Island Blog – Words and Showing Up

When I was a student, I learned how to write good English, to enunciate clearly and to employ slang or swearwords only in the playground or in whispery corridors. Now, still a student, still learning, I play with my words. Words are like music, they sound soft or harsh, harmonious or discordant, resonant of the very thing they describe. Onomatopoeiac. My dad would have a fit at some of my words. I think he considered loose language to be a sign of laziness, an unwillingness to search for and then to produce a word most fitting. He had a zillion words in his mouth and was never short of just the right one, bringing in a goodly measure of humour and exaggeration, just like a pro. Once, with his head inside the drinks fridge, he announced that ‘we are perilously low on lemonade’. He could spoof it anytime he chose. I think I get my passion for word invention from him, from Roald Dahl and from other great storytellers who lifted words up for scrutiny, oft times laying them down again, all tapsalteerie, just for effect.

To play with word assemblage is to dance with fairy feet over the rules of engagement. Words have double flipped over the generations. Some have been lost, new ones found and elevated to dictionary standing. Playing scrabble with me is never going to please a dictionary pedant. In fact, no dictionary pedant would even consider it. There is only one person I can play scrabble with and that’s my youngest son who has more crumjumbling words in his head than anyone else I know. The game invariably dissolves into hysterical laughter as one or other of us attempts to explain the meaning of whatever word we have just laid down on the board.

We are taught not to exaggerate, not to overstate with words and yet where’s the fun in rules like that? Sounds very beige to me and I love colour and lift, nonsense and musicality. Life is tough enough already. We do well to remember that having fun is good for our health. And, in that, I take courage and inspiration. Could be the lyrics of a song, a line snatched from Twitter, Facebook or Instagram; could be a flow of words from a passerby #therearelessofthosefornow; could be a crash landing in my own head whilst buttering a salmon steak. Could come from anywhere but if there is music in it, then it grabs my attention and I take a good look see.

This morning, around 5, the sun cast red across the sea-loch. A fingermist hovered over the still waters, tree reflections shimmying like dancers. The goddess of the breeze obviously thought it was her turn. Tickling the surface with her fingers, she lifted the runnels and rivulets into bubble swirls and sent them all on a trajectory for the wide open maw of the Atlantic Ocean. Gulls dipped, oystercatchers twillopped overhead in a cacophony of oystercatcher-ness, and one lone young whitetail soared like a big showoff almost level with Cirrus, although, of course, he was nowhere near those ice clouds. It just looked like it from down here, from stuck down me, gravitously cemented to Mother Earth with my neck a paperclip as I watch and watch till, with barely a wing beat, he slides 10 miles to the other side of my looking. A lift of light and the starlings arrive like a football crowd to the bird table. There have to be 15 of them, babies open-beaked and squeaking, parents madly gathering seed, feeding, gathering seed, feeding and on and on till Lady Night finally says Enough! Sleep!

I remember it well. And I am glad I do. I have known the times of overwhelming, my times of flight, high as Cirrus but not quite, my lifts, my joys, my swollen ankles, my sleepless nights, my troubled days, my moments of supreme peace, my ages of gloom. All of these colours, all of these states of being, these words are me, are you too. It is how and who we are. It bothers me (for about 3 seconds) that the greatest requirement in this life is to keep showing up, first, to keep learning, second, and to keep applying said showing up and said learning, ad infinitum for all eternity, forever and then some.

Easy Peasy.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.

Island Blog – Remembering the Butterfly

Today started well. I rose at 5.30 as usual, washed and dressed. Downstairs waiting for the kettle to boil I realised my frock wasn’t feeling like it did yesterday. It was tight under the arms and squashful across my bows. As I wear two or three frocks at the one time, layered with musical precision and always clashing wildly with each other, I wasn’t sure which frock was the offender. Well, dammit, I will have to pull them all off, whence I discovered the blue one, the last one, the one playing the bass line, was on back to front. it was a relief to finally reassemble the noisy ensemble and to hear and feel, once again, a smooth and velvety tune. I take a big drink of water, fill and flip on the kettle for coffee, and prepare to put a wash on. Lifting a pasta bowl from the drainer, I dropped it on my bare foot. Yelling in silence, so as not to disturb himself so early, and hopping around the table I glowered at said pasta bowl which had rolled off into the corner and was definitely sniggering.

