Island Blog – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

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 – Connectivity

As my departure day moves inexorably closer, I think on the ties that bind. Some I can see, like a rope fence or the woollen threads in my jumper, but many I can not. The familial ties of parent and child, husband and wife, friend connecting friend, distance between places, people and things, all quite invisible, but strongly there, nonetheless. Both ties need careful and attentive attention, all ties do. There are threads connecting us to our past, some of which need the snip, some need untangling from the falsitude of memory and some just need untangling for a more intelligently wholesome second look.

On the ground I have complete control over my ties that bind. I can choose the flavour of my message, text, tweet or letter as I can choose my response to those sent to me. There is an awesome and awful power right there in my hands. I can create and I can destroy just by letting my fingertips dance. They say the tongue is the most dangerous part of a human body. What you say can kill or it can cure. But it isn’t just the tongue. The way I think is the true beginning of everything, for if I think all people are intrinsically good, then this thought automatically controls my tongue. It also opens my heart to acceptance, compassion and humility so that my tongue has no desire, nor motivation, to wag unless, that is, it wants to support another’s dignity, in which case, wag on tongue, wag on.

Connectivity requires intelligent attention in all things, from rope fences to woollen jumpers, from familial ties to a worldwide spread of proffered threads. I have often been astonished, when someone I barely know wanders into my head and then astonished again a short while later to receive a message from them or a phone call. At times when I have met a friend or child or family member in my mind, I discover that on the very day I thought of them, they were going through something tough. However, I don’t believe I ‘thought’ of them through my own undeniable genius as a medium. I don’t believe I thought of them at all. In fact I know, without doubt, that it was absolutely nothing to do with me. Some higher source connected us because that is what higher sources do – they see the whole, the eagle eye view, only they fly even higher and can see a whole lot more. This connection opportunity is just that, and it has a name. Love. My task, down here on the ground is simply to let go of my need to control and to open my mind and my heart.

Doing this brings rewards. Not things, not status, not an ego polish but instead that elevating sense of being connected to everyone else. Deep inside we are all damaged to varying degrees and we all need each other to heal. Think of that smile that some stranger sent your way the day you were late and flustered and cut them off at the roundabout. They could have sworn but they didn’t, they smiled and in that short moment everything changed inside. Think of that WhatsApp message that came through on a rainy morning as you battled with your year end accounts, saying “just thinking of you my old friend” and adding a heart. If we pay attention to these times, we open our hearts and minds for more. We are also inspired to give back in the same way. But paying attention is a decision. it doesn’t just ‘come’. We must invite it in and walk with it wherever it may lead. We don’t need to study. We just need to take the time to notice everyone. There is no feasible excuse for not paying attention. ‘I’m too busy’ doesn’t cut it because we are all too busy if we decide to be. Busy is not productive. Productive is productive and Busy is just making noise and loneliness. Busy cuts us off from others and it is Others we need, not Busy. When people ask me if I am busy I say an emphatic NO, because that screen between me and everyone else has done me no service at all in my life beyond cutting me off from my healing source of light.

Keeping connected to family and friends is comparatively easy, although even then we can erect that Busy screen. But the real and proven way we can heal ourselves and the sadness, loneliness and war right across our beautiful world is to pay attention to connectivity; to let those threads flow out from us.

Every moment, busy or not.

Island Blog 118 Children I have loved

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Now that Christmas is back there somewhere, and the hoover is choked with small and completely useless cracker gifts, bits of tinsel, fallen food morsels (where ARE you Sula??) and trinkets various, there is about five minutes of coffee and calm before it all begins again on Hogmanay and a New Year.

When we first moved to the island, I thought Christmas was IT, meaning, that, once the fairyland of it was done, we might just bask in its echoing warmth for a while, watch the twinkly winkly lights for a few more days and justify a wee whisky mac after a chilly walk along the 6 miles of Atlantic coastline, even if it was nowhere near 6pm.  I always reckoned time was an illusion, and used to say so, on more than one occasion, sometimes missing the start of the school term altogether.  But, once the tree was down, the lights and dingle dangles boxed and returned to the silent dark of the cupboard under the stairs, ready for the mice to re-format into comfy, albeit prickly, bedding for their Spring hatch, even I heard my voice sounding slightly desperate as I suggested a warming nip in the middle of an ordinary day.  Because days do that.  Become ordinary and far too quickly for my liking, perhaps for everyone’s liking.  So how do I keep the magic going?  Not with a ‘wee half’ at midday that’s for certain.  Heading into work at the local school as a stand-in (not clown, but classroom assistant……ok, same thing….)and smelling of whisky, even if it is the liquor of the gods, would lose me street cred in a nanosecond.

