Island Blog – Let Go and Welcome

After a few days of wondering who the hellikins I am and what to do next and then the next next, I awaken with eyes rolling. I have done this often in my long life, this eye rolling thingy. It’s as if I run, run, run for days in my own strength until that strength runs out, as it always does. Reaching that place, be it a crossroads, a wall or a chasm, something wiser than me yet in me stops my feets. And there is a relief in that, an eye rolling, a letting go. If I pull back from that image, I might see failure, but I am learned enough not to do that because I know that the moment of lift comes straight after it. Every time. After each letting go, new paths appear. I cannot explain it nor do I attempt to. I just know the pattern.

I think we imagine we can decide something and then everything will fall into place. When it doesn’t work that way, we take it personally. We think we, or others, or things, or the weather or the neighbourhood we live in or our job at work etc are to blame. No matter our age, circumstance, knowledge of loss or the place we currently inhabit, we believe it. And it is IT. So we make new decisions based on that, on IT.

But what if we thought beyond that IT? No, not thought, because anything ‘beyond’ is obviously beyond our thinking. What if we just trusted that the world is a wonderful place, that those angry people we might meet in shopping queues are just like us only hurting, that there is hope for the millions starving, lost, abused, silenced, living in dreadful poverty? How might we consider ourselves in such encounters?

I walked today and met Finneas. I have seen him a zillion times before but today, in this wind, in this soft face rain, he called to me. A fine pine, a tall one, right up to the clouds, no branches, just his pine dreadlocks meeting the sky. I watched him sway, from his roots to his dreadlocks. Miles of trunk just moved gently with the wind. He stands in a beech wood. He will be kind to them. Beech mothers are feisty. An oak would not survive here but the mothers accept pines, maybe because the pines are grandfathers to them and they, like goodly women, are happy to cohabit. (slight joke). I say “met Finneas’ because he has never told me his name until today. I felt emotion, tears at the beauty of such long term survival, the bending, the allowance of beech mothers, the way the wood works together and for so very long, longer than any of us will ever live.

In the woods of our lives, we might fight for space, enough room to understand our place and to speak it out. Or, we might let go and welcome.

Island Blog – Call them by their Names

This island night, I hear of another name, suddenly moved into the past. Just like that. She was a woman I met now and again, and one I always saw as strong. Strong, hmm, means something else up here in island life. It means tough against pretty much everything. Atlantic slice winds, sudden have-tos in the middle of something else, like baking or feeding a babe or just sweeping the floor. As woman here you need toes on your toes, ready at any moment for the ice swipe of out there to save a cow from the bog in mid February when the hail is ready to take you out, when you can barely stand on a rock face that doesn’t give a monkey’s about whether you succeed or fail, but you are always ready. She was.

She was, and is, Jeannie. Others who I remember this night also need naming. So, here I go. Jessie, her twin sister, Donnie her husband and Angus her son; Kirsty, Katy, Helen, Kathy, Amy, Willie, John, Mouse, Jonnie, Belle, Blind Katy, David, Hughie, Eck, Katy, Bert, Chrissie, Sonny,and so many more; folk I met when I moved here as a complete idiot and who became my kindly guides. As an incomer, back then, a welcome was not expected. I get it, now. However, island west coast folk have big old hearts and I met those hearts. They may have laughed at us but they didn’t block us out.

Hey Jeannie. I am so glad I met you. I saw, in you and Jessie, strong women with attitude. From my protected life, women like you stood out, literally. Tall and booted up, in the ring, in the field, in among the shit of stock farming in sometimes cruel conditions. You showed me that being woman is not a thing to be taken lightly, nor restricted to domestic duties. I smile as a I write this, because without knowing you changed me, you did. Thank you.

Island Blog – I hold the balance

I watch the rain. A constant, a steadying. I am not overly fond of endless rain but there is little I can do about that. There is also little I can do about long evening darkness, one that holds on like a black fist for way too long, well into what laughingly is called My Morning. Sleep is a friend, yes, but fickle. She soothes me for a few short hours but she allows in dreams, nightmares, startlements that shock me into waking and leave me still shocked even as the dream evaporates. I am not good at ‘still shocked’, won’t stand for it, get up, go downstairs to watch the darkness, try to love it at 4 am. I remember trying to love something when it defies the rules and it was never easy, my skin prickling, my mouth empty of words, my body longing to run, but if I could do it once, I can do it again. Let it be.

