Island Blog – Independent Christmas

Well, this is a fine kettle of fish indeed! We can meet up for Christmas, no we can’t, yes we possibly might be able to, no we cannot, absolutely not, unless we…………. It’s a wonder any of us know which way is up these days. However, it seems clear enough to me, as the fog of confusion dissipates, that each one of us is required to employ a great measure of common sense. As we all know, this ‘common sense’ is anything but common inside a society that waits for Someone Else to tell us what to do. Independent thinking has slowly been erased from our brains until we become almost robotic. Or that is how it looks to me. Even when a goodly person ferrets about for an answer to that tricky question “How do you feel about this situation?’ and even more alarmingly “What do you plan to do about it?’ these two simple questions can create chaos inside a mind. I know it myself. First, I pull back; then I begin a sort of dervish twirl that can take my frock skirts over my head and leave me mighty nauseous; this swirl thing can go on for days, weeks even, as I repeat the questions to myself and find answers none.

I have now worked it out. Making an independent decision in the face of a national, nay global dilemma, is a big ask of a small woman, of all of us. Listening to the news, the rising numbers of those falling prey to the virus, alarms me greatly. The rise, it seems, is directly connected to ‘gatherings’ such as shopping for gifts and supples, or meeting together in pubs etc. Well, if that isn’t a ‘duh!’ I don’t know what is. Obviously, when folk gather under such a cloud of mean-spirited virus, that virus will spread. It is silent. It is lethal. It is not going anywhere with all these willing subjects just ignoring the danger. Who would? If I was a virus I’d be laughing my head off right now. So now, when I ask those two questions, the answers are simple. I feel alarmed and because I feel alarmed, I am not travelling anywhere, nor inviting all my friends in for a hoolie. Simples.

Yes, it is Christmas time and yes we have been locked down since March, afraid and isolated. Some of us have seen death in that time; some of us have, thankfully, not. The good news is that Christmas is an annual event, not a once in a lifetime thing. It will come next year, as many good things will. When we look back over this last year what will we say? Will we bang on about how tough it was, forgetting all the myriad and unexpected things wonderful that came our way, or will we be deeply thankful that we got through it, and together. I have never known such a unity in the world, seen or heard of so many random acts of kindness or learned of so many heroes and heroines who snuck out of the woodwork of their ordinary lives and became extraordinary. And all this because why? Because of the virus, that’s why. In times of peace we get complacent and idle. In times of war, such as this time in which we live right now, we find an inner strength and resourcefulness we never knew was inside us at all.

Whittling down the stick I find the wooden heart. If I do the same to the swirling dervish of confusion I find my own heart, the mind of my heart, the true voice of independent thinking. We may be advised not to travel. This is not a rule and there are no road blocks out there, after all. However, when I consider my part in the healing process of a whole nation or two, it is obvious to me that travel is a risk, so I won’t be doing that. It won’t be easy, seeing no family on this, my first ever Christmas alone, but I can do this. Anyone can do this. It is just a matter of independent thinking, of having a deep love and respect for life itself, and vision for a collective future. Once an independent decision is made, it is surprisingly freeing. The swirl and confusion slows to a stop. Try it.

And the chance to share Christmas with those we love will come again next year as long as we get our thinking straight for this one.

Island Blog – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

Island Blog 85 – Coming Home

2013-07-25 09.56.40When I go anywhere I take me with me.  Now I know that sounds, at best, numptyish, at worst psychotic, but I don’t mean it physically.  It is obvious on a human level that I am pretty much stuck with me till death do us part.  But the natural desire to escape my inner self, that part I cannot see, can sometimes overwhelm.

No-one admits to it of course.  Well, it is possible to keep this tricky creature well and truly hidden, and for a whole lifetime if I so choose, which I do not.  As I ‘open my heart’ to someone, I let them glimpse into my very soul.  Sometimes it really helps.  Sometimes I regret it.  I can feel trampled.

As I skitter about the country on this new adventure, I can feel as light as a bird, catching a ride on the thermals, soaring through the clouds and into wide new skies, or I can feel like a desert tumbleweed with sand in my eyes till I’m blind.

What I have worked out is that it has less to do with whatever I meet on my journeys and everything to do with how I feel about me.  Not in a ‘will I be good enough for them? sort of way, but more…’will I be good enough for me?

For it is always me who judges me, and my judge has a knife for a tongue.  When I meet new people, they don’t hear my judge.  In fact, if I was to tell them what she thinks of me, they would laugh out loud.

Now, if I, with all my confident energy, who can write, paint, sing and dance my life…..if I am still trying to co-ordinate the inside with the outside of me, in my final trimester, what on earth is it like for the rest of the world? And why is it we have this constant search for peace?