On making the coffee #footthrobbing I put 3 tea bags in the pot and poured on the water. There was just enough. I left the brew to steep and went off to refill himself’s water bottles and to lay our clean hankersniffs. I wiped down his rolling stock (hospital bed tables) and poured myself a coffee. I planned to listen to the birds, watch them flit and flut, fight and fly off, a lovely show of colour and attitude. This is not coffee. Initially I was a bit shocked #foorstillthrobbing at the thought of my folly. How could I do that? I don’t even drink tea, although my hand knows the route to the caddy as I make tea for himself all the live long day, so it could be that. I’m not losing it, I swear.

Washing spun and ready to go out, I gather the peg bag and climb the mosaic steps up to the hill garden. It isn’t blowing much and the air is looking rather tut tut but I’ll risk it. One of the items is a large woollen blanket and I don’t really want that draped inside the house if possible. The vetches, alpines, wildflowers, berberis, dwarf willow, violets and daisies all accept my greeting. I always talk to my flowers and other growing things. In fact, I have noticed the birds calm as you like around me when I go to feed them of a morning. I walk in slow motion and soothe them with my soothiest voice and they know me now. It’s rather charming. The flowers are quieter but I know they hear me. Anyway, back to the washing line. Hallo Lady Larch! She is the tree who supports the yellow plastic line and we respect each other. The last thing to fix is the blanket. I admire it for a bit. It is considerably whiter than it was pre wash, like snow or sea froth. Last peg connected and I spin around to leave. Ah……

My other foot, not the still throbbing one, manages to catch a corner I hadn’t noticed, still touching the grass but only just. There’s a little hole in this corner and my toe leaps through. I know I’m going to fall, and it is only grass, which reassures me as I do. Picture me now. I am lying on my back, my leg extended cloudwards, my toe in a woollen blanket stranglehold. There is nothing to do but laugh, even as I realise that both feet are going to have something to say about this morning’s abuse. I stay where I am for a few minutes, watching the clouds schist and shrink, billow and spin against the blue. Lying back, quiet now, all laughed out and barely moving, a butterfly lands on my nose. I stare at its underbelly, feel its tiny feet on my skin, see its wings lit like disco balls as the sun shines through. It stays, and stays for what seems an age, and is suddenly gone.

Later I couldn’t open the back door because himself had parked his wheelchair right up against it; the bruschetta mix I made is watery without lovely greek tomatoes that have actually seen sunshine; I’ve almost run out of kindling and I forgot to get bananas at the shop; the bulb for my flytrap died; I dropped flour all over the flour (bag burst) and my stillthrobbingtoe is turning blue.

But all I remember is the butterfly.

Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Blog – The Great Sadness

I have no other name for it. Nor can I explain it, although I have tried, many times over the decades of my long life. In the search for meaning, for an explanation, we are forgiven our walks up blind alleys. It is only human to want an answer. As a child I felt it. It would suddenly invade my mind when I was most definitely looking the other way. Suddenly, even in a gathering of family or peers, in what seemed to be a happy moment, it would hit me full whack. At a young age I had no way of understanding it. I just thought that it was because Angela had pink flashing socks and mine were ordinary white, albeit with a Daz sparkle. Or that Mary had a hamster.

Later, as a supposedly intelligent and educated young women it still hit me. At a party, for which I had taken about five hours to dress, and surrounded by friends and music and a short term freedom, or walking down the town on a Saturday morning with money to spend on something ridiculous like shiny hot pants or chain-rattling tough girl boots, the Great Sadness would punch me in the gut and stumble me. it would leave me completely alone in a huge crowd, like a girl on a raft mid Pacific. Sometimes someone would spot the change and ask a kindly question, but I soon lost them as I explained what a weirdo I was. I think they were scared they might catch something dodgy. I find the same now, in the evening of my life. The only people who don’t run for the next bus are intuits, counsellors or very close friends. Friend, actually. She gets me, even if she does also consider me a weirdo.

