Island Blog 153 On Good Men and Unicorns

unicorn

I have heard said, that good men are like unicorns.  Everyone talks about them but nobody ever sees one.

To compare a man with a unicorn, is, indeed, a strange thing to be sure.  Unicorns may be ‘fictitious’ creatures, but they are very real in fairy stories, folklore and even in Harry Potter’s world, which is one I almost believe in.  Many times I have faced down a pillar on some bleak and windy station, thinking positively about rushing towards it in search of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.  I don’t, of course, being ever so slightly aware that I may, indeed, be a Muggle after all, and, thus both bitterly disappointed, and in need of cosmetic surgery.

The other thing that stranges me about a comparison between unicorns and good men, is that men, in my experience, couldn’t be more earthed.  I may attempt, for example, to unfold my feelings about some aspect of my life only to be asked scientific questions. What shape, when, why and how.  I may float (just a bit) around concepts of life, love and marmelade and be yanked back down to earth with a sensible ‘fix’ to the situation, one that completely misses my point, not that I have had one of those in a long time.  In fact, my being afflated about some other-worldly issue very possibly negates the need for a point, as there are many and none in the mackle mind of a woman at such times.

Now, I know, like you do, that unicorns have hooves and must, therefore, do things like walk, trot, canter and gallop, and for all of these activities, they require some sort of stable terrain, one with depth and structure, one they can see and expect to see whilst they do all of these things.  In this, they are very like men, I agree.  But, and this ‘but’ divides and separates, they can fly, of float, or elevate and there are few, if any, good men who can do that.

But is there a difference between Men and Good Men?  I wonder if this is simply an act of perception.  I say ‘act’ because it is a doing word and not a being word and there’s my point.  And I have another.  Does the perception of a man make him good?  If I imagine him to be like a unicorn, powerful, there when you need a lift out of danger, able to move fast over ground or through the air, beautiful, intelligent, magical and interesting, might he not become so? Whereas, if I imagine him stupid and blunt, strong-like-bull but dimwitted and messy and thoughtless, might I not be fashioning him that way?

I know this is a chicken and egg question, but it has thinked me for a while and made me watch folk and consider.  We can divide our lives into little controllable units, and, in many ways, this is a good thing.  I want my day planned, to a degree, to the degree that is important to me, that is.  I want to know when this or that is needed by my family, and what my role is in making it right for them.  But, if I have forgotten what it was like when first we met, then, chances are, so has he.  Life and the gravity of it has pulled us all down.  It happens, but the clever ones among us notice this.  If I stopped the car suddenly and said to you, Look There Goes a Unicorn, even if you were the biggest domesticated woman cynic ever, you would look, you would ask Where?  But if I said There Goes Your Husband, you might look, you might, but, if it was somewhere you didn’t expect him to be you might say…..well you might say all sorts of things but you would not have the same look on your face as you did when I called him a Unicorn.

Island Blog 147 If Not Now

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Today is Halloween and I already have a witch or two in my head, and if crossed, in my mouth.  Not a really bad witch, but one of those ones that knows her power and won’t take any messing.  I like her.  She is a tad unpredictable, but we work together pretty well in the main, perhaps because I am also a tad unpredictable.  Witches are really ‘storybook’ to me, I don’t do black magic at all, although the white ones are worth a second look. I pull them in and shape them up for whatever hurdles I need to cross on a daily basis.  My witches are humourous and feisty, clever and quick, kindly but firm, independent, solo, and able to lift above any situation with a switch of a wand.  They don’t sport warts, nor crooked chins, nor do they cackle unless it’s whilst watching the ‘bad’ guys fall into their own come-uppance, in which case, I cackle too.

