Island Blog – Inside Out

My washing machine, which, by the way, has behaved normally for a long time, has suddenly begun to turn clothes, bedding and other things, inside out during each wash. At first it annoyed me. What do you think you’re doing? I asked it. I mean, you have washed things as I rendered them into your maw for, oh, years now, and all of a sudden, without consulting me, you turn things about. Yes, I know that most goodly women wash everything inside out. We are advised to do this. It says so on the label. But I never read labels and there was a frisson of excitement that arose in my goodly breast as I pushed everything in with the outside on the outside. I love to break the rules anyway.

As I fight with a huge cotton/linen duvet cover that is half inside out and half outside in, I have some thinks. Going deeper, I wonder if the Universal Mother Protector is trying to tell me something. What could that be? Is she advising me that, before it is too late, I begin at the age of 67, with a hec of a lot of washing years under my belt, to obey the rules? Surely it can’t be that. This bedding, these jeans and tops, frocks and socks have managed with my disobedience for as long as I can remember and nothing has fallen apart. Well, not many things, anyway.

Then I walk my thinks into other areas of life. I ponder the inside and I ponder the out. I know only too well that if the inside of me does not relate and connect with the outside of me there is trouble. If I feel one way and communicate another, I am lacking congruence. My inside, feeling as she does, is sloshing about in my drum if I don’t show her to the world. If I see injustice, feel the pain of it, the wrongness of it, and say or do nothing, I am disconnected from my own self and I will carry that disconnection like a lead weight for a long time. Regrets, shame, crimes of omission, admissions of guilt, apologies proffered, wounds healed, all will fester in a darkling silence, challenging the health and well-being of both my mind and my body. You, on the outside of me will see none of it, feel none of my disconnection. But I will.

The start point is to admit this disconnection to myself. To acknowledge that I am outside my inside and that the two haven’t been on speaking terms for way too long, is critical. Do I want to? Well, no, not really. I want the outside of me to look goodly. I want the inside of me to catch up, to hurry up and fit the space without me having to do any of this tedious inner work. But this is not how we learn, not how we grow, develop and understand the vital need to be inside out. Now, I am not saying that we need to rush out to tell folk a thing or two about what we don’t like about them. Not at all. In fact, what we find, as we admit our fear of being inside out, is that we don’t want to do that at all. What we find, as we gently open up to our own fears of being naked before all men (dreadful thought) and women (slightly less so) is that compassion arises like Venus from the waves, gentle, soft, loving and at peace with both ourselves and all those who are not us.

As I pull out the washing nowadays I smile at the inside out-ness of random things. I know this washing machine, this behemoth of importance, has a lesson to teach me. Nowadays I can inside out-flip a big duvet cover in minutes. In paying attention to something that most of us would dismiss with a worldly snort, I am learning to reconnect with the inside of me. I recommend it.

And so, it is.

Island Blog 159 On Marriage

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It all starts with a Wedding, that’s what I say.  When I get an invitation to someone’s ‘Marriage’ I have this strong urge to call them up to correct their grammer, or is it grammar……….. because the wedding is the bit when you make impossible vows and completely believe in them, and the marriage is the rest of your life together.  So not the same thing.

These vows are written in stone, or so you think at the time.  They also ask of you more than will ever be asked of you in any other part of your life.  What seemed like an uphill struggle before, when you were free and single, evanesce as you face the stark and solid truth that the old mother-in-law has the upper hand and, what’s more, always will.  Now that I am one myself, I feel very unsure of myself at times, and rightly so.  The old type of mother in law was comfortably certain of her place on the family throne, whereas we unsure ones watched them from the servants gallery and vowed we would never be like them.  Well, mostly we are achieving just that, and, in doing so, in approaching with more tact we are making new mistakes.  It is the way of things.

I don’t remember if I promised to obey or not, but what laughs me a lot, is that it matters one way or the other. The animated discussions I have overheard concerning which words are left out and which put in to a wedding ceremony adds a value that most certainly dilutes in time. I suppose in the olden days, if someone didn’t obey or honour or cherish and it was brought to the Judgement Mound and proclaimed before the Wise Men, and if it was found to be true, due punishment would have been administered, its legacy, shame.  Nowadays, the Judgement Mounds are covered with heather and bluebells, their ancient role all but forgotten.

After the fluffery wuffery of the wedding, and the first halcyon days of playing house, the serious business of life clicks in.  We put away the wedding dress and don the apron.  It’s not a bad, but a good thing, because scrubbing a floor in a wedding dress is asking for trouble. So, we move on into our new days, we two people who have made the biggest decision of our lives.  No maps are handed out.  We will now sail into uncharted waters, learning from each other and working day by day to weave a new cloth from the colours each one brought to the mix, very different colours, different histories, different understanding of light and dark, texture and balance, give and take, up and down.  Who will lead and who will follow?  Who will let go and who will hold on.  Who thinks of solutions and who chews over the disaster?  None of this has really been revealed as yet for neither of us have stood the test, not yet.  Falling in love is a momentary thing.  Staying there, when things begin to annoy and upset, letting them take their place in the weaving of the cloth when all you want to see are the vibrant colours of joy and happiness, is quite another.  The trick is to let that happen without feeling a sense of loss.  The trick is not to imagine this woman is trying to mother me, when she shouts at me for sock-dropping, or that this man is trying to control and contain me, when he challenges the cut of my dress  The trick is, the trick is………

The goodly thing about Goodly Life is that it keeps waking us up each morning with birdsong or Chris Evans or the dooby doo of an alarm clock, or a baby’s wail, or that eerie silence that tells you it snowed overnight.  We keep waking, we keep feeling hungry, needing a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend.  Our brains must plan school mornings, bus time-tables, train schedules and packed lunch boxes.  This is it, this is life and this, shared, keeps us moving through our daily rounds, bumping into each other, working out the best way to do this or not do that, until gradually we weave ourselves into one cloth.

