Island Blog – Tribute

Yesterday at 0600 we set off for a day in Kruger Park. This vast expanse of wild bush covering over one million hectares is the home of the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant. However, there are many more species living in symbiosis. The Ground Snail (size of my clenched fist), Leopard Tortoise (the only one who can swim) Golden Orb spiders whose webs are as wide as I can throw my arms, Giraffe, Zebra, Wild Dog, Jackals, Vultures, Fish Eagle, Warthog, Hyena, myriad birds of spectacular colour and size and so much more. My eyeballs threatened to fall out with all that looking. Just a tiny movement through the thorn trees could mean, well, anything and it is so easy to miss a sighting. Camouflage is everything. Although we didn’t manage to find Lion or Leopard, we saw many species just doing their thing over the course of nine hours, including a newborn elephant beside his dauntingly huge mama. A gaggle of parked cars meant ‘something’ and so we stopped too, to look. Refreshment stops en route kept us sustained and it made me see how easy life is for us in comparison to all those creatures who must always be on the hunt for their next meal.

As I sat in back of the truck I thought about that. I also thought about the driver, the guide, our protector, my son. He, who has lived a long time surrounded by wild animals and the ways of Africa, marvels me. All my children do. I observe their traverse through adulthood. I watch them deal with daily thingumabobs and disappointments, news both good and bad, ups and downs, people, animals and things, horizons foreshortened and expanded, and, most tricksy of all, unforeseen changes to their inner maps. Although their innate goodness and respect of all life may have had something to do with the way their father and I guided them through childhood, they have each developed their own set of rules, grown their own characters, chosen their own considered paths and set out to walk them down. They have moved on a long way since those days of learning values from us, and now they are parents themselves, teaching values to their own children, probably as clueless as we were, stumbling in the darkness of inexperience, their lights always in need of a re-charge in order to keep the momentum up and the noise down.

But it is their core selves that lift my heart. How did you become so strong and wonderfully good? I whisper that to myself, for I fear they would not have an answer to that. Not one of them is a ‘product’ of their parents. They have become themselves, each one different to the rest and yet with a set of principles that sing in harmony. I admire them beyond admiration and observe their daily ordinariness with a smile. I have also learned #amstilllearning to observe without comment at times when I can see things going a bit diplodocus, for my own words can only come from my own experience and there’s the limitation spelled out for you. It doesn’t mean I can’t be of use at times of trouble and strife but go canny old girl and keep quiet unless asked for help. That’s what I whisper to myself. This is their life now.

I reckon I am blest beyond blessings. In ignorance I helped to grow these remarkable human beings. Each one has gone through a big load of trouble on their journeys and from that trouble, they have grown strong and light. Their ability to see the fun in life, their attention to detail, their love of and respect for all living things and the way not one of them ever gives up marvels me. And now, they teach me too. They tell me that life will always go on, that hope is full of beans and goodness will never be out of fashion.

And, yesterday, traversing Kruger Park, I thought about all of that, as my youngest guided us through one of the last reaches of natural, unspoiled, raw beauty; where life and death walk hand in hand and where very few live to tell their tale.

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 157 Light on Dark

 

 

Blue eye, close-up

 

We rarely draw the curtains against the night.  Even in the winter, when the dark creeps out from the woods so much earlier to dim our eyes and send us running for the long life light bulb switch – even then I hesitate to make that final call, so entrancing is the ‘out there’.

Out there a massive power shift is already playing out.  The creatures of the night are waking, alert and ready.  Their eyes are not ‘accustomed’ to the dark, they are made for it right from the very beginning; it is their light.  The rest of us whose vision is, at best, impaired in darkness, must draw in, draw our curtains, hide from danger, sleep.  There is a strong pull of the wild in me as dark descends, a longing to be a part of it, and without a torch.  Turning back from the window, having reluctantly closed off the night, I face warmth and safety, some polite crime on television, or a read beside the fire, supper, and I wonder what I’m missing.

