Island Blog – I hold the balance

I watch the rain. A constant, a steadying. I am not overly fond of endless rain but there is little I can do about that. There is also little I can do about long evening darkness, one that holds on like a black fist for way too long, well into what laughingly is called My Morning. Sleep is a friend, yes, but fickle. She soothes me for a few short hours but she allows in dreams, nightmares, startlements that shock me into waking and leave me still shocked even as the dream evaporates. I am not good at ‘still shocked’, won’t stand for it, get up, go downstairs to watch the darkness, try to love it at 4 am. I remember trying to love something when it defies the rules and it was never easy, my skin prickling, my mouth empty of words, my body longing to run, but if I could do it once, I can do it again. Let it be.

But. When someone who has no idea about widowness, my widowness, says something that doesn’t even come close to the depth of my feelings, I snort. I hear all the advice, the platitudinal fiction that spills from lips and eyes and I want to roar like Aslan. I don’t, naturally, but that roar held in my small body is wild and dangerous. I smile and thank them, the grief counsellors, the Facebook lovers, the ‘friends’ who write another supportive line pinched from a book they’ve read, but the within of me belies the without. Thank God for skin and good manners! Deep down I am grateful for kindness, nonetheless and all those words of uplift and encouragement come from good warm hearts. I know this and it thinks me into a questioning.

What is it that bothers me when I hear or read words that are just birds around my head? I consider the question and it comes to me as a flash of light. It is my inner speke that needs my attention, not the words I hear, the intention behind them. Oh dear, that can feel so impossible at times when I am busy doubting and fearing and self punishing, even as I know the truth of mind control. I decide to step into my own head and there they are, standing like sentry guards at the door. We can’t let any positive stuff in, they tell me as I confront them, not when you are busy nourishing us in our negative space. I sit down to consider the situation. Ah, so it is up to me to select my thinks? They nod. Are you telling me, I continue, that I am not at the mercy of negativity, regardless of my loneliness, my fears around Covid, my lack of confidence without my husband around to confidence me up? Again they nod. So, I fake it, pretend, kid myself on? Yes, they say. You keep feeding the uplifting words, the light bright beautiful birds. You receive all of them both from outside and those of your own making and you catch every one, lifting them gently into your mind and your heart. They are all light and flight. They lift your spirits into a positive orbit. They are all true and they are so much stronger than the loneliness, the fears and the self doubt. They are your true power, and we are tired of sentry duty. It’s time to change the guard.

I begin with ‘I am strong, happy, powerful and all light.’ I hold back the guffaw and the candle burns bright. The sentries fall, one by one and the door opens wide. Welcome holds out her hands, pulling me into a warm, light room, one I recognise. What on earth made me walk away from this! Well, says Welcome, life is not a straight path. The path winds every which way and everyone can get lost from time to time. I make a list so that every time the negative looms, I can hold it back with my own light. I might feel I am at the mercy of negative thoughts but it takes just one candle to illuminate a darkened room. Just one. It doesn’t matter that the doubts are there, the fears and the regrets. They are there to guide me, I know that.

But it is I who hold the balance.

Island Blog – Not like a suitcase or a door

Today I wake in the lime green light of absolutely not dawn. It thinks me that the Morning is pregnant, nauseous and letting me know. I groan. I want the buttery light that tells me is it at least 4.45am. Then I can close my eyes quick quick like a camera shutter and count the minutes all the way up to 5 which is the time chickens, babies, outside four-leggers and garden birds leap into life. Then I will perform what laughingly passes as my own leap, although I need to be cautious and one can hardly leap cautiously. T’is an oxymoron. But this lime-green morning light groans me. I had awoken oft in the dark because that flipping Barn Owl was having a party all alone on the telegraph pole, screeching insults or whatevers mere feet from my open window. I got up and gave it my best glare but all it did was that 360 thing with its head whilst its feet remained affixed to the pole. I won’t yell, I whispered, nor throw my Ponds cold cream jar at you but only because of your astonishing beauty and this irritating sense of privilege I am feeling that you chose my pole on which to screech like an old fishwife.

