Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

The meaning of words

latte

 

Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context.  Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen.  Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.

We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community.  To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle.  How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work?  It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat.  I have a friend who is colour blind.  He sees everything in shades of grey.  I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle.  I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour.  Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.

That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads.  I want white walls and you hate white.  White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms.  I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil.  But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine.  One of us has to accept.

Or, is that resignation?

My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room.  He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise.  He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word.  Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive.  ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind.  It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.

Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer.  I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production.  It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me.  On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part.  When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like?  Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me.  To him, they mean nothing much.  He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well.  I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear.  I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.

Then, there is resignation.  I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak?  Am I giving in?

Absolutely not.  In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself.  I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away.  I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything.  And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words.  It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.

If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk.  I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off.  I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own.  I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands.  ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’  And the response doesn’t change.  Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?

So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground?  We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.

If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling.  It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.

More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.

Island Blog 144 Cake Wrecks

 

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Okay so I fell out with my almost new mixer.  To be completely honest, it was mutual dislike at first sight.  You see, before this alien arrived in the tanned arms of Dennis the Delivery Boy, who left boyhood a wee whiley back, only nobody wanted to upset him by saying so, I had an old Magimix.  It had worked for the dangerous granny for years, even had a customised red gingham skirty drape made to pretty it up on the kitchen counter, and, for the life of me, I cannot think why I moved it on at all.  It was still working fine when I did, which makes it even more dreadful.  I generally never move things on at all.  They fall apart right here on my patch and are flung in the bucket, unless there are some attractive parts that might serve as bird scarers or dingle dangles for my mobile collection. On the rare occasions I have moved something on, it would have been something I no longer, nor ever would again, need – such as 8 inch platform PVC boots or tooth whitener (way too late), or perhaps a box for buttons marked Buttons which I never unwrapped, being an olympian button owner and requiring a school trunk at the very least for my supply.

This mixer and I growled at each other a lot.  I even resented the fat smug way it’s oversized bottom took up way more room than it needed forcing me to squash up my vitamin collection, spice and herb racks and the butter dish which now doesn’t stay in line at all, jutting out like a naughty dinghy in a race line up. Every time I walked past this disorder I felt cross.  I did try to make peace, at first, but the flaming bowl would never assemble without making a HUGE fuss and resisting any connecting with the launch pad.  ‘The motor will not work unless the bowl is fitted correctly.’  I know this.  I know this a LOT!  Finally we make some sense and the damn thing is correctly fitted and I am moderate to fair backing gale force 8 but, nonetheless, we are running and although very little is moving beyond the slicing blade, I am confident we will become friends one day, or, at the least, unhappy colleagues.

At least ten times, during what was a quick whizz in dangerous granny’s magimix, I must twist off the lid and free up the glued on cake mix from the sides.  Ten times I fit the bowl incorrectly, twist on the lid, turn the knob into a long silence (all the way up to 6), turn it back, twist off the lid and fit the bowl….well, let’s say eventually I get it right.  By the time I have added the eggs, and flour and gone through the whole gluey infuriating process again I have gone right off baking.  As the cake rises (probably in a temper) in the oven I wash up 37 pieces of a mixer I loathe with all my heart and re-connect it with its large bottom, cussing like an old fishwife.

After a reasonable cooling off period I try again.  Cake tins are empty throughout the land and folks are beginning to revolt.  Well, himself is, anyway.  I begin.  Nothing has changed.  This mixer has no shame.  Half way through the dreadful process the motor dies.  No correct fitting tactics work.  I am apre eggs and pre flour.  In other words, a sloppy curdled mess.  I make a decision.  Tipping and scraping out the yellow goo into a big bowl I march the offending mixer out to the wheelie bin and throw it in with all my strength.  I then march back to collect all the attachments, the dough hook, the meringue beater, the juice extractor, the julienne, if you don’t mind, plus all other disks and the instruction pamphlet in 17 languages, none of them English, and throw them in too.  Feels fantastic.

My next attempt at cake making, is ably assisted by my lovely neigbour who lends me his super duper Kenwood.  It purrs along, sounding quite in control and not minding much about being fitted incorrectly at all.  I turn the speed up just a tad, turn my back and turn it back again mighty quick at the flash, the crash and the smoke pouring from the motor casing.  Not only have I blown up my lovely neighbour’s super duper Kenwood, but I am, once again, half way through a cake.  I will have to make amends for this expensive disaster I know, at some point, but, for now, I must carry on regardless and not give up, however tempting that may sound.   I select a large glass bowl, pour in the mix,  grab my wooden spoon, flex my muscles (I kind of remember where they used to be) and begin to beat.  It’s flipping hard work, by the way and to think our grannies had no choice!  After one bout of fast battering, the bowl falls neatly in half, the falling half landing squarely on my bare toes and spewing floury contents all across the kitchen carpet. (Never go for kitchen carpet.  It’s got to be lino every time).

