Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

Island Blog 139 An Elegant Truth

 

 

One

139 is a Prime Number.

‘A prime number (or a prime) is a natural number, greater than 1, that has no positive divisors, other than 1 and itself.’

Now that is exciting!  The word ‘prime’ is enough to lift my shoulders and to fix my eyes on the horizon.  In fact I have decided that I, also, am a prime number,  with no positive divisors other than 1 (that’s still me) or itself (me again).  How can I lose with that positive thinking?

Although every moment of my life requires an involvement with A. N. Other, a relationship in other words, be it complex and thixotropic or easy and naturally flowing, I am still singular, just me, I, The Prime Number.  Of course, I can be far from such in another’s eyes.  I might, in fact, be entirely divisible by anyone who cares to divide me up, spinnable by anyone who fancies throwing me into one, but whatever Lady Life tosses my way, even she can never ever divide One into more than itself and, once I spot this dividing thing going on, I can stop it just like that.  If I have the power of one, then I have the power of one.

In my earthly woman life, I can spread myself too thin, stretching myself progressively flatter in an effort to play carpet for all those around me, regardless of any risks to my health, self-esteem or direction in life.  I can do all this thinking I am solving others’ problems, when what I am really doing is interfering.  Instead of me respecting A.N Other’s right to be a primary number, I am dividing him or her up, telling her what to do and how to do it because I would know, wouldn’t I!   I am saying she cannot do without my advice, when without my advice is precisely how she needs to be.

Is it a myth or were all us girls brought up to put ourselves last?  Outside the door is better, in sackcloth and ashes, with voice on ‘mute’ and all desires surgically removed, as a baby.  Well, maybe it is the truth, but why on earth do we perpetuate such nonsense?  There is a lot to be said for the new woman (many of them my own daughters-in-law) who refuses to wear a modesty vest and who bites off her mute button and spist into into the undergrowth, standing her ground like Boudicca.  But this situation still smacks of war to me, one the sackclothed little carpet-woman manages to avoid by obligingly upholding the pillars of household peace, like Samson in a frock.

There is a third way.  There has to be.

This leads me on to the next bit.

‘One, sometimes referred to as unity, is the integer before two and after zero‘.  Integer means either a ‘whole number’ or ‘a thing complete in itself.’  It comes from the latin verb ‘tangere’,  to touch, and from it we have the word integrity, which translates as ‘the state of being whole and undivided, or ‘having the quality of being honest and with strong moral principles.’

Zero is the first number, according to some but I am only giving zero a nod and a wink for now.  It’s the number 1 I am thinking about, because, although I am one of two or of many, from millions to a book club membership,  I will always be One, and within that understandng, acceptance and knowledge lie the seeds of a colourful unity.

Having strong moral principles is a wonderful thing, providing I don’t expect anyone else to have them.  If I do, and make such an expectation clear, I am laying down my baton of integrity to don the periwig of a judge. I have just made myself divisible and I deserve whatever comes my way.  I would be wiser to concern myself with my own dirty washing, of which I may have a considerable pile.  As I judge another, thus I show, loudly, that I am wondrous to behold in my perfection, and yet it is only wordish vanity somersaulting from my mouth.  When I turn to walk away I may feel smugly chuffed but I may as well have no back to my trousers for the fool I have just made of myself.

However, if I consider not others’ failings, but my own, and if I turn the beacon inwards to study each and every one of them, and begin to address them one by one by one, I am now a Prime Number.  I have just elevated myself through the dirty cobwebs of my secretest hiding place and I can see the sky.  I have nothing to lose from now on.

Well, that’s not true.

