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.