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 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes

 

 

I am excitedly working just now on new songs for recording, well,not recording yet, but more for designing and developing.  All day long I am humming little phrases, changing keys, changing words changing rythms.  Once I meet up with the Talented Two in a week or so, we will take my scribbles and mood-inspired poems and fashion music around them.  They, not I, will layer melodies and harmonies, suggest quirky add-ons that create depth and texture, colour and light.  And dark.  All I am required to do is to spend this preparation time doing what I do know how to do – put words together in a way that tells a story, that give a hint of pain or laughter, to show and not to tell it out too much, for we all like to fill in the spaces allowed us with our own feelings.  This is why some songs last forever and, to be honest, a lot of them make very little sense once we try to explain them.  A Whiter Shade of Pale was scribbled down in the back of a van in between gigs, so I am told, and, when asked what it meant, the writers just shrugged.  It’s not like schoolwork this song-writing thing, not at all.  I don’t have to show my workings, nor do I have to justify them, but what I do have to do is sing them with emotional connection as if what I am telling you is really how I feel.  I don’t write songs about Percy the Pig, or Nellie the Elephant, although that song is great to sing to grandchildren if I include all the actions.  I write about feelings.

It thinks me about doing what I do best, and not wishing I was best at something else.  At school I longed to be an athlete but I was so very far from getting beyond ‘ath’ that it would have made a whole heap of sense to do my best, loathe all of it and spend my free time writing.  The problem with writing is that the only time I found the limelight is in English Lit classes and that was providing I kept to the letter of the law concerning Good Composition.  Nowadays, it is fine to write slang, a lot of which has found its way into the Oxford Dictionnary, which is fine if it works for the piece.  It is not ok to swear, but, then, what is swearing now?  I can read words that would have had my school mistress dialling the emergency services had she ever seen such an assemblage of letters in print, let alone heard them read out in class.  The book would have magically disappeared from the Reading Shelf and parents would have been informed.

In songwriting, words can be hinted at, the front or the back of them lost in a rising instrumental.  It’s infuriating for those of us who want to cover a song and we must needs leap to Google for the lyrics, but I am encouraged by the Talented Two that it sometimes really works best that way and that my Elocution Prize might consider staying in my past.  Enunciating every word as if the whole world depended for its survival on my clear conscise rendering of a particular phrase, is, it seems, vanity of vanities.  Who gives a rip?

As I wrote my book, I let go of the Eng Lit teacher, pushed her off my shoulder and reminded her she was most probably dead and should shut up.  Although I love good prose and therefore find bad prose irritating enough to put me off the whole story, I find that I look more for a gentle sway, an easy rise of words that don’t trip me up with their brilliance, but, instead, show me an unfolding about which I am fascinated to know more.  I want to be led outside of myself and into another world and, yet, I still want that pull on my heartstrings, that connection to my own experiences, my own feelings.  When I read the tale of someone who is living through something I hope I will never live through, something that involves the loss of a child, perhaps, I will think about my own children, my love for them, my fears for them, and, in my heart, I will re-affirm my vow to them, the one I made as each one was born, a vow to protect and defend them to the death.  If I read of a world catastrophe, as a back drop to a tale of people, I will re-jig my priorities in that light.  In short, I will make changes because, through the words of another, I am changed.

I hope I can do the same with my songs.  For now, I am playing word games, reducing sentences down, questioning the need for all the adverbs and adjectives to be there at all, for what I can do, through my voice, as long as it is emtionally connected, is to pull back to indicated thoughtfulness, pain, fear, gentleness, or bring the air more forcefully across my vocal chords to show power, anger or determination.  I can leave out the paraphernalia and keep just the crystals……ones that should make it sparkle, if I get the light

just

right.

Island Blog 130 Wild Flower

 

 

 

2014-04-18 11.28.20I know I write often about relationships, but, let’s be honest here, they are fundamental to every step we humans make.  In order to move forward in any area of our lives, we need to form them and feed them and acknowledge, within them, the parts we don’t resonate with.  We must allow each other to be who we essentially are.

