Island Blog – Free Thinking

Cicero said, way back in the day when men wore skirts and women bathed in milk, Our Thoughts Are Free. I’ve thought about that a lot. My thoughts seem to come to me unbidden and unsought, triggered by something I have seen, heard or read. Some rogue thoughts are dangerous as they push like an uncontrolled mob into my mind, each jostling for prime position. Prime position requires the loudest voice and that voice is always critical, angry, accusing. How strange. How infuriating. Does this seriously mean that, even at my age, I must needs deal with these uninvited guests? Must I catch them sneaking in through the doors and windows of my mind and fell them with my trusty thought-feller?

I must – and daily. Thoughts are things, or they can become things – things like a choice of action or the decision to develop them inside my mind, bringing in my own resident judge, jury and courtroom full of hissing hecklers. I have done this a thousand times in the past until now. Now I am learning to stop and notice each thought, critical or uplifting; to step away from myself and to watch, a sort of eagle eye view of things, of me and my current thought. If the thought connects with something from the past, a cruel comment, a rejection or a mocking, it grows legs. I watch it happen. Now I have a choice, me on the outside of me. Will I allow this to grow and develop or will I tell it that it does not serve me, is irrelevant to who I am now, and that it should scoot back to the past. Even then, if I am completely honest, it was a cruel put down, unnecessary, point scoring. It was only me not noticing and thus allowing it to feed something I had heard in my youth, an opinion I then adopted. ‘That colour does not suit you at all!’ This just as we are leaving for an evening out. Or, ‘Your bottom is getting fat.’ These cruel comments can lead to a lifetime’s self-obsession, turning a grown woman into a jibbering wreck at the very thought of an evening out with her burgeoning bottom and her wardrobe full of unsuitable colours.

Now I laugh at all of it, now that I can see that my thoughts are under my control and not one other soul, living or dead, can take command. I wonder what life might have been had I noticed all this before, as a younger woman. Might I have laughed such comments away and said ‘I’m driving tonight; move over, my fat bottom needs more room and, just for the record, I am going out to buy another dress in this exact colour. Ready to go now?’ What might the response have been had I disarmed the attack without aggression? I have tried it, as an older woman, being assertive, and it absolutely works a treat. There is no winner because there is no fight. When himself told me, in anger, “You are just like your mother!” thinking to confound me, I responded with a big smile. ‘What a compliment!’ I said. He was silenced.

This morning I woke to an eerie light. Moonglow on the mist, the sunrise red gold through the pines. I watched this moving landscape, this ever changing masterpiece, unframed, free to move, year by year, month by month, day by day and my mind filled with thoughts. One was that I must call the plumber because the thermostat is set too high on the water tank, followed by various others. I noticed, made a list to remind me, set them free and turned back to the morning. Stags bellow, birds sing, the golden kelp floats up and down with the tides, and the moon, circled by a rainbow ring is lingering yet. Blue sky pushes away the clouds, and off they fly to other lands, just memories.

I have many frocks in the colour that doesn’t suit me. It isn’t rebellion. There is no fight. I just love it, that’s all, and now my bottom can fit comfortably in a high chair. I did no work on it at all. I simply began to notice my thoughts, work out the ancient connection to the past, separate and release. I recommend the work. It frees me from anxious fretting, lack of self-confidence, control by another (kept alive by me) and the chance to really live the way I choose to live.

‘If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep myself. I would find a way. ‘ Johnny Cash

Island Blog- Rule of Thumb

The dawn turned the far hills blood red. Although Father Sun rises behind my home, he makes his presence known in casts of colour, short-lived but marvellous to see. The sky, flat and brushed with Payne’s grey, Rose Madder and Ultramarine looks like it is unsure about what to do next. Threatened storms may roar around us as they often do, we who stick out into the Atlantic like a determined finger, independent of any weather forecast. It thinks me.