So passed the night and now I am flagging. Actually, if I’m honest, I flagged all day so that at this hour of the very long assemblance of hours I consider myself a high achiever in the world of flagging. I didn’t do nothing, though. Not at all. Doing nothing is so not my thing. In fact, I sometimes wonder if my not doing nothing makes me too busy to allow internal troubles to make some sense. It’s like I am ‘busy’ shutting out anything painful when I know only too well that ‘we’ must allow the pain a voice in order to heal. I tell myself that and myself usually snorts. She knows that understanding something we have read, and that makes perfect sense, has to travel a different route to actually click. I sweep the floor, very sloppily. I answer an email and work some more on one of my ridiculous fantasy landscape tapestries. This one is particularly ridiculous but I have thought that before now as I work without pattern or design only to find a rather lovely scene enfolding before me. My eyes are squint from sewing today and the rain is non-stop. I eat breakfast at 5.30 and lunch at 11.15. I am like a tortoise preparing for hibernation, going slower, s l o w e r s. l. o. w. e. r. From time to time I whack myself into startlement and we do something like go for a walk all coated in rain repellent plastic. Well, I was, but the doglet, newly shaved, was not and she decided after all of 14 feet that this was enough thanks and I’m off home now. It took me 15 minutes to get all this clobber on. Well, that’s okay. Another fifteen minutes to take it off and that makes 30 minutes which is half an hour which means the day will soon(ish) be over. Thank goodness.

I go back to thinking about the thinks I avoid thinking. Let them come in and overwhelm, says myself. No, I say. I cannot allow that. I don’t want to let that tsunami in, that one that has multiple shipwrecks inside it, smashed and broken, ruined and unrecognisable. I want to do this closure nonsense, putting everything, my life, my experiences, my marriage into a suitcase and to shut the lid. I want to slam and lock the door firmly on the past and turn away into a new life. I don’t want memories dribbling through the cracks, hissing like venomous snakes. Who the heck does? And yet, and yet, my long fingers keep reaching back through old times, to how it was, to who I was and they are the fretful fingers of an old woman looking for something she will never find. Answers.

I suspect it is natural to quest for such, for answers. I often ask myself why. Why I did this, why he said that, why she made that awful decision, why secrets secrets secrets were kept so hidden. There is a big unrest in the desert lands of Unanswered Questions. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a day with himself to get those answers and yet (and yet) I know he would never reveal a thing. He didn’t when he was alive for almost 50 years. He was obviously quite the thing about not answering difficult questions. So how do I get to a place of acceptance? I suspect there is no fast track answer to that one. Are we all mysteries to each other, I wonder? Perhaps we are and perhaps this is a normal human state, one of intense frustration right up to the end. Is death a marvellous escape? Do those who know they are dying feel a wonderful sense of relief that finally, finally, they are excused from the Accountability Class? It sounds rather kind when I think of it that way.

But life right now is like being stuck on a telegraph pole but without the 360 head turning ability. I have that screech voice and I silence it. I say I am great, fine, well, busy. We all do, I guess, in the hope that something will click at a deeper level, that my brain will believe it and invite my heart to take it in, to warm it, to beat it into new life. I know, I know, it is early days, but it is also a year, no it is over ten years of watching his secret self slowly leave the room whilst remaining in it, noisily. That is a long long time.

An irreverent chuckle comes to me in my turmoil. I have an image memory of people who won’t go. You make it obvious that after ten hours that your come-for-coffee invite is wearing very thin. They rise, eventually, but keep talking. You head for the door and open it. They stay where they are and keep talking. Now a freezing wind with accompanying rain is drenching both you and the floor. Still they talk, flapping hands and saying giggly things like ‘Oh we should go, you’ve been so kind, we stayed too long…’ You shut the door, well defeated. You didn’t offer lunch, having clocked that these good people are having so much fun that their going home just might feel like back to jail and you are not unkind even if you didn’t offer lunch. You finally get them out the door and close it quick quick. The short distance from the door to the gate suddenly looks like the road to Zanzibar. Inching, inching, inching, hearing, and enthusing about this cousin, this new baby, this new purchase, you get them through the gate.

Waving them off feels like heaven.

Maybe I will do that with my long staying unanswered questions.

Island Blog – Repeat Daily

The way I see things when I am tired, stressed or fed up is never how they really are. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In certain moods or when pressure feels heavy as a truck on my head, I slip into a weird world, one full of victims with me being the biggest. I am at the mercy of whatever comes my way; my seeing becomes slanted, ditto my hearing and my poor underused brain turns into an untethered disco ball. Instead of being inside this body, I am all over the place, running here and there like a headless hen.

And then the next day comes, the next songbird dawn, the new light, and what happened yesterday seems small and insignificant, solvable in a few simple steps. Why I couldn’t see it that way yesterday beyonds me. Yes, I was tired of repeating things, gently; yes I was upset about the rain getting into my post box; yes I was lonely and wondering when life would begin and yes I was pitching for a fight. I guess the nice lady from the Council, just doing her job, is fortunate I didn’t get to speak to her. I have no idea what she called about, beyond a vague and fluffy explanation (and even that word is too long to describe what I did learn). Are we still shielding? Are we allowed to see anyone and would that be from Now or from July 31st, and are we still getting the food deliveries? I know the answer to the last question having just learned it from a friend, but the rest, himself nodding and saying No and Yes and then No again could mean he has signed us up for a pilot mission to Mars. I guess I will find out eventually, if a space suit arrives by carrier.

