Island Blog – Dot Dot or Dash

Last night we had a thunderstorm. Huge flashes of greenish light illuminated the darkness in my room turning the furniture into eerie monsters. The thunder didn’t bother with clapping. It roared like a god in a filthy temper. And the show went on, and on, and on. I could have been at a rock concert. Sleep gave in and curled up without me and I turned to my book for solace, two books actually, one on meditation, the other on Forgetting Self. Each time the lightning flashed I startled, counted, held my breath as the storm rolled around the Blue Mountains then deafened me with an explosion of thunder so as to make me ask myself what would happen if the sky really did fall down. I don’t remember when it grew calm again but by then it was already light and the day was rising into life.

Sipping strong coffee the storm thinks me. Not just the thunder and the lightning but my part in the performance. I was there. I heard it, saw it, thought about it, tossed and turned inside it, sighed at it and read to distract myself whilst it made its attention seeking journey across my night. I watched the way ordinary becomes extraordinary, the eerie furniture in greenish light, noticed how the flash-shadows menaced my thinking, felt the anticipation, acknowledged my insignificance beneath such life/death power. This its what Life does. That’s what I thought. Life lives on and Life is everything, everyone and everywhere. And I am not everything, nor everyone, nor everywhere. I am a small dot in a vast and endless tapestry of colour and form, shape and design, texture and flow. My world is piddling in this everywhere-ness, just a blip, just a dot and yet I can believe, in my arrogance, that my world is of tantamount importance. More important than yours, for instance, with a more considered layout and healthier stuff in my fridge; my Christmas tree is bigger and better decorated; my children more polite; my floors cleaner, my day more organised, my diary up to date and my appliances all charged.

What foolish nonsense is this! Even writing it down I smirk at such thinking and yet such thinking thinks me at times because in creating a warm wrap of ‘smug’ I feel safe in this everywhere and everyone world. Unless I decide to unthink the thinks. To change them.

I have used my time here in the African bush for much unthinking. With my piddling world many thousands of miles away it has been possible to look back, forward and at each moment and it has been a splendid journey. In ordinary life I/we tend to run through the trivia, listing it, dealing with it, sorting out the bits that don’t fit, dashing through the to-do list in order to arrive. Why is that? Is it because we feel we must get through everything in order to win a prize? Where is this prize anyway? I’ve never won it and that’s for sure. All I achieved was over-tiredness and a mouth full of scratchy nips. Did I seek pity from those I scratchy nipped? When I was too busy ‘Sorry, Thingy, I’m too busy to chat just now, got to dash’, to give of my time (so much more precious than yours by the way) and way too behind on the day’s to-do list to listen to your story down the phone line (I’ll call you back……yeah, right!) did I consider you for one single moment? I don’t think so. Although we say, particularly at Christmas, that we will give more time/of ourself to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers, we mostly unthink that once the gloom of January sets in. We get all emotional about change but once a year. Sounds ridiculous to me. How can anyone change but once a year? I’m changing every day, don’t know about you. I believe that life is change and the whole flipping point of being a dot on the tapestry of Life is to make a difference to the whole. Without the dot that is I, the dot that is you, this line would merge with that line. We dots are important, critical in fact, as long as we think beyond our piddlingness and pay attention to our dotting process. We could be a big dot. We might even be a scatter of dots, depending on how wide our loving arms can reach, on what kindnesses we proffer and how often we proffer them. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Interruptus? Of Coursicus. Infuriating? Oh yes. But, the inside feeling that comes from knowing we showed kindness, respect and affection to whoever disturbed our extremely valuable time will leave a glow inside that no outward success can ever bring.

And that is the Prize.

Island Blog 114 Two Shadows

 

2013-09-09 14.33.55

Well well well – here I sit to tell you that I have done all my Christmas shopping, wrapped it and posted or stored it under the skirts of my easy chairs.  When Sula was alive, that would have been impossible for she would have joined them, cooried in to the crackly nest and torn the cheap skinny wrappings into a gorgeous cosy nest.  I would have heard her, of course, but probably not in time.  I would have grabbed her waggy tail and hauled her out, whence she, astonished and alarmed would have embedded her sharp claws into the soft winciette pajama bottoms or the fine weavings of an expensive cardy, exacerbating the situation skywards and threatening me with spontaneous combustion, for which, at this time of day, there is only one cure. The Chilean syrah.

I am mindful, as I wander into houses where most of the inmates wear very small pants, that their days were mine, once.  The only large-panted members of the Tapselteerie clan, numbering one, (that’s me) were far too sensibly grown-up for such fun, hence the elevated size of pant.  We, or, rather, I, would never have bothered tiptoeing around by torchlight to rustle, as quietly as possible, under any skirts in search of a label with my name written upon’t.  Certainly not.  I was the one, with the megaphone and steel toe-caps, who stalked the dark reaches of the baronial mansion house, in search of rustlers.  Even the island husband could be caught snooping, although, to be honest, he could, quite easily, and did, lose a chainsaw under a sheet of A4, so he was never the leader in this shenanigan.  It seemed to me that everyone worked in secret, as if they didn’t want to be caught by anyone, let alone Miss Trunchbull.  I would find them, red-faced and jabbering with guilt, often in gumboots and hand-me-down jama bottoms, pretending to me, their Trunchbull of a mother, that they were looking for a book to read.  Like I was going to believe THAT!

