Island Blog – Curiosity and Attitude

I love mornings. Always have and I don’t mind early. According to my ma I could lounge about in bed till lunchtime as a grumpy teenager but all that changed once I floated up the aisle in my Edwardian frock and made my vows, sans obedience, for the record. I cannot imagine the damage that vow has done to so many women of generations past. Well, actually, I can. It was hard enough sticking with ‘in sickness and in health’ or ’till death do us part’, which it eventually did of course. I never thought I would manage that bit having been infuriated for decades. I had wings but they were clipped, or maybe I clipped them myself. Who cares. What I feel good about now is that, in spite of me wishing I had been born a greylag goose with all the challenges and thrills and freedom of migration being quite acceptable in all their circles, I accomplished the whole shebang. Let us not dig too deep into the way I accomplished this massive accomplishment. A lot of the time I slammed doors, ran away, hid my secrets and spat into his coffee. That’s enough for now on the subject.

Mornings. Curiosity. Opening like a flower to each day. Sometimes I am like a daffodil that needs de-heading, sometimes a vibrant rose, smelling divine and perfectly formed. I never know what way the which of it will be. I just spring out of bed, ping into the bathroom and out again, pull on a frock or jeans and scoot downstairs towards the coffee pot. Since himself flew to the higher realms I haven’t always been the rose. Sometimes I sprang, pinged and scooted just to outrun the mare of the previous night, but didn’t always manage it. She has four legs after all and I only two. But, in the main, it was my decision not to repeat the mare even to myself. Always the same theme, wanting to run but stuck in glue, wanting to scream with a mouth full of silence, the usual. At least I don’t meet an overrun of rats as my old ma did. I told her she deserved it. All those years of criticism and judgement. And we laughed about it because she thought I was making a joke, which I wasn’t.

Each day comes anew, obviously, and with potential. A deal of the unfolding of that potential lies inside me, in my attitude, my list of ‘ways to live again’. There are many. But the most important start point, the blocks from which to leap, ping and scoot through whatever the day brings, is my attitude, followed closely by my action. I like A words. They are beginnings and that’s a favourite B word. A and B. Much better than beginning sloppily midway through the alphabet. I mean, do I go back or forward now? I never do that. I start at the beginning with a big fat A. Or two.

I notice, have oft noticed, that without himself to ‘correct’ my diction, choice of clothing and sound levels, I am surrounded, enclosed and flailing at times within a new freedom. Freedom, another favourite word, and, as a word, it is the call of the wild, a heart thriller, new lands, new skies, new choices, independence and excessive sound levels, but to actually live in freedom is quite a different flower, sometimes a daffodil needing decapitation, sometimes a rose. I swing from one to the other, sometimes hour by hour. I don’t know what to do with all this freedom. Could someone hem me in please? I know how that feels, how to live as a reactionary, how to slam doors, swear like a fishwife and throw spectacular tantrums. All that pent up energy has nowhere to go now. It can feel like a phantom pregnancy. No chance of birthing. How bizarre.

I am learning to step out of myself, just a few steps back, and to observe. I am rather interesting, I decide. A query in a frock, someone worth further investigation, more study. I am curious about who I am just now. The overstory is still me, looks like me, sounds like me, laughs and jokes and cries like me but beneath what you see, what I see in the mirror, lies complexity personified. Both dead daffodil and vibrant rose. Very confusilating. But I know enough to know that it has only been a few months after almost 50 years of having my diction corrected and my sound levels on mute, so patience is required. That’s a P word, yes, but I know that attitude and action are my ways to be patient, so I’m allowed a P dash. If I am thankful for all of my life, all of it, the memories, the darkling times, the fear, love, misery and joy of it and I let it all settle within, patiently, then this gratitude will grow a new flower in me. As will action. Not the sort of frenetic action that hides me from the grieving process but the little insignificant-in-themselves actions I take daily; a little sewing, a bit of reading, a lot of bird watching and a moderate amount of walking in the wild, all actions that lift my eyes off myself and into the real ‘out there’. These actions create my attitude and as the circle circles, my attitude creates more action, more interest in ways to live again, to flower anew and to keep moving on through the alphabet, letter by letter.

Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.

Island Blog – The Ambience of Time

‘Ambience – the quality or character given to a sound recording by the space in which the sound occurs.’

That’s just one meaning of the word but one I like, on consideration. Quality, Character, Space In Which The Sound Occurs. In other words, the Moment. Life is but a series of moments, so many missed, wished away, ignored, rejected in a lunatic hurtle to either a new beginning or to the end of it. In a quest for happiness we can miss it all. No wonder so many lie on their bed of death in a cloud of regret, not, perhaps at their whole life but at those moments missed, ones that now take on the aspect and the voice of the Final Jury.