But. When someone who has no idea about widowness, my widowness, says something that doesn’t even come close to the depth of my feelings, I snort. I hear all the advice, the platitudinal fiction that spills from lips and eyes and I want to roar like Aslan. I don’t, naturally, but that roar held in my small body is wild and dangerous. I smile and thank them, the grief counsellors, the Facebook lovers, the ‘friends’ who write another supportive line pinched from a book they’ve read, but the within of me belies the without. Thank God for skin and good manners! Deep down I am grateful for kindness, nonetheless and all those words of uplift and encouragement come from good warm hearts. I know this and it thinks me into a questioning.

What is it that bothers me when I hear or read words that are just birds around my head? I consider the question and it comes to me as a flash of light. It is my inner speke that needs my attention, not the words I hear, the intention behind them. Oh dear, that can feel so impossible at times when I am busy doubting and fearing and self punishing, even as I know the truth of mind control. I decide to step into my own head and there they are, standing like sentry guards at the door. We can’t let any positive stuff in, they tell me as I confront them, not when you are busy nourishing us in our negative space. I sit down to consider the situation. Ah, so it is up to me to select my thinks? They nod. Are you telling me, I continue, that I am not at the mercy of negativity, regardless of my loneliness, my fears around Covid, my lack of confidence without my husband around to confidence me up? Again they nod. So, I fake it, pretend, kid myself on? Yes, they say. You keep feeding the uplifting words, the light bright beautiful birds. You receive all of them both from outside and those of your own making and you catch every one, lifting them gently into your mind and your heart. They are all light and flight. They lift your spirits into a positive orbit. They are all true and they are so much stronger than the loneliness, the fears and the self doubt. They are your true power, and we are tired of sentry duty. It’s time to change the guard.

I begin with ‘I am strong, happy, powerful and all light.’ I hold back the guffaw and the candle burns bright. The sentries fall, one by one and the door opens wide. Welcome holds out her hands, pulling me into a warm, light room, one I recognise. What on earth made me walk away from this! Well, says Welcome, life is not a straight path. The path winds every which way and everyone can get lost from time to time. I make a list so that every time the negative looms, I can hold it back with my own light. I might feel I am at the mercy of negative thoughts but it takes just one candle to illuminate a darkened room. Just one. It doesn’t matter that the doubts are there, the fears and the regrets. They are there to guide me, I know that.

But it is I who hold the balance.

Island Blog – Agape

We have wind. Not personal wind but an agape wind, one that loves all, right across the nation and then way down into Englandshire and way beyond. Actually, that thinks me. I know, I know that there is a divide tween Scotland and England, one that was defended and attacked for decades with all sorts of big gallant men, wearing armour or tights, wielding swords way too heavy to hold, lunkering across fields in armour that took hours to affix and moments to penetrate. Horses were a by product, their faithful lives given without permission, and in their thousands.

Moving on. Back to the wind. It rages as I write. The last blooms are like old women I have met, old men too, only men never tell you how it is for them, which, by the way, is infuriating for we women. Just saying. Wind, on the other hand is wild and without care for what anyone thinks about it. It just fires, flows, rants, throws hail and alarming gusts and thinks it’s ok. I am kind of envious of that.

So, this agape wind. Let me elucidate. Agape is wide love without judgement or the need to control. As we watch the new storms coming, and the ferocity, we are allowed fear. Allowed? I cannot believe I wrote that. What I mean is nothing to do with permission. Why do I think Agape? Well I just do. We all know, or are aware of what is happening to our world, the one we had so much confidence in. We still should, for it is not gone, no way, but our eyes need to be on it.

Stories speak the truth. From Grimms (ouch) Tales, to the memories of a grandmother who is happy to speak out, when welcomed. They get lost, stories, buried with the teller. But they are the roots that root us, the ties that bind, the interweaving of agape love. In our island lives, our personal island lives, inside a non stop city noise, our new lonely flat, our new digs, a new school, a retreat, a safe house, a scary landscape. We land like an albatross in Piccadilly.

The storm rages on, but it will fade soon, after a last night of crocodile teeth and the pounding of a prize bull against the triple glazing. It’s just a night or two. So nothing. I think of those out there in the wild raw of life, this cold, the sleet, the judgement, the aggression. And I wish I could send out Agape.

Maybe I can.

Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

Island Blog – Windstitch,Cloud Shadow, Birdlight and Fox Gloves

This wilderlight dawns a beauty. Sunshine goldens the little garden and birds catch it in their wing feathers as they lift and flutter overhead. Rainbow snow. Birdlight. I wonder if they know how much they delight, these little wild things. How on the grass they look like jewels and how, above me, they trill a healing melody. The poppies have survived another night of sea-wind and I welcome them with a smile and a word or two of encouragement. This morning, however, someone has sewn a stitch or two into that cloak of chilly salt-laden breath, arresting it, offering a challenge to change, to turn about face. The resulting warmth eases my bones, kisses my face, softens the tension in my skin, like a promise of something wonderful.

