Island Blog – All Change

I remember bus conductors calling this out, or hearing that remote voice through the speakers in a carriage as the train touched the buffers. Nowadays trains ‘terminate’ which I always feel is a bit of an overstatement. The first time I heard that word in relation to a train plus buffers, I laughed out loud, startling the quiet around me and drawing attention to myself. I wanted to explain. I wanted to question the use of that word in this context, but I said nothing. Just grinned foolishly and gathered up my chattels. On the platform I did look back, once, to see what might happen when a train ‘terminates’ but the old engine just sat there, puffing a bit, and not, it seemed, in any danger of termination.

In life we all have to change and sometimes all is in need of a change. The old ways of doing things, even the things themselves, demand to be released into the past. We know it. We resist it, at first and if you are like me, at second and even at third. Sometimes I have got all the way up to ten in my resistance. Welcoming change is easy when it doesn’t require much of me, doesn’t tell me I need to do yet more inner work, write yet more plans of action, or to step out of my comfy slippers and into jack boots. It is bothersome to say the least. I mean, I was fine, wasn’t I, doing things this way? For ages, in fact. So many ages that I don’t have to think about my doings or beings around this thing. I just do it and I just be. And who says I need to change, anyway? Some high principled god figure with a pointy finger? It never sits well with me when I sense a pointy finger until I realise it is my own.

So this change I apparently need to make is a pain in the aspidistra. My aspidistra. How irritating is that! It seems I am required to improve myself in some area of my doing and being. I tell myself that the benefits will resound like a gong in the empty room I am about to create for myself, that one I have just cleared of all furniture and drapes; the one with only spiders and dust. The gong will sound marvellous, echo-ey and with a boing that will bounce off the bare walls for some minutes, filling my ears and rumbling my breastbone. I will feel it, as well as hear it. This is my new beginning. It is very tempting to lug the furniture back in but with my own pointy finger pointing, I cannot. Besides, the air is clearer now and the room without geography. A blank canvas. Even though my fingers are twitching, my yearn for the old design strong-voiced and persuasive, I resist. I walk around the room, touching the walls, seeing the marks of what once hung there, rectangles of grime. Cobwebs loop.

I call out my hoover, attach myself to the non-business end and press ‘play’. Within moments all signs of the past have gone. I have nowhere to sit, nothing to look at, no place of rest. So be it. I make a cup of rosy lee and lean against the door jamb. I look around me, try my voice out in the empty space. Who am I now? now, now,now,now.

Answer comes there, none. Apparently, that’s ok. Whatever change I have requested from the great high Out There is, as yet, unknown to me, its benefits a guess at best. But I do know I asked for this, no matter the flaming inconvenience of it actually arriving at my door. We all ask for change at times. What we don’t all do is welcome it in and trust, no matter how scary it may feel.

For now, I am on ‘pause’. Something wonderful will come, because I have cleared the way for it. The next bit will be what it will be, and Lady Providence is always standing at the crossroads. I see her up ahead, her hand held out to me.

And so, it is.

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.

Island Blog – Woman

I’m thinking about her today. I am one, after all. A woman I mean. As Dennis rages like a husband outside my door, threatening to uplift the new conservatory, I turn in to my thoughts. After a Dennis sort of morning I put on music – my sanity these days. Have you heard Disturbed sing The Sound of Silence, or Elbow’s Fickle Flame or Lily Allen sing Somewhere Only We Know by Keane? I research music a lot and am helped considerably by my youngest, equally in love with music. Lyrics, musicality and beat can lift any soul from a dark place. I recommend it if the dark surrounds you this day, or any other day.

I add something super dull to the shopping list, holding said list in place with a heart shaped stone as if Dennis might get in somehow and snatch it. Actually, he is welcome to it. I get dead bored of shopping lists, of washing clothes on the right setting, of wiping down tables, of mopping spills I never spilled. It seems to me that women are always on the move and it is just as well or most of the world would just sit down and wait for a sandwich. Not only do we end up on the sandwich rota but we are required to pop here and collect that on a regular basis. Then there are screaming children to squeeze into clothes they don’t want to wear ending in a fraught drive to school. There’s a flaming mother-in-law to appease and toilets to clean; there are beds to make, rooms to tidy, gardens to tease back into life; phone calls to answer, batteries to replace, dogs to feed and supper to be planned, bought and prepared. I am sure there are modern women who fold their arms, say something colourful and then go out for Prosecco with the girls but I don’t meet too many of those. From girlhood we are conditioned. I see it with my own little grand-girls, the unconscious teaching by their mums, the learning they absorb through example. I want to throw fireworks at it all, but (and there’s always one of those) I cannot see how the family would survive if women stopped being IT. That indomitable spirit is in each one of us. How else would we survive? Although life does dump on us, despite the fairytale wedding and all those impossible promises, we find an inner strength we never knew we had. It seems we can take pretty much everything on the chin and still keep our sense of fun and fight.

