Island Blog – Diversifly

Moving on from the Accept and Adapt thingy, I have thought many thinks about how I might diversify. As I very gradually learn to accept and to adapt to this new loneliness, my search for how to make something of this apparent nothing has led me to a new light. Instead of dreading another long evening alone I whittled the stick of it down to a fine point. As late afternoon draws near, as I watch other people slow into a time shared, heading back to wherever together, exchanging laughter and conversation, I come back to where I sit here watching them. Although I still yearn for what was and will never be again, my inner imp sniggers at me, taps at my brain, asks me (with rolling eyes) when I plan to get off my ass and take some action. My start point may appear to be so not what I want, it is, nonetheless, my start point. I must diversify, I must find a something to replace a someone, something that absorbs me and that moves the minutes along in a happy and engaging way. By this time I am too tired to read, not very interested in television and my eyes are done with sewing. So what to do? I ask my inner imp. What do you love to do? I answer her. Cooking, I said, but…….

But nothing, she snorts. I wish I could snort as she does but I am unpractised and she has turned snorting into an art form. My resistance stands firm. There is no point cooking, I whine. Cooking for one small eater is hardly worth the bother. Pshaw!! she says as I knew she would. If, she continues, you want to diversify and you love cooking then what is there to lose by trying it out, at this very time? It will take your eyes off imagining that the whole world is happy and content with their own lives and curve you gently back into your own. Your investment in your own life can only bring you joy, even if you cannot see that yet, and it will tell you that you is important. Okay, I say. Maybe. I go to my fridge at the lonely time and turn back to her. There’s nothing much in here I say. Oh, fiddlesticks! She is right behind me. I see mushrooms, an ancient lime, natural yoghurt, that jar of capers, an onion and two old apples that look like they were born in 2020. Bring them into hope. Invent. Think. Diversify.

I soften the onion in olive oil, add the mushrooms, chopped apples and seasoning and let the lot simmer. I am absorbed, thinking outside my box, engaged. I add veg stock and a few capers, the juice of the lime and turn down the heat. People still wander by, wave, move on into their shared evening but I don’t feel sad. I am completely involved with what to do next with this flavoursome concoction. Serve with rice, reduce the liquid, add a tin of butter beans, what? Once the ingredients are softened, I decide. Soup it will be. The flavours float through the house, the punch of mushrooms eased and tweaked by the tang of lime, the snatch of capers, blending in a way that surprises me. My olfactory senses are dancing, alert, lifted. Once combined, I blend the mix, add seasoning and stir in two tablespoons of natural yoghurt. It smells heavenly. Once slightly cooled I taste. It is divine and who would have thought it? Later, once cool, I taste again. The lime and apple have challenged the mushrooms and facilitated a conversation. I hear it, smell it and taste the unity. This is as delicious cold as it is hot. I am overly chuffed enough to make a decision. Cooking will be my activity when this lonely time barrels in. It doesn’t matter that there is only me to taste whatever I prepare. I can deliver to neighbours, I can share and I will. This is not important but I is and I will build me a new way. I check recipes for inspirational combinations but I know I won’t follow them word by word. I am too flighty for such. I am more ‘bird by bird’, cooking spontaneously, using ingredients that challenge each other, not for domination but for conversation.

And so I am learning to diversify. No, more. Diversifly.

Island Blog – About the Real

I walk into another evening alone. Oh yes I did have a great friend staying and other friends here making music, yes I did. And then they all go back into their shared lives. And I am so thankful they came. I loved the moments chuckled between us, the laughter, the conversations, the music. I really did. But after them there is just me, just the old loneliness.

In our ‘out there’ lives, we don’t mention loneliness and yet it is rife among us. We don’t want to speak out the word because it invites questions, or fixings, or mentions of Spring and daffodils and light. We see it coming so we keep quiet. We say we are fine and after a little chat about this, that and the weather, we turn back into the lonely. It doesn’t begin after the death of the one we shared everything with. No. It creeps in after the probate is sorted, the paperwork filed, the busy time that keeps us, well, busy and then stops dead like a train hitting the buffers. The shunt of silence is deafening and it isn’t going to make noise anytime soon, bar the odd visit of friends, the lift of music, laughter and shared time.