What I am about to find as I walk back into one or other of my relationships is that nobody likes change, unless they are the one doing the changing, in which instance, it’s fine and they can’t understand what the fuss is all about.  However, if change comes in the old garb, ie the old me who always used to join in the salacious gossip, or the deliberate rebuff of a ‘lesser mortal’, or if I ran about like a ferret after everyone else’s insecurities and am suddenly absent, or, worse, actually present but unmoving, then I am going to astonish and disappoint and what’s more, be told so.  If I decide I am going to walk the other way, against my own established direction,  I will undoubtedly find myself lonely, feeling foolish and wondering how big my bum really does look.  I might even feel a frisson of fear, because I have no map for this road, not yet. Someone is bound to mutter that I have been on the sauce, or maybe I’m going through a rebellious menopause thing, hmmmm?   But, if I keep doing this new thing by not doing the old thing, I will soon find a rhythm for my feet. As long as I simply concern myself with my own sense of integrity (the state of being whole and undivided) I may not save the world, but I am saving me from carpet heaven –  I, the Prime Number One, the only one for whom I am responsible.

When I am required to make a choice that involves another, I can still approach it with integrity.  After all,  I cannot concern myself only with what I want to do or achieve at any given moment, because I am part of two.  However I am still One within that couple.  I watch young folk pull and push for independence, negotiating deals for the smooth running of a shared life. Tried it myself now and again over the years, but I make a mistake here if I expect approval for wanting something the other person doesn’t want. So what can I do?  Do I just give in and lie down?  Or do I cut my losses, decide we are incompatible and head off to find someone else to be incompatible with?

Or………..maybe I might take a hold of myself, my integrity as a Prime Number, the Number One, divisible by nothing, and take a good long look into my own shadows, and then, with the intelligence of my own heart, quietly and lovingly begin to walk my own path, the one that runs beside yours at times, and not at others, thus embodying both unity and singularity at once, without any divisor.

Such an elegant truth.

 

Island Blog 22 – Colour me Purple

A young friend, half my age and still scampering through her life, arrived the other day with perfectly painted toenails, a crisp bright red and not a single mistake.  I had to put my specs on to be sure.  Not only was the polish perfect (she had painted them herself, whilst her children ate their coco-pops), but so were her toes.  I looked down at my own unpainted, bent battered toes and had a little sigh to myself, but only a little one.  I remembered carrying all those babies, those half hundredweight sacks of potatoes, and all that marching up and down the hill, all that stomping around in various stages of outraged indignation and I thanked my bent battered toes for their unquestioning loyalty to the rest of me.  She, of the perfect toes, is careless with her youthful vitality, just as I was.  I never thought, for one minute, I would cascade into a heap of wrinkles, because it just seemed impossible. It seemed so unlike me.

Well here I am, and it’s hilarious most of the time.  What I have found, in these purple years, is the wonderful humour of women. More precious than any jewels, we are born with it and we can always access it when faced with challenges.  We can rise, as we always have, to the occasion, joshing with each other, encouraging and teasing, propping each other up, accentuating the positive.  Even when this ageing process brings us up short and sharp and sore, there is a woman near to hand to help us laugh at ourselves, in a gentle and sensitive way, because she knows exactly how we feel about our five stomachs and the cold in our bones, and our rheumatic fingers that used to play Rachmaninov and now have trouble peeling an orange.

Well I say this to all of you fabulous women.

Firstly, you really are fabulous, every single one of you, and younger women need to see us plucky old girls with a smile on our faces.  It takes longer, I agree, to elevate the wrinkles, but it’s still possible, and, besides, we can smile with our eyes, our humour, our experience of life.   Getting older is getting better, if we decide it is so, and what about this childlike sense of devil-may-care?  That desire to jump on sandcastles and run a stick along someone’s railings, or pinch an apple from their tree.  Where did that come from?  I think it arrived when I turned 50 and I believe it to be the Great Consolation.

So, I’m going to make the very most of this delicious ageing process, and, when I am really old, which is a very long way off, I don’t want to be a sweet old lady.  I want everyone to be saying……….oh glory, what IS she up to now?

Dance as though no-one is watching....

Dance as though no-one is watching….