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 – Translation

Geese woke me this morning. It seems they are quite unable to go anywhere at all without engaging in a loud conversation, as if, their vocal chords are wired to their wings. It’s 4 am, I said, but they ignored me, honking on as they skimmed past my open window to land with effortless grace on the water. It’s all but flat, the water, and the far shore reflection of striated rocks, adorned like bridesmaids in butter yellow lichen, shivers – a slight surface rebellion, probably the translation of a tidal undertow. It makes the rocks look like they’re shimmy shimmy shaking. Perhaps they are. What goes on beneath the surface is only a guess, for me, but the body of water understands itself and knows from long experience how to communicate.

I eat breakfast, change bed sheets, clean up, ready for a new day, and all the while, my thoughts flow along, mostly unchecked by me. Sometimes a hand goes up. We need more blue milk. Or, I must water those little seedlings. Those thoughts alert me, ask for immediate action, or they might float off into the, now clean, ether to become part of a cloud and thus lost to me. Weetabix without milk is a crunchy thought, dry, not the same at all. Seedlings will flop and die of thirst. So, I must make a note of both and right now. Other thoughts circle a bit before they flee and I bring my brain to bear, make it listen, make it follow through. Sometimes that’s a mistake. By employing my logic I can see a seedling thought die of boredom. This thought doesn’t want to be fixed, arrested and imprisoned by me. It just wants to stay as a thought and the only reason it circled at all was to say Hallo and to hear Hallo back. Hallo, I say, and off it goes.

In these times of slowdown-lockdown #not meltdown, thoughts are busy. I suspect thoughts are busy in everyone’s head. All of a sudden there is time for them, space to circle and float without being batted away like bluebottles. It serves us well to allow this space to widen, to deepen, until we can learn, not to organise our thoughts, but to conjoin with them, for they are ours, they are us. The translation of these thoughts might, in the busy past, have been misleading. Reacting immediately, without due process, to a thought can lead us to making poor decisions. We don’t need to do that now. Now, we can spend time with them, get to understand the craziness inside our minds, see that every thought is there because of who we are, because of what we do, or what we did. This way we teach ourselves to reconnect with the whole body and it feels good.

Although you will never know all my thoughts, as I will never know all of yours, we will both be able to see a person who has reconnected with their undertow. It probably takes a lifetime. All the great thinkers who understood the power of this reconnection, of creating a synergistic relationship with their own thoughts, are ancient by the time they ‘get it’. Right now we have this gift, this opportunity, to consider understanding our own selves a bit better. If we can allow our thoughts just to be thoughts, to say Hallo when they circle awhile, they will flow at ease, no matter what.

The geese are diddling about on the field now, chattering incessantly, picking at the grass, preparing for young. Later, when the chicks are ready to swim, they will lead their young across the sea-loch, on a day when the water is a mirror, when it looks like they are paddling through the sky, when the undertow is at peace. I will watch them and I will smile as thoughts float through my head like will o the wisps.

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

Island Blog 142 Back to the Sea

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I have come to a conclusion.  One I might have come to long ago but didn’t, not least because I couldn’t really explain it, should anyone ask for my ‘workings’.

Workings are what art teachers demand when they stand before a huge canvas, liberally splodged with texture, glue, sparkly bits, string, and fat brush strokes telling them absolutely nothing.  ‘Where are your workings?’  they asked me.  I had to find out first what they were talking about before answering.  Once I knew, of course, I back-dated said ‘workings’ on paper, parchment,card, board and copper plate and stuck them into my Workings Book, which I didn’t know I had till a fellow student found it stuffed into my locker – another thing I didn’t know I had.

When a painting is abstract, there is a process.  You begin with the real thing.  A duck for example, or a pot of flowers, a seascape or a human form.  You draw that bit first, kind of whizzily with a loosely held pencil or bit of charcoal or even a paintbrush if you’re jolly smart.  You might be out of doors doing it, perched on a cold stone wall in the middle of Linlithgow, or you might have hooked a buttock or two onto an old tree stump on the shore of some spectacular place, or you may just be at your desk beneath the blue light of those vile tubes.  Wherever you are, you are supposed to be capturing the thing of interest onto a bit of paper in your drawing pad.  We were for-bid-den to call it a sketch pad.  We are not sketching, class.  We are drawing.

Semantics.  It amounts to the same flipping thing, but it’s always best not to argue, when the argument is about words and what they mean to other people, especially teachers.

So, you capture this interesting thing and then you loathe it to death.  It is, at best, dreadful, and looks nothing like it should or even could and even less than nothing like the interesting thing.  If it was a naked being, then I was doomed from the outset.  I could have a deliciously formed adult male just feet away from me under the blue lights and, in a matter of one short hour, he would be reduced to a Lowrie figure with no blood pumping through his veins, nor sinewy life in his supple limbs, both of which were there until my pencil removed them.  Picasso, I kept whispering to myself, fighting back the tears of shame.  Picasso.  Gee-ed up by such thoughts I stuck one eye on his thigh and thought I’d got away with it until Miss Fineart mosied over and snorted, alerting the class to do their own spot of mosying over and snorting.  The young man in question couldn’t move, for which I was deeply grateful as he was facing away from us and stark naked.

So much time was spent on ‘workings’ for pretty much all of my pieces for End of Year Show.  In my case it was both a lottery and a farce because not one back-dated working had entered my head for a single second as I plunged headlong into the world of the abstract.  Abstract just comes first for me and that’s that.

Back to my newly drawn conclusion.