So what do we Lonelies do about this? Good question. I will work on it. Many of us are just short of 70. What options are out there for us, we who have stayed solid throughout maybe 50 or more years of being one of two? Well we may not be able to see them options but they might just be there, out there, somewhere. So what I say is this, as I wander, restless, through an empty house, more empty than it was when the other of two was away for a bit…..do you remember your dreams? I am working on that. Dreams I had as a young woman with no clue just don’t make sense now. However, a person without dreams, without aspirations, is basically dead whilst still breathing. It doesn’t matter what you do in the loneliness. But it matters if you do nothing. I catch the lift of the young woman I was, at 18, before marriage and kids and a most adventurous and demanding life subsumed me, or tried to. It never worked, this subsuming thing although it took all my spirit strength to remain Me. And now, on my own is mostly wonderful. I no longer have to say where I am going, nor when I will return. I no longer have to explain myself. I no longer this or that, and that is a void I do not know how to navigate. I was this woman and for decades. Now who am I?

There’s a question. The real is the truth. Lonely is real.

Island Blog – More than fixers

Yesterday I was smote down by some tummy bug. It made itself known mid-darkness and remained for the day. Although I am a welcomer of all things, including side-swipers knowing, as I do that life will bring them in whether I want them or not, I did find my welcome note was definitely off key. We were never going to sing our time in harmony. Okay, let’s find another way to deal with this. I accept you have invaded my body, my thoughts and my equilibrium, so I will go with you this day. Ultimately it will be you who leaves, not me. I am more than you, trust me on that.

I slept a lot in between chilly forays down the stairs to re-jig the logs into merry fire, sipped water and listened to an audio book. I watched the rain turn to soggy snow, whirling like smoke passed my big bedroom window. I saw gulls fighting for balance in the gusts of cold and wet and I felt my thankfulness muscle flex. I might be sick for a day, but out there are people who are really sick, really cold with little hope of any warmth and really alone in their lives. There are those doubting the point of their existence. Although I am fortunate enough to be loved, warmable and certain of a return to ebullient health, I am aware that my assertion of strength comes from the confidence of a woman who knows she is safe. Urging someone to see the bright side of a dire situation is not helpful. In fact, it can affirm their worst fears. What they need is understanding and empathy, a hand held out, a smile, soft words of genuine affection and care.

I know how it feels to be very depressed. I looked out at the world through blind eyes and anybody who shone a beam of light in my face would be swatted away. I wanted the world to stop spinning, so utterly pointless everything seemed. It was a long time ago, yes, but something so dark and huge makes an imprint on my heart, a big fat one. Eventually, over a long time, I found my way back, accepting help eventually, from guides who shone no beam at me. They just held out a warm hand, smiled and said Shall we walk together awhile? It took me through hestiational defences before I could trust that these guides were not out to fix me, to shape me back into the woman I was before when that woman very obviously felt she did not fit. I knew I was not prepared to oblige in such a way and what I needed was for someone to see beyond my act. We begin these acts in childhood. They are our way of coping, of fitting in, of receiving the love we crave. But, at some point, the spirit will out and shout and spill things and cause considerable harrumphing from those who think they know us. It is discombobulating for all concerned but not a condition, a scream from the inner wild, to be ignored because ignoring such blatancy leads to a long lonely walk into the abyss.

Perhaps this is why I treasure life in my older years. Perhaps, having been that lonely walker, finding empathetic guides to walk with me out of it, I have raised up my inner child, my true spirit, as my own. As I pondered all this from my sick bed, I felt a song of thankfulness ring in my ears. Now I can say I am more than this, more than this bug, more than those old conditions and rules, and how is that?

I have learned to love myself, the woman I am. I have learned, after fighting for her in all the wrong ways at all the wrong times, that she is a strong and beautiful soul and so very deserving of my full attention. Nobody else gave her that, but I can and I do. If you know what I am writing about here, or know of someone who would, please forward this on. Lonely is okay in bits, now and then but it can consume a person, swallow them up and disappear them for ever.

Let’s be guides, not fixers.

Island Blog – I hold the balance

I watch the rain. A constant, a steadying. I am not overly fond of endless rain but there is little I can do about that. There is also little I can do about long evening darkness, one that holds on like a black fist for way too long, well into what laughingly is called My Morning. Sleep is a friend, yes, but fickle. She soothes me for a few short hours but she allows in dreams, nightmares, startlements that shock me into waking and leave me still shocked even as the dream evaporates. I am not good at ‘still shocked’, won’t stand for it, get up, go downstairs to watch the darkness, try to love it at 4 am. I remember trying to love something when it defies the rules and it was never easy, my skin prickling, my mouth empty of words, my body longing to run, but if I could do it once, I can do it again. Let it be.