In a few days I will have been married for 48 years. We both will. A lot of what happened over those years were not as I had dreamt, nor planned. My ideal of a marriage is not so unusual. White knight, independence, the freedom to make my own choices, take my own actions, sing my own song and all under the loving and approving smile of a benign king. I would share the throne, choose my own frocks, laugh loudly when I wanted, speak out my truth and be heard. I’m not saying this never happened because it did, but where I thought this would be a rule of thumb, I found, at times, that I was under said thumb and unable to rise to my full stature.

Did it damage me, this thumb thing? It did not. Instead I have learned that on many of those remembered and unremembered times, I had a lesson to learn. I would have been, and can still be, too quick to respond, to act, to speak out. My vivid and often unrealistic imagination could have launched me into trouble without that thumb. I thank the thumb owner, that’s what I do, now that I can look back and join up the dots. I married a man 10 years my senior for a very good reason, even though I didn’t do so consciously. Somehow, my sub conscious knew what was best for me, what or who would keep me safe from danger, from myself.

I would never, even in my wildest dreams, have lived the live I have lived, the one I shared with my king. I would never have known the exciting highs nor experienced the awful lows without him and his thumb. In balance, and this is where the dot joining comes in, my life, our life together has been extraordinary from the beginning and all the way up to the now. When I recall our adventures, the spontaneity of them, the sudden Let’s Go thing, the way we led our children into independent thought, creative action, kindness towards all living people and things; the way we laughed and partied, invited and welcomed, shared and made ourselves known in the work we collectively undertook. The way we steadfastly marched on through bad times, poor times, times when our inventive strengths pulled us through. And the way we made a difference, made memories that so many others share and still remember with fondness and a chuckle.

It was never plain sailing, not for either of us. I doubt that marriage ever is, for anyone. But, to survive and thrive through such a vast ocean of years is to have made many sail corrections. Thousands. Millions. And we have, and we still are making those corrections, working with the winds of time, rising over and over again, no matter how big the waves, how fickle the chop, how far away the next peaceful harbour.

I feel honoured and proud. We did it. We got through. And we are still here, still breathing, still sailing towards a new horizon. Together.

Island Blog – Other Days and Puddles

I know I always sound positive, but I don’t always ‘feel’ this. I make the decision to be hit with shit and then to choose my next action. If someone, anyone, asks me how I am, I say… ….I. Am. Good. I don’t know why I say Good, considering my ma’s response, should she hear me reflect and deflect the question this way. She said…..You Were Never Good. And she was right. I wisnae.

But, it was dinted into me, the upbeat return. And I am glad of that core training. However, it is often not the truth when I am in the thick of being yelled at for the pitch/sound/volume of my voice. My. Voice. When a tiny carolling granddaughter hurtles into the sacred space where all is kept calm, headphones on, next Netflix film running. Where the fire is just right, logs (hauled by me) are plentiful and the tea urn is groaning and wheezing in the next room ready for the endless spout of Tetley. I spin (quietly) from task to task, making not much fuss about the electric wheelchair parked in such a way that to deliver another load of logs would require an athletic leap without spillage. When the fret about which way the headphones fit (having gently guided and explained at least ten times) I may turn and ignore, or respond with a snap and a raised voice, repeating what I said the last time and the time before that and that. I want to twist those headphones into a hair band. But I don’t. When the signing in of yet another new phone is called for just as I have sat myself down to an audible book and my tapestry and I just cannot be youknowwhat to respond kindly/ly.

It must be awful beyond awfulness to be inhibited in the way himself is inhibited. All those things he did without even turning a hair for decades are now a massive frustration. It must be, well, appalling. I cannot imagine it. However, living with such a demise challenges my own sense of self, my values, my modus operandi. And that, too, is a good thing, but all this challenging, all this rethinking of how I must respond, of who I am in this thixotropic gloop is exhausting.

I am exhaustinged. But there are breaks afoot. I leave for a snow holiday in France with one of my lads and his family on Friday. I know I will love it and will hopefully return intact. They all ski but I am a buffoon around snow and hills. I will be staring at the sky, noticing the individual snow flakes, skidding down the path to the cafe, reading, resting, reviving.

