Island Blog – Hide and Seek

Peering out this morning, through rain smeared windows, the birds look like they are fraying at the edges. The flowers too, poor bowed soldiers in the face of a strong opponent, flagging beauty, ripped petals, but still standing firmly rooted. I had a wee chat with them this morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders. Stay strong, I told them. This too shall pass. Returning to the warm and coffee and a chattering woodturner, I think today will be a day to hide in. Not from, but in.

As a child, hide and seek was the best game ever, especially in a friends house where there were many more rooms than people. Connecting corridors, secret doors, lofts and cellars. the ‘hider’ could disappear for days on end in that rich man’s castle. However, the slightest sound of incoming sparked a rich anticipatory excitement in my young breast. I wanted to be found. I had been inside this old wine barrel for ages, my twisted legs were sound asleep and I wanted one of Cook’s jammy dodgers. Funny how things change. At first, I wanted to stay hidden forever and then, at the first creak of a floorboard, I longed for deliverance. It thinks me.

At times I want to hide away. I can see me now, in my mind’s eye, dropping like a stone behind the sofa when someone knocks on the door. I remember dashing upstairs to dive under the duvet, blocking my ears from the ‘Hallooooo!’ noise as someone just walked in. I don’t answer the phone, avoid the picture window through which everyone looks as they walk by. In short, I invoke no intrusion on my hide-ness. Of course, on Hide days everyone and his wife call, visit or peer in. On Seek days, when I would happily host a convention complete with light refreshments, the world is silent, mouthless, happy doing something else that doesn’t involve me.

Hiding during isolation and lockjaw (down) is simples. Almost nobody is out there. In fact, for all I know, the island has set sail for other lands; perhaps Englandshire is no longer attached to Scotland; perhaps all the islanders, bar the odd one or two who walk by, have emigrated to Australia and there is just us left, hiding from nothing and no-one, never again to be sought. The thought smiles me, but only because I know it to be imaginary nonsense. Of course everyone is still here; of course we are still joined from south to far north and of course all the islanders still inhabit the homes I know belong to them. That’s true……isn’t it?

Half the fun of Hide and Seek was getting lost myself. If I was seeking, creeping on silent toes, avoiding old creaker boards, and not committing to memory the way I had come, I could find myself half way down a completely unknown darkened corridor with someone coming my way. It could be her ladyship, in full sail, as ever and with a tongue inside her thin strip of a mouth that could cut through steel; or it could be his Fumbleship, the ancient old grandpa who thought everything a chuckle, especially his sharp edged daughter in law. I remember overhearing her tell him once that he was only living there because of her great beneficence. I didn’t know what that word meant, but he did, and after a great hoot of laughter, one that nearly carried him downstairs rather faster than usual, he continued his merry way leaving her pink faced and puffing. He found me that day, hiding behind the desk he always sat at to read his paper. Hallo little one, he whispered. My eyes were wide with rabbit terror but he just chuckled softly. Shhhhh, he said. I won’t tell. And I was more than happy to remain hidden, hearing his gentle breathing , the snap of news pages, my nose inhaling the smell of his pipe.

I felt both hidden and sought. And in that moment I knew I could be both at the one time. It filled a space in me I never knew was there. Instead of either this or that, either black or white, either yes or no, there was a whole wonderful world in between and I for one decided I would step into that world, curious as Alice.

And so it is, still.

Island Blog – Noticing Thoughts, Starlings and the Wonderful

This time of isolation, for us since March 16th, has given me the chance to really think things through. I decide, for example, thanks to the nudges from my body, the universe and my long bedroom mirror, to change a daily habit in order to discover something wonderful. Although the process of re-jigging and then maintaining daily a new way of doing old things can be a pain in the aspidistra, the ‘wonderful’ is going to be so worth the effort. Writing down a new plan is key; bullet points numbered, and with space at the end for an achievement tick. After a week, I want a gold star, so that means I must write down the date of first commitment, to keep track of my progress. July 1st sounds like a good date upon which to set this ship a-sail.