Ah, foolish man, foolish woman. There is enough well-crafted literature out there for us all to become professional livers of life, words gifted to those with eyes to read, ears to hear, minds to learn and feet to stay grounded in each moment, turning up for every one of them. It is easy to understand the rightness of such thinking, such a way of being but the world is loud as a bully and equally as daunting. Although we know that a bully is all fur coat and no nickers once ignored as we might a persistent bluebottle, the daunt is still there like an overwhelming fear, and it can confound the best of us.

However, knowing something is for the logic brain. Feelings, by contrast, riddle our minds, our hearts, our choices and our definition of self, like bullets from a machine gun. It’s spaghetti junction inside, a tangle of ups and downs, rounds and backs again, and appears beyond our control, as indeed feelings are. But here we have a choice. My choice is to say ‘Okay, I hear you all. All the feelings, all the logic learned from others way wiser than I and nothing makes a jot of sense. There is no flipshot way I can sort this tangle out. None of you agree for a kick-off and I am down here, little me in my frock and wellies wondering how deep the puddles will be today, bothering about my piddling worries, the state of the world and whether the battery on my phone will last until I get home again. So here’s the plan. You carry on disagreeing and tangling and arguing with each other and I am going to spend this day watching the moments as they come to me. I’m going to notice each one, be thankful for them all as they come and go and when this day is done I might check in on you bickering brats, or I might not. I know you are a gift. I know that all you feelings and all you counteractive logicians are, and have been, wonderful guides throughout my life, barring the times you meet each other across the valley of my mind with staves and spears, guns and a lot of yelling, but this day you are too much for me. There is a life down here being lived and it is I who am living it. So I choose to ignore you and to settle like a fatling hen upon her eggs for this day alone’.

I only have today. So do you. So does every living soul, regardless of status (perceived or real), colour, creed, race, history, size, plans and wealth. Just today. How will I live it? How will you? Will we hurtle in our steely rockets, slicing the moments into forgettable fractions or will we stop and share a smile, buy a beggar a burger and mug of hot tea, ask a colleague how they really are, phone mum, write an encouraging letter or email, study the pidgeon on the window ledge until we really see it?

There will always be a tangle within. We are humans with tangles. But if we forget to live our lives moment by moment, our life will still be lived without us being a part of it. Letting go of the tangles won’t bother them much, at first, but in choosing to notice everything and by some magical and out-there process, this tangle is no match for a person who lets go and who lives just this day as it is, who simply turns up, curious and wild at heart.

I leave you with a wisdom from Sarah Manguso:-

‘Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments – an inability to accept life as on-going.’ and, in her writing about keeping a journal…..

‘I just wanted to retain the whole memory of my life, to control the itinerary of my visitations, to forget what I wanted to forget.

Good luck with that, whispered the dead.’

Island Blog 154 Reality Check

Rumi wisdom

As I sit here tapping on the keys of a laptop, waiting for my friends to wake up to another glorious morning in Argyll, I consider our conversation last night over dinner, on Perception and Reality. We had spent the afternoon developing depth and texture on one of my songs. Again, they said, sing that again, only, this time, shorten the vowel sound and give it more breath. Slowly but surely, a single line of melody took on colour and light. There were six of me in the end, in as perfect a repeat as made no difference. It’s interesting how difficult it is to sing exactly the same over an original melody line, not so much the rise and fall of the notes in sequence, but more the length of beats in a single word, such as ‘gold’ or ‘right’. If the consonants don’t land at precisely the same point (and a nanosecond matters) then it can sound like a shower of bullets. T-t-t……etc. I considered bringing the importance of such perfect repetition into ordinary life, hence the conversation. I may walk through exactly the same situation as you, but our perception of it can be chalk versus cheese.
Why is that, and is it okay, good, even, to have different slants, sometimes as many as there are people involved? Of course, it can make for war, and often has, and will continue to do so as long as people walk the earth; one that seems to be managing to extinguish rather a lot of its inhabitants. On a goodly sunshine day, and in a warm, easy, light-hearted situation, such as a merry meet in the bakery or on the street, our differences in perception and ‘reality’ matter little. We can walk away, wave, think what we like once the meet is done, but life isn’t about merry meets all the time.
Sometimes we butt up against an opinion we do not share, but however skilled we are at marketing our own, however loud we talk, however clever our words, we can never change the perception of another soul. We do not live their life, share their dreams and longings, feel their pain, know their joy, understand their song. And we have never looked through their eyes. We may try to do just that and call it empathy. We learn to listen, some of us, and then to mindfully consider that our own perception of reality, the one we are absolutely convinced is the blue print, just might be a blur to another.
At the moment we are all facing a Perception/Reality check, as the country moves towards election day. Some of us will shrug it off, not bother to vote, asking What’s the Point when Nothing Changes? We are bombarded with arguments, one party shouting its promises, another berating those promises as so much rubbish. Accusations of past failure, one-upmanship, clever quips and outright slander is all around us. Who is right to lead us and do we believe in the depth and texture, the perfect unity of their song, or do we feel bullet-battered and uncertain of the melody line?
One thing is for certain. If we bother to vote, at least we make it clear that our own reality matters to us, however we perceive it.