A man once said, a man I admire to the skies, that he had no idea how we women kept so full of life. Observing the very obvious attitude of the world, that of demoting women at every opportunity, plus the lie that they believe in equality, this man made his own mind up. God bless him. We need more of him. He can see our spirit and he loves it. Loves it! it doesn’t frighten him at all, which is, of course, what it does to men in general. Strong women remind them of their mothers and they really don’t want that image in their minds.

This fighting spirit is powerful and dangerous. Powerful when guided right and dangerous when left to turn into low-boil anger. I have learned the difference between the two, often. I know when my angry puts down roots and applies itself to the whole garden, and it needs uprooting. Power is quite different, something precious to be nurtured and loved and admired. It is a part of every woman. Although young girls learn submission and polite behaviour in order to survive the early years, that spirit is still alive inside them and it will out, trust me. And it scares even them, the first time; the time they see injustice, feel it, are hurt or attacked. It will rise like a hot dragon breathing fire, one who needs teaching. Not now Dragon. Yes, now Dragon. That sort of teaching. We learn this as we form into the women we will become and it is a good thing. I have met women whose dragon controlled them and their life was not a happy one.

However it is good to just know the dragon is there, to feel her power and strength and to know she will always be there for you, and for me.

Island Blog – Wild Heart

“Strong back. Soft Front. Wild Heart” – Brene Brown

Some mornings you just wake up happy. I did this morning, helped into sentience by a big rumble of thunder and the tickle of rain dripping from the thatch outside my bedroom window, splatting on the stoep like the marching feet of tiny soldiers. Rain! Good rain, and at last. The birds lift from the sand floor to snatch at flying termites and other members of the flighted macrosystem; too small to be of interest on a sunshine day. Inside this wet dawning the symbiosis of natural life is centre stage, visible and buzzing with life. Without the rain, the insects wouldn’t fly; without the insects there would be no birds; without the birds no germination of precious seeds; without the seeds, no green shoots for giraffe, zebra, elephant, buck, rhino, both black and white, buffalo, nyala and so many more. Without the herbivores, no predators, no leopard, lion, cheetah, hyena, painted dogs, jackals and I could bore the pants off you with a much longer list. And it all begins with that rumble of thunder, the clouds heavy with precious water, more than ready to off their loads. The Blue Mountains are part-hidden in cloud, their heads lost in in the lowered sky. I can almost hear the parched ground sigh in a delicious relief.

The symbiosis found (when studied and understood) is no different to the one we humans need as we need water for our bodily thirst. But here’s the thing. We have forgot. We think, in our foolish ignorance that we don’t really need each other all that much in order to be a ‘success’ in life. We need our families, of course, and our carefully selected friends but the rest of humanity is just there and sometimes we wish they were not. People come with a load of irritating, nay infuriating, habits that we simply do not want to be around. So we circumnavigate these other humans, judging them cruelly whilst not really knowing them at all. ‘It is hard to hate a person close-up’ (Brene Brown). We can happily snigger together about colour, creed, race, religion and an opposing political view, sticking, instead, to those who think as we do. There’s a comfort in that, but it is unsustainable and ultimately unsatisfying for anyone who is curious enough about a life’s journey and who wants to learn more about the path ahead.

Mid-life crisis for example is simply, in my opinion, boredom at the thought on continuation in the same footwear and on the same path. This is quite natural. Boredom, dissatisfaction at our current way of living, with the same old faces appearing in our doorways day after endless day is a vital part of a human’s life. It comes, this huge discomfiture, as a gift, but few of us see it that way. We may think we need to abandon a relationship, or move house, or change jobs and all of those may indeed be a part of a new change (sorry, oxymoron), but none of those are It. It – is simply that we are bored with what we have done for ages and now is the time to think outside the bodily box, to use our big brains, to research, to study, to be open hearted and curious as a child. I know it isn’t easy because our first thoughts are loaded to with all sorts of unhelpful lies such as the one that tells us we got it all wrong to date; that it is my partner’s fault, or that of my boss, or, and this is always a safe bet, that of my mother or father.