My point is that, in my strong and right mind, I can see all the mild irritations and the intense enfuryments as just things colliding with my just thoughts and just feelings. I can step back, breathe, observe and quantify, deconstruct and take appropriate action. When in a compromised state of being, it looks and feels as if I am under attack from a mysterious, invisible band of mercenaries, with me in their sights. Of course, it would be impossible, being an ordinary extraordinary human woman, to sustain such a peaceful equilibrium at all times and in all sets of circumstance. life isn’t like that for any of us. Tsunamis will rise and threaten to destroy; rain will seep into post boxes, mushing paper and packaging, days will feel trudgemonkey and food will go off in the humid heat, just before I go to re-heat it for dinner. Life is not plain sailing and we all know that. But, if I can set up an inner programme of self-encouragement, write down uplifting affirmations to stick on walls, seek conversation with friends and read good guide books – if I eat well, exercise, laugh a lot, show kindness, share love and think more often of others that of myself, I will have prepared myself for anything that might come my way on any given day.

Which is what I am doing this day. One day at a time.

Repeat daily.

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

Island Blog 119 Do less and achieve more

2014-01-05 08.58.20

Oh ho ho ho and isn’t that just the easiest thing to tell someone else?

I am reading Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel and learning much goodly-grounded advice on how to fly.  Although Life throws us curveballs just when we think we are on a home straight (probably mixed up two sportsfields there….) it is really possible to live in the moment as long as somebody can show us how, and not just tell us.

As a writer I know the art of ‘show not tell’ and even the most lightweight reader (no offence intended) will yawn wide if an author reads like a schoolmarm. We are adults now and have spent way too much time being told what to do and how to do it.  Adulthood begins when a child decides, not when we with saggy skin and a certain way of doing pretty much everything tell them they may now be privy to certain conversations, once whispered, or, worse, spelled out, in shady corners of the house.

So, back to reading………….well, this writer knows how essential it is to read avidly.  For me, it is a pleasure, a need, a drive because in reading other’s words I form my own, not as a copyist, although it has been known.  I have decided that, should I find an angry ‘other’ at my door, spear raised, I will tell them they might think my pinching to be a huge compliment, and not a robbery. I take on other’s wisdoms so that my own reflections on what they have to say might shape into a new form, one that works for me.  There are as many ways to think as there are thinkers, more, and we all must find that which will comfortably settle within our own lives, among our own circumstances – circumstances that will always change, sometimes drastically, sometimes in a more kindly way, but we can still learn how to ‘be’ inside each moment, each day, whatever the challenges may be.

Yesterday, or last week, or last month, life was in ‘this’ shape.  Overnight, let us say, it flips and now looks upsidedown and most precarious, leaning (just) against the props that seemed tall as the cedars of Lebanon, and now look like my old washing line poles after a force ten gale.  Let’s look at them – let’s just stand here and look at them and do nothing.  Just look.

I can joke about it, to get a laugh, but the truth is, it is the only way, and not just for me.  Whatever comes, whatever goes, it all passes.  It cannot help but pass, because life moves on, with or without us.

As a young wife and busy mother, I knew I could not hold onto control and to a great degree, I let go.  Perhaps I was lucky in that.  Perhaps feeling out of control all the time, taught me to live by my inventive wits and to consider control a disadvantage.  But, for all of us, this is possible, no matter how valuable our props might appear.  In the event of extreme disaster, like your house slipping over a cliff, this way of observing and moving on is essential. I am not saying don’t grieve, or ululate for that which is lost, but there is a time for grief and a time to get past it, and not by force.  Accepting some new truth, any new truth on our road is like letting in a new light.  It is not something anyone can memorise by rote and commit to memory.  That is for O Level maths (in my case) and it is impossible to retain that learning for long as I discovered on exam day.  No, we must ‘allow’ the understanding to lightly settle in our bones and there is no other way to do that than to simply ‘accept’ the curveballs, do what we can, if possible, to make good from disaster, and then walk peaceably onwards.

If you are intrigued, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Try it.  There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.  If you say you are too busy to read, you fool yourself.  When you are gone, what will you be remembered for?  Being too busy?

I hope not.