My time on Skye was wonderful.  Every time I travel to new places, I meet new people and people fascinate me.  I watch them and I listen and I learn.  I stayed as a guest in a lovely home overlooking a sea-loch that raged and spat for days, driven mercilessly into a right stooshie by strong winds and heavy rainfall.  The rain travelled sideways, whipping into my face and grabbing the breath out of me.  It was hard to stand up whilst walking two lively spaniels whose main aim was to find rabbits and chase them, not possible whilst held firmly on a lead, but nonethless, their aim.  When we had the rare sighting of a car approaching along the single-track road, we had to bundle into the grass in a fairly undignified heap, the spaniels panting for breath and the blood cut off from my lead-holding fingers.  Waving was tricky, lifting just my hand and not a whole spaniel into the air.  I was treated like royalty and yet welcomed as part of the family and now I have new friends, new people to learn from, a new bond between us.  Just as an aiside, I belong to the Scottish Book Trust who can sponser such trips and I am always delighted to be invited anywhere in Scotland to talk about Island Wife, to sing my songs, to reach out to people who relate to my story, in book groups, libraries, or at any public event.  I know, shameless marketing!

Moving on…….

In every area of life, there are people.  Machines do a hec of a lot to assist communication, its reach and the speed of it, but we need people or there is no heart.  Talking of hearts, I believe hearts are inherently good, even when the outside of someone challenges that theory.  Nothing is black or white, we are all both, plus all those rainbow colours in between.  Of course, life can throw us from time to time, but none of us want to be remembered, or pidgeon-holed at such times, especially if the outside of us says different.  But we can and do define people, if we’re honest, by their behaviour on a certain day/week/month or year.  We may be asked to describe someone.  We may say…..well, she is very good at her job but dreadfully overweight.  Now why do we add that last bit?  Is it that we must balance a good thing with such an unnecessary comment?  It’s irrelevant to the profile of that person and, sadly, the one thing that will be remembered.  Her overweight is something she doesn’t like either, we can be sure of that.  I have heard such defining often and, to my shame, said nothing.  I remember one of my boys saying once ‘I wonder why we don’t stand up for each other’ and he is right.  Why don’t we?  Perhaps we don’t want to be the reason for any awkward feelings.  After all, we can just remove ourselves can’t we and think how judgemental that comment was and the person who made it.  It’s easier that way.  But aren’t we judging too by keeping quiet?  It has a name this keeping quiet thing.  Although we didn’t directly commit the crime, we affirmed it by omission.  We omitted to stand and be counted.  In this climate of not standing, we need to make changes.  I have a rule for myself.  If I wouldn’t say something direct to a person, then I won’t say it at all.  I can’t always manage it.  I am human.  But what I aspire to, and practice, will eventually become a habit.

We are all doing our best to manage our lives.  We fall, we falter, we stumble and we crack, but we are not china cups and we can mend.  Not one single one of us knows what it is like to live another’s life.  The saying that we should not judge another man till we have walked a mile in his shoes, is a good one.  Even living closely with another human being tells us little of what lies in their hearts, what dreams are shattered, what disappointments hurt, what shame or oppression has done to their sense of self.  Little choices make up our pathways, but we cannot all walk straight and tall if those pathways are not going the way we want them to.  We redress the balance as best we can, and it takes time to find the normal, sometimes a long time, often a long time.  If I have learned anything in my life it is that I am not an island.  Although I love solitude and am happy on my own, I still crave a warm smile when life feels like it’s wrapped me in chains and thrown a tsunami in my face.  Stopping to smile back, to ask How Are You? and to listen to the answer can lift me far higher than any job-well-done will ever do.  I may rush by you, Can’t Stop, and you may understand my busyness, and I may complete the housework in record time, but, I am smile-less deep inside and not lifted up at all.  Better, by far, that I dally a while with you beside the dried goods and coffees for a human encounter.  We are dead a long time.  Life is for us to live or it will carry on without us.

If not now, then when?

 

Island Blog 142 Back to the Sea

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I have come to a conclusion.  One I might have come to long ago but didn’t, not least because I couldn’t really explain it, should anyone ask for my ‘workings’.

Workings are what art teachers demand when they stand before a huge canvas, liberally splodged with texture, glue, sparkly bits, string, and fat brush strokes telling them absolutely nothing.  ‘Where are your workings?’  they asked me.  I had to find out first what they were talking about before answering.  Once I knew, of course, I back-dated said ‘workings’ on paper, parchment,card, board and copper plate and stuck them into my Workings Book, which I didn’t know I had till a fellow student found it stuffed into my locker – another thing I didn’t know I had.