Perhaps I want to finally lose this jelly belly, the one that flops over my underpinnings. Perhaps I drink too many glasses of coke, or sherry, or coffee. Perhaps I turn away from a walk if its raining. There’s that kitchen cupboard asking to be scrubbed clean all the way to the back this time and not just wiped at the front in a kidding sort of way. Whatever it is I want to change, for no reason outside of myself, I must begin by noticing the triggers that keep me lazy about taking action. I write them down. They look ghastly, sloppy, unthinking. Luckily nobody but me is going to see them as they stare back up at me from my A4 notepad. I had thought I was in charge of me. Obviously I was wrong.

What will the ‘wonderful’ be? Well, I don’t know, but at a guess, the jelly belly will retreat somewhat, if not completely. Who will notice or care? Well, nobody but me. Is that inspiring enough? Yes it is, I tell myself, noticing that trip up thought. Although it might be true that I expect the first day to have me all sorted, I can very easily fall back on what has become my norm, the one that doesn’t require me to think much at all. Day two might feel like trudgemonkey. This is when I must refer back to my plan with bullet points of action and room for an achievement tick. Oh…..must I? Seriously? Yes I must, because the ‘wonderful’ is not an instant thing but a distant one, and I will never know how distant unless I remain steadfast in pursuit of my goal. It is innately human to believe that results should be served up the minute a decision implants itself in a brain. This is a lie, a big fat lie. Nobody ever got nowhere without consistent dedication to their goal.

I find it helpful to jot down my thoughts. Not all of them or I would never get anything else done, but the ones that catch my attention, telling me I am in need of a snack, a sweet one, and right now. Hang on a minute, I say, putting up my hand. You aren’t hungry for a sweet snack at all. You are just a bit bored or lost or feeling uncomfortable. That’s when I step back, look at this hungry little whiner and tell it straight. You are not useful to me at this time. You had breakfast 30 minutes ago, and even if you think you really are in need of a snack, it won’t be sweet, trust me on that. It will be a shaved carrot. So there.

Same goes for the sherry call. Perhaps a thought tells me I am not coping with this, or that and that I need a shot of something to take the edge off. The edge off what, precisely? This situation within which I live and move and have my being, that’s what. And how will numbing your brain help change said situation? It won’t, not long term. So, you are not useful to me right now whereas a cup of tea most certainly will be. Please leave.

It’s amazing how obedient my thoughts are. Quite surprising in fact. I think they are astonished at my questioning them. After all, they have ruled my roost for decades, confident in their control over me. In my facing them down as the questioner, they are lost for words. It’s rather exciting and one of the early glimpses I get of my ‘wonderful’. So this is how it works! If I commit to change, notice my thoughts and challenge the ones that want to keep me living like a robot, the serendipities begin to rise. I actually feel good about myself, more powerful, more excited about what happens next. My jelly belly may still flop over my underpinnings, my nightly sherry may still beckon from the wings, and the rain may still put me off walking, but I have moved forward and it feels, well, wonderful.

This morning I sat with coffee and watched the birds around the feeders. Siskin, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, collared dove, robin, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, blackbird. Suddenly the sky darkened and in flew about 50 starlings. They covered the feeders, lined the fences, perched on the shrubs, all the while twittering in fluent starling. My heart lifted, as did I to get my camera. By the time I got back, they had gone. But I had seen the wonderful, noticed it, logged it in my mind. Next time I will remind myself just to sit and to notice. The way the sun turns their feathers blue, their darting flight, the way they stay together, fly together; the sound of their voices, the quick turns of their shiny heads.

Noticing the outside is very important and we have the time now to do just that, but noticing our internal world is even more important. We are not robots, we are wonderfully intelligent agents of change, and when we stop to think, to notice our thinks, we become more powerful than we could ever have imagined. It all starts with a decision to take back control.

And, as we do, the ‘Wonderful’ awakens.