And yet, a wistful part of me longed to be them.  Being sensible is deathly dull on a good day.  As my pant size changed, it seemed I had to become my clothing.  As a child, pulling on just something to get me down to my cornflakes was all I cared about.  How I looked meant absolutely nothing.  I didn’t consider what would happen if I was cold or if my shoes didn’t go with my outfit.  I didn’t consider my outfit at all.  I just yanked off my nightie and pulled on something a little more robust for my descent into the day.  I don’t recall wondering what I might feel like if the milkman caught me without a good 2″ of slap across my face, or if my jumper might be too warm for the time of year.  I just got dressed.

Admittedly, there were times, many of them, as my pants got bigger, when my mother might smirk at my bonkers assemblage of gold sequinned jumper over hotpants, but it was only her smirk that upset me, not the clothes upon my back. At Tapselteerie I fussed like a hen over my children’s casual attitude to clothing.  Wear a warm jumper out there, I would say, trying to thaw out the collie dog currently frozen to the ground by her girly bits.  She only sat down for a minute.  But they ran out, wild and skimpily clad into the day, into every day, and there were times I hated my job.  My Miss Trunchbull job.  At the shore, they swam in the freezing sea any time of the year, emerging sapphire blue and making wonderful percussion with their teeth.  I couldn’t even catch their jumping knees to rub them dry.  There, I said, now NEXT TIME……….. but next time was just the same as the last and still they laughed at me.  I think they probably still do, because I still do it.  If they had listened to my fears, they would be locked up by now, terrified by the voices in their heads, portenting doom if they so much as open the fridge.

Now, at my big pant age, I think back and I wonder.  What if I had just shut the hell up?  Well, I will never know what the answer to that, and I cannot change the past, but I can make a new future for myself.  I watch them with their own children, letting them fall, letting them burn a finger or two, warning quietly, then letting go.  I watch other people, other nations, like today at Madiba’s memorial service in Jo’burg and I see the wild musical African women, bopping and singing and ululating, and all in very much bigger pants than mine, and I see a new freedom.  I also see the stiff backed British sitting with stiff backs and not letting go at all.  Well, it isn’t British, is it?

There are times, many times, as I find myself in a train station of grownups, or a shop or just walking down a street, when I have the intense desire to spin around, to begin a song and to sing it right through.  Not for an audience to boo or applaud, but just for me.  The other day I went out at dusk in Glasgow, to collect something from a shop.  As I walked back among other grownups, intent on their mission, their Iphone, their deadline, I had this feeling and just spun around, my arms wide.  There was a fingernail moon in a clear cold sky, and, as I walked back feeling very delighted withe myself, and smiling like a loon, I saw two shadows on the pavement.

They were both mine.

Island Blog 94 The Right to Write

2013-02-14 14.43.19

 

As the story grows and the characters take form and substance, grow opinions and modes of behaviour, I find myself stepping back a bit.  After all, I am not really there in this game, not really walking through the doors into the rooms, not visible to any of them.  And yet, if I don’t make them move, they stand still and silent and nothing moves forward.

They are not mere puppets, though, and their world not fashioned by me.  I didn’t think them up out of nowhere, paint on their faces, line up their strings.  They came to me and said hallo and I turned to take a good look.  We decided we like each other, tentatively at first, for there are no end of opportunities for us to fall out.  Even when things appear to be swimming along, quite joco, the tables can turn a surprise on us all.

Part of being able to present, if that’s the right word, a believable character, first to the reader, and secondly to the storyline, is through intense observation of all human beings encountered.  I watch dynamics between people, study body language, the way a person shrugs when asked a hoary question, for instance.  What do her shoulders do as she shrugs, her face, how does it look?  Does she turn away in miserable defeat, or do her eyes tell me she is working up a mouthful of bullets to spit right back?  Does she have a dog/child/handbag and where is the dog/child/handbag when this dodgy question is asked?  Is she in a crowded place or on a mountain top at sunrise?  Why sunrise?  Why a crowded place?  Does she like one over the other and is she in the place that feels most comfortable, or the opposite?

These are but minutes in days of writing practice – practice in my imagination first, then lobbed into my left brain to find the potholes in the path it is choosing to go down.  I write down words, ‘how can this happen?’ questions, speak them out into an empty room or toss them into the wind that ever blows around the island shores.  I must not meddle with this process, or try to rush it, or that part of the story, perhaps the whole thing, will turn to mud, as my paintings did when I couldn’t put down the brush to wait patiently for an answer.

In life, we often don’t wait for answers, believing that it is down to us, to me, to fix this thing and right now before it irritates any more of the bejabers out of me and, besides, I can’t think straight with it fannying around my head, because I have a to-do list awaiting me……look, there it sits on the desk with hardly a tick beside any of it!

Wrong thinking.  The answer, when considering options, texture and colours for an inter-weave of characters inside a story is to stop thinking.  Of course, it isn’t possible, well, not for me, to unthink once I am in the deep fabric of a piece of writing because I am already part of the life of it and interested, fascinated, intrigued and excited to know who will do what next, and when.  But, I can push it/them/ gently behind the cogs and pistons of my brain allowing forward another thing or two to busy me a bit, and to give the story time to evolve without me.

Without me?  you cry.  But I must control it all the time.

Now let me ask you this.  If it were down to just you, or just me to control everything in our lives, would it be a good thing, do you think?

Just play back on a few bloomers in the past, when control of a thing was down to you.

The most important and critical thing to understand, is this.  Gazing wistfully at a published writer, with varying degrees of apparent success will not write your story.  Only you, only I, can write our own stories because only we can bring that texture, those colours and that melody into the light, and if you or I never turn to say hallo to an idea, a storyline, a character, it will stay forever in the shadows of regret.  We don’t need to know how to do it. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but, as I reach out my hand in welcome, I suddenly realise that I am not alone.  It is not just me.  And so, it begins.