But. When someone who has no idea about widowness, my widowness, says something that doesn’t even come close to the depth of my feelings, I snort. I hear all the advice, the platitudinal fiction that spills from lips and eyes and I want to roar like Aslan. I don’t, naturally, but that roar held in my small body is wild and dangerous. I smile and thank them, the grief counsellors, the Facebook lovers, the ‘friends’ who write another supportive line pinched from a book they’ve read, but the within of me belies the without. Thank God for skin and good manners! Deep down I am grateful for kindness, nonetheless and all those words of uplift and encouragement come from good warm hearts. I know this and it thinks me into a questioning.

What is it that bothers me when I hear or read words that are just birds around my head? I consider the question and it comes to me as a flash of light. It is my inner speke that needs my attention, not the words I hear, the intention behind them. Oh dear, that can feel so impossible at times when I am busy doubting and fearing and self punishing, even as I know the truth of mind control. I decide to step into my own head and there they are, standing like sentry guards at the door. We can’t let any positive stuff in, they tell me as I confront them, not when you are busy nourishing us in our negative space. I sit down to consider the situation. Ah, so it is up to me to select my thinks? They nod. Are you telling me, I continue, that I am not at the mercy of negativity, regardless of my loneliness, my fears around Covid, my lack of confidence without my husband around to confidence me up? Again they nod. So, I fake it, pretend, kid myself on? Yes, they say. You keep feeding the uplifting words, the light bright beautiful birds. You receive all of them both from outside and those of your own making and you catch every one, lifting them gently into your mind and your heart. They are all light and flight. They lift your spirits into a positive orbit. They are all true and they are so much stronger than the loneliness, the fears and the self doubt. They are your true power, and we are tired of sentry duty. It’s time to change the guard.

I begin with ‘I am strong, happy, powerful and all light.’ I hold back the guffaw and the candle burns bright. The sentries fall, one by one and the door opens wide. Welcome holds out her hands, pulling me into a warm, light room, one I recognise. What on earth made me walk away from this! Well, says Welcome, life is not a straight path. The path winds every which way and everyone can get lost from time to time. I make a list so that every time the negative looms, I can hold it back with my own light. I might feel I am at the mercy of negative thoughts but it takes just one candle to illuminate a darkened room. Just one. It doesn’t matter that the doubts are there, the fears and the regrets. They are there to guide me, I know that.

But it is I who hold the balance.

Island Blog – Alone with Poppy

Me and Poppy watch the sky, she, in Popz’s marvellous chair that electrically lifts a human to standing point, and I in mine, that doesn’t. Mine is an ancient Orkney chair, all oak seat and rush backed, sturdy as a woman in a storm. I am fond of this chair. it wisnae mine, not really. My mother-in-law sat in it, her rightful place, although it dwarfed her, the wee round midget that she was with enough authority to clear a car park of hoodlums in seconds. I am not she, but I did learn from her and, from her, inherited my current seating.

Like her, I am now alone in this 1830 stone built home. Like her, although she never said, I feel the expanse of walls around me. I see the fields of carpet, the stretch of old floorboards. Like her I hear the hum of ancient plumbing in the night, random, unexpected, like burps. Like her, I study my old gnarled fingers and feel the tweaks as I try to sew and, like her, I say damn you old age! I will not give in easily.

We watch, me and Poppy, the cormorants on the rocks, their curved necks so telling. They preen and prink, black silhouettes from where we stand. Further along the track we find long tailed tits. I hear them and stop. When I stop, Poppy does too, alert. But she looks ahead, along the track whereas my eyes scan the trees. They are here, somewhere. And then I find them, picking off the new shoots from the birch and hazel. Of course they are. No tit could tackle a hazel nut. It would have to be this, the young shoots, the ones that bravely come out even knowing the next frost will kill them dead. The birds are on such an error of choice. They flit, dance, and are gone.

Last night we heard the darkling migration of swans. It woke us both, Poppy barking, me shushing her. Although we could not see a thing, we both moved to the window. She jumped up on the sill and my eyes scanned the black dark, knowing it was a fruitless attempt. We stopped. We looked. We heard them pass. Who knows how many but it took some minutes.

