Island Blog – Waving

It laughs me, this does. Here I am with a pulled muscle in my back for no good reason at all. I was not grabbing a ewe, or is it ‘an’ ewe, who planned to hurtle away from me with half her yet unborn lamb swinging like a water bomb from beneath her tail; I was not hefting half a tree from A to B; I was not saving someone from drowning. No. I just rose gently from the outside bench to move elsewhere. Elsewhere has a lot to answer for, let me tell you. That was five days back and still the muscle is playing games with my walking, my sleep and my patience. I mentioned it to someone. Twice. Two different Someones. I said, I tweaked a muscle in my back the other day. The other day being anywhere from two days ago to last month. Neither person asked me how. Instead they both, in their different ways, told me of their mishaps with muscles. I hurt my back too, said one, again, and smiled such a lovely smile I could almost see myself leading him centre stage. Oh? I said. and the polite woman in me invited more. He gave it, blow by blow and then he left. I stood, gobsmacked for as long as it took for the next frickin hail storm to hit, and then returned into my home with the full description of how I tweaked my own back still held behind my teeth. The second scenario went much the same. I got full description of how her particular muscle had let her down and how she couldn’t sleep and how painful it was and so on and on and on. Gobsmacked was I, once again. Neither of them have a scooby about which muscle is hurting me, nor of my sleeplessness, nor of my pain. This is what laughs me.

As I reflect on these encounters, I swing from fury to empathy, to understanding, to compassion. Perhaps a therapist might tell me this is the wrong order but they might just get a punch for saying so. When a person tells you, or me, of their pain, whether it be emotional, historical or muscular, there is, and I admit it, a desire to counter their story with a better one. Oh, let me tell you…..I know how your feel (no you don’t), because my mother’s late sister’s aunt had the same thing. What… 1948? Seriously? But, the polite woman in me will stand there, inviting more, feeling-compassion-fury and kindness. I won’t hold up my hand and confront. I am just not that person, even if I wish I sometimes was. And, let’s be honest, I have done this myself, this “I have a better story” thing. Where I wanted someone just to listen to my whole story, they could not and who could blame them because it would probably have gone like this:-

Well, so (two utterly unnecessary pre-responsive words) I was sitting on the outside bench (as if I had an inside one) drinking tea with my friend Sarah, no, not Sarah, it was Helen, yes Helen (who is Sarah?) and she had just brought me my birthday present of – oh such a lovely bag of gifts and so thoughtful. Well (unnecessary) there was herbal tea bags, dips, crackers, chocolate and flowers! No, wait, were there flowers…..? Oh I can’t remember. Anyway (unnecessary) where was I? Oh, yes, the bench and Helen. Well (!) we were sitting in the sunshine and it was warm (is sunshine ever cold?) and we were chatting about this and that and I just got up to go elsewhere for some reason I twisted at the same time and ping! that was it. The pain began and it hasn’t stopped no matter how much I tell it it is not helpful to me right now.

But nobody ever heard that. We just don’t listen. But I get it, I have done this myself. The impulse to counter and to win over another’s story is within us all. My pain is bigger than your pain. My dad is bigger than your dad. My life is tougher than yours is. It seems to be natural within us. How to change that is what I am loving learning. Noticing how my instant and thoughtless responses rise in me with such power as if they just know they are right, is intriguing. Makes me curious. These responses are from my brain and my brain is a computer and I am the pilot. I am in control. Easy as it may be to believe that what my brain tells me is the truth, I would be a fool to attend that class. No. I am one of those, expelled from school, expelled from college, sacked from my first job. I am a corridor walker. I move in between and initially it was not a conscious decision. I just knew I was not one of the mob, the shoal, the pack. It was, I admit, a very lonely place but with age and experiential learning I have come to celebrate the ones I meet in corridors. They look like lurkers to the pack, but not to me. Once I realised I needed guides to show me who I really am at my core, I found them. In books, mostly and I was hungry for them. They showed me how to notice, how to step back, how to allow, to stay quiet, to understand the human need for recognition and love. I won’t say it was a doddle because I fight it still, but it makes such sense to me that I cannot give up this path.