Unless I meet my doppelganger, (which could throw up no end of trouble if you think about it) I am always going to have to deal with the things in you that are not in me.

As are you.

I may be loud and laugh like a donkey.  I may have an irritating habit or six.  I may bring, and undoubtedly will, into this relationship, my baggage from my own past, my own hangups about being told what to do, for example, fixed, pigeon-holed.  Or, it may be you who has spent a lifetime wanting your voice to be heard and then listened to and who is fed up with pigeons, and their holes.

When we embark on a new relationship, there is a kind of euphoria at first, if, that is, we click in a way that appears bathed in a glorious and magical light.  Then, after a little time, this wonderful light begins to pale, it has to for the true person to show their face.  We might not like this bit.  Why is that?  Because now we see beyond the mask, and we all wear them.  There are ways we wish to be seen and ways we do not wish to be seen, but it is not possible to keep that mask on for long.  Human nature is too strong for us, we are at its mercy.

What we are all seeking, is to be accepted as we are.  There are probably thousands of books on this very subject.  It’s called Agape love, as distinct from the type of love known as Eros, which is the one that comes bathed in light.  It cannot last, Eros, although it’s dashed useful as a starting gun, unless it matures into Agape.  The Greeks had many words to describe love, as do other languages.  It’s only we English speakers who have the one word and it can fankle us up something rotten as we wander through our lives.  For example, over time, love can grow weary of loving.  This is something you might say to me.  Love flickers like a candle in the winds of time, and can sometimes snuff right out.  But not Agape love, I will reply, because this love doesnt seek domination nor control.  It doesn’t ever want to make another feel small or scared or unsafe.  This love protects and encourages, even if there is no obvious point upon which we both agree, especially then.

A mother’s love for a child can be this ‘warts and all’ type, although such total acceptance is often lacking between herself and the child’s father.  And yet, didn’t they set out together to make a shared lifetime?  Of course they did.  So what is missing?  If we can allow a child to grow into an unique being, how come we work so hard to de-unique a partner?  I’m not saying we all do this, but I have found a common thread or two in the relationships I have watched and studied.

I am wondering if the starting point is outside or inside us.  If it is outside, then it must follow that we are always at the mercy of the world and its complex entanglements, a world that expects us to do or be something and someone, in order to fit, to take our place in the pecking order.  If it is inside us, then why can’t we change things?  Perhaps it’s because we don’t really want to.  Maybe we feel we have done all we can and why should we be the one to change?  If you tell me I am too over-bearing or judgemental, too quick to put you down, and you only see, before you, a person in serious need of repair, then you are obviously not going to budge.  And if I rather like whatever it is about me you don’t like, or I don’t even recognise these, so called, faults in myself, then nor am I.

If I could go back again to the early days of my adult life, not that I would want to, for a minute, I might have wished for more training on relationships and less on geography and latin. Emerging as a student with qualifications might indeed lead me into a certain area of work, presuming I could find any that is, but it doesn’t help me one bit in the art of relationship building, nor its ongoing maintenace.  If I am one of those fortunate children who was loved with an Agape love, then I am even less well-equipped, in theory, for haven’t I been allowed to be myself in any and all situations?  How on earth I am going to be able to ‘fit in’ to the shape you want me to fit into?

When I am working with school children, little ones, I can see who is confident in a goodly home love, and who isn’t, by the way the child behaves, shares, steps back, or doesn’t.  I came from a large and competitive bundle of children, and I notice how we all want to be heard, our voices rising to cap the general white noise inside a crowded house, to lift above it.  When I leave that nest, I take that need with me.  At first, you might have found it rather cute, but over time, trust me, it could well become a pain in the aspidistra, and build on itself until it becomes a ‘bad’ point, something that needs fixing, although we may not ever agree on that one.