If any of us knew what lay ahead, we might never begin.  How we learn to deal with whatever comes along, is all in the strength of that cloth, the warp and weft of it, the necessary tension, the edging.  When storms prevail and loud black clouds hang overhead all packed with lightning flash and cold wet rain, we can use this cloth for shelter and warmth, but it will only give back what we have woven into it.  The history we make together is not solely of our own pasts, but it is a new thing.  We bring in children, carving their histories out for them, at least, in the very beginning. Each of us is a new creature, with unique quirks and gifts, thoughts and concerns.  Each one of us sees a thing differently, even if we mostly agree on the image it creates in our minds.  However,  there is one thing I have found to be almost universal, and that is the instant and unconditional love a parent feels for their child.  I know life can sour a relationship, but after the angry words are spoken and the protection in place, I still believe this love surpasses all other loves, and it never fails to astonish on first encounter.  I remember it each time a babe was born from me, that however scared I may have been of dangers unknown, I knew I would protect this child’s life with my own, and I still would.

At this end of a verrrrrry long marriage, there is a very colourful cloth around us, five colourful children and their families.  Nobody could say we quietly got on with our lives together, obeying the rules, but, instead, raved against the wrongs, laughed and lived wildly, generously, and mostly in complete chaos.  On this day, we look at each other and we both marvel.  How on earth we managed, against all the odds, to be celebrating 43 years together, even all ‘vowed up’, is a mystery, and not just to us.

What larks!

Island Blog 153 On Good Men and Unicorns

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I have heard said, that good men are like unicorns.  Everyone talks about them but nobody ever sees one.

To compare a man with a unicorn, is, indeed, a strange thing to be sure.  Unicorns may be ‘fictitious’ creatures, but they are very real in fairy stories, folklore and even in Harry Potter’s world, which is one I almost believe in.  Many times I have faced down a pillar on some bleak and windy station, thinking positively about rushing towards it in search of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.  I don’t, of course, being ever so slightly aware that I may, indeed, be a Muggle after all, and, thus both bitterly disappointed, and in need of cosmetic surgery.

The other thing that stranges me about a comparison between unicorns and good men, is that men, in my experience, couldn’t be more earthed.  I may attempt, for example, to unfold my feelings about some aspect of my life only to be asked scientific questions. What shape, when, why and how.  I may float (just a bit) around concepts of life, love and marmelade and be yanked back down to earth with a sensible ‘fix’ to the situation, one that completely misses my point, not that I have had one of those in a long time.  In fact, my being afflated about some other-worldly issue very possibly negates the need for a point, as there are many and none in the mackle mind of a woman at such times.

Now, I know, like you do, that unicorns have hooves and must, therefore, do things like walk, trot, canter and gallop, and for all of these activities, they require some sort of stable terrain, one with depth and structure, one they can see and expect to see whilst they do all of these things.  In this, they are very like men, I agree.  But, and this ‘but’ divides and separates, they can fly, of float, or elevate and there are few, if any, good men who can do that.

But is there a difference between Men and Good Men?  I wonder if this is simply an act of perception.  I say ‘act’ because it is a doing word and not a being word and there’s my point.  And I have another.  Does the perception of a man make him good?  If I imagine him to be like a unicorn, powerful, there when you need a lift out of danger, able to move fast over ground or through the air, beautiful, intelligent, magical and interesting, might he not become so? Whereas, if I imagine him stupid and blunt, strong-like-bull but dimwitted and messy and thoughtless, might I not be fashioning him that way?

I know this is a chicken and egg question, but it has thinked me for a while and made me watch folk and consider.  We can divide our lives into little controllable units, and, in many ways, this is a good thing.  I want my day planned, to a degree, to the degree that is important to me, that is.  I want to know when this or that is needed by my family, and what my role is in making it right for them.  But, if I have forgotten what it was like when first we met, then, chances are, so has he.  Life and the gravity of it has pulled us all down.  It happens, but the clever ones among us notice this.  If I stopped the car suddenly and said to you, Look There Goes a Unicorn, even if you were the biggest domesticated woman cynic ever, you would look, you would ask Where?  But if I said There Goes Your Husband, you might look, you might, but, if it was somewhere you didn’t expect him to be you might say…..well you might say all sorts of things but you would not have the same look on your face as you did when I called him a Unicorn.

Island Blog 9 – On thinking

As I watch a young couple learn the ropes of parenting, with all the associated doubts and joys, I feel honoured to be invited in, to be a part, a useful part.  So many things change when a baby arrives.  There are tugs on many strings.  They say that children can tear you apart, not that they would ever want to do that, and I can see how, remember how.  When my little ones came along, I turned the full 180 towards them.  Some fathers don’t cope well with that, being relegated to the chorus line, when once they were the star.  We women do our best, but we are not perfect, nor are we superhuman.  We know, in that first flash second of seeing our newborn for the first time, that here is someone we would give our lives for.  We also register, to our, perhaps surprise, that where we once thought we would do the same for our man, we now know we might not – especially if the choice, a Sophie’s sort of choice, was between our child and their father.

It must show, for it causes problems, not that many of us will ever have to make that choice.  It shows itself, this new allegiance in little ways, in where we spend our precious moments, which way we look first, who we listen to when voices rise in competition.

I remember it well.