Rabbits know fine what they’re missing, ditto hens and rodents.  Although the latter do pop out at night, they must needs scurry beneath the dense shelter of undergrowth for the screech owl is about.  Even scurryings won’t save them from the neighbouring cats.  So, it isn’t darkness we, or they are afraid of, but the creatures who inhabit it.  In our case, imagined ones too, demons and lurkers and no-gooders with an eye for weakness. And we are weak in darkness, compromised and slow to focus.

And so, we turn in, pushing the darkness back into the woods and back across the sea, flooding our night with light, and more light, neon and flashing, computer screens, television, digital clocks, standby lights on printers, sound systems, streetlights lighting our hurried steps until we find our own doorway, unlock it and step into our nests, leaving the stars behind.  We cook, argue about homework, phone mother, answer emails, bathe and sleep until the light begins to rise again, a slow green at first, then lifting white or blue or pinkly clouded into the full light of day.  But maybe we miss something.  Maybe that’s what I feel so strongly.  The way we divide our days and nights into themselves, stored neatly, controllable, separate, and, yet, they are one.

To stand out inside the darkness, to feel it’s soft mantle about our shoulders, and to stand long enough to see is a wonder.  Even without visible stars, even on the blackest of nights, there is still light.  We make it.  It emanates from our ancient human spirit, this light, and all I have to do is wait until I am fully present.  Dashing out with the recycling is not the same.  I need to stand, to let the inside worries slip away, to move, without moving, into the wholeness of the dark, to let it become one with me.  I become aware of movement, of sounds, of the depth and texture of the dark.  My ears hear, my eyes see, my mind empties of everything that lies behind the front door.  It is, as if it is another world, one of bustle and of chaos and the quack of televised nonsense, of clatter and youtube, of the ping of an arriving email, of the whirr of a fridge, the hum of a computer, the ticking of a clock.  There is no time out here, no hum, no white noise, only the immediate and raw darkness, broken by the rustle of mouse deep in the dry stone wall, a triumphant hoot, a warning cry, the rush of spring water over rocks, the wind through the pines.

No currency exchanges hands out here; no bartering or negotiating required.  No clothing, fashion, menus or public transport.  No strife over friendships or loyalties, no business sense, no degrees, no difficult mother in laws.

I stand for a while, a part of the darkness.  I feel vulnerable and alone and I thrill to those feelings, for this is real life, real dark, real and raw and sharp and edgy.  This is Order.

Then I turn back to what the world calls order, with a twinkle in my eye.

Island Blog 154 Reality Check

Rumi wisdom

As I sit here tapping on the keys of a laptop, waiting for my friends to wake up to another glorious morning in Argyll, I consider our conversation last night over dinner, on Perception and Reality. We had spent the afternoon developing depth and texture on one of my songs. Again, they said, sing that again, only, this time, shorten the vowel sound and give it more breath. Slowly but surely, a single line of melody took on colour and light. There were six of me in the end, in as perfect a repeat as made no difference. It’s interesting how difficult it is to sing exactly the same over an original melody line, not so much the rise and fall of the notes in sequence, but more the length of beats in a single word, such as ‘gold’ or ‘right’. If the consonants don’t land at precisely the same point (and a nanosecond matters) then it can sound like a shower of bullets. T-t-t……etc. I considered bringing the importance of such perfect repetition into ordinary life, hence the conversation. I may walk through exactly the same situation as you, but our perception of it can be chalk versus cheese.
Why is that, and is it okay, good, even, to have different slants, sometimes as many as there are people involved? Of course, it can make for war, and often has, and will continue to do so as long as people walk the earth; one that seems to be managing to extinguish rather a lot of its inhabitants. On a goodly sunshine day, and in a warm, easy, light-hearted situation, such as a merry meet in the bakery or on the street, our differences in perception and ‘reality’ matter little. We can walk away, wave, think what we like once the meet is done, but life isn’t about merry meets all the time.
Sometimes we butt up against an opinion we do not share, but however skilled we are at marketing our own, however loud we talk, however clever our words, we can never change the perception of another soul. We do not live their life, share their dreams and longings, feel their pain, know their joy, understand their song. And we have never looked through their eyes. We may try to do just that and call it empathy. We learn to listen, some of us, and then to mindfully consider that our own perception of reality, the one we are absolutely convinced is the blue print, just might be a blur to another.
At the moment we are all facing a Perception/Reality check, as the country moves towards election day. Some of us will shrug it off, not bother to vote, asking What’s the Point when Nothing Changes? We are bombarded with arguments, one party shouting its promises, another berating those promises as so much rubbish. Accusations of past failure, one-upmanship, clever quips and outright slander is all around us. Who is right to lead us and do we believe in the depth and texture, the perfect unity of their song, or do we feel bullet-battered and uncertain of the melody line?
One thing is for certain. If we bother to vote, at least we make it clear that our own reality matters to us, however we perceive it.