What I have learned for certain, over many long years of relationships, is that my strength is also my weakness, and my weakness is my strength.   My excessive behaviour, is just creative energy lacking in direction, like a weed, which you may want to pull up and cast away, but which, in truth is just a wild flower in the wrong place.

 

 

 

 

Island Blog 120 On Leadership

2013-02-14 14.43.19

It’s a funny old chestnut, Leadership.  It sounds so grand and important.  In fact, as a youngster I wanted it for myself.  Those, it appeared to me, who were given such a badge of honour, positively glowed with the warmest of light.  They were lifted above us earthly girls, fixed to the ground with our lack of leadership skills, our heavy lace-up brogues and our triple-layered (for safety) regulation greys, and they never came back down again.  I met them in corners with members of staff, or prefects, or team leaders, discussing something important in hushed tones, corners I rounded in an un-leaderly, and often late dash to the next fixture in my school diary.  They would both stand in a conspiratorial silence, one that positively burgeoned with importance, as I hurtled by, knowing two things for sure – that I would meet some disgrace for running in passageways, and that my bottom jumped around way too much inside those earthly greys.

When they said to me that they were sorry I was leaving the school because, did I realise that they were going to ask me to be Music Prefect next school year……I knew what they were up to, asking me AFTER I had announced with barely concealed joy, that I had now collected my 7 O Levels and was abandoning my brogues for ever.  If I had said……Oh, ok then, I will stay, they would all have fainted clean away and I would have finally become a leader, one they may well have regretted inviting into a corner.

A few minutes later, as a newly engaged farmer’s wife-to-be, I pondered leadership once more.  This farmer with whom I was about to spend the rest of my life, needed some serious leadership.  For a start, he didn’t want to be led at all and most certainly not by me.  Well, ok, I can be patient.  After all, look at how he does what his mummy says, albeit now and then, but ‘now and then’ looked promising to an over-zealous young woman (child, really) with a fat sapphire on her forever finger and plans already laid out in the loft of her mind.  He argued with every plan I brought forward for discussion.  He made all the ‘big’ decisions with automonic confidence. He dropped his clothes on the floor, the ones he deemed ready for washing, which was usually two weeks later than my deeming.   He wore white crimpolene flares.  There was a lot of work to be done.

Leadership isn’t nagging.  Ok, ok, so what is leadership then and why can’t I lead him?

Answer……he doesn’t want it and, listen girlie, he is as determined as you on this matter.

Once this sank in, was resisted vehemently, caused endless rows and overly slammed doors, removal of priveleges and absolutely no cake for tea never mind the honey, I remember falling into a black depression.  My mother, who also tried to lead my dad, who also had no intention of being led, had the advantage.  Dad was away all week so that she could lead all five of us, the neighbours, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker to her heart’s delight.  Then, when Dad came home at weekends, she could probably just about manage to shelve her leaderly urges for two days until she popped him once more on a plane to Dubai or Italy or Africa or wherever his veterinary consultant skills were currently in demand.  But my husband was always at home rejecting leadership, so I had to think sideways.

43 years later I have a crick in my neck and still no husband running along behind.  I ask myself, is that what I want?  And the answer (quick learner, me) is absolutely not.  What I want is actually just to lead myself, not to lead, and not to be led, although that bit is very much according to my current mood swing.  There are times, many times, when I do want him to lead me, and love the feeling of safety and protection his leadership brings.  When it goes wrong are those times I feel controlled, which is, of course, the same for him.  My tutting over dropped clothes, or whatever, serves only to make him feel controlled, and therefore to resist.

Aha…….now we are getting somewhere!

So, if I can’t control him and don’t want him to control me, and he feels the same, why does this need to lead still raise it’s discordant cry?  Because dear sweet daft woman, it is yourself you need to lead.

Well how can I lead me?  I am me and me is me and that’s three of us already.

Yes, and you can lead all of them, all the mees, as much as you like, to your hearts desire, knock yourself out!