When the children were little, which, for us meant about 25 years, I worked out a way of keeping magic.  The secret lay in beginning again, but not with a big list of impossible resolutions, none of which ever made it into February.  It was simply a daily decision to be a big kid, to look out at the world through the eyes of a child, and this resolution is sustainable, or it is at least for me and the island husband.  It is absolutely nothing to do with cash in the bank, or a new sofa.  It has nothing to do with dinners out and fancy wines or two holidays abroad every year.  I can have not one of these ‘things’ around me, or even in far sight, because it has little to do with ‘things’.  Oh, I’m not saying things aren’t fun or even necessary as basics, but we tend to look for the right things in the wrong places.  We give our ‘love’ to the wrong things and it isn’t the fault of the tv adverts, or technology.  The fault lies deep inside each one of us and the good news is, so does the solution.

If, on waking, on that pi**y day when I have to find my car keys, or bus money, in the dark, grab my pack lunch and take my place on the tube, in the car, on the bus, to re-enter those office doors and re-locate my desk in stiff backed shoes that pinch, and a skirt that sparks everytime I move (ah, that’s why it was so cheap), I say to myself….’I shall look at all of this, as a child would,’ then I have begun to change.  Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.  A child doesn’t fret about what lies ahead, unless we show him how to, by fretting ourselves.  A child, my children, bounced into days like monkeys or terrorists or pirates, or clowns, and the only thing that fussed them into a right panic, was probably me.  Me and that old illusionist, Time. The only person who got cross with potholes was me.  Everyone else imagined a trip over the rockies with Jeremy Clarkson at the wheel.  The only person who imagined that if this child didn’t eat SOMETHING today, they were going to get rickets or anorexia, was me. The only one who couldn’t laugh as one child inflated a rubber glove into a a huge balloon and then pulled it over his head, was me, because I was too serious about what could have been fun, what was fun, through a child’s eyes.  Running into a snowy afternoon without a well-zipped-up polar jacket was a given, and yet I would scream and fret about what………hypothermia?  Jings woman, it’s just an afternoon!!!!!

Worry is the killer and another is fear and yet another, the almostworstone, is ‘what will others think of me?’

Let’s say that you go into work with a smile and a chuckle at the ready.  Worst thing that can happen is that someone suggests you don’t take things seriously enough.  Well, good for you, say I.  The only things we need to take seriously are the serious things and, trust me, you will know your own list well enough.  Then, another someone might suggest you have an easy life.  And so you might, but then again, you might not, but whose business is that might I ask and what does it have to do with anything?

Some of the most cheerful adults I have ever met have the biggest pills to swallow.  They wear a smile, and more than that, they look for the fun in everything.  They are interested in you, in life, in the magic of what might happen next, for, although you and I may have a routine, a dull daily routine, there are opportunities in every minute, just waiting to be bounced like balls, or thrown like frisbees across a room.  What we allow, and this is an individual choice, is for someone gloomy to bring us down, to feed our guilt.  This is not their fault, but our own, and, as I said before, the solution lies within.

I remember such encounters with les miserables in my long life, and what I found, after some reflection, was that they were really reaching out for friendship and not a caustic comment.  If I asked them about their life, their likes, their Christmas, I could always find their smile.  Now, it wasn’t up to me to keep it on that gloomy face, but I could show them something that touched their heart and that was friendship.  When my kids found themselves stuck with such a person, in school, in college, or in the workplace, I always suggested that they try swimming upstream, towards the crowd and not with it: to see another as a whole human being, not a miserable old g*t.  Each one of them has been glad of that advice and have their own stories to tell after they extended the hand of friendship and found the smile within.  They met extreme lonliness, social ineptitude, fears and self-doubts.  They met inadequacy and rejection, and in that darkness, they met their own.

Children grow and are children no more, so they tell me, although we must be well behind the times, the island husband and I, because we can still have a pillow fight, make fun out of all the leaks in our home, the smoking chimney in a big wind, and it has absolutely nothing to do with life being easy. Life isn’t easy, but living it to the full, is simple indeed, as a child will tell you.

If you ask.