Well all of that is bullshit. However, even knowing that isn’t enough. I must decide not to welcome into my ‘boring’ life, all those critical and lying judges that tell me my life has been a waste of time, that I got it wrong about 30 years ago, that someone else is to blame for these uncomfortable feelings and instead to say Oh Thankyou for the wake up call. I must look into something else, a new direction and what is more (and this is the key) I must invite other people, strangers perhaps and homies, my kids and those existing friends who won’t panic when I tell them I am bored with my life, running back to their own, locking the door and refusing my calls, to talk this through with me. I will be vulnerable. I will put my ego to sleep by bashing it on the head with a mallet and I will look out with curiosity and humour. So what if I have lost my job and with it my sense of superiority before my peers? So what if I lose my looks and now wonder who I am without them? So what if I have absolutely no idea what to do next? I have myself, my huge brain, my body #mostlyworking, my memories, my lived life thus far, my family, my friends (who remain) and now I am going to find more friends because this is inevitable when someone chooses to stop trudging down the road alongside everyone else. There are plenty of other everyone elses. I just haven’t met them yet. I can step out onto a new path and risk. If I leave that ego behind, deflate that self-important chest, shuck off that protective armour and just begin to walk into the great wide open, I will eventually see that all of this is just what I need right now. In trepidation I have made the decision to be vulnerable, to risk and to trust, to be without answers and to allow myself to be cluelessly dependent on the wisdom of a stranger in order to learn new rope tricks. This, the path less travelled, has been walked before I ever stepped onto it. The guides will appear just when I need them. I may not eat sausages on Tuesday or a roast on Sundays, as I may have done from habit for decades, but I will taste the bite of new fruit in a new place and it may just be delicious. Under a big sky, alert and interested, curious and fearful in parts, I may find out who I really am, and those stranger-guides could become new friends for a new life.

I leave you with the wisdom of others:-

” If you can see your path laid out in front of you, step by step, you know it is not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That is why it is your path.” Joseph Campbell

“You are only free when you realise you belong no place. You belong every place and no place at all. The price is high. The reward great.” Maya Angelou

Island Blog 126 Light in the Attic

2013-12-13 14.15.52

Our ‘attic’ or loft for the new generation of home-owners, is mostly dark.  There is one piddling light bulb just at the trap door and about a mile and a half of pitch darkness, densly strung with fat dirty cobwebs left by old spiders who thought flies might just fancy a blind spin among the boxes and crates of stuff nobody knows is there, nor cares.

We have employed a miner’s headlamp when required to ferret about for something we think might be there, something high on the critical list for Right Now.  Often, that initial enthusiasm is lost in the fight to avoid strangulation by Old Spider and the unlucky miner emerges furious and unrecognisable beneath Miss Haversham’s veil, coughing and spitting and in need of a number four cycle with maximum spin.  Old newspapers dissolve into powder at a single touch and underfoot lie fossils that foof into blue smoke after one bootly crunch. Then the fine dust of a rodent’s body rises into a gasping mouth to irritate the cilia into a frenzy, like a field of ripe corn in a hurricane.

Whatever it was that seemed so vital, has now lost all of its shine.  Getting out without breaking a bone is what rises to the top of the list.  The steps, just too low to reach the trap door, balance between two stairs in an alarming way, and the support group who said they would remain in position for just this moment, have popped down to put the kettle on.  Suddenly, all those old spiders, the clutch of their webbing, the dead mice and the darkness morph into a terrifying monster, one that is closing in.  All I need now is for the trap door to snap shut and I am doomed to become the next fossil waiting to puff out my own blue smoke in a hundred years time, beneath another booted foot.  My throat, or what is left of it, constricts, my heart begins a mad dash to nowhere and there is no way, without jumping, that I can re-connect with the wobbly steps.

That is the very LAST time I ever go up in that attic!  I cry, once I can speak again.  And, yet, there will be another time, because I am slim and agile and, as the space up there closes down over the years, the only one who will ever be able to get up there at all.

What I want to know, is why we put anything up there for in the first place?  The family silver, the pretty china, the old guitar, the boxes and boxes of books on Walks in the Gloucestershire Countryside, or old AA Roadmaps, or those hundreds of volumes of self-published novels by unknown writers, long dead and completely forgotten.  Their pages are brown and curling, their bound covers stained and damp.  And, yet, we keep on keeping them.  For what?  For whom?  Our children?  I very much doubt they would think beyond a bonfire.  Perhaps we are thinking that something magical might be lurking up there, something that would change all our fortunes, just by being brought into the light. Another never-ending story.

In order to see the light, we must have the darkness.  A darkness that envelops and holds secrets.  I can hear the mice up there some nights.  It sounds like quite a fun party at times and interrupts my sleep.  Tiny feet, many of them, skittering among family treasures, living out their lives in the darkness, along with the monstrous spiders and blind flies.  The mice make nests from old hardbacks, or plastic, or the gut from a guitar string.  Amazing what you can do with what is all around you.

When I am finally down on terra firma again, I look at the shaft of light on the landing floor, cast by the piddling light bulb and in a perfect, and very small, square shape, one I just wriggled through, twice.  I think about the darkness up there, and then of the darkness in my own attic, the attic of my head. Only I really know what’s up there, no matter how much telling I do.  There is always more. And it is not easy to squeeze through the trap door of my mind, nor it is it a pleasant experience.

