Island Blog – This Woman, Risk and Fear

I have always loved poetry, not that I can write it, not like those who can distill waffly thoughts into 3 words that say it all, enough to gasp me. As a child I remember my mum making up ditties and rhymes, fun poems, poems that rhymed and made my feet want to jig along with her words. My dad, a wordsmith for sure, would entertain us around the Sunday lunch table with limericks that had us in stitches. He could think ahead as his mouth spoke out the line so that the follower came just like that in perfect rhythm and rhyme. He loved the iambic pentameter too and was a big fan of Shakespeare. Words were everything in our home. Words of remonstrance, of encouragement; jokes at our expense and jokes we could share. One game was that someone began a poem, oftentimes a limerick, There Once was a Bandit from Neath, for example, whereupon all eyes turned to the unfortunate required to come up with line two. It always ended in laughter.

But my favourite poems are those about life and loss, pain and rising, hope and despair. Short lines, no punctuation, thus allowing me to drift down the page all the way to the end. Some poems rise instead, beg to be read again and again so that I undulate the page and find that it doesn’t matter where I land for the lines themselves are each an ending, or a step to the next line, but not necessarily. It thinks me for I have noticed something about me in these times. I want to play my piano but I don’t. I want to paint but all I do is cast a wistful glance at the stack of canvas, the brushes still in their plastic wrapper, the paints quiet inside the dark interior of the kist. I want to write my second book but I find endless reasons. and excuses not to even begin. Why is that? I have found an answer. There is something, some part of me, deep within who does not see the point. If there is nowhere for this new song to go, this painting to go, then why would I bother to begin? If I start this book, how do I know I can still cut the mustard, or is it custard? I forget.

Although I know, and preach, that it is the process that matters not an end result, perceived and imagined, I find my own self stultified and frozen at the starting block. It is indeed a block. So what to do? If I believe that anyone can write, paint, write a song or form a poem, which I absolutely do, and if I maintain that the only difference between a successful writer, painter, poet and the rest of us is practice and the refusal to stop trying, then what the heck am I doing sitting on my lardy arse being wistful? It ridiculouses me. But the block is still there no matter the logic I employ for what I am facing is the fear of failure. I am basically saying it is better, safer, for me to say I cannot do this than it is to peel off my armour, to be vulnerable, to risk. After all, my armour, despite being heavy and restraining, is comfortable. I have grown used to it clanking about me, learned how to move with it. It is my concealment, my hiding, my protection. From what? Failure, that’s what.

Back to everyone else. Someone said yesterday I Can’t Paint. I Wish I Could. The feeling part of me rose like Venus from the waves. I asked her this. Have you tried? yes, she said, but I just made a mess. So did I, I said, at first, but with determined hard work and the refusal to give up I suddenly (!) found my paintings in galleries all across the country. Really? she said. You must have a gift. No gift, I said, not me. It was pure determination and the refusal to give up. Oh, she said, then tidied herself up. I don’t have time anyway, she smiled, but I had heard the timbre of her longing. Wisdoms tell us that we can do anything we set out to do whilst Life says Sshhhhh to that nonsense. Look at you! You are so busy, so old, so compromised, so restricted, so disabled, so poor at grammar etc etc. And we listen and we concur. After all, isn’t it true that only young people can start something new, learn the language, play the instrument, write the song, or other people who have time, space, the perfect environment, the supportive partner, and the right level of self belief? No, it is not. When I wrote Island Wife I sat in this room whilst my husband padded around me. I was freezing cold and had small spaces of peace and a lot of interruptions. My drive was simple. I am sick and tired of not doing what I want to do, of waiting for the right light, the perfect environment, the ideal room temperature, the permission from a partner. Lunch was late if served at all, the phone disconnected, the doors shut and visitors shunned. I won’t pretend it was a comfortable time, not least because I had shucked off my armour and it was February and most of February was inside the house. And I had absolutely no idea of this book’s success. All I knew was that I was going to show up every single day, take the flack and the crap and focus on what I wanted to do. My achievement was not in the end game, but in the process, the work, the grit of determination against real and imagined odds.