Well, I think it is what life is all about.  I don’t think anyone has it sussed, lives a perfect life.  I don’t believe in material wealth as the answer, nor academic brilliance.  Most of us don’t remember those who made no impression on our lives, and remember clearly those who, through struggle, did something different, made something happen.  These people, the ones we do remember had the same judge we all have.  Some people call it the devil.  Some people think it’s what they eat, or where they live, or who they live with, but I think we are all born with it all fankled up in our DNA and it’s quite impossible to hide from.

The good part of it tells us to be careful, to watch our step, to consider our actions.  In balance this is all good.  Out of balance, it becomes growing self-doubt, and, if we keep feeding it, it takes over our inner garden, rising high as weeds that eventually block out our sun.

What a waste.

Well….. I have said, What a waste to myself a million times and still crouched there behind the weeds, peering out at a passing crowd of confident others and snivelling into my pocket handkerchief.

Travelling through new lands I get time to think things through.  I never thought anything through for decades as there was never more than five minutes available for such indulgence.  But now, I can, and I do and its very exciting and encouraging, because I realise this.

It is never ever too late to begin again and I begin with one conscious decision.

To get on with it.

To thank the judge for her protective presence, but to take charge of her.  To listen, but to respond with confidence.  When she tuts and shakes her head and says in that ‘I know what’s best for you dear’ voice…..’You can’t do that.  You never did it before and got it right.  Just give up the idea and stay where you are…….’ I will stop, turn to her and say………

Just watch me!

And then I will spin on my sassy heel and step into my life.

Island Blog 62 – Saying Yes

Island Blog 62

There are two of us leaving the island tomorrow.  One is me heading to Edinburgh for a book signing day in quite a few goodly bookshops and then on to Glasgow for my interview with Sally Magnusson on Friday for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’ which will air at 7.05 am on Sunday June 2nd.

Note for diary.

And the other is my little red laptop because she has decided to air her rebellious female side and has taken the initiative to add extra letters to the words my fingers ping out on her shiny black keyboard.  Although I do like a rebellious woman, am one myself and recognise the song of another in a crowd of hundreds, to this behaviour I have to say NO.

Now don’t get all ‘aw’ about it.  She is my tool and I need her to stay in line.  When I am writing a song, a blog a tweet or a piece for a monthly (is that why they are known as ‘periodicals’ one wonders……?) I must know that what I decide to lay down as a word smith, is what is laid down.  I cannot have random violations of that rule, any more than a pianist can have a sixth finger ping out a discord right in the flow of some enigmatic cadenza.  It just wouldn’t win the audience.

So, my lady in red is off to Germany for the second time.  As you may remember from her last ‘collapse’ into depravity, I diddled about for ages in the worldwide web to find the Laptop Hospital.  This time I knew my way and answered all the questions correctly.  I know this because that rather handsome delivery man is coming to collect her in the morning and I have the Collection Number.

I thought me a bit about saying No.  I think we women find it hard.  I know we do.  It’s something to do with our mother’s mother’s mothers who rarely said no to anything, just to keep the country going.  I honour their way, but it doesn’t work today, and it may not have worked for them, but they were way too good at stepping back into the wallpaper without a murmur and giving their lives as a gift for just about anyone who stepped into their space.

Not us girls.  I say ‘girls’ and laugh at myself with all my wrinkle potions, but you know what I mean.  Saying no is still hard.  Oh, I can be so very wise with someone else’s No dilemma.  I can advise them into a very tight corner, where all they can do is nod because the rest of them is pinned down by my Wise Words.  It doesn’t change them, even if they recognise the wisdom and hope they can walk it out into their own lives, but when they leave thinking how remarkable I am, I think for a moment about how well I manage to say NO at times in my own life when I am scared of rejection and judgement.

The answer is that I am full of wind (as they say up here) and the work I need to do on myself is still there.

But, what I can tell them, all these women, young and old, who fight to say NO to something, someone and to rise beyond the fear of rejection and judgement, is this:

Try it.  Just once.  And taste it.  The freedom of it.  The wild crazy headiness of it.  Ok, the person you said No to didn’t like it.  Of course they didn’t.  Would you?  But they coped with it and they reset their internal picture of you and they left feeling weird but really rather intrigued.  They might have said…….wow, good for her!

Because, what I do know, is that when you say No to someone else, actually say it, gently, without anger or blame (recognising that you have fed this all along) and with love in your heart for them, for yourself……..

You say YES to you.

Island Blog 54 – All Roads Lead

Island Blog 54

 

I had arrived as a surprise.  My daughter met me in the hallway and we hugged and exchanged greetings.  A little voice from deep inside the house asked ‘Where is Granny talking from Mummy?’ and we both laughed, as did the little girl once she found me.