Island Blog 148 Dark and Light

 

Dark room wisdom

 

 

We were talking, my small-panted grandchildren and I, about the dark.  Was I, Are you, Button Granny, frightened of the dark?  I was having a ying tong at the time (ying tong piddle etc) and she, the smallest pants, burst in, quite the thing with this fairly big question.  Well, I said, thinking, or looking like I was…….I used to when I was little, and then, later, when I was bigger than little, yes I did.  Why?  she asked.

Good question.  They ‘why’ bit always throws me unless it’s obvious, such as Why did you not put your fingers in the fire Button Granny?  I thought more, albeit in a slightly compromised state (I can still think at such times, being a woman) and said, Well because I know the dark now.

How?  she continued.  Oh dear.  Well, I said (what would we do without that wonderful word of delay?) I think that I know that, that……there is nothing to frighten me in the dark anymore.  Oh, she said, and dashed off to complete her Angry Cabbages Puzzle, which, by the way, I do wonder at.  If cabbages are angry in her little mind, then what hope is there?  I had, earlier, read both herself and her bigger brother a story about an Elephant and a Bad Baby, who, together, stole two pies, two pork chops, with no thought for the poor pig, nor, I might add, the butcher, two ice creams, two buns and two apples, so I guess Angry Cabbages are small fry by comparison. I am consoled greatly to know that their parents think the book ‘dickerless’ too.

The dark is just the other side of the light.  I remember my lovely dad saying just that, as I shook him awake, about yay high, my little heart beating like mad, my feet light and running all the way to his side of the marital bed.  He rose and guided me to the bathroom, his voice soothing, regardless of his broken sleep, sleep he badly needed for his busy working day, yet to dawn, and laid a towel on the edge of the bath.  He turned on the taps to run tepid water into the tub and then lifted me onto the towel so that my feet dipped into the soothing water.  He talked about this and about that whilst I calmed, and then, softly dried my feet and lifted me back to bed with a gentle voice saying gentling things.  I don’t know if he stayed till my eyes grew heavy, but I do know that I never saw him leave.  He never asked me to tell him of my fears, just seem to understand them and then he washed them away.  I thank him for that, although he is now long gone, a Marine Commando, another dad who never talked about the war he lived through, at least, not the dreadful bits.

As a teenager I was still afraid.  Not outside, bizarrely, but within the walls of a house.  Once, when invited at stay with a schoolfriend, the daughter of a pig farmer, for the night.  I lay in the guest room, weighed down with warm bedding and I just knew there were rats in the room.  I said to myself, Don’t be Dickerless, but the rat-knowing part of me stayed resolute. Then, as I began to doze off from complete exhaustion, the house around me quiet (which meant the parents were in bed too…..) a rat ran over my blankets.  I saw it and I felt it.  I spent the night in the cupboard and cried so much at breakfast that my poor mother had to come and collect me, effusive with apologies and, no doubt, embarassed for ever and a day.  But I Saw the rat!  I wailed.  Uh-huh, she said.

The dark is something personal.  To each one of us.  Maybe it isn’t the night sort of dark, although it can be, but perhaps the inside dark stepping out.  A fear of something or someone.  Doubts can bring the dark.  Crime on television just before bed can continue to play out and develop in our dreams.