Over here, are the regrets I admit to, and over there, the ones I don’t.  Further towards the water tank with it’s wonky lid, lie the memories of my children, what they said and did as little ones.  Down there where the webs are dense as a curtain, are the emotions and hurts I have learned to quiet.  Near them are stacked the doubts and the worries about which I can do nothing, and never could.  Closer to the piddling bulb are boxes of hopes.  I keep them near the light for easy access, although I have moved a few of them into a recess because they will never come about.  They are tidied away, but not quite bonfired, even though I really should clear that space.  The mice chew through old words and the strings that made my music, turning them into cosy nests for their young.  I don’t mind that.  It’s good to let go, to allow things to move on.  And, besides, I can make new words, new music.  But, first, I have to let go.

And letting go is the only way to live.  I will change the things I can, and let go of the things I cannot.  Knowing which is which might appear confusing, but, trust me, we always know the answer to that.

Island Blog 70 – Life is a simple thing

Island Blog 70 - Freedom

fig: http://favim.com

It’s all about breathing in and out for decades, something that happens to us quite naturally.  We can take no credit for this and it’s not complicated, until it stops, of course, or struggles to continue.  All we have to do, as out heart beats and our lungs fill and empty a thousand times a day, is to get on with living.

Ah, you might say.  That’s the rub.  My life is so much harder than just breathing in and out and getting on with things.  My circumstances, you see…..well, life is not simple at all.

Yes, I say, it is.  It may not be easy, but it is simple, and then I draw back in case I get swiped, because why?

Because people love to complicate things, all things and especially their own things.

I know people who have come through cancer and people who have not come through.  I am not one of them.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know people who have lost a child.  I have not.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know someone disabled, paralised, in prison,bereaved,destitute and hungry.

I am none of them. Therefore….etc

At Jenny’s funeral yesterday, I listened to the tributes.  I counted 250 at least in the church.  I caught the sparkle of a woman who refused to moan, although, believe me, she had plenty of reason to. In fact, she had absolutely no time at all for moaners.

On the way to the church, down winding country lanes, I saw a land rover parked  in a driveway.  Across the top of the windscreen the words in bold black said this:-

ONE LIFE.  LIVE IT.

Jenny did.

Short or long it is the same for us all, as far as we know, although one friend whose family are fisherfolk, plans to return as a crack shot seagull.

Whatever our piddling ailments, our list of miniature disasters, we were born with laughter in our hearts and we all know it.

We might consider laughing more and particularly at ourselves.

Island Blog 63 – Silver Girl

Silver Girl

 

On June 1st Jenny  died.

We have been friends for over 4o years, the same as my years of marriage.

Our children knew each other as little ones and those children now have little ones of their own.  We had a bet going, she and I that her daughter-in-law would give birth before my own did.  The due dates hold hands, they’re so close.  I will see my new grandchild, but she won’t see hers.

Over the years, our roads travelled in different directions, but we kept in touch.  When she first got breast cancer, she was completely herself about the whole thing.  No time for this, she said, need to sort out treatment and keep moving.  She went sailing after that, for 7 months, she and her man, in a yacht to beat all other yachts with big-ass sails and comfort below deck, every comfort, and the wind in her hair and salt on her tongue, whilst I became an Island Wife.  But women who connect at a wild and deep level, who recognise each other’s spirit and love it, never lose touch, even if the contact is once a year.

We sailed with them once, meeting them on a Greek island.  We all wondered how it would work, four of us converging where Two Roads meet, after 30 years apart, and living in close quarters for a couple of weeks.

I could have been a big pain in the ass, I said.

You are.  She replied and handed me a beer.

In the evenings, moored in a little warm harbour, we would cook, eat and make music.  They taught me songs, and I them, and there was something magical about the candlelight, the warm nights, the laughter and song.

She did much with her life and was never still.  She was the second woman ever to command a Royal Navy warship.  A transatlantic skipper, a magistrate, a wife, mother grandmother, although that title sounds way too old for her.  She adored her family, and actively showed it.  She was feisty, impossible, decisive and noisy and there is a big hole left now she is gone.

But what will stay with me for ever, and this may sound selfish, is what she gave to me.  She never faltered and when I did, she whooped my butt.  I’m not saying, or even imagining, that she had life sussed, because I know she didn’t think that at all.  I saw, at times, such sadness in her big eyes, and she might tell me, briefly, or she might not.  When she knew she had only time left, she would still pick up if I called, or answer a text with humour.  She came to my book launch down south in a bright pink wig after aggressive chemo.  It was our last hug.

I salute her.  She is a woman who challenged me to be the best I could be, just as she challenged herself.

Sail on Silver Girl.