So, clever clogs, why are you not sitting at that piano and working new songs? Why are you not throwing colour at that canvas with no end result in mind? Why are you not writing your next book? Because I am afraid of failure. What is failure to you? Is it not being published, not having a body of astonishing artwork to display to the public, not producing the song that will go viral on Youtube? Seriously? Well, yes. So, continues my feeling self, what shall we do about all of that? Shall we sit here wistfully till life folds into death or shall we pull up our long johns and begin something, risk something and then fail and fall, get up and try again, over and over and over till we create a momentum that takes us who knows where? Is life a daring bold adventure, even now, or is it nothing at all but a clean house, a silent piano, an unused voice, an unwritten book and an empty canvas?

My Hobson’s choice indeed and not just mine. If there is something anyone wants to do but who lets the naysaying voices win over, I’m with you. However, this woman is not listening any more. This woman is about to begin something in the face of fear, of imagined failure, and of being armour-less, vulnerable and scared. Risk is everything. Take one.

Island Blog – Remembering the Butterfly

Today started well. I rose at 5.30 as usual, washed and dressed. Downstairs waiting for the kettle to boil I realised my frock wasn’t feeling like it did yesterday. It was tight under the arms and squashful across my bows. As I wear two or three frocks at the one time, layered with musical precision and always clashing wildly with each other, I wasn’t sure which frock was the offender. Well, dammit, I will have to pull them all off, whence I discovered the blue one, the last one, the one playing the bass line, was on back to front. it was a relief to finally reassemble the noisy ensemble and to hear and feel, once again, a smooth and velvety tune. I take a big drink of water, fill and flip on the kettle for coffee, and prepare to put a wash on. Lifting a pasta bowl from the drainer, I dropped it on my bare foot. Yelling in silence, so as not to disturb himself so early, and hopping around the table I glowered at said pasta bowl which had rolled off into the corner and was definitely sniggering.

On making the coffee #footthrobbing I put 3 tea bags in the pot and poured on the water. There was just enough. I left the brew to steep and went off to refill himself’s water bottles and to lay our clean hankersniffs. I wiped down his rolling stock (hospital bed tables) and poured myself a coffee. I planned to listen to the birds, watch them flit and flut, fight and fly off, a lovely show of colour and attitude. This is not coffee. Initially I was a bit shocked #foorstillthrobbing at the thought of my folly. How could I do that? I don’t even drink tea, although my hand knows the route to the caddy as I make tea for himself all the live long day, so it could be that. I’m not losing it, I swear.

Washing spun and ready to go out, I gather the peg bag and climb the mosaic steps up to the hill garden. It isn’t blowing much and the air is looking rather tut tut but I’ll risk it. One of the items is a large woollen blanket and I don’t really want that draped inside the house if possible. The vetches, alpines, wildflowers, berberis, dwarf willow, violets and daisies all accept my greeting. I always talk to my flowers and other growing things. In fact, I have noticed the birds calm as you like around me when I go to feed them of a morning. I walk in slow motion and soothe them with my soothiest voice and they know me now. It’s rather charming. The flowers are quieter but I know they hear me. Anyway, back to the washing line. Hallo Lady Larch! She is the tree who supports the yellow plastic line and we respect each other. The last thing to fix is the blanket. I admire it for a bit. It is considerably whiter than it was pre wash, like snow or sea froth. Last peg connected and I spin around to leave. Ah……

My other foot, not the still throbbing one, manages to catch a corner I hadn’t noticed, still touching the grass but only just. There’s a little hole in this corner and my toe leaps through. I know I’m going to fall, and it is only grass, which reassures me as I do. Picture me now. I am lying on my back, my leg extended cloudwards, my toe in a woollen blanket stranglehold. There is nothing to do but laugh, even as I realise that both feet are going to have something to say about this morning’s abuse. I stay where I am for a few minutes, watching the clouds schist and shrink, billow and spin against the blue. Lying back, quiet now, all laughed out and barely moving, a butterfly lands on my nose. I stare at its underbelly, feel its tiny feet on my skin, see its wings lit like disco balls as the sun shines through. It stays, and stays for what seems an age, and is suddenly gone.