There are many broken people out there, me included, but I have learned to celebrate my brokenness and to turn it into flight and sight and light. To all of you who know what I am talking about……I’m waving.

Island Blog – Mythbusters

First I listened to Brene Brown on Vulnerability and Shame on audio whilst I sewed a baby play mat in colours of unicorn, fairies, stars and, bizarrely, dinosaurs in peplum frocks. Next, a recommendation from my little sister, It’s Ok that You’re not Ok by Megan Devine. Another mythbuster, refreshing, raw, a real approach to grief and loss. They both speak my truth, one I can now know for myself instead of all the other ‘truths’ that have no idea. Actually, it isn’t that they have no idea. Not that. It is more that they had no way of connecting with anyone who spoke out their shame, their vulnerability, their grief or loss. Some truth talker throwing their pain into the air confounded me and I did what most of us do. I searched my brain for fixatives. Time will tell. Things will get better. He/she is safe now, home with God, in the Elysium fields. Or, No! you are not weak, not guilty, have no need for shame, self blame, fear. Now, all I feel in the blast of these good intentions, is irritation, anger even. I want to run, to yell at them but I don’t and I won’t because now I get it. Our culture has no coping mechanisms for such a meet. We don’t want it. We hate it. We wish we had never met this messy person and we long to make it better. So, wait, what can I say? I know……Time will heal, things will get better, are you busy, are you eating, sleeping, exercising, enjoying nature? Maybe you should look for another man, way of living, place to live, job, passion? All upturned as querulous questions and there’s me behind them hoping I just said the perfect thing.

I find my home through the myth busters. Politely I always did in song lyrics (acceptable) or books parked in genres, equally politely, in book stores. You don’t have to go that way if it isn’t your thing after all. I always did. The ridiculously trapped genre of Self Help covers a million issues and is the most shelf dusty. I noticed that. Fiction, that’s what we want, diversion, distraction, and for the kids, we want pretty pink unicorns, tutu-ed fairies, equally pinked up, and stars, oh stars, all bright and not dying, no way, and then those dinosaurs in peplum. Happiness. Don’t knock it. It is what we are all seeking, after all and yet who has really found it in its entirety? Nobody, that’s who. Those childhood hopes must be dashed, eventually and yet I can see how it would never work to teach them Grimm, as I was taught. Fairy tales in my day were dark but when I read those tales again I just know I would never put a little hopeful face before those words. But what happens when we hit the adult world of super tough? We are not prepared and maybe that is how life works. Our culture is all about fixing. I feel low Doctor. Here are some pills that will help, just for a little while, until you get back on your feet. And, they do, but the core changeth not, the core that is my pain. The caring professions seek to wrench us from our self-destruct and to point us to our own star. Of course they do. Who wants yet another collapso?

And it doesn’t have to be bereavement, this awkward and uncomfortable truth that walks around with a person. It can be any pain at all. There is no competition. Every one of us who knows how it feels to be abandoned, lost, angry, vulnerable, knows this awkward and uncomfortable truth. It is our truth and not something to be flapped away or fixed. We are not fixable. We are in this for as long as it takes and that is that. However, we will put on a good face for that is what we are taught. Responding to someone who benignly and lovingly asks, How Are You with an honest response is not allowed. We just won’t answer honestly because why? Because we are taught to think of others and this Other who stands before might well fall like a tree if I told her my truth. Awful. Can’t sleep. Am never hungry. Don’t care if I don’t wake up. Feel like a yoyo. Anxious, fearful, afraid, lost, crazy at times. I won’t say any of that. I. Am. Fine. That’s what I will say and always say no matter how much that someone asks. And, the truth of it is this. I am. Fine. Because what I want, what someone navigating the void of pain wants is time and space to get on with this. I won’t even say ‘through this’ because I have no idea there is a ‘through’ at all. ‘Through’ suggests an end result.