I write this in honour and with a salut to any of you who fight daily with what is right versus how you feel. It is an upward battle for sure. The way I mostly cope is involving myself in Nature and even that is a challenge here with weeks and weeks of endless blattering rain. But, today, I walked out with my fireheaded granddaughter and we jumped in every single puddle. But, and here’s the thing, only once we had bent down to check our reflections in every single one. There must have been 50, easy, on a short half mile toddle. Every puddle was recognised and affirmed. Less without our bent heads, whole once we were in there, reflected. It thinked me.

I come home with this. Everyone should come back home with something like this.

Island Blog – Patching and a Merry Dance

As I complete my task of sewing up a hole in Sheepy, it comes to me. All my days I have worked on repairing the tears other people made in things, in each other. From Sheepies to hearts, from fixtures to fittings, through burned casseroles to burned chances, I have pulled out my needle and thread or my magic wand or the car keys and set out to patch and heal. I felt like an angel at times when it seemed to work and an obstacle in the way when it didn’t. This morning’s epiphany showed me that a lot of my actions were, in fact, self-gratification. Although my intent was to dry sad eyes and to mend broken hearts, I had set myself up as the answer to the problem. In other words, it was really all about me, not them. It saddens me to realise this. My own longing for love manifested itself in my attempts to please others, more, to be the one inside their lives who could patch to perfection. A wiser me would have done it differently. A wiser me would have stood beside them in their desert and listened, comforted, told them they can sort this and asked them how they might see themselves doing just that, whilst assuring them I would stay right beside them at all times.

I am grateful, always, for the way life teaches me important lessons. Not as an opportunity to blame myself but to move forward in my learning, with curiosity and acceptance. The way a new understanding comes into my head whilst repairing a hole in Sheepy chuckles me, even if I do immediately dash back over the decades past with a machete in my hand, ready to take revenge on my earlier ignorant self. Woa! I say. Steady girl. That woman back there had the best intentions and did good, really good, mostly. She didn’t know what you know now, old woman. She didn’t know the lack of unconditional love in her own life would drive her to select herself as guardian protector of pretty much everyone in her care. Give her a break and tell her Thank you for all you did in love.

These are wise words. Seeing something old in a new light, one that illuminates all the faulty wiring simply means I tried my very best under the circumstances. No matter that I was naive or seeking to fill my own black hole with good deeds (which never works by the way). Let the judge in me leave the courtroom. I recall my mum saying a similar thing to me once after she had felt criticised and judged by us. She said, simply, I Did My Best. And so she did.

However, whilst we girls and women of good intention repair until our fingers bleed, we may forget that we too need that care and love. I certainly did. I took the smallest portion, the back seat, the last straw. I taught myself to accept mean graces because all the best ones were doled out to others. I was the one who cleaned out the landcover with a smile, allowing everyone else to run indoors for toast and jam. I was the one who couldn’t sleep if a child was troubled at school. I was the soother, I was the warmth and the safety net. But what was I to me? Not enough and there’s another learning. In my day to think of self for more than five minutes was heresy. Women who shared the same turning of the earth, at the same time as I, knew this too. To be accused of being selfish was devastating.

Now we know different and thank goodness for that. However, it does present us with a problem. If we have loved and patched and healed others for most of our lives, how can we now place ourselves centre stage? The super trooper is too bright and we have forgotten our lines. Do we have opinions or did we just repeat the ones we heard others opine? Do we like pasta, kangaroos, thunderstorms, cats, driving, dancing naked in the rain? Can we quickly make a decision when someone asks Early Grey, Darjeeling, Builders, or coffee? Oh……I’ll have what you’re having. Wrong answer. But we all make it. We have spent so many years obliging that we have mislaid ourselves.