Well, I said, shall I make tea? Her huge eyes watched my face. Neither of us was going to settle immediately. In silence we descended the stairs. I know I am alone, but I am not lonely. I also know that this dog, this Poppy, is a helpmeet even if she has no clue what I am looking at, nor why. She just responds because she is tuned to me as I am to her. And, for all the time I have her, I am thankful.

Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. I have been more lonely in a crowd, in a gathering, in a family, in my marriage than I ever am now. And, yet, it is new ground. This is it. This is for real.

I am glad I have Poppy.

Island Blog 132

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

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

Much like us.

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

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

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

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

Island Blog 111 Love Defiant

 

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‘Love is giving someone the power to break your heart, and trusting them not to’.  Some wise soul said that, and I pinched it.

When we fall in love, we fall into infatuation at first.  We can think of nobody else all day.  Their face and voice lift us up to heights we never knew before.  Every time.

When I looked up Love on the interweb as my old ma calls it, every link on the first page and beyond guided me towards young love.  Now, young love is not just for the young.  The ‘young’ adjective describes Love, not the people feeling it.  We can fall in love at any age, and thankfully, we do or the world would be chock full of lonely old people, who have loved and lost and find they can love again.  But love is not just a feeling.  It’s a verb.  In order to maintain a love between two people, both have to work, sometimes, very hard and over long periods of time.

So what is love, the verb?

Well, after the first overwhelment of love, hitting us right in the heart like a meteor has landed there, things slowly change.  Is this, we ask ourselves, the death of love?  Did I make a huge mistake? Is the ‘honeymoon’ period over?  Hopefully, yes.  Now we are getting real.

You may have made a mistake in your choice of lover, but you also may not, for at this point comes commitment, a cementing of a love, a choice to grow it into something long term, something that will sustain both people for the rest of their lives.  Ok, so we ‘commit’ whatever shape that takes and on we go.  At first we can allow things to irritate, because we are still floating on cloud nine and, as we know Love is blind.  But, when those things that irritate don’t disappear, we begin to wonder, because our initial plan to make the other person into a carbon copy of ourselves, isn’t working.

This is the uncomfortable bit.

‘Vive la Difference!’ is something we can laugh about and nod our heads to, but can we actually live with it?

There is another saying, that ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’.  Well bin that one.  I believe that saying sorry and taking appropriate action thereafter is precisely what Love is.  Otherwise we can just go on with our irritating habits, expecting the other person to get over themselves without considering their feelings and that is not ‘love’.

‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is another.  However, the small stuff grows into big stuff if left unattended and, by the way, the small stuff is in the way every hour of every day is it not? Dropping socks on the floor, nagging about who does what, harping on about slamming the car door, not helping with the shopping/kids/accounts etc.

So how do we un-sweat it?

Honestly, I can’t answer any of it, for this subject is one discussed to death all over the world in many languages.  What I can say is that Love is a journey, not just a feeling.  Beyond the chemstry, the longing to get home to a loved one, the daily joy, is a great depth of other things, essential things that, if applied with patience, will grow into a lifetime love.

But what about all that small stuff?  Does he/she get away with it all? Hmmmm.  Jury is out on that.  I have made all the mistakes, harping, nagging, moaning about my lot, and you already know that, if you’ve read Island Wife.  But, what I have learned, thankfully, is that love is not about getting my own way in everything.  It is not about a clear stage, just for me, with himself prancing about like a dancer in tights, to lift me up every time I feel like a pirouette.

No, love is about Compassion.  Kindness.  Loyalty.  Friendship.  Affection.  And each one of these is a choice, NOT a feeling.  In fact, feeling them is unlikely at first, given the small stuff sweats.  These depths of love are something to do, to work on, to write down as reminders.  It’s like going back to school.

Goodness…… that sounds old and boring, even to me who knows all this first hand.  But, as nobody can explain the truest, deepest meaning of Love, its high price and its long term rewards, then we just have to believe in it, even though, as a rule, we really only believe in that which we can explain through logic.

Love is not just about those first fiery weeks/months or even years.  It’s not about agreeing on everything (which is fortunate as we hardly agree on anything)……nor is it something to be taken lightly, thrown away without deep consideration and every effort made to find it again should it appear lost.  It’s not real in movies or romance novels.  It’s not just for Christmas or for days when I feel good about myself.  You won’t find it winning the lottery, or being promoted or writing a bestseller.  You find it by making daily commitment to it’s development and growth.

And my last word, learned through experience, is this.

Forgive, even if nobody says sorry.