Thinking, reflecting on this bonkers truth, opens many doors to me, to all mees present.  If, in an argument, I only consider my own voice and the content of my retorts, my behaviour, I am in control.  I am leading. I don’t need to lead the other (the one who is so obviously wrong) in this situation.  I only have to lead myself.

Yes, but, will you listen to what he is saying!  It’s complete tripe and EVERYONE would ALWAYS agree that he NEVER gets it.

Hmmm……so many absolutes.  But life and love isn’t about who is wrong or right, always or never.  It isn’t about what happened in the past and the past is only a minute behind me.  It is about leadership of myself, and if I can get that right, after a few, or many clumsy crashings through the thorn and thicket of life, then I just may find, to my eye-wide surprise that someone is following on behind.

Island Blog 74 – Spontaneous Adventures

The Boat House

 

I rarely plan adventures.  They just happen to me, swooping round corners and whopping me in the eyeballs.

Here I am !  Look at me!

And there it is, the adventure, full frontal and blocking my path.

I could, of course I could, step around it.  I could cite a whole gamut of plausible and dull reasons why I can’t take this adventure by the hand and let it lead me astray; like it’s nearly lunchtime for instance, or I must catch this ‘dry’ for a load of wet sheets, or it’s only Wednesday and nobody adventures on a Wednesday.

But, I say, and but again, the best times I have had in my bonkers life have been spontaneous adventures, when logic is wheeched over the fence leaving ample room for imagination and emotion to fill the inner void.  Then, and only then, does the adrenaline fizz like bubbles in my veins and my head feel light as goose down. I never get that fizz hanging out the sheets.

 

Yesterday we were planning to turn left.  The day had arrived in its customary shapeless grey but as we walked the little girls through the woods that climbed into the sky, we noticed a patch or two of blue.  Avoiding as best we could, the manic desire to search for more, we found a bridge with fast-running peaty mountain water and looked down to play Pooh Sticks.  We went under the bridge and sloshed over the slippy rocks, and climbed up the banks till our knees were brown as caramel and we were dizzy with giggles.  When we looked up again the day had shucked off the shapeless grey and the sky smiled blue and gold and warm.

 

So, instead of turning left for home, a sensible lunch preparation and an even more sensible change of trews and wellies, wet on the inside, (overly enthusiastic Pooh Stickery), we turned right and headed up and over the hill on the skinny track that first laid itself down, hundreds of years ago, beneath the feet of animals.  We turned up the tunes and sang our way up and down again, stopping only to remove a jumper or to admire the view or to encourage a mother and lamb to step onto the verge.  We passed by the little school shed with its beach hut stripes (The Square Rainbow) and turned down the track to where the little ferry would take us over to lunch. We pulled back the slide to reveal the red square, and the little boat cast off it’s moorings and began to move towards us.

 

Lunch, as I have said before, is a really delicious experience at the Boat House.  The welcome is warm and gentle, the food superbly prepared and presented.  We sat outside, watching the seabirds, and eating fresh prawns and I don’t mean those piddling shrimps most people understand to be prawns.  I mean island prawns, big and meaty and you only need four to be quite filled up.  The bread was straight from the baking oven with a lovely crust, the salad crisp and fresh and the dressing delicious.  But, it is not just the food that makes this place, run by Becky and Emma, so very good.  It’s the light in their eyes, the passion and enthusiasm for their business, their island welcome, their no-fuss-about-anything attitude.  They think outside the box.  They don’t say NO.  In fact, there is not a single NO visible on the island – such a joy to see in a world where NO is the most overly used word in all public places.

 

On the way home over the hill, past the Square Rainbow, we stopped to buy fresh strawberries from a roadside stall with an honesty box.  It was the last bag and as we put our money in the little till, and I saw the amount of cash already there, I thought…. how wonderful it is to adventure, to take risks, whether it be leaving an honesty box by the roadside, or opening a restaurant on a tiny little island or simply by turning right instead of left.