As a child I was considered strange, difficult, obtuse etc. I could be brilliant, and I was, supreming at music, writing and insight, but the latter threw even the most open-hearted guides. I was too young, too confounded by the Sadness and, thus, too much of a threat to my peers who seemed not to ever think beyond hamsters or pink flashing socks. I felt alienated and had no idea why. This huge thing I still cannot explain shows me much. I have now learned to welcome it and to walk beside it, even if it really hurts. I used to hang it on pegs. Must be this thing, this person, this event, this fear. Not now. As I grow a stronger connection to nature and to the wildness around me, I accept the Great Sadness as an integral part of the whole point of things, of life and not just this one but the millions of lives already lived to the end. I consider myself privileged to have been visited by it from childhood, even if it did cause a tapselteerie; even if it did label me a weirdo; even if my friends’ mothers shook their heads and scuttled their daughters away; even if my own mum looked at me as she might look at ET.

There are times when I cannot lift my mental boots out of the mud. It is not that I am depressed. There are days when I imagine flying off a cliff. I do not plan to. I am just the honoured host for the Great Sadness, one that shows me all the pain in the world. I hear the cries, feel, intensely, the agony of struggle and cruelty, feel the joy and the happiness too. It’s like being in balance. I can hold the pain and the joy inside me at the same time without having to explain or justify a thing. Nor does it fear me. It gives me a real good look into the truth. And that is something most of us avoid. We would rather push it away when it hurts, buy something, plan a holiday, phone a friend, turn on the TV. But to sit with it when it comes in is not for the faint hearted. It is uncomfortable at best, and this visitor stays just as long as they like.

I am still a student. for over 60 years I have run from the Great Sadness, but it won’t go away, no matter what I do. I think when a person is very creative, the Great Sadness comes too. I see it in art and writing and music that gasps me. Oh, I think, there it is. It won’t be explained, nor justified, nor hung on a peg. It makes its choice. The key is to let it in, like a visitor you don’t much want, who has arrived at the most inconvenient time, and who has no plans to leave for a while. It will not be rebuked, nor thrown out. I am only sad I didn’t read the Great Sadness manual aged six.

Might have been just a bit further on by now.

Island Blog 162 Blue Moon

Blue moon

‘A blue moon traditionally marks a time of change and possibility in the astrological world. The blue moon is the first since August 31, 2012, and won’t be seen again until January 31, 2018.’

It won’t be blue, however. The Blue bit refers to the fact that there will be two full moons this month, this lunar month; a phenomenon, and we like those.  For the star-friendly among us, it denotes a time of change, of possibility.  We say that something happens ‘once, in a blue moon,’ as we refer to the rarity of an event.  We, on the island, might struggle to see any moon at all through a closed and soggy sky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going on beyond our vision.

Although I usually avoid anything political or strug-mental (my word) inside my blogs, there is a time for every season, one of which is to be counted, to stand tall for something I believe in.  Okay, I’m not so tall, not so important that my little stand can change circumstances, but perhaps, by becoming one of a crowd of ‘standers’ I can make a difference.

On the island, no business, no charity can survive without extra oomph.  That old ferry boat divides us from access to all the instant supports you mainlanders take for granted.  Every one of us has to work that bit harder, that bit longer, our wits and ideas our lifelines.  Tourists come in the Summer months, in the main, although a friendly Autumn or Spring can bring stout-footed walkers and hikers, lycra-clad cyclists to pump their calves into balloons as they rise and descend our endless hills and valleys, eagle-nest watchers and so on.

So, the work we think about all winter long is distilled into a powerful action once the snowdrops begin to show and what should pass for Spring (but forgot this year) lifts the sun a centimetre or two higher in our skies, to illuminate the snow patches, many of which have only just thawed.

One of these worthy and high-profile attractions is our theatre and arts centre, Comar.  I remember, and many of you will too, watching excellent theatre in the barn in this village, where the idea was birthed and delivered to the world.  The Smallest Theatre In The World.  It attracted thousands of thespians and the excellence of this theatre spread far and wide.

Nowadays, it is bigger business, grown from that tiny seed and tended and loved and fed and watered by those whose passion for theatre, music, dance and art led them to invest themselves completely in its development.  Today, amongst its ranks, chaos reigns.  It seems that some now consider it not an island thing anymore and, in their eagerness to make money, have removed the control of it from the very hands, the talented and caring hands of two men whose life revolved around little else, such is their passion.  Being made redundant is not fun for anyone, but on an island it is tough indeed.  Jobs are few and there are many more months without visitors than with.

