Island Blog – Noticing Thoughts, Starlings and the Wonderful

This time of isolation, for us since March 16th, has given me the chance to really think things through. I decide, for example, thanks to the nudges from my body, the universe and my long bedroom mirror, to change a daily habit in order to discover something wonderful. Although the process of re-jigging and then maintaining daily a new way of doing old things can be a pain in the aspidistra, the ‘wonderful’ is going to be so worth the effort. Writing down a new plan is key; bullet points numbered, and with space at the end for an achievement tick. After a week, I want a gold star, so that means I must write down the date of first commitment, to keep track of my progress. July 1st sounds like a good date upon which to set this ship a-sail.

Perhaps I want to finally lose this jelly belly, the one that flops over my underpinnings. Perhaps I drink too many glasses of coke, or sherry, or coffee. Perhaps I turn away from a walk if its raining. There’s that kitchen cupboard asking to be scrubbed clean all the way to the back this time and not just wiped at the front in a kidding sort of way. Whatever it is I want to change, for no reason outside of myself, I must begin by noticing the triggers that keep me lazy about taking action. I write them down. They look ghastly, sloppy, unthinking. Luckily nobody but me is going to see them as they stare back up at me from my A4 notepad. I had thought I was in charge of me. Obviously I was wrong.

What will the ‘wonderful’ be? Well, I don’t know, but at a guess, the jelly belly will retreat somewhat, if not completely. Who will notice or care? Well, nobody but me. Is that inspiring enough? Yes it is, I tell myself, noticing that trip up thought. Although it might be true that I expect the first day to have me all sorted, I can very easily fall back on what has become my norm, the one that doesn’t require me to think much at all. Day two might feel like trudgemonkey. This is when I must refer back to my plan with bullet points of action and room for an achievement tick. Oh…..must I? Seriously? Yes I must, because the ‘wonderful’ is not an instant thing but a distant one, and I will never know how distant unless I remain steadfast in pursuit of my goal. It is innately human to believe that results should be served up the minute a decision implants itself in a brain. This is a lie, a big fat lie. Nobody ever got nowhere without consistent dedication to their goal.

I find it helpful to jot down my thoughts. Not all of them or I would never get anything else done, but the ones that catch my attention, telling me I am in need of a snack, a sweet one, and right now. Hang on a minute, I say, putting up my hand. You aren’t hungry for a sweet snack at all. You are just a bit bored or lost or feeling uncomfortable. That’s when I step back, look at this hungry little whiner and tell it straight. You are not useful to me at this time. You had breakfast 30 minutes ago, and even if you think you really are in need of a snack, it won’t be sweet, trust me on that. It will be a shaved carrot. So there.

Same goes for the sherry call. Perhaps a thought tells me I am not coping with this, or that and that I need a shot of something to take the edge off. The edge off what, precisely? This situation within which I live and move and have my being, that’s what. And how will numbing your brain help change said situation? It won’t, not long term. So, you are not useful to me right now whereas a cup of tea most certainly will be. Please leave.

It’s amazing how obedient my thoughts are. Quite surprising in fact. I think they are astonished at my questioning them. After all, they have ruled my roost for decades, confident in their control over me. In my facing them down as the questioner, they are lost for words. It’s rather exciting and one of the early glimpses I get of my ‘wonderful’. So this is how it works! If I commit to change, notice my thoughts and challenge the ones that want to keep me living like a robot, the serendipities begin to rise. I actually feel good about myself, more powerful, more excited about what happens next. My jelly belly may still flop over my underpinnings, my nightly sherry may still beckon from the wings, and the rain may still put me off walking, but I have moved forward and it feels, well, wonderful.

This morning I sat with coffee and watched the birds around the feeders. Siskin, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, collared dove, robin, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, blackbird. Suddenly the sky darkened and in flew about 50 starlings. They covered the feeders, lined the fences, perched on the shrubs, all the while twittering in fluent starling. My heart lifted, as did I to get my camera. By the time I got back, they had gone. But I had seen the wonderful, noticed it, logged it in my mind. Next time I will remind myself just to sit and to notice. The way the sun turns their feathers blue, their darting flight, the way they stay together, fly together; the sound of their voices, the quick turns of their shiny heads.

Noticing the outside is very important and we have the time now to do just that, but noticing our internal world is even more important. We are not robots, we are wonderfully intelligent agents of change, and when we stop to think, to notice our thinks, we become more powerful than we could ever have imagined. It all starts with a decision to take back control.

And, as we do, the ‘Wonderful’ awakens.

Island Blog – A Mouse, A Monday and a Child

It’s Monday, but it could be Sunday for all the quiet out there. On the island we are taking this Covid 19 virus very seriously indeed, unlike other places, or so I am told. We plan to survive this siege and although our drawbridge is now firmly up, we have found a way to keep in touch. I get funny videos and cheery texts and FaceTime calls often and I am very grateful for them. Being a natural hugger I now have to stand far away from anyone I meet, washing my hands before touching anything they have touched, and it feels deeply weird. We are looking in now, finding things for entertainment, edutainment and upliftment. All those ‘ments’ are forcing us to use our big brains, and inventiveness is the key.

So, this morning, I decide to print out photos of my hundreds of grandchildren and their parents, captured moments of fun, in wild places, doing crazy things. I know where my Picturemate printer is. It’s on a shelf in the Land of Mouse, a dark cupboard underneath the stairs. The space is like a mini fairyland, draped exquisitely with cobwebs, the many shelves holding ancient nonsense. There are photo albums that date back to slavery, old recording equipment, wires for nothing we still employ and, in the nighttime bit, the big fat darkness, lie the Christmas decorations, silenced for another year in the belly of an old school trunk circa 1820. I can see where the mouse has made a nest or two, chewed through some obsolete wires, nibbled at the edges of this album or that cardboard box, and I whisper Good Luck Mate. I don’t mind living with you as long as you respect my Importants. Eventually, I find the printer and haul it out through the cobwebs. Now to affix it to my laptop with the right plug. So far so good. I find the downloaded photos and begin.

And that is where I stop. All I manage to achieve, in spite of double and triple checking the settings is one leg of one child on one spit of paper and the other leg on the next. At this rate I will have to assemble 12 photo sized cards in order to make one whole child. And there are 3 of them in this picture. It makes no sense to me, but even though I apply my finest and calmest logic to the matter, I make no headway, much like in the printing process, for the head of child number one never printed at all. I unplug the printer, save the photos in my gallery (I think) and return the box to fairyland. I think the mouse has jinxed it.

In the bigger picture, this little pictorial upset is nothing. But, we must be careful not to let such small things grow. And we must help each other to do the same, to see wide and free and the drawbridge down once more. It will come. And this time will have thinked us all. We will have found strengths we never knew we had, friends we never thought cared that much, ideas that come, that only ever come in times of extreme fear and deprivation. The human spirit marvels me.

I just wish mine could work out how to print a whole child.

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.