Later I couldn’t open the back door because himself had parked his wheelchair right up against it; the bruschetta mix I made is watery without lovely greek tomatoes that have actually seen sunshine; I’ve almost run out of kindling and I forgot to get bananas at the shop; the bulb for my flytrap died; I dropped flour all over the flour (bag burst) and my stillthrobbingtoe is turning blue.

But all I remember is the butterfly.

Island Blog – Wild Heart

“Strong back. Soft Front. Wild Heart” – Brene Brown

Some mornings you just wake up happy. I did this morning, helped into sentience by a big rumble of thunder and the tickle of rain dripping from the thatch outside my bedroom window, splatting on the stoep like the marching feet of tiny soldiers. Rain! Good rain, and at last. The birds lift from the sand floor to snatch at flying termites and other members of the flighted macrosystem; too small to be of interest on a sunshine day. Inside this wet dawning the symbiosis of natural life is centre stage, visible and buzzing with life. Without the rain, the insects wouldn’t fly; without the insects there would be no birds; without the birds no germination of precious seeds; without the seeds, no green shoots for giraffe, zebra, elephant, buck, rhino, both black and white, buffalo, nyala and so many more. Without the herbivores, no predators, no leopard, lion, cheetah, hyena, painted dogs, jackals and I could bore the pants off you with a much longer list. And it all begins with that rumble of thunder, the clouds heavy with precious water, more than ready to off their loads. The Blue Mountains are part-hidden in cloud, their heads lost in in the lowered sky. I can almost hear the parched ground sigh in a delicious relief.

The symbiosis found (when studied and understood) is no different to the one we humans need as we need water for our bodily thirst. But here’s the thing. We have forgot. We think, in our foolish ignorance that we don’t really need each other all that much in order to be a ‘success’ in life. We need our families, of course, and our carefully selected friends but the rest of humanity is just there and sometimes we wish they were not. People come with a load of irritating, nay infuriating, habits that we simply do not want to be around. So we circumnavigate these other humans, judging them cruelly whilst not really knowing them at all. ‘It is hard to hate a person close-up’ (Brene Brown). We can happily snigger together about colour, creed, race, religion and an opposing political view, sticking, instead, to those who think as we do. There’s a comfort in that, but it is unsustainable and ultimately unsatisfying for anyone who is curious enough about a life’s journey and who wants to learn more about the path ahead.

Mid-life crisis for example is simply, in my opinion, boredom at the thought on continuation in the same footwear and on the same path. This is quite natural. Boredom, dissatisfaction at our current way of living, with the same old faces appearing in our doorways day after endless day is a vital part of a human’s life. It comes, this huge discomfiture, as a gift, but few of us see it that way. We may think we need to abandon a relationship, or move house, or change jobs and all of those may indeed be a part of a new change (sorry, oxymoron), but none of those are It. It – is simply that we are bored with what we have done for ages and now is the time to think outside the bodily box, to use our big brains, to research, to study, to be open hearted and curious as a child. I know it isn’t easy because our first thoughts are loaded to with all sorts of unhelpful lies such as the one that tells us we got it all wrong to date; that it is my partner’s fault, or that of my boss, or, and this is always a safe bet, that of my mother or father.