This morning a carer came back after 18 weeks of me managing on my own. She was almost as beautiful to see as a bird caught in sunlight, which is what she was. Together we showered himself and tidied up and the bubble of chatter, the catch up of news and opinions on various subjects lifted me yet further. Although I would not have welcomed any incoming before now, I am glad of human encounter that isn’t all about one person’s needs, moment by moment. Suddenly I found myself present in the unfolding dialogue. She complimented me on my hair cut. I told her she looked really bonnie, even though she was gloved up, face half hidden by a mask and crackling like a bonfire in her plastic apron. We discussed the village, a place I haven’t seen for weeks, the number of visitors cars, the walkers, the camper vans, the motor bikes. I had not realised how empty my mouth has been of anything that isn’t care related and the words flew out like birds, the laughter too.

Although we will remain isolated for some time to come (my choice), it is good to hear that life is waking up once more. Some folk have been trapped in small flats in cities, or alone in bed sits, and these folk must be twisting in the wind by now, desperate to catch on to its tail coat and to fly once more. To share a view, a joke, a meal, a conversation is what we all need and what we all miss, like fresh water when access to it is denied.

Sunlight tunnels through window slits as we move around the sun, illuminating the ordinary. A line of carpet, a vase of garden flowers, the shiver of iced tea in a sparkling glass. The doors are wide, the soft breeze fluttering the bird-curtain. Before the bird curtain, there were oft more birds inside than out, bashing against windows, terrified hearts pounding in tiny ribcages. When we are suddenly trapped, we panic. All of us, humans, animals, birds, insects, all of us. And we were trapped for a long time.

I watch cloud shadow on the far hillsides. Foxgloves disappear into it, then leap back crimson purple. We are like that. Lost in shadow at times, or caught up in a twist of wind, swept off our feet or shivering in sudden dark. It passes. Everything passes, be it what we want or what we don’t. Over this, over wind, time, sickness, cloud shadow; over times of exhilaration, loved ones, intense joy. Over all this we have no control. The very best we can do is to stand tall, rooted, blooming, ready for whatever comes.

And equally as ready to let it go.

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 – The Great Sadness

I have no other name for it. Nor can I explain it, although I have tried, many times over the decades of my long life. In the search for meaning, for an explanation, we are forgiven our walks up blind alleys. It is only human to want an answer. As a child I felt it. It would suddenly invade my mind when I was most definitely looking the other way. Suddenly, even in a gathering of family or peers, in what seemed to be a happy moment, it would hit me full whack. At a young age I had no way of understanding it. I just thought that it was because Angela had pink flashing socks and mine were ordinary white, albeit with a Daz sparkle. Or that Mary had a hamster.

Later, as a supposedly intelligent and educated young women it still hit me. At a party, for which I had taken about five hours to dress, and surrounded by friends and music and a short term freedom, or walking down the town on a Saturday morning with money to spend on something ridiculous like shiny hot pants or chain-rattling tough girl boots, the Great Sadness would punch me in the gut and stumble me. it would leave me completely alone in a huge crowd, like a girl on a raft mid Pacific. Sometimes someone would spot the change and ask a kindly question, but I soon lost them as I explained what a weirdo I was. I think they were scared they might catch something dodgy. I find the same now, in the evening of my life. The only people who don’t run for the next bus are intuits, counsellors or very close friends. Friend, actually. She gets me, even if she does also consider me a weirdo.

As a child I was considered strange, difficult, obtuse etc. I could be brilliant, and I was, supreming at music, writing and insight, but the latter threw even the most open-hearted guides. I was too young, too confounded by the Sadness and, thus, too much of a threat to my peers who seemed not to ever think beyond hamsters or pink flashing socks. I felt alienated and had no idea why. This huge thing I still cannot explain shows me much. I have now learned to welcome it and to walk beside it, even if it really hurts. I used to hang it on pegs. Must be this thing, this person, this event, this fear. Not now. As I grow a stronger connection to nature and to the wildness around me, I accept the Great Sadness as an integral part of the whole point of things, of life and not just this one but the millions of lives already lived to the end. I consider myself privileged to have been visited by it from childhood, even if it did cause a tapselteerie; even if it did label me a weirdo; even if my friends’ mothers shook their heads and scuttled their daughters away; even if my own mum looked at me as she might look at ET.

There are times when I cannot lift my mental boots out of the mud. It is not that I am depressed. There are days when I imagine flying off a cliff. I do not plan to. I am just the honoured host for the Great Sadness, one that shows me all the pain in the world. I hear the cries, feel, intensely, the agony of struggle and cruelty, feel the joy and the happiness too. It’s like being in balance. I can hold the pain and the joy inside me at the same time without having to explain or justify a thing. Nor does it fear me. It gives me a real good look into the truth. And that is something most of us avoid. We would rather push it away when it hurts, buy something, plan a holiday, phone a friend, turn on the TV. But to sit with it when it comes in is not for the faint hearted. It is uncomfortable at best, and this visitor stays just as long as they like.