Recently I have been stopping myself from answering like a well trained robot when faced with a question. I pause. this pause can irritate the questioner. It’s a simple question after all but I am tossed on a stormy sea and feeling seasick. In the past I was a I’ll Have What You’re Having sort of woman and she is quick to come forward at such times with her pinny on straight and her bright voice loud in my ears. I push her back. Hold………! What is it I want? I know what I want but I don’t think it will be popular so I can’t let it out. Speaking my truth takes balls and I am terrified of critical judgement, of upsetting the others, the applecart. However, it also feels free-ing.

I suspect it is never too late to learn. I’m curious, too. I might discover what I do like, what I do want and that learning might lead me a very merry dance.

Island Blog 148 Dark and Light

 

Dark room wisdom

 

 

We were talking, my small-panted grandchildren and I, about the dark.  Was I, Are you, Button Granny, frightened of the dark?  I was having a ying tong at the time (ying tong piddle etc) and she, the smallest pants, burst in, quite the thing with this fairly big question.  Well, I said, thinking, or looking like I was…….I used to when I was little, and then, later, when I was bigger than little, yes I did.  Why?  she asked.

Good question.  They ‘why’ bit always throws me unless it’s obvious, such as Why did you not put your fingers in the fire Button Granny?  I thought more, albeit in a slightly compromised state (I can still think at such times, being a woman) and said, Well because I know the dark now.

How?  she continued.  Oh dear.  Well, I said (what would we do without that wonderful word of delay?) I think that I know that, that……there is nothing to frighten me in the dark anymore.  Oh, she said, and dashed off to complete her Angry Cabbages Puzzle, which, by the way, I do wonder at.  If cabbages are angry in her little mind, then what hope is there?  I had, earlier, read both herself and her bigger brother a story about an Elephant and a Bad Baby, who, together, stole two pies, two pork chops, with no thought for the poor pig, nor, I might add, the butcher, two ice creams, two buns and two apples, so I guess Angry Cabbages are small fry by comparison. I am consoled greatly to know that their parents think the book ‘dickerless’ too.

The dark is just the other side of the light.  I remember my lovely dad saying just that, as I shook him awake, about yay high, my little heart beating like mad, my feet light and running all the way to his side of the marital bed.  He rose and guided me to the bathroom, his voice soothing, regardless of his broken sleep, sleep he badly needed for his busy working day, yet to dawn, and laid a towel on the edge of the bath.  He turned on the taps to run tepid water into the tub and then lifted me onto the towel so that my feet dipped into the soothing water.  He talked about this and about that whilst I calmed, and then, softly dried my feet and lifted me back to bed with a gentle voice saying gentling things.  I don’t know if he stayed till my eyes grew heavy, but I do know that I never saw him leave.  He never asked me to tell him of my fears, just seem to understand them and then he washed them away.  I thank him for that, although he is now long gone, a Marine Commando, another dad who never talked about the war he lived through, at least, not the dreadful bits.

As a teenager I was still afraid.  Not outside, bizarrely, but within the walls of a house.  Once, when invited at stay with a schoolfriend, the daughter of a pig farmer, for the night.  I lay in the guest room, weighed down with warm bedding and I just knew there were rats in the room.  I said to myself, Don’t be Dickerless, but the rat-knowing part of me stayed resolute. Then, as I began to doze off from complete exhaustion, the house around me quiet (which meant the parents were in bed too…..) a rat ran over my blankets.  I saw it and I felt it.  I spent the night in the cupboard and cried so much at breakfast that my poor mother had to come and collect me, effusive with apologies and, no doubt, embarassed for ever and a day.  But I Saw the rat!  I wailed.  Uh-huh, she said.

The dark is something personal.  To each one of us.  Maybe it isn’t the night sort of dark, although it can be, but perhaps the inside dark stepping out.  A fear of something or someone.  Doubts can bring the dark.  Crime on television just before bed can continue to play out and develop in our dreams.

Dark is the other side of light.  As adults, sentient adults, we know this.  But knowing something and it settling into our bones can be a universe, a lifetime apart.  I know that when I am troubled, my dreams bring more dark than light. I have downloaded a Sleep App on my android phone (get me) by someone with the most boring voice I have ever heard, whose control over the english language would have sent my english teacher, Miss Machoolish into one of her dizzy spells, and it works, the boredom treatment, never mind the bright lights, the secret garden or any of the stuff he drones on about.  I just want out, so I fall asleep.

