of my toes, or the fact that my girlfriend is allowed to turn the tv on without having to make a request in writing, giving due notice.

I am full of envy of pretty much everyone else in my group and I run the very real risk of turning green.  If I am lucky enough to have a mother who remembers her own uncomfortable struggle with hormones, and who can watch me through compassionate eyes, I am one of the lucky ones.  If, on the other hand, my mother never concerned herself much with the discomforts of teenage life, then my relationship with her will be a very different one, defining, to some degree, all future ones.  I seek understanding and I don’t get it, and so I turn away into my lonely self or out to my peer group to forge friendships that may not be healthy ones.

Then I grow up (in theory) and everyone thinks I’m an adult because I now look like one, but my outward appearance belies the inner truth.  I am as insecure as I was in sentient childhood, but I must keep it a secret, or I might appear to be too small for my skin.

If my primary relationship is all the right colours and the perfect shape, I find I can do anything, go anywhere, flow naturally, be myself, but relationships, any of them, need both parties to be aware and interested in the collective result.  Otherwise, we are just tumble-weeds in the desert, at the mercy of every capricious wind.

I like to divide up the word.  Relation and Ship.

One sounds grounded, one wild and free and fizzing with adventure.

Too caught up in worldly cares and I grow brown and dull.

Too wild and colourful and I may find myself  locked up.  I need to be the link between the two and hold on tight.

What I want is a ladder to the moon.

Blog 20 - Full Moon