Island Blog 133 One Hand

 

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Whenever I go somewhere or meet someone, or do something, and then come back to my own solitude, I bring rememberings with me.  We all do, of curse, but not all of us revisit them in order to learn a new thing.  I know this, because I have asked people who continue on the same track regardless of encounters of the third, or any other kind.  I have never worked that way, because I believe that everything changes me.  A glimpse of a smile from a distance, unexpected and easily missed had I been burying in my bag for my mobile, or lippy, or notepad; something a person says, albeit like a grace note that leads quickly back to the dominant chord; a fleeting look, hurriedly corrected so the eyes give nothing away; a chance meeting, a chance to see, to hear, to notice.

The world is moving too fast, everyone says so.  Not the actual world, but we who stomp across it’s surface, plunder it’s depths, take too many liberties.  However, it is the way it is, and bemoaning what is lost is a pointless excercise and one that can have me rolling my eyes and taking my leave.  It has aye been this way, and we were sure to speed up.  We thrive on a challenge, ache to be the first to discover new ways to do old things, so I embrace the change, however much it might trip me up.  After all, did I know how to blog, tweet and facebook a year ago?  I did not, and it is only thanks to the team at Two Roads and Hodder that I have learned anything at all, or discovered the delights and noted the pitfalls involved in this trip to outer space. Had I been curmudgeonly, had I succeeded in returning my laptop to a pile of component parts, as I badly wanted to do, I would still be on the outside, swearing I knew all about it and wanted none of it.  I would have sounded knowledgable whilst I sank in the quicksands of ignorance.

Learning how to notice every little thing, is just a habit.  However, like all habits, it requires attention and mindfulness at the outset, until it becomes something that our subconscious mind, our higher self, takes on board.  I am no expert on any of the many wonderful ways we can control the lunacy of our monkey minds beyond knowing that I have 12 monkeys at least in my head and must, therefore be 12 times more determined to shut them up when their screeching and tree-leaping drowns out all gentle sound, such as that of a baby bird calling from across the loch, the sound of one small voice in a busy street, the sound of pain, of hope, of fear, of longing, the sound of one hand.

Walking with my old Ma down a dusty track in Corfu, not lost but heading that way, we moved slowly and noticed everything.  She has just had both cataracts done so she does a whole lot more noticing that I have noticed her doing before.  The scuttle of a tiny lizard, the tipping sideways of it’s head as it watched us pass by; a new red bloom, just opening, on a wild spread of hibiscus; the twinkle in the eye of the sand-seller with his jet black face, and his armsful of colourful sunglasses; the old dog, only it’s tail visible as it lies cooling off beneath a little bridge; the dragonfly and the black butterfly, the old woman clutching her prayerbook, dust on her long skirts and not one tooth in her head.  At each encounter, we stopped to talk about it, and, when I was quietly alone, later on, I revisited them all.

If, by just stopping albeit for a second or two, I grow my own world, not because I passed these things, these people, these moments by, but because I noticed them mindfully, then this must be a healthy option – more healthy than any breakfast cereal, nutritious diet, super-juice or form of excercise can ever be, although they all have their place in our general well-being.  People live and then they die, and sometimes too quickly and as a complete shock.  We know this, and yet we still live fast, rushing past moments to make contact, to make amends, to make friends, to make things well again.  We can be millionaires and poor as church mice at the same time, and we keep doing it.  The monkeys say it’s ok, don’t listen to that stuff.  They say things matter, that we should speculate, accumulate, call in the locksmith and keep it all safe, learn clever tactics for anger management and stress control, plan for the future and so on, and they are right, to a degree.  But we are out of balance if we think they are gods.

What we need to make time for, not merely hope that time will stretch just for us, are those things, people, moments, that grow our worlds beyond the daily admin.  We must become the change we want to see, not waste time wishing on a star as if we lived in some fairytale. We have it all right where we stand.  All we need to do is shut the monkeys up and listen for the sound of one hand.