When a painting is abstract, there is a process.  You begin with the real thing.  A duck for example, or a pot of flowers, a seascape or a human form.  You draw that bit first, kind of whizzily with a loosely held pencil or bit of charcoal or even a paintbrush if you’re jolly smart.  You might be out of doors doing it, perched on a cold stone wall in the middle of Linlithgow, or you might have hooked a buttock or two onto an old tree stump on the shore of some spectacular place, or you may just be at your desk beneath the blue light of those vile tubes.  Wherever you are, you are supposed to be capturing the thing of interest onto a bit of paper in your drawing pad.  We were for-bid-den to call it a sketch pad.  We are not sketching, class.  We are drawing.

Semantics.  It amounts to the same flipping thing, but it’s always best not to argue, when the argument is about words and what they mean to other people, especially teachers.

So, you capture this interesting thing and then you loathe it to death.  It is, at best, dreadful, and looks nothing like it should or even could and even less than nothing like the interesting thing.  If it was a naked being, then I was doomed from the outset.  I could have a deliciously formed adult male just feet away from me under the blue lights and, in a matter of one short hour, he would be reduced to a Lowrie figure with no blood pumping through his veins, nor sinewy life in his supple limbs, both of which were there until my pencil removed them.  Picasso, I kept whispering to myself, fighting back the tears of shame.  Picasso.  Gee-ed up by such thoughts I stuck one eye on his thigh and thought I’d got away with it until Miss Fineart mosied over and snorted, alerting the class to do their own spot of mosying over and snorting.  The young man in question couldn’t move, for which I was deeply grateful as he was facing away from us and stark naked.

So much time was spent on ‘workings’ for pretty much all of my pieces for End of Year Show.  In my case it was both a lottery and a farce because not one back-dated working had entered my head for a single second as I plunged headlong into the world of the abstract.  Abstract just comes first for me and that’s that.

Back to my newly drawn conclusion.

I believe without a doubt that I came from the sea.  Not as a mermaid, or silkie, or even a fish.  I am not talking about the body of me, but the spirit of me.  Whenever I am by the ocean I am at peace.  I can go there carrying tension, rage, frustration.  I can feel heavy and old and tied down and lumpish. But, when I have stayed awhile, listened to the tide roll in or out, felt the salt spray in the breeeze and tasted it on my lips, I am a new woman again.  I don’t just believe that it’s about dumping my baggage for the old tide to take away, because whatever I took down there doesn’t join me as I walk back home.  I never see it again.

When I am in busy places, far from the ocean, I can do whatever I need to do, for a while.  But after that while, which isn’t very long, I feel the old scratch I can never itch, the one that tells me I am not all that wonderful, in fact, not wonderful at all.  I feel irritations niggle at my gut, threaten to spill out of my mouth.  I feel claustrophobic and find it hard to breathe.  No, it is not a panic attack.  There is nothing my logical mind could find to panic about.  It is true that all around me is concrete, noise, people rushing here and there, traffic, lights, dirty pavements and man-made deadlines.  I know how to cross a road safely and what bus to catch.  I know where I am heading and the time arranged for me to arrive.  There is no panic in any of that.  So it’s not a panic attack.

It’s just that I am not in the right place for me.

I know the rocks on the shore.  My eyes need to see the broken mussel shells, left by geese or an otter.  They need to see thrift, purple and trembling in the salt breeze, gulls white against the sky, calling out to each other as the new tide brings in the sprats.  I watch them poppling the surface of the water, pushed up by a predator deep beneath them and out of sight to me.  I must see the kelp thrown high upon ancient rocks, the little pools left by the flood tide, the tiny shrimps stranded till the next one comes in, perhaps whilst I sleep.  I have to see sunlight on the yellow lichen, turning it to gold, to hear the popping of sea-gorse seeds, marvel at the darting of goldfinches on the barbed stalks, and hear their animated chirrups at the abundance therein.  I absolutely must watch the single snow goose leading four, no five families of greylags across the sea-loch in serried ranks cutting perfect lines across the water.   I know the state of the moon by the tides and the state of the tides by the moon. I know the sea and the sea knows me.

It’s not a fairytale.  it’s a conclusion. Mine.

So I go, as I will always go, every day of my life.  I will go to where I came from.   Back to the sea.