I could have been using skype as my road, or the house phone on loudspeaker.  Her last thought was that she would round the corner and find me standing there.

But there are many roads we cannot see, such as a span of years or a scene from the past.  We can only find a shape to those inside our imaginations, and no two imaginations will find the same route, although the destination is the same.

Driving Miss Daisy the other day, through the wintry  island wasteland,  I pointed out a wonderful stone formation, obviously man-built as support for the rise of a narrow track, that wound its way down towards the Atlantic shoreline.  There was not a drop of mortar holding it together, but only the skill of the dry stone builder.

We considered the time when this track would have carried man and his animals, and nothing weightier than a pony and cart loaded with hay or feed for the hungry animals. We could hear in our imaginations, the slow march of a day long gone by, the lowing of the cattle, the call of a ewe to her lambs, the odd shout or whistle of the shepherd, and the bark of his dogs.  For a moment we could count the day in hours, smell the changing seasons, according to the rise and fall of the sun, or the flow and ebb of the moon tides.

But our pictures would have been very different.

Sometimes in the clipping season, or when the ewes are brought in for dosing, the hill road from the little town grinds to a halt. The local shepherdess is gathering her flock and calling for them to follow her, through the open window of her truck.  Those of us forming an ever-growing snake are required to dig for patience as we lurch and stall in the wake of a hundred woolly legs. There is no opportunity to overtake, and no possibility of speeding up.

Some of us click our tongues and roll our eyes impatiently.  Some of us smile, knowing we have arrived in an afternoon where time is not the issue, and to hurry along would be to risk lambs becoming separated from their mothers. And we can notice, at this slow pace, the first buds on the heather, the marsh harrier overhead, the way the clouds change and reform into new shapes above the gentle roll of the hills.  We can catch the soft calls to ‘follow!’ as they float back to us on a breeze.

And we will all arrive at our destination.

In the end

Island Blog 24 – Many a Mile

Island Blog 24

(c) Jennifer Fairbairns

On the eve of a journey I get collywobbles.  That is a word, I just checked, although it not being a word, as in a dictionary word, would never stop me writing it.  Sometimes there is just no acceptable word or phrase to describe what I am feeling, or seeing and so I just make it up.

In my young days of being the Elocution Queen, propelling my voice, ‘Chin UP girl!’ with my neck pushed forward like a goose on the attack and all my tendons tight as telephone wires. I would have been upbraided by Miss Stuffy Drawers endlessly.  She of the stuffy drawers is long dead, bless her old heart, so I feel quite reckless these days when choosing my words.

Onomatopoeic, they are, in the main, and sounding like themselves, the way they feel.  I could waffle on about the colour of my feelings too, but I might lose you sensible readers who like to hear a regimental march in the laying down of prose, although nowadays anything goes.

Or does it?

I love language, any language, whether it be Spanish or street talk, even if I don’t understand one word, as long as it is spoken from the heart and not contrived.  Sometimes even the Queen’s English can sound contrived, if it is pompously delivered and devoid of feeling.  Words are music after all;  they have a rhythm, phrasing.  They need to convey both information and emotion, even if it is just giving someone directions to the station.

Which brings me neatly back to my collywobbles.

Tomorrow I fly.  Not with the geese, as I have always wanted to do, but with British Airways back up to Scotland.  I have, by mistake, booked an aisle seat so I won’t see any more than the back of someone’s head.  It’s not that I am fearful of flying, nor of a train bus or car journey, so I can’t really explain my inner state at all.  Perhaps it is just stepping away from what has become the norm for me.  Perhaps there is a frisson of anxiety about going back to whatever I am going back to.

How can I get back into the old routine?  Do I want to get back into the old routine?  Do I even have one?

And so on.

I felt this way starting a new school, or the first day of a new job, and there is a beauty in there somewhere if I can just lay my hands on it.  If I can rest in the process, if I can worry not, but trust that all is just as it should be and I am the only one who can do whatever I must do, then I will take each step mindfully and be inside the moment.

Holy men have learned themselves into such a state.  Hermits live alone for years to find it, this inner peace.  Material things will never be enough, however much I may think they are the solution.  Enlightenment is a personal journey, a quiet reflective one, one lived step by step, inch by inch, and all my anxieties do is rush me ahead of myself, into an imagined non-reality.

I met someone once who told me he was enlightened.  I fought back a snort.  If someone has to tell me he is enlightened, he is most definitely not.  No-one who has reached that state would ever feel the need to say a single word.

I obviously have miles to go.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

–        Robert Frost