Island Blog – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

Island Blog – A Different Summer

Looking back on life, I imagine we can all remember one particular summer, for its joy or for its unjoy. Perhaps it was that one, as a carefree youngster, first in love, heady with dreams and hopes and madly keen to escape the confines of diligent parenting. Perhaps it was that memorable holiday, the colours, swirls and shape of which are ingrained in a mind, body and soul. Perhaps it was the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the time the wisteria went crazy up the walls, dropping sweet perfume and amethyst blooms every time you walked underneath.

This one, the one we are welcoming right now will surely be a collective memory, one we will talk about, write about and think about for a very long time to come. By definition, ensuing summers will still be summers but might appear ordinary, now that we have met extraordinary. I love this time of year. Less clothing, more colour, bare feet and crisp salads; sunshine skin and long bright evenings; new life all around, birds, animals, flowers; brown babies, freckles, picnics and barbecues. Everything in me shifts with the rising warmth, reflections of green at the waters edge, the sound of Earth singing us back to life.

Okay so this summer is different and although each summer is different, in that we have all moved through the winter and, therefore, learned new learnings, this one is more different than most. But, even as we are refused access to each other, to dinners out, lunch al fresco at a local restaurant, long walks together or parties on the lawn, we can still summer. I know that the isolation can chip away at us, because, as humans, as social creatures, we long to share. Witnessing something wonderful, something new and delightful all on your own is just not the same. There will be many, like me, who are talking to themselves. I tell me many things throughout the day, share jokes and stories and me is a good listener, wise, too, sometimes irritatingly so. I remember learning once that inside me are as many as 25 others, all still me but different aspects of me. There is the Judge, of course, the poker-faced harridan with a lemon in her mouth. She is the most vocal, but as her repertoire is unimaginative and predictable, I can soon shut her up. There’s the little Alice in Wonderland and I am very fond of her. She always wants to play or shrink or sup tea with the Hatter and, together, we have great adventures. Then there’s Mrs Sensible. She is the wise one who keeps me from sailing out to sea without a compass. There is the Wife, the Mother and the Grandmother, and together we are quite a team. We are the ones who move through each day in acceptable clothing and with a well-ordered mind. Keeping a balance of the females inside my head is sometimes tricky. Sometimes I want to run riot, to disappear into my imagination, to break the rules of the well-ordered daily routine. And sometimes I do.

We are all having to search ourselves to find the fun, at times. And, for all the worries and concerns that have cut us off from each other, we have the chance to learn something wonderful from this summer. How we live thereafter will be directly aligned to what we have taken the time to study and consider. Great things will grow from the ashes of this, much like the flowers are doing right now, just outside the window.

Island Blog 131 Gifts

 

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Sometimes in my life surprising gifts are given.  I remember my paintings being ‘out there’ in some gallery miles away for flipping ages doing nothing, it seemed, and then, just when I needed a lift, encouragement, a gift, it came; always a surprise.  There I was, ferreting about for enough cash or whatever wherewithall I needed, thinking How Can I manage This, and with stealth and whilst I was looking the other way, in came the gift.  Somebody bought a painting!

Of course, there are those of us who just know their paintings will sell wherever and whenever they hang them in white-walled galleries anywhere in the country just because they have a following; because someone loves watercolour landscapes, or elephants or canoes with bears in or cows with attitude, but I never had that following because every painting was in a different mood, employing different hues, tones. shapes.  Hence The Gift.

It seems to me, now that I look back across the years, my eyes moving in fast-forward but backwards that there is a plan here.  Not mine, I hasten to say, because I am like a chicken most of the time, grubbing in the dirt for whatever I’m looking for, picking over the stones and bones of life to find some nugget that will make me rise up and shout ‘Aha! and find me later relating this moment as an epiphany, and one that has altered from that moment on, my whole direction in life.