I am not able, nor willing to state accurate facts about this situation, but the press is doing a good job thus far.  You can read it for yourselves.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.heraldscotland.com%2Fnews%2F13521125.Equity_calls_for_board_of_Mull_arts_company_to_resign_en_masse%2F%3Fref%3Dtwtrec&h=DAQExViOo&s=1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33728339

What I can do is stand beside these island folk, and I am and I will.  Too often we overthink ourselves into stillness, watching precious moments pass us by because we feel the fear of challenging the bully and we logic ourselves back home where life is safe enough, where we can pretend everything is okay.

Theatre and art and music and dance are quite without logic, and all about emotion, about passion, about the red blood of who we are. The island is like no other place.

Once, in a Blue Moon, we must stand and be counted.

 

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 138 The X Factor

 

 

 

originalityTalking today with my whale-watching son, we discussed, as we cleared out his garage and carted dross to the local tip, music and originality.  He told me that there is nothing really original, as there is a finite number of notes on the keyboard and, therefore, a finite number of possible chords.  I felt my heart flutter at the very thought, me being a fully paid up member of the theory of Originality.  I say to him, if there really is no chance to be original, why do any of us get out of bed of a morning?

But that wasn’t quite what he meant.  He was talking complete sense and truth.  What happens beyond the understanding of that truth is a very different thing.  Park that for now.

Another subject we discussed over a delicious dinner at Cafe Fish (don’t ever miss out on that opportunity) was that of relationships, my very favourite subject.  I talk to myself about them all the time, but it is so uplifting to find a co-discusser who is also interested and who is also a man.  Might be a first!  He is 30 years younger than I but has an eye on this tricksy subject and a way of looking at it that I, sealed up in my own history and experience, might have missed.  We spoke of those that last and those that don’t and of why, although nobody outside of any relationship can ever, should ever, decide they know why or how one fails and another doesn’t.  It is pretty damn easy to play judge and, when we do, and we all do at some time, we might consider our own, and how clever we are at them.  Or not.

Now un-park that earlier thing.

What comes into play with a musician, a song-writer, a business owner, an artist, a wife, a husband, and I could go on forever with the list, is Originality.  The only thing we can ever bring to her table is our own originality, and, in doing so, we can change everything.  For example……..there is a clever, gifted, silversmith, young, newly graduated and about to hit the world.  No experience of anything to do with street wisdom beyond the decision not to go out alone at 4 am in a lycra bodysuit and 6 inch heels through a dodgy part of town. He, or she has this talent, this achievement, but has little or no idea how to walk it out in a way that will guarantee success and profit, long term.  It is all down to the self in this, the Originality and, most importantly, whether we honour that and use it, or not.  We all have it.  We don’t all use it.

Hmmmmmm.

If we listen only to the facts, that tell us there is a finite number of chords, of keys, of chord progressions, of dance moves, of colours mixed, of lives lived, then we might just keel over right now.  But we don’t do that.  We go on, believing, albeit very privately, that we just might have that something that changes everything.  But now we have another problem.  We watch television and movies and we set ourselves lower than we should as a result.  Every story is glamourised and idealised to the point of impossibleness.  How can we ever match up?  We don’t look like this star or that, with their perfect body parts, tans, choices, homes and luck.

To stick with something, in the inglorious (second meaning in the dictionnary) hours, when nobody is clapping or even watching, and to keep going…… now that is Originality. To work consistently, through the cold and the wet, to resist the naysayers who question our sanity and who come, like greeks bearing gifts, of trojan horses, of quick fixes, of a quicker route to the treasure chest, to make ourselves go on, following our own heart belief…..this is Originality.

To give up in the face of the inner voice that keeps asking……Who are you to think you can rise up to meet your dream? leads only one way.  Every single time.

Don’t listen, don’t watch, don’t falter.  Originality has chords and notes and moves and moments that build into something that, one day, people will revere.  Our job may be menial.  Our home may be simple.  Our life, ordinary.  But, wait a minute, this is all of us.  Those who appear to have it all are just like us.  We all have in our hands, whatever our situation, that chance to change everything. We just have to rack up and dust off and step up.We need to say Here I am, and not There I was.

Not one of us is perfectly formed, according to the world.