I am still a student. for over 60 years I have run from the Great Sadness, but it won’t go away, no matter what I do. I think when a person is very creative, the Great Sadness comes too. I see it in art and writing and music that gasps me. Oh, I think, there it is. It won’t be explained, nor justified, nor hung on a peg. It makes its choice. The key is to let it in, like a visitor you don’t much want, who has arrived at the most inconvenient time, and who has no plans to leave for a while. It will not be rebuked, nor thrown out. I am only sad I didn’t read the Great Sadness manual aged six.

Might have been just a bit further on by now.

Island Blog 132

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We never talk about shrimps up here.  In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word used anywhere in Scotland.  Up here, across the tempestuous border, we talk about prawns, and they are quite believably so.  Shrimps I remember from Norfolk days, and you needed 3000 of the little so-and-so’s for all of seven sandwiches.  I have been served up a plate of ‘prawns’ before now, and knew fine I was being ripped off, but not up here.  Folk can’t believe their good fortune when they order a prawn dish, savouring the fat pink bodies, dense and firm and tasting of a fresh wild ocean.

In Tapselteerie days, I would drive over the hill to meet the fisherboats coming in, bartering with the raw and ruddy-faced hard-working ‘boys’ for an overflowing crate of still-twitching jewels, the huge aga pans left to bring themselves to boiling point as I travelled.  The eyes of the guests grew wide with amazement as I laid down plates of them, pan fried with garlic and fresh herbs.  Then I would make bisque from the shells.  Nowadays, you can’t buy them on the quay, as I did, because they all go for export.  But there are a few choice restaurants who either make sure they have their own creel boat, or have found a way to do as I did, and connect with the fishermen. Some of these ‘boys’ are still fishing, some have stepped back to let their sons carry on the good work.  After all, shrimp or prawn, lobster, oyster or mussels are always a different experience when they are fresh and still full of personality.

Much like us.

So why am I talking about shrimps and prawns and the like?  It isn’t to lead on to the obvious Bigger is Better thing.  What I am talking about is choice and quality, yes, but more about paying attention to the strings that bind us.  Driving over the hill to find fresh shellfish meant I had to know and befriend the fisherman.  If he thought I was a stuck up little madam, he would have said nothing was available and I wouldn’t have blamed him for that.  I know that the lonely process of buying goods, any goods, via the interweb is easier, cheaper often, but it involves no human contact, or very little.  In fact, we seem to enjoy  as much ‘very little contact’ as possible these days, and, yet, it is only through a bonding process that anything in life really works.  Oh, I am not saying we don’t need, use and value the internet, but out of balance we can find ourselves clumsy and careless at times when we are with another person.  Out of practice.

When I go shopping for clothes (I hate shopping for clothes and am the very first to look online), I will avoid with great energy, huge shopping malls, caves of blue lighting, plastic walls and no air, or none already breathed in and out again.  Instead, I will choose the little shop with a ‘ping’ as I open the door and a welcome smile on the face of the assistant.  I don’t want ‘NEXT!’ yelled at me.  I have a name, and it isn’t that.  Although I absolutely do not like a pushy sales person, I do like the question ‘Can I help you with anything?’ and then, when I say I just want to browse, to be left to do just that.  If I buy something, I want her, or him behind the pretty counter, to be interested in me and my choice, as I will be in them.  I want to walk out feeling very chuffed with myself and with my purchase, and, more, the pleasant memory of our human encounter.

If I sound stuffy, I don’t mean to.  I blog, I Facebook, I text and tweet, but it isn’t all I do.

Recently I came to realise that my work is lonely work.  Writing, painting, loving my little home and being in and around it, walking with Poppy in the fairy woods, none of these get me in front of people. This is my choice.  I am, at heart, solitary and I need that space around me to feel creative and healthy, but, out of balance, I get fearful in crowds and resist meeting friends.  The good news is, that this is instantly fixable, once recognised.  Driving through Glen Coe, beneath the craggy snow-covered tops of the Three Sisters, I pulled over to call Lisa, my publisher.  We talked of mice and men, cabbages and kings, and, as I turned back onto the road, I felt a lift.  It wasn’t the content of our conversation that did that, but her voice in my ear, connecting me once again to the outside world and, in doing so, raising my confidence in me, making me feel important and interesting and changing my whole outlook so that I was, once more, fresh and full of personality.