When Spring comes every year bless her old heart, she sort of spits and spurts, gives a little and then withdraws for many see-saw weeks.  One minute, cardy off and all that white flesh revealed for a couple of afternoon hours, the next she churns up snowdrifts that stop us going through Glen Coe.  One minute we are bringing out our daisy-festooned frock, the next snarling our way back into that frightful blue jumper, covered in pulls and paint marks and fighting off chillblains beside the woodburner.  We go from hot stews to no thanks I’m not hungry and meanwhile the salad vegetables, hurriedly ordered by an over-keen grocer after two days of warmth, moulder into bronze on the shelf and end up smelling something rotten in the wheelie bin.  And when she comes, Spring, she causes me much unrest.  All the birds are building nests and not overthinking anything at all.  The sun shows up the domestic slut that I am, and the windows look out onto what looks like fog.  Any visit outdoors would sort that in a nanosecond.  At Tapselteerie the begrudging Spring Clean would have been well and truly done by now, but given choices, as I now have, there is no such thing.

And with this Spring, there came a gift, unexpected, unsought, random and wonderful. In the ordinariness of any life, there are stars.

There are always stars.

 

Island Blog 102 – Memories

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They are funny things, memories, but not necessarily in a ha-ha way.  If anyone has ever asked a couple to describe their rememberings from any area or time of their shared life, you will have felt, as I have, that they definitely weren’t there together.

When my own mum recounts something from my childhood, she tells it in a way that assures me I was in another family at the time.  I used to think she was right and that I was wrong – ever the swing from either to or – and that this ‘wrong’ in me was because I……..what?  Wanted it to be different?  possibly.  Refused to acknowledge the truth?  possibly.  Had blanked out reality in favour of fairyland?  possibly.

Nowadays I see it differently because I understand that she saw me through her own eyes, as a child inside her life and that wasn’t how I saw it at all.  I looked with my own eyes, filtered each experience through my own emotions, needs, hopes and dreams, which were never hers.  She has ideas for me that I didn’t like or understand or even want.  So, the battle begins early in a life, the battle for a good hold on reality.

And who is to say what Reality is?

Even in a marriage, where two supposed adults, really still children themselves, encounter days and times and moments together, the looking will differ to varying degrees.  Where one sees rain, the other sees the light inside a raindrop.  One feels he cold, the other doesn’t, so was that house a cold, uncomfortable one or was it a wonderful home, or was it both at the same time?  And, in the spinning out of the tale of of it, who will name it?

Then, there are the ears that hear that tale.  Are they on one side or on the other according to who or what they personally relate to?  If I am angry about something or someone, I will, however ‘good hearted’ I may be, paint them in certain colours, and colours stick, words stick, take root and grow.

It isn’t as simple as the glass half-full, half-empty cliche.  Cliches are always too simple, sounding like goodly truths but lacking substance, texture, depth and context.  They may help to elevate our thoughts and this is helpful indeed, but no living soul is ever one type of person or another.  To get from black to white and back again, we must allow and embrace a thousand shades of grey, and it is inside those greys we mostly live out our days.

So, now, as an old woman (I love being an old woman, choosing, as I do, the picture of old age as a cumulation of experience and wisdom and of letting go) I can hear a story re-spoken and learn, from it’s presentation, more about the person speaking it out than I ever do about the ‘facts’.  I even hear my own voice doing the telling and notice where I put the emphasis, what colours I choose, what body language I employ, what tone.  And it often smiles me a lot.

On days when I only see the rain, there is a moan and a whine in any telling out.  The simple question How are You? can see me grabbing someone’s hand and leading them into a miserable dark wet cavern littered with the old bones of all the women I hoped to become and allowed to die without a voice.  On days when I am energetic enough to slip between the raindrops, pausing to catch the warmth of their reflected light, I can swirl us both into the sky along with the fairies and the angels and actually feel critical of their need to tell me about the bunions on their big toes.

Same circumstances.  Exactly the same circumstances.  The days are the same, the tasks the same, the view the same, and yet everything is different.

So, although we are all within the parameters of this day Friday September 20th, and even if we spend a part of it together, we will tell very stories about it’s 24 hour span.

Which of us is ‘right’ I wonder?