Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

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 140 Larks and Kate

 

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Singing is a lark don’t you think?

I feel like singing a lot of the time and sometimes in the wrong places such as the dentist’s waiting room or in a queue at the airport.  In my imagination I play out what would happen if I did sing.  That old lady over there would probably smile.  The kids would gawp and wonder if they had stepped into a movie and all the rest would study me from top to toe and think me bonkers.  None of that would matter if I could guarantee sounding good, which is never a given.  I would have to be travelling alone because being with someone else puts me in a situation of being One of Two, giving Two the right to an opinion and to take preventative action, neither of which boost conifdence.  I can feel very sure about a spontaneous decision and very unsure indeed about that same decision in the flip of one second when I am One of Two.  No, I need to be One of One if I plan to orchestrate my own flashmob without the mob.  I suspect this leaves me ‘flash’ and all my minders will roll their eyes and nod their heads at that association.

What, I wonder, is so wrong about bursting into song all alone whilst completely sober just because other people are around?  Other people are always around.  I would have to wander a desert or fly to the moon to find no people around.  It isn’t the same singing in the shower, or the car or when the house is empty and I don’t know why but it just isn’t.  There’s a sudden joy that pre-empts a desire to sing which I just don’t feel in the shower or the car or when the house is empty.  There is something about being out in the world, being among fellow humans, being alone among the crowds;  a sort of devilment, a pixie sense of fun, a frisson of excitement at absolutely nothing.  This is when I want to jump over the railings or tightrope walk a garden wall; when pavement squares threaten bears and, in their less dangerous moments, hopscotch.  I like sitting on the pavement and I do if I feel tired of the concrete seeping into my legs but rarely, if ever, has anyone joined me.  Why do we hate to stand out in a crowd when we so long to be individual and recognised as such?  It’s about looking foolish isn’t it. (not a question)

The thing is this.  We are a long time dead.  A boarding school best friend, lost over the years and found again quite recently has just contracted a wasting disease and died within months.  She was the same age as me.  When we unwillingly schooled together, we recognised a fellow scallywag immediately.  She didn’t want to knuckle down to ancient scratchy-knickered traditions any more than I did.  We found many ways to make life fun, and to make fun of everyone else.  She was wiry and fizzing with energy and always up for a lark.  And now she’s gone. But I did know her and I am remembering her and that time we hooked up in London and shared lunch and memories.  Our lives had been different and neither one a merry breeze but we were resilient, strong, feisty women who ‘sung’ our hearts out at every opportunity whether it sounded good or not.  If I had Kate behind me as my foolish imagination began to propel me into a flashmob without the mob, she would have joined me, not having a clue what to do but looking all enthusiastic about it anyway.  Perhaps we are born bonkers and perhaps this bonkerness is so deep within us that no man nor beast nor disaster nor catastrophe can even dent, never mind eradicate.  Well YAHOOO! to that is what I say.

When we talked, Kate and I about the other girls there, we discovered she had kept up with them whereas I had not.  She knew bits and pieces about each girl’s life and had met up with a few of them, even returning once to an old school reunion which I most definitely didn’t, not least because by that time I had 65 children and lived on the moon.  I wonder about their lives lived – what they really dreamed of.  We never talked that way at boarding school.  We talked about netball and ghastly cheese pie and who had fallen out with who, and why.  Most girls kept in line. The risk of being punished was way too great for any out-of-line-stepping.  It was all about the ‘Team spirit gels!’ – a team spirit structured by Them for Us, regardless of allergies or differences of opinion on the ‘how and why’ of such a structure.  Clomping to church in galoshes on a dry morning did little to encourage this team spirit and a whole lot for my inventive imagination.  In fact, I think it may well be precisely because I was grown in Boot Camp and then, at my most difficult stage, packaged off to Corntonvale au Sud, that I learned singing at all.  I don’t mean this literally, although I was a choir member and I did take my pianoforte exams, but more the sort of singing that comes from a deep place, one that won’t be stopped, one that doesn’t mind how it sounds when allowed to escape;  that singing that lifts and separates better than any playtex living bra; when one of two is suddenly one in a million and forever fixed in 999999999 minds, with adjectives various affixed; that singing you meet in another’s eyes, the one that tells you it’s ok now. There are two scallywags in this convent.

Singing is a lark.  Kate was a lark.  Therefore Kate was Singing.

Island Blog 127 Reasons to Stay

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Since writing my book, Island Wife, I have received many emails and letters from women whose own story relates to my own.  Some of them are short, some long and detailed, but many of them have the same question to ask me.  Why did I stick with my marriage?