Now this is me – undaunted by such ghastlies.  I scoop the carpet-flavoured cake mix into a plastic bowl this time, adding the rest and beat on, quite admiring the red flecks of carpet and inspired to add cherries and almond essence for the hell of it.  It can hardly rise, this unfortunate.  It doesn’t, well, it does for a while, then sinks like it’s worn out putting on a face.  They said it tasted weird, but none was left over at the end.

My lovely neighbour was most understanding, albeit sad to think of a cake-less future.  I, for one am happy my cake-baking days are over, for I will not beat by hand again, and nor will I spend a fortune on a load of futuristic rubbish that makes a huge stooshie out of everything it does, or doesn’t do, and then dies when it feels like it which is just after you’ve thrown away the packaging and receipt.

Oh Granny (that’s my granny, not the dangerous one), how I wish I had never ‘moved on’ your lovely wedding gift of a Kenwood Chef with it’s clundering attachments, big sturdy bowl and great attitude!

Does anyone have it?

 

Island Blog 45 – Small Giants

Island Blog 45I am an old fashioned sort of girl.

Big statement that.  Sounds like it defines me, but don’t stop there if you please.  I can be new fashioned in many ways when it suits me.

The thing about Big Statements is that they can confuse.  For instance, if I were to say ‘That man over there is an irascible old bore’  and you didn’t know anything about him, you could think that being irascible, old and boring is the sum of the man.

Which it most definitely is not.

Nobody is that simply wired.

I love language, the rise and fall of a phrase, especially, in the way my dad used to deliver them for maximum impact.  He used short words now and again, when he was playing the irascible old bore and the tonic water wasn’t cold enough, but in the main, he made language sing and he taught me well how to communicate.  This is not to say that in order to communicate we need to be graduates in English, or Scottish, or any other language, for that matter.  Words in the wrong mouths however cleverly phrased and delivered, can be as welcome as a fire in a paper factory, and as destructive.

In the world of technology, this new crazy fast non-human way of communicating, I find the old fashioned girl in me lurching into the foreground.  I know it is the new way to tell out our latest product, opinion, story, but it is not the only way.  We do not need to drown our voices in an ocean of electronics.  Deep inside every one of us, is the need for human contact, for the soothing velvet sound of a loving voice, for the kindly helpful efficiency of a stranger on the other end of a telephone.

No electronic recorded voice can do that for us.  We need voice to voice in order to reach a new place together.  Yes, a recording can guide us through a button-pushing and monotonous process as we plod our way to submitting our white meter reading for the quarter, but oh what joy it is, what heart-lifting warmth fills us when a real person says those loving human words ‘Mary speaking, How may I help you?’  I can almost hear the angels in the background, as she pauses for my reply.

I remember meeting my first robot.  She (was it?) answered with tick-tack words and no music to her phrasing.  I thought, this’ll never catch on.

So, Big Statement.  I am an old fashioned girl in the world of Communication.

I can also dance you off the floor when the DJ racks up the beat, and I can weep when Piglet gets blown off his feet in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Island Blog 12 – As you sow, so shall you reap

I love that saying, although it is written in a rather old fashioned way.  To me, it means I put everything into everything, from cooking supper on an ordinary Monday, to dressing up for a book launch.  Haven’t got to that bit yet, but when it comes, I know I will give it wellie.  Its not always easy to do, especially around the dull to-do list, month after month, nor is the ‘sowing’ part always obvious to the naked eye.  For example, as I spend my days with my son and his wife and very new baby, quietly in the background, just helping as best I can at this time of immense change in their lives, I notice things.  I notice that he orders baby clothes with great care and enthusiasm.  I notice that he changes nappies and takes the baby out to give his wife time to sleep, for her nights are no longer her own.  I notice he bothers to shop for groceries after a long day at work, and these are just 3 things I notice.

What he is doing, is ‘sowing’.  He is investing, not only in his child, but more importantly, in his wife, in the woman she really is and this investment will pay off for the rest of his marriage.  Not that he has planned it this way, of course not, but he is doing it because he is unafraid of looking soft in the head.  All the young fathers I have met nowadays are similarly unafraid.

So Hallelujah say I for this ‘informed’ generation! They must have read all the right books, for they have certainly U-turned on their own fathers technique, or lack of it.  Or, is it simply that Love will ‘out’, no matter what, given enough time?

Either way, my heart is smiling for the little ones of today.  The big ones too.