The meaning of words

latte

 

Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context.  Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen.  Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.

We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community.  To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle.  How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work?  It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat.  I have a friend who is colour blind.  He sees everything in shades of grey.  I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle.  I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour.  Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.

That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads.  I want white walls and you hate white.  White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms.  I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil.  But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine.  One of us has to accept.

Or, is that resignation?

My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room.  He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise.  He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word.  Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive.  ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind.  It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.

Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer.  I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production.  It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me.  On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part.  When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like?  Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me.  To him, they mean nothing much.  He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well.  I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear.  I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.

Then, there is resignation.  I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak?  Am I giving in?

Absolutely not.  In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself.  I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away.  I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything.  And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words.  It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.

If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk.  I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off.  I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own.  I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands.  ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’  And the response doesn’t change.  Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?

So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground?  We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.

If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling.  It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.

More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.

Island Blog 78 – Reality Check

crazy

I have sailed the seas in a ship made of diamonds

pearl coloured sails and the moonlight to guide

I have swum in the depths and played in the shallows

felt the child in my womb jump for joy in the night

but wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away.

For I always need to come home again

even if voices may beg me to stay.

When I write a song, I just let the words flow.  Nonsense a lot of the time, but this doesn’t bother me.  Nonsense never did.  What bothers me is what the world calls reality.

If I set off into reality, to scrub a bathroom, say, or plunder the veg counter in the local shop, I can call it whatever I want.  If it’s me, which I usually am, I will find faces among the brassicas and patterns in the legume basket.  Bananas are definitely grammar (( as are the full stops of blueberries, although the mushy ones could be commas.  In the bathroom, I can set up quite a rhythm with the loo brush around the bowl, and a serious counterpoint if I add the squirts of cleaner at just the right moment.  Over at the basin, there is a splendid piece of art going on with shaving foam droplets and toothpaste in a lovely concave composition, one I almost don’t want to wipe away.

Downstairs, the new washing machine having finally laid down moorings (I found the spirit level), hums and sloshes and the washing powder tin on the shiny white top, thrums a little to itself.  In the kitchen, I can whizz, chop, stir fry or simmer.  The fridge, faulty, bless it, but still going, hums and burps and emits sudden gurgles, much like a happy baby.  When the man of the house makes a sandwich, the floor takes on a wonderful speckle, that looks as if we had an early flurry of snow, and when the little dog laps her water, the spilled drops reflect the sunlight and sparkle like jewels.

On the line, the breeze pulls and pushes at the washing, slowly, at first and faster as the water moisture lifts back into the sky, whence it came, via the tank in the loft, of course.

I have flown as high as the geese and then higher,

burst like a seed through the hymen of space

I have watched a star explode into millions

new lights for the darkness, in patterns of lace

But wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away

for I always need to come home again

even though voices may beg me to stay.

lucky that.

Island Blog 35 – Speaking without Words

Island Blog 35

 

For the first time since beginning this blog, I really don’t know what to write.  Perhaps it is, as my youngest son used to say with all the confidence in the world, that my daily allocation of words has been quite used up.  He didn’t actually use that big long word, but in his ‘little boy speke’, he communicated clearly enough.

The conversation that morning had been about his brother who talked sometimes in his sleep.

‘It’s because he hasn’t said all the words he was given for the day’ said the tutfy-headed small boy as he munched on his toast and ‘hunny’.

Perfectly logical of course, and why not?

It also means that the converse is probably true as well.  So, when I cannot find a single thing to say, it isn’t necessarily because I know nothing of the subject under discussion.  It could simply be that I have used up my daily quota, sprayed words across a wasteland where they may just have fallen on stony ground and come to nowt.  Or, worse, launched them at some poor soul who couldn’t be less interested in whatever wisdoms I might think crucial to this point in their life.  Those words either fly off into the sky over their heads or they land in the wrong place and cause that person, who was fine thank you very much before I and my ego came along on our white charger suggesting they required certain repairs, much inner angst.

I’ve done it all, and may well again, in spite of all my good intentions.  My mind can fox me into all sorts of do-gooder situations. With heavenly choirs, soaring violins and a strong wind section,  I can ‘Mother Theresa’ anyone whether they want it or not.

And, often, they do not.  I can see it on their faces.  It’s either frustration or irritation, neither of which was in my plan.  What I foresaw, in the bestowing of my gracious wisdom, was, first, the early dawn light.  Then the epiphany.  Then, over time, the transformation.

Oh for goodness sake!

The good news is that, if I shut up and observe only, I won’t land in the poo.  If I come with no agenda of my own, such as a long list of easy things they can do to make their life so much better, but simply walk beside them, if indeed they have asked me to in the first instance, asking the odd question that relates directly to whatever they have just said to me, and then listen again, I may just help a fellow traveller a little way down their own road.

Not mine.