Island Blog 139 An Elegant Truth

 

 

One

139 is a Prime Number.

‘A prime number (or a prime) is a natural number, greater than 1, that has no positive divisors, other than 1 and itself.’

Now that is exciting!  The word ‘prime’ is enough to lift my shoulders and to fix my eyes on the horizon.  In fact I have decided that I, also, am a prime number,  with no positive divisors other than 1 (that’s still me) or itself (me again).  How can I lose with that positive thinking?

Although every moment of my life requires an involvement with A. N. Other, a relationship in other words, be it complex and thixotropic or easy and naturally flowing, I am still singular, just me, I, The Prime Number.  Of course, I can be far from such in another’s eyes.  I might, in fact, be entirely divisible by anyone who cares to divide me up, spinnable by anyone who fancies throwing me into one, but whatever Lady Life tosses my way, even she can never ever divide One into more than itself and, once I spot this dividing thing going on, I can stop it just like that.  If I have the power of one, then I have the power of one.

In my earthly woman life, I can spread myself too thin, stretching myself progressively flatter in an effort to play carpet for all those around me, regardless of any risks to my health, self-esteem or direction in life.  I can do all this thinking I am solving others’ problems, when what I am really doing is interfering.  Instead of me respecting A.N Other’s right to be a primary number, I am dividing him or her up, telling her what to do and how to do it because I would know, wouldn’t I!   I am saying she cannot do without my advice, when without my advice is precisely how she needs to be.

Is it a myth or were all us girls brought up to put ourselves last?  Outside the door is better, in sackcloth and ashes, with voice on ‘mute’ and all desires surgically removed, as a baby.  Well, maybe it is the truth, but why on earth do we perpetuate such nonsense?  There is a lot to be said for the new woman (many of them my own daughters-in-law) who refuses to wear a modesty vest and who bites off her mute button and spist into into the undergrowth, standing her ground like Boudicca.  But this situation still smacks of war to me, one the sackclothed little carpet-woman manages to avoid by obligingly upholding the pillars of household peace, like Samson in a frock.

There is a third way.  There has to be.

This leads me on to the next bit.

‘One, sometimes referred to as unity, is the integer before two and after zero‘.  Integer means either a ‘whole number’ or ‘a thing complete in itself.’  It comes from the latin verb ‘tangere’,  to touch, and from it we have the word integrity, which translates as ‘the state of being whole and undivided, or ‘having the quality of being honest and with strong moral principles.’

Zero is the first number, according to some but I am only giving zero a nod and a wink for now.  It’s the number 1 I am thinking about, because, although I am one of two or of many, from millions to a book club membership,  I will always be One, and within that understandng, acceptance and knowledge lie the seeds of a colourful unity.

Having strong moral principles is a wonderful thing, providing I don’t expect anyone else to have them.  If I do, and make such an expectation clear, I am laying down my baton of integrity to don the periwig of a judge. I have just made myself divisible and I deserve whatever comes my way.  I would be wiser to concern myself with my own dirty washing, of which I may have a considerable pile.  As I judge another, thus I show, loudly, that I am wondrous to behold in my perfection, and yet it is only wordish vanity somersaulting from my mouth.  When I turn to walk away I may feel smugly chuffed but I may as well have no back to my trousers for the fool I have just made of myself.

However, if I consider not others’ failings, but my own, and if I turn the beacon inwards to study each and every one of them, and begin to address them one by one by one, I am now a Prime Number.  I have just elevated myself through the dirty cobwebs of my secretest hiding place and I can see the sky.  I have nothing to lose from now on.

Well, that’s not true.

What I am about to find as I walk back into one or other of my relationships is that nobody likes change, unless they are the one doing the changing, in which instance, it’s fine and they can’t understand what the fuss is all about.  However, if change comes in the old garb, ie the old me who always used to join in the salacious gossip, or the deliberate rebuff of a ‘lesser mortal’, or if I ran about like a ferret after everyone else’s insecurities and am suddenly absent, or, worse, actually present but unmoving, then I am going to astonish and disappoint and what’s more, be told so.  If I decide I am going to walk the other way, against my own established direction,  I will undoubtedly find myself lonely, feeling foolish and wondering how big my bum really does look.  I might even feel a frisson of fear, because I have no map for this road, not yet. Someone is bound to mutter that I have been on the sauce, or maybe I’m going through a rebellious menopause thing, hmmmm?   But, if I keep doing this new thing by not doing the old thing, I will soon find a rhythm for my feet. As long as I simply concern myself with my own sense of integrity (the state of being whole and undivided) I may not save the world, but I am saving me from carpet heaven –  I, the Prime Number One, the only one for whom I am responsible.