Island Blog 64 – Square Rainbows

Island Blog 64

This morning I set off along the single track road from my little stone built home in warm sunshine.  My task today is to help paint the school shed in a small (but vital) island primary school.  The head teacher had already talked with me about what she would like the shed to look like, using as decoration, all the beach litter the children had collected since last summer.  Each time there is a high tide or a high wind, the beaches are covered with flotsam and jetsam, some of it intriguing, some disgusting.  Obviously the disgusting bits are appropriately disposed of, but the colourful bits of plastic and rope and twine, shells and bones,  and all those things careless folk toss overboard, all are gathered, cleaned and stored for the Grand Shed Occasion.

Which is now.  Well, the beginning of it is now.  It may take some time to assemble, not least because little children have attention spans extremely short but sweet and by the way, not one of them can stand still without fidgeting.

We walked them around the brown slatted shed, and asked them how they would like to see the end result.  We fed them the odd line as they began heading off into Disneyworld, just to reel them in a bit, but not too much.  We explained the deck chair stripe idea and the starburst of plastic milk bottle tops on one side; the butterflies and daisies on one end, to compliment the big tubs of wild flowers already established to encourage butterflies.  We said that once the stripes were finished, they could play with spatter paint, flicking brush loads (well, not LOADS) against the wall.  The boys arms were already flexing and they did have to question whether we really meant it.  Their mouths formed a WOW.

Throwing paint at the wall…..like THIS????

Can I use a gun?  asked one boy.

Er……I think brushes this time, we told him and there was a chorused ‘Awwwww’ with that sweep up at the tail of it, as if we just might say…….Ok then, why not?

We plan a sort of mural on the side nearest the road, to impress the tourists.  Deck chairs, they thought.  We could stick one on the wall!  chirruped one girl.

Not with PVA, I said, sorry, but you can paint one on.  I could hear my voice go all dinky winky but she was no fool, and lost interest immediately.  She decided, instead, to paint a square rainbow.

Excellent.

A pair of swallows chattered at me as I worked.  Birds on the wire with plans for nest building arrested.  Sorry I said, but I’ll be gone soon and there’s plenty of daylight left.  A pair of lapwings serenaded me from the seaward field,  and sparrows dived in and out from the eaves;  everyone so very busy.

It’s good to be busy, among little fidgets, in the sunshine with a salt wind blowing my heart around.

Oh, and a square rainbow about to appear.

Island Blog 46 – Frozen

Island Blog 46

A friend and I play writing games together.  One of us picks a phrase, a subject and we both have to write for say five minutes, or ten, on that phrase or subject.  We are not supposed to think, or lift our pen from the page, but just to let our creativity flow unimpeded.

We have had some interesting projects.

‘The day I didn’t call’  was one, I remember, and another, ‘this exquisite wounding’.

A recent one was entitled ‘Frozen’

Just that.  Could lead you anywhere.

Here’s what I wrote:

‘Whenever I walk past a statue in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that person before someone froze them forever.  Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life?  Was that laudable (obviously) moment in time their only laudable moment in time, or was it all so laudable that we, living out our ordinary lives have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we walk by?

Did his or her feet ever ache in badly made shoes, and were they ever late for school or work or choir practice and did their teeth hurt eating ice cream? Were they kind to others, loving in their homes, humble in opinions?  What made them so remarkable?  And what would they think of the pigeons who perch on their horizontal bits and shit them white and greasy grey, or the homeless wanderers who slump beneath their lofty limbs?

Sometimes I read the plaque that tells of their achievement, but usually I just march by in my badly made shoes, avoiding pigeon shit and homeless wanderers on my ordinary way from A to B with deadlines in my head and a dirty rain threatening.

In Amsterdam, one moved.  A statue, I mean, and I did stop then.  Suddenly nothing was ordinary at all and I laughed out loud as the pigeons burst into the sky and an old man on a bench unfolded himself and laughed with me before sinking back down into the folds of his oversized coat’.