The ‘how’ of it, I can answer.  Despite what appeared to be going on, and growing shape and form, I could always find one good reason to stay, one reason, however small and squeaky.  There may well have been a thousand reasons to leave, but it only took one to keep me in place.  In the early days, the reasons numbered five.  My five children.  I was confident and strong in the knowing that, were I to abandon ship, they would be damaged.  I make no judgement, nor did I ever, on women who do leave.  In fact, as I re-investigate my heart right now on this matter, I feel no critical twinges, nor any sense of superiority beside those good women who made a choice, a really tough one and one not without considerable personal angst and pain, guilt and fear.  I just couldn’t do it myself, not for long, anyway.

I used to watch other wives and mothers, as they flew in on warm winds to stay at Tapselteerie for their family holidays.  I warmed myself in the light of their eyes, eyes that told me they had found a nourishing bond in their own relationships, and that they were, yes, happy.  Of course, I have no knowledge of them now, but those glimpses into another’s life both helped and hindered me.  On the one hand, they made me envious.  They had managed to find a man who honoured them just as they came to him, not in need of any re-arranging, not faulty.  The new light they brought to the marriage was something he needed, wanted to be around, in order to find fulfillment.  He basked in it, sought her wisdom, let her be.  On the other hand, they made me feel that, had I been like them, I would also deserve such freedom within a relationship.  Oh poor little me.

As the children began to try out their wings and, eventually, flew the nest, I became increasingly aware that I was being abandoned by the five who gave me context.  Who am I now?  is a question I often asked myself, as the rooms hollowed out and the quiet of ‘just us’ settled like dust.  People, friends, told me that this was now my time to do something for me, and, yet, after decades of not doing something for me, I had no ideas at all.  When someone has ploughed the same furrow for that length of time, investing fully in the work of every day, and night, it is almost cruel to take it all away and to offer a wide horizon.  What could a no-longer-girl like me do with a broad horizon?  I’ll tell you what she does.  She stands there looking at it, mouth open, eyes wide and head empty, and then dives back to wash the kitchen floor, just to feel safe again.

In a different sort of relationship, one I observed in others and dream-wove from novels and movies, this woman would be given free rein to investigate, to research new roads, and, most importantly, encouraged gently to find her own wings, to grow new confidence as just herself in a new context – that of the big wide world.  If that encouragement is not proffered, and if it matters as much as I think it does, then she will hold to what she knows.

I know about monkey mind.  That chatter inside a head that always works to undermine walking out a dream.  I have worked hard to quiet that voice, and still do, for it is not the truth.  To imagine another life, without stepping into it, is just that.  Dreaming.  I found my way, by writing my story and setting it free in the big wide world.  You might say it was written in the hope for understanding, for empathy.  You might say I hoped it would bring a flash of remorse and a new beginning.  And it might do all of these.  It has already brought me a new self-confidence because to have a well-known and respected publisher take up your book, you must be able to write, and in these times of excellent writers, doubly so.  It has also taught me that feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing to change my situation is, well, pathetic, at best.

In those times of finding just one reason to stay, I discovered other ones, hiding in my attic.  In any relationship, there are at least two people, each with a very different perspective on life and ideas on how to live it.  Bring into each mix, parental baggage, school history, sibling rivalry and so on and then dress this damaged person in cowboy boots, or high heels and call it an adult.  Then shove it out into a world of high expectations, judgements, parameters, boundaries, social constraints and no mappage, no DIY manual on the subject, but only other opinions formed by those who came before, each one lumbering along under the weight of their own ‘stuff’.

I believe I have just found a new definition for Chaos.

Living now, each day as it comes, I learn something new.  Something new about me, about my marriage, my choices, my life thus far.  I still find reasons to keep walking, keep looking around, keep my heart soft and my stride strong and purposeful.  I have bad days, black dreams, bouts of self-pity and I can still make the house shake with a powerful door slam, but these are just a part of the whole.  What I love is a challenge and life is always thus.  I find only momentary delight in winning an argument if my opponent just backs down, remaining certain still of his own belief.  I find there is little (if any at all) point in going over who said what and when and in what tone of voice.  I find no future in paying the slightest attention to either of us in a grumpy mood. I am learning that perspective is king, and that grace is his queen.

At the end, whenever that may be, I will reflect on my choices, made by me, for me, and be content to know, not that I got it right, but that I got it at all.