When I am required to make a choice that involves another, I can still approach it with integrity.  After all,  I cannot concern myself only with what I want to do or achieve at any given moment, because I am part of two.  However I am still One within that couple.  I watch young folk pull and push for independence, negotiating deals for the smooth running of a shared life. Tried it myself now and again over the years, but I make a mistake here if I expect approval for wanting something the other person doesn’t want. So what can I do?  Do I just give in and lie down?  Or do I cut my losses, decide we are incompatible and head off to find someone else to be incompatible with?

Or………..maybe I might take a hold of myself, my integrity as a Prime Number, the Number One, divisible by nothing, and take a good long look into my own shadows, and then, with the intelligence of my own heart, quietly and lovingly begin to walk my own path, the one that runs beside yours at times, and not at others, thus embodying both unity and singularity at once, without any divisor.

Such an elegant truth.

 

Island Blog 116 To See Darkly

 

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I saw this large white thing on the sealoch, pushing the water into a triangle with the rocky shore as the third median.  I peered for a bit through the paint-spattered windows as the cover of the night slid back to reveal a new morning.  I always do this ‘peering’ thing first, actually not just first, but second and sometimes third, in a vain attempt to kid on that, overnight, my eyeballs have grown young again.  Ah, halcyon days….. when I could see so much more, often too much, and sometimes that which would have been better not  seen at all, and certainly not by me!

Anyway, I waffle away from the large white thing.

Before it disappears completely, travelling at a fast lick through the frothy tide line, I grab the hefty set of Zeiss binoculars, or ‘bins’ as I gather they are fondly known, and nearly fall into my coffee with the weight of the things.  I don’t believe any bird watcher ever held these up to their eyes for long.  I would need to consider the employment of a personal trainer for at least a year just to manage a period of time longer than 35 seconds.  However, being a woman, I can achieve a great deal in 35 seconds, so I stick them onto my face and focus quickly, to the usual no avail, because why?  Because, as well as giving me instant arm ache and the beginnings of a shake in my ulna, well, both ulnas to be honest, the flaming glass bit mists up as my hot eyeball challenges the cold lens.  Vital seconds pass, as does the large white thing, into the trees that overhang the near shore.  Hmmm.

I call it a Snow Goose.  It was too big for an eider duck and too small for a swan or a flamingo.  Snow Goose it is.  There!  I feel dead chuffed and highly priveleged and can live this fantasy for days.  I saw a Snow Goose today!  That’s what I say in the shop to a resounding chorus of envying OOhs and Aahs.

It makes me think.  Of how we can see things that aren’t there, and not see things that are there.  How an un-misted glass lens can show us something we think we can explain, and how a misted one can talk complete pants to our human brains.  When we ‘see’ something through our eyeballs, we bring a process into being.  First, we see, then we fix this vision into a place, and then, without any conscious decision, we pad it out with all manner of daftness, imaginings, past baggage, phobias, indoctrinated beliefs and hopes.  When I see a beggar on any street, I see someone calling for help, and I will always give something. I follow my own heart in this matter.  When another sees the same sad sight, they may feel angry, begin to judge, or see laziness, bad choices, weakness – in other words, they might look down on the beggar as less than human.  It’s called ‘perception’ and it is in every one of us, however much inner work we might embark on to learn humility and compassion.  We can’t help it.  It is part of who we all are.

When I decide, which I sadly do, now and again, that someone else is heading in the wrong direction, I say so.  And then I learn a new fact or two about them, and regret, deeply, my hasty judgement.  I work on, to soften my perceptions, or, rather, to shut them up, but they can rise unbidden, un-called for, and always at times when I am not mindfully in control of that sneaky little set of wires that run from my brain to my mouth.