Now, I love the dark.  I know that, inside it, there is calm and peace.  I also know that night creatures move at such times, but they don’t want me, they want mice or wandering birds, and, although I may, indeed be a wandering bird, I am way too big for their taste.  I sincerely believe that television, for all its great dramas has bigged up the darkness with fear and we believe it.  Although I do acknowledge that, living on an island, my dark is just dark with not much inside it to worry any of us, I still think fear as food is something we don’t need.  We spend too much time, me included, looking at how things might go wrong.  Why should that out-balance them going right?  Perhaps more looking at the light in our lives would gentle the dark in us.

Dark is dark.  Light is light.  It is enough.

 

Island Blog 125 Wind in the rigging

 

 

2014-02-19 16.34.00

 

When we sail, the rigging is something we attend to at each shift of the wind.  The sails may be full-blown, wide and tall, blocking the sun and catching bellies-full of breeze to take us all the way from A to Z.  Sometimes, the wind luffs or fizzles out, causing the canvas to flap noisily, unsure of what to do next.  A good sailor will see it coming and adjust the rigging accordingly, winching in the sails, tightening them, or going about, which is the time I always duck, never sure when that big ass boom is going to take my head off.  We always had to sail close to the wind.  That point where we could jibe and lose a mast (slight exaggeration) or, at the very least, lose someone overboard.

Me.

Coming into harbour, my skipper would never lower the sails and motor in like every other sane person, trotting into a parking place with minimum whoosh and flip, avoiding the wide sweep required to avoid turning the smaller boats to matchwood in a heartbeat.  He didn’t mind squashing the bounce-back variety of white plastic so-called yachts, all squeezed from a giant toothpast tube onto a production line and given fast names to bely their ordinariness.  It’s not me who is the yacht snob here.  I’m just repeating what I heard from my own wooden J-Class sloop-loving skipper, he who sailed oceans beneath real canvas, hand-sewn and made just for one boat at a time, bespoke.  He who loves the creak of timber as the mast strains to stay where it was riveted with huge brass thingies that nobody could ever remove once driven into place.  Hulls laid, larch on oak or teak and varnished to a shine most winters by us with freezing fingers and miles to go before sleep.

In life we are all sailors and we all sail alone, although we can travel together through the wildest of oceans, if we so choose.  Ultimately, the set of our sails, the tension in our rigging, the way we listen to the wind’s voice, and bend to her will, working with her changes of mood, her tantrums and tempers, will decide, not whether or not we arrive at Z in the end, but how well we notice the rest of the alphabet on the way.

I speak, not of the wind that blows around the corners of our homes or bends the strong backs of our ancient trees making them squeak and groan, or call out in agony as their ribs crack and break, but of the winds of life, of time.  These winds rise and fall in every life at some time, and if we are not ready for change, we will get hit by the boom as it swings across our boat, and we may even fall overboard now and then.  All the time, each one of us is dealing with something we find we have not prepared for.  Miniature disasters come into every life, just like a little rain will fall, and if we are really ready, we will find a solution comes more quickly, for we are human and creatively agile.  We just have to tap into that inner gift and develop it into a strength.  We may not know this new set of ropes, but if we are fully engaged with taking responsibility for our own self in any situation, we will find a way to sail again, only better.

I remember learning once, that, in order to play an instrument well, we must learn the discipline of it first, before getting clever with counterpoint or spontaneous harmonies.  For me, that instrument is my voice.  If I want to ‘play’ as I sing, I must know my limits, the boundaries of the song, how my voice will sound singing it.  If I leap enthusiastically into a gritty blues number, I will sound like Snow White trying to be Eartha Kitt and just know that the audience is saying ‘Oh dear….’

But all this is a metaphor for life experience.  We are human, not ‘only’ human, as some would have us believe, and there is power and a magic to being a member of such a wonderfully well-rigged race.