Dark is the other side of light.  As adults, sentient adults, we know this.  But knowing something and it settling into our bones can be a universe, a lifetime apart.  I know that when I am troubled, my dreams bring more dark than light. I have downloaded a Sleep App on my android phone (get me) by someone with the most boring voice I have ever heard, whose control over the english language would have sent my english teacher, Miss Machoolish into one of her dizzy spells, and it works, the boredom treatment, never mind the bright lights, the secret garden or any of the stuff he drones on about.  I just want out, so I fall asleep.

Now, I love the dark.  I know that, inside it, there is calm and peace.  I also know that night creatures move at such times, but they don’t want me, they want mice or wandering birds, and, although I may, indeed be a wandering bird, I am way too big for their taste.  I sincerely believe that television, for all its great dramas has bigged up the darkness with fear and we believe it.  Although I do acknowledge that, living on an island, my dark is just dark with not much inside it to worry any of us, I still think fear as food is something we don’t need.  We spend too much time, me included, looking at how things might go wrong.  Why should that out-balance them going right?  Perhaps more looking at the light in our lives would gentle the dark in us.

Dark is dark.  Light is light.  It is enough.

 

Island Blog 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes

 

 

I am excitedly working just now on new songs for recording, well,not recording yet, but more for designing and developing.  All day long I am humming little phrases, changing keys, changing words changing rythms.  Once I meet up with the Talented Two in a week or so, we will take my scribbles and mood-inspired poems and fashion music around them.  They, not I, will layer melodies and harmonies, suggest quirky add-ons that create depth and texture, colour and light.  And dark.  All I am required to do is to spend this preparation time doing what I do know how to do – put words together in a way that tells a story, that give a hint of pain or laughter, to show and not to tell it out too much, for we all like to fill in the spaces allowed us with our own feelings.  This is why some songs last forever and, to be honest, a lot of them make very little sense once we try to explain them.  A Whiter Shade of Pale was scribbled down in the back of a van in between gigs, so I am told, and, when asked what it meant, the writers just shrugged.  It’s not like schoolwork this song-writing thing, not at all.  I don’t have to show my workings, nor do I have to justify them, but what I do have to do is sing them with emotional connection as if what I am telling you is really how I feel.  I don’t write songs about Percy the Pig, or Nellie the Elephant, although that song is great to sing to grandchildren if I include all the actions.  I write about feelings.

It thinks me about doing what I do best, and not wishing I was best at something else.  At school I longed to be an athlete but I was so very far from getting beyond ‘ath’ that it would have made a whole heap of sense to do my best, loathe all of it and spend my free time writing.  The problem with writing is that the only time I found the limelight is in English Lit classes and that was providing I kept to the letter of the law concerning Good Composition.  Nowadays, it is fine to write slang, a lot of which has found its way into the Oxford Dictionnary, which is fine if it works for the piece.  It is not ok to swear, but, then, what is swearing now?  I can read words that would have had my school mistress dialling the emergency services had she ever seen such an assemblage of letters in print, let alone heard them read out in class.  The book would have magically disappeared from the Reading Shelf and parents would have been informed.

In songwriting, words can be hinted at, the front or the back of them lost in a rising instrumental.  It’s infuriating for those of us who want to cover a song and we must needs leap to Google for the lyrics, but I am encouraged by the Talented Two that it sometimes really works best that way and that my Elocution Prize might consider staying in my past.  Enunciating every word as if the whole world depended for its survival on my clear conscise rendering of a particular phrase, is, it seems, vanity of vanities.  Who gives a rip?

As I wrote my book, I let go of the Eng Lit teacher, pushed her off my shoulder and reminded her she was most probably dead and should shut up.  Although I love good prose and therefore find bad prose irritating enough to put me off the whole story, I find that I look more for a gentle sway, an easy rise of words that don’t trip me up with their brilliance, but, instead, show me an unfolding about which I am fascinated to know more.  I want to be led outside of myself and into another world and, yet, I still want that pull on my heartstrings, that connection to my own experiences, my own feelings.  When I read the tale of someone who is living through something I hope I will never live through, something that involves the loss of a child, perhaps, I will think about my own children, my love for them, my fears for them, and, in my heart, I will re-affirm my vow to them, the one I made as each one was born, a vow to protect and defend them to the death.  If I read of a world catastrophe, as a back drop to a tale of people, I will re-jig my priorities in that light.  In short, I will make changes because, through the words of another, I am changed.