One area of perception, that never fails to cause a stooshie, is that of Boundaries.  Whether it is between black and white, the Ukraine and England, England and Scotland, or the African States, there is this thing about boundaries that could curdle milk in a nanosecond, one that everyone has an opinion on, based on personal perception.  Oftentimes, I hear folk talking heatedly on a ‘boundary’ subject. It can wire up a whole shopping queue once it gains momentum, but what saddens me is that I so often hear not what any individual really thinks, but what someone else has said on tv or written in a newspaper.  When you actually consider the other human beings involved in these situations, with only theories posturing as reality, how can anyone opinionate?

My world may be laughably fantasmic to some, even to many, but if we all  (and I believe we all do) want a life of peace and neighbourly-ness, then our arms must be open, our hearts too and, one day, our countries.  Voltaire said, ‘It is sad that, if we are to be a patriot, we first have to make an enemy of the rest of mankind.’

I think a different way to you, and you, to me.  I feel differently about the whys and the hows and the whens of things, but this can either be a glorious Snow Goose pushing through the saltwater of a new tide on a new morning – or, it can be ignored as something I couldn’t quite see, through my glass, and darkly.

Island Blog 104 – The Unfinished Line

2013-04-10 17.36.27

 

 

Painting a new canvas, I think about lines.  I was taught at art school to let the eye finish the line, meaning that I, as the painter, should leave it half done, indicating by it’s direction and the flow of the piece where the eye might like to take it.  It’s essential to the composition, the alternative leading to a dizzy spell because our eyes will always seek a resolution.  We want to land somewhere and go ‘ah!’ and if we can’t do that, we won’t like the painting at all.  We will be confused and all over the shop, deducing that the painter was too – that he/she just dithered brushes over the canvas without direction.

Writing employs the same rule of thumb, indicating to the reader where the lines are and allowing them to bring the line to it’s resting place, but not telling them exactly where that place is.  If I am too bossy and organising in my story, I leave nothing to your imagination.  I don’t allow you to relate, through your own life experiences, opinions, ideas to this character or that one,  because they are too stereotyped, too plastic, too finite.  You will be yawning by Chapter 3 and probably won’t read the whole book, unless you are one of those people who can’t bear to waste 8.99.  I can easily bear that.  If I find myself yawning by Chapter 3, it’s off to the doctor’s surgery with it, or the local charity shop, which very possibly isn’t very kind of me.

In life I find the same rule applies.  If I am a woman who has a need for a rigid set of lines around her life, I lose out, because, although no-one will tell me I am stuck in my self-absorption, I nonetheless am.  If what I say has to be how it is, then I am not allowing anyone else to complete the line, and, beyond human politeness, I will be skirted around in wide circles because I got boring by Chapter 3.

The good news is that opportunities to be dynamically fascinating and compelling come around over and over again as we begin a new venture, such as having a baby or maybe we leave the family home, or we notice we are turning into a lizard.  I am only a lizard when my hairdresser pops the black cape around my neck a bit tight and I have to wrench it off and remonstrate with her – a remonstration that always makes her chuckle.  Otherwise, the lizard bit goes mostly unnoticed as I avoid at all costs, a magnifying mirror.  Seeing too closely anything in my life can have me pulling on my old anorak and moping along the long and whining road until I realise that nobody is following me anymore and I am quite alone.

Time for some new lines to be drawn, lines for a new adventure, indicating direction, begun but not finished.

So, off I go, this time as a guest speaker at Wigtown’s Book Festival, next Saturday lunchtime.  I have no idea what to expect, no idea how Island Wife will be received, and all I am taking is myself and my reasonably ok skirt and sassy boots, my eyes for looking out and my ears for taking in.  I don’t need to control anything beyond myself and, in that place of freedom, of letting go, I find my sense of humour, alive and well and waiting for me by the side of the road.

I may meet delays, I may get lost, I may forget to pack something vital.  It might rain or snow.  Wigtown might be wiped out by aliens on Friday afternoon, or the hotel we are staying in may have lost our booking confirmation.  But this part-time lizard isn’t going to worry about any of that.  She is just going to draw a few lines.

For someone else to finish.