I believe without a doubt that I came from the sea.  Not as a mermaid, or silkie, or even a fish.  I am not talking about the body of me, but the spirit of me.  Whenever I am by the ocean I am at peace.  I can go there carrying tension, rage, frustration.  I can feel heavy and old and tied down and lumpish. But, when I have stayed awhile, listened to the tide roll in or out, felt the salt spray in the breeeze and tasted it on my lips, I am a new woman again.  I don’t just believe that it’s about dumping my baggage for the old tide to take away, because whatever I took down there doesn’t join me as I walk back home.  I never see it again.

When I am in busy places, far from the ocean, I can do whatever I need to do, for a while.  But after that while, which isn’t very long, I feel the old scratch I can never itch, the one that tells me I am not all that wonderful, in fact, not wonderful at all.  I feel irritations niggle at my gut, threaten to spill out of my mouth.  I feel claustrophobic and find it hard to breathe.  No, it is not a panic attack.  There is nothing my logical mind could find to panic about.  It is true that all around me is concrete, noise, people rushing here and there, traffic, lights, dirty pavements and man-made deadlines.  I know how to cross a road safely and what bus to catch.  I know where I am heading and the time arranged for me to arrive.  There is no panic in any of that.  So it’s not a panic attack.

It’s just that I am not in the right place for me.

I know the rocks on the shore.  My eyes need to see the broken mussel shells, left by geese or an otter.  They need to see thrift, purple and trembling in the salt breeze, gulls white against the sky, calling out to each other as the new tide brings in the sprats.  I watch them poppling the surface of the water, pushed up by a predator deep beneath them and out of sight to me.  I must see the kelp thrown high upon ancient rocks, the little pools left by the flood tide, the tiny shrimps stranded till the next one comes in, perhaps whilst I sleep.  I have to see sunlight on the yellow lichen, turning it to gold, to hear the popping of sea-gorse seeds, marvel at the darting of goldfinches on the barbed stalks, and hear their animated chirrups at the abundance therein.  I absolutely must watch the single snow goose leading four, no five families of greylags across the sea-loch in serried ranks cutting perfect lines across the water.   I know the state of the moon by the tides and the state of the tides by the moon. I know the sea and the sea knows me.

It’s not a fairytale.  it’s a conclusion. Mine.

So I go, as I will always go, every day of my life.  I will go to where I came from.   Back to the sea.

Island Blog 101 Enough for any Lion

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When I first began blogging, I couldn’t even have spoken that word without a schoolgirl snigger and now look at me, tapping across the querty board like a sea bird over rocks.  Knowing how to do something affords me the opportunity for a back flip or a pirouette, a chance to show off, although my back-flip days are long gone.  For example, if I’m singing something I already know well, I can afford the odd contrapuntal hold-and-dash, curving up at the rise and down at the fall of a phrase for maximum effect, although who I am ‘effecting’ is probably nobody but next door’s hens.  If I am cooking, and find I only have half the cream and none of of the grappa, I chortle a bit and adapt, even if the panacotta would be more use as a corner stone.  In my book I describe such culinary adaptions, and it was daily, and it was sometimes disastrous but in the end, everyone got fed and it was never on a ready meal.

Tweeting confounds me a little bit with all those hash tags and @s that other people, who do know what they’re doing, seem to employ all over the shop.  I am never quite sure where to land those symbols inside a sentence, but I will learn and, for now, I just blunder on, pinging symbols onto the screen and counting my characters like the rest with a modicum of confidence.

On the subject of characters and what they say or ‘tweet’ brings me neatly in to land.

In writing my novel I am a woman at the beginning all over again.  I have absolutely no idea if I am writing tripe or something astonishing.  Oh, I know bad writing, can spot it immediately, but my own bad writing?  Of course I couldn’t could I……write badly?

I wonder…….

I could decide it’s all too scary, this ‘what do you think?’ question that keeps peeking around the corners of my days and nights and asking to be given a place at the table. Look at it sitting there booted and suited before me every morning and growing more confident every single day.  The flaming cheek of it.  And see it grow, and grow, until it towers overhead and fills the room so that I struggle to see the telly screen of an evening.

I could hide my ‘novel’ under my bed or clasp it to my chest within the dark folds of my old woolly jumper, saying to the world that I and my great story are zipping along like Road Runner on blades, allowing nobody to see it at all until the very last minute, when it’s finished.

But now it weighs a whole country.

Now I am upwind of the lions. And they are hungry.  Hungry for all those big dreams we dream and then abandon in our desert because we think we are not enough to walk them out.

Well, all I need is myself.  And who says I’m not enough?  Oh, of course……I do.

It is at this point I remind myself that I am not a famous author, nor a queen, nor the sole hope of a desperate people. I am just a woman, a writer with a big personality and a great sense of humour.  I can rise and I can fall like anybody else and should get on with doing so, or the False Evidence Appearing Real will consume me and lose me in the place where failure is a real threat.

I am nobody’s hope, nor disappointment – just my own.  Paws for thought.

So, I hand it over, the draft, now up to chapter eleventy three and a half, to my husband of a thousand years and he begins to read it.  As he leafs through the sheets of A4, lowering each, when read, onto a growing pile, I see the chapter numbers rise and rise, and he says not a word.  After 30 minutes, whereupon my indigestion level has caused me to locate and swallow a double dose of liver salts, he removes his half-moons and says……..

It’s great.

I want to know more.

I am ecstatic for about half a day.  Then I remember that for him, or anyone else, to know more, I must dance back onto the querty rocks and begin to tap again.  No back flips, no pirouettes, no contrapuntal gymnastics for me, for I don’t know this well, not yet, and nobody can run before they can walk except my little grand-daughter who never slows up enough to walk anywhere. I watch her take off, her little legs pumping with enthusiasm and energy and I watch her fall.  And then someone lifts her up, dusts her down and within seconds she is off once more, running into her life with a thrown back giggle and all our eyes upon her and I think to myself that even if she did come upon a lion, she would probably wrap her arms around its neck and bury her nose into its mane, confounding it completely.