I hope I can do the same with my songs.  For now, I am playing word games, reducing sentences down, questioning the need for all the adverbs and adjectives to be there at all, for what I can do, through my voice, as long as it is emtionally connected, is to pull back to indicated thoughtfulness, pain, fear, gentleness, or bring the air more forcefully across my vocal chords to show power, anger or determination.  I can leave out the paraphernalia and keep just the crystals……ones that should make it sparkle, if I get the light

just

right.

Island Blog 135 Little Weeds

 

Flowers close up 1

 

 

As the garden grows into complete hilarity, with an ebullient chuckle, I watch the weeds find their places.  They’re clever, these weeds, finding quiet little dark places to begin their journey, rising into view long after the roots have winkled their way around, along and through those finer species, once carefully placed by us.  When we clear space for such a planting, we see, not the weeds to come, or those now removed, but just this fine sunny spot, allocated to a shrub or bush, envisioned in full majestic bloom, with the ground floor as peaty brown as it was at the start.

Well Ho, says Mother Earth, and Hum to that, for she has other plans and she’s not giving them up to any old human.  Let them eat cake, she says, for now.

Over winter the roots keep spreading, like witches fingers, in the silence of the earth, out of view, out of mind.  Some of us employ evil sprays, conveniently forgetting the lasting damage any of them might do in the long term.  We don’t worry too much about long term, unless we are a fledged and experienced gardener, which I am not.  I quite understand those who buy all their bedding plants each year, thus creating what appears to be an established garden.  It’s tempting.  We don’t use sprays, choosing, instead, to allow the witches fingers room and time to stake their hold.  Then, whatever Spring might bring in showers, snow, frosts and sunshine, these roots decide to reach for the sky, pushing up green and strong, and tempting me with pretty yellow blooms the bees love to visit.  Well, that makes it okay then, if the bees choose thus.

It thinks me about weeds, or wild flowers in the wrong places.  But who says  it’s so?  The wild flowers were here long before me and they’ll be here long after me, so which of us has rights in this little hill garden?

I was a weed, once. I think we can all admit to that at some point in our lives; when we just don’t fit in.  Actually, I think I have often been a weed, but not ‘weedy’.  Finely pedigreed folk who do fit in, might want to remove me, for I pinch the light and the live-giving water allocated to them.  But, the strength and tenacity of me might undermine them, as long as I keep moving, keep finding new ways to reach the sun, keep producing pretty blooms for the bees.  This is not a ‘them’ and ‘us’ thing, for we all have our place and time in this life, but, instead, of ‘both’.  I never did like either/or scenarios, opting every time for a laterally sought choice.  We know there is room for all of us, but the trouble is always one of boundaries – where you stop and I begin.  After all, we don’t have the same voices, you and I, nor the same dreams, visions, hopes and plans.  You may be planning for something I have no interest in.  This doesn’t make either of us wrong nor right, just different.  We laughingly say ‘Vive la difference!’ in our best french accent, but most of us have no idea what it means as a life choice.  No matter how careful we are with our inner thoughts, we all make judgements on others.  Words like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ pop into our mouths and out again and we feel regret long after the damage is done, for, in speaking those words about another living soul, we have shown we are better than they and have established it firmly in the ears of the listener.

I kick myself often for such worthless chatter, gossip to call it by it’s proper name.  If I name a weed, I damage three people.  Myself, the weed and the listener, and on what authority I ask myself?

In reply, I look out of the window, at the fancy shrub about to bloom, and, then down towards the so-called weeds.  The shrub will never surprise me inside it’s controlled boundary limits, but the long-tailed fronded grasses, the speckly indigo blooms of the wild forget-me-nots, the creeping buttercups, the purple-belled ground ivy and the Lady Elizabeth  poppies, the colour of sunshine……?

Well they will.