And yet, every one of us is exactly that.

Island Blog 126 Light in the Attic

2013-12-13 14.15.52

Our ‘attic’ or loft for the new generation of home-owners, is mostly dark.  There is one piddling light bulb just at the trap door and about a mile and a half of pitch darkness, densly strung with fat dirty cobwebs left by old spiders who thought flies might just fancy a blind spin among the boxes and crates of stuff nobody knows is there, nor cares.

We have employed a miner’s headlamp when required to ferret about for something we think might be there, something high on the critical list for Right Now.  Often, that initial enthusiasm is lost in the fight to avoid strangulation by Old Spider and the unlucky miner emerges furious and unrecognisable beneath Miss Haversham’s veil, coughing and spitting and in need of a number four cycle with maximum spin.  Old newspapers dissolve into powder at a single touch and underfoot lie fossils that foof into blue smoke after one bootly crunch. Then the fine dust of a rodent’s body rises into a gasping mouth to irritate the cilia into a frenzy, like a field of ripe corn in a hurricane.

Whatever it was that seemed so vital, has now lost all of its shine.  Getting out without breaking a bone is what rises to the top of the list.  The steps, just too low to reach the trap door, balance between two stairs in an alarming way, and the support group who said they would remain in position for just this moment, have popped down to put the kettle on.  Suddenly, all those old spiders, the clutch of their webbing, the dead mice and the darkness morph into a terrifying monster, one that is closing in.  All I need now is for the trap door to snap shut and I am doomed to become the next fossil waiting to puff out my own blue smoke in a hundred years time, beneath another booted foot.  My throat, or what is left of it, constricts, my heart begins a mad dash to nowhere and there is no way, without jumping, that I can re-connect with the wobbly steps.

That is the very LAST time I ever go up in that attic!  I cry, once I can speak again.  And, yet, there will be another time, because I am slim and agile and, as the space up there closes down over the years, the only one who will ever be able to get up there at all.

What I want to know, is why we put anything up there for in the first place?  The family silver, the pretty china, the old guitar, the boxes and boxes of books on Walks in the Gloucestershire Countryside, or old AA Roadmaps, or those hundreds of volumes of self-published novels by unknown writers, long dead and completely forgotten.  Their pages are brown and curling, their bound covers stained and damp.  And, yet, we keep on keeping them.  For what?  For whom?  Our children?  I very much doubt they would think beyond a bonfire.  Perhaps we are thinking that something magical might be lurking up there, something that would change all our fortunes, just by being brought into the light. Another never-ending story.

In order to see the light, we must have the darkness.  A darkness that envelops and holds secrets.  I can hear the mice up there some nights.  It sounds like quite a fun party at times and interrupts my sleep.  Tiny feet, many of them, skittering among family treasures, living out their lives in the darkness, along with the monstrous spiders and blind flies.  The mice make nests from old hardbacks, or plastic, or the gut from a guitar string.  Amazing what you can do with what is all around you.

When I am finally down on terra firma again, I look at the shaft of light on the landing floor, cast by the piddling light bulb and in a perfect, and very small, square shape, one I just wriggled through, twice.  I think about the darkness up there, and then of the darkness in my own attic, the attic of my head. Only I really know what’s up there, no matter how much telling I do.  There is always more. And it is not easy to squeeze through the trap door of my mind, nor it is it a pleasant experience.

Over here, are the regrets I admit to, and over there, the ones I don’t.  Further towards the water tank with it’s wonky lid, lie the memories of my children, what they said and did as little ones.  Down there where the webs are dense as a curtain, are the emotions and hurts I have learned to quiet.  Near them are stacked the doubts and the worries about which I can do nothing, and never could.  Closer to the piddling bulb are boxes of hopes.  I keep them near the light for easy access, although I have moved a few of them into a recess because they will never come about.  They are tidied away, but not quite bonfired, even though I really should clear that space.  The mice chew through old words and the strings that made my music, turning them into cosy nests for their young.  I don’t mind that.  It’s good to let go, to allow things to move on.  And, besides, I can make new words, new music.  But, first, I have to let go.

And letting go is the only way to live.  I will change the things I can, and let go of the things I cannot.  Knowing which is which might appear confusing, but, trust me, we always know the answer to that.

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.