Well all of that is bullshit. However, even knowing that isn’t enough. I must decide not to welcome into my ‘boring’ life, all those critical and lying judges that tell me my life has been a waste of time, that I got it wrong about 30 years ago, that someone else is to blame for these uncomfortable feelings and instead to say Oh Thankyou for the wake up call. I must look into something else, a new direction and what is more (and this is the key) I must invite other people, strangers perhaps and homies, my kids and those existing friends who won’t panic when I tell them I am bored with my life, running back to their own, locking the door and refusing my calls, to talk this through with me. I will be vulnerable. I will put my ego to sleep by bashing it on the head with a mallet and I will look out with curiosity and humour. So what if I have lost my job and with it my sense of superiority before my peers? So what if I lose my looks and now wonder who I am without them? So what if I have absolutely no idea what to do next? I have myself, my huge brain, my body #mostlyworking, my memories, my lived life thus far, my family, my friends (who remain) and now I am going to find more friends because this is inevitable when someone chooses to stop trudging down the road alongside everyone else. There are plenty of other everyone elses. I just haven’t met them yet. I can step out onto a new path and risk. If I leave that ego behind, deflate that self-important chest, shuck off that protective armour and just begin to walk into the great wide open, I will eventually see that all of this is just what I need right now. In trepidation I have made the decision to be vulnerable, to risk and to trust, to be without answers and to allow myself to be cluelessly dependent on the wisdom of a stranger in order to learn new rope tricks. This, the path less travelled, has been walked before I ever stepped onto it. The guides will appear just when I need them. I may not eat sausages on Tuesday or a roast on Sundays, as I may have done from habit for decades, but I will taste the bite of new fruit in a new place and it may just be delicious. Under a big sky, alert and interested, curious and fearful in parts, I may find out who I really am, and those stranger-guides could become new friends for a new life.

I leave you with the wisdom of others:-

” If you can see your path laid out in front of you, step by step, you know it is not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That is why it is your path.” Joseph Campbell

“You are only free when you realise you belong no place. You belong every place and no place at all. The price is high. The reward great.” Maya Angelou

Island Blog 25 – As I believe, I will achieve

Skyline

If we don’t try things out, how can we know if we like them or not, that’s what I ask myself as I hover on safe ground looking into unknown territory.

Such as the Hair Care products in a supermarket, a line of shelves that stretches for half a mile and each brightly coloured tube or tin or tub, all with impossible-to-open lids, promising that my life will change the instant I apply the goo/foam/wax or cream to my head.

And that’s just the Hair Care section.  I could spend 3 weeks in one store bamboozling my brain with options. In fact, if I believed all of it, or even some of it, I could emerge a completely different person, transformed by ‘product’ into Superwoman, or, at least, as someone a whole lot more beautiful than the one that walked me in.

In this world that refuses to allow me to be ‘myself’ I can get lost. I forget to hear only the voice of my higher self, my instinct and listen, instead to all those whispers that dart around my head like swallows catching flies. When I am faced with a bigger set of options, like changing careers for example, I can either follow my heart, or follow everyone else’s opinions and, if I do that, I just go round in circles until I am wheezing with the exertion and still standing in the same place.

What I do is say nothing.

When I decided, after 35 years of doing the same thing, pushed on by need for cash to pay bills, low self-esteem and self-doubt, to leap into Art School, the world was aghast. Well, not the WHOLE world of course, but the little one I lived in, because nobody but me felt the blood rush and excitement at the very thought of changing lanes. Actually, it was more like deciding to walk against the traffic in a fog without a fluorescent jacket, but I had to do it. The idea grew skin over its bones and filled with strong red blood overnight and I was in its thrall; captivated and, for the first time in years, truly alive.

When I take a risk, I know who I am. I don’t follow the flow just because that is what we should do.  I may be laughed at, or ridiculed, or, at the very least, carefully interrogated by those closest to me, but I know now it is not necessarily because they think my nut case idea is dangerous or destructive.  It is more that they are a little envious that anyone could kick against the pricks and still be able to walk and run and dance.

I don’t sit down and draw up a risk situation. Risk comes to me, through the ether, from the clouds, and it will not be denied however much I may flap it away with my tea towel.

If Risk knocks at your door, let him in. For beside him stands Lady Providence and she is the one who will walk beside you if you just have the courage to take the first baby step.

Someone once said that needless consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, and I agree. Until I broke free, and not from others, but from my own fear and doubt. Our minds are not small at all, and each one of us can move a mountain, if we just believe.

‘Make the Jump’