Today the ice is wild and spectacular. The sea-loch shoreline is capped with rainbows. No unicorns. As the sun hits the smokey ice cover, it flashes back at me, colour shift and then flat grey again, in a nanosecond. I live in those nanoseconds so I get to see. Other walkers might miss it but not me for I am greedy for it all and I am always watching change. A lone woodcock lifts from the bracken and flies right over my head, her wings speckled, spectacular, her flight unmistakeable, her aloneness palpable. Did you see her? I ask two walkers deep in conversation. See what? they smiled. I just smile back. This is my life and yours looks like this. Cosy, designing supper for two, a warm fire, sharing, plans for tomorrow, next week, next birthday. On the track I see dichotomy. On the north side the granite is cold and dark, ice-sheered, silent. On the other side, snowdrops respond to the sun warmth and open like hope. Icicles as long as a spear head and too fat for my fingers to encircle hang northly. Across the track, sun dapples the plane tree bark, warms the new buds, smiles me. I feel at home as I always do when I am alone. One side of me is frozen. One sun warmed and beginning new life.

I am fine. I want solitary. I have no idea half the time how to get through a minute, an hour, a night, a day, but I will not tell you that because you, as I once had, have no idea what to do with such a raw and bloody truth. However, with these brilliant myth busting women and their courage to speak out, I finally, finally, find a path I can walk that is ok with me.

Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

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 – Self Seeding

When I awaken at silly o’clock, my mind is full of thoughts. In no particular order, they step up to the microphone to tell me things and the critical thoughts are the pushiest. They invite me to revisit my choices and actions from the previous day/week/month/decade, taking care to highlight any such choices and actions that might have been done ‘better.’ I tell them they’re fools if they think (even with my magical powers) that I can turn back time. Other thoughts scatter, flitter, dip and dive about, thoughts on tonight’s meal for himself, whether I need more bird food, who’s trending on twitter, what Boris might say today. They’re like butterflies, these thoughts and pose me no threat. They simply require action.

However, I am disappointed to realise that after all these centuries of life on earth, most of us, if we’re honest, let the ‘could do better’ or, worse, ‘could have done it better’ thoughts take the stage. We actually listen, pay attention, greedy, it seems, to sink ourselves into a bog from which it is surprisingly hard to self-extricate. We don’t talk about these thoughts, not out loud, anyway, and certainly not to A N Other. It would be a confirmation of truth, would make the judgements real and we would run the risk of outside confirmation. So we do everything we can to shut them up, take them out, bury them. Ah…..bury them……well, that’s a mistake, I have discovered because, like seeds in the ground, they can rise into bloom after decades of darkness, alive and spreading. So how do we get rid of this propensity for self-judgement?

There are many ways to do this, and one of them is to let those critics speak out. I sit with mine, once I realise they won’t go away of their own volition. They are ancient voices, after all, rising from childhood, school, marriage, friendships, and they show the other side of my coin, the one that doesn’t really want to be seen. They can tell me I’m all kinds of horrible. I know the guidance that teaches me to feed the white dog, not the black one, to water the seeds of self-love, not those of anxiety, doubt, fear or judgement, but the actuality of each awakening, each morning, can confound me in a nanosecond if I have not watered the right seeds. It is a daily practice and not just for me. Understanding that, even with my magical powers, I cannot turn back time is understood at a logical level, not an emotional one. I know it is a true fact. Nobody can turn back time. Good, that’s that sorted! No it isn’t, because those critics from my long ago past made a scratch on my heart and that scratch is still there. I have to learn a way to accept those scratches, to remember that pain and to then allow them to heal rather than picking away at the scabs. I do this by recognising they are there; that they do not influence who I am now, beyond a whisper memory. I see you, I hear you, I tell them, but I no longer need you in my life. Thank you for reminding me that life was tough (as it is for everyone growing up) and I survived; more, I blossomed, rose like a spitfire into the sky, nurtured my family, loved with all of my scarred and battered heart and although I am nowhere near smug about who I have become, I can see she is rather wonderful and thoroughly deserving of all things good.

There will be someone reading this who knows exactly what I’m saying. We are all unique, spectacular beings doing our very best to live a good long life. We might remind ourselves of that and go water the seeds of self love.

Island Blog 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes



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

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

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

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

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