Category Archives: daily living

Brief encounter

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It isn’t rare to have an encounter with deer here in the Highlands of Scotland – and in our village at Kinlochleven they frequently come down to the river, or sojourn on the green for a short while. I have been taking out my new rescue Patterdale morning , noon and night – we are more often out than in, and yesterday evening we met a beautiful young stag . He had arrived on the green just as we did, bounded onto the bridge and leapt over following the line of the river.  We caught up with him – the light was still hanging around although it was past ten at night – the village was quiet. Reggie and I stood rapt as the young stag was totally still in our presence. It was as though he had invited us into his space. And then he bowed his head to eat some grass – I bowed mine back – and we mimicked one anothers gestures twice more. Reggie was as quiet as a mouse – no barking, no growling, no pulling – just a three way dialogue of enjoying the meeting. Extraodinary. And uplifting – my spirits are needing more of this.

The place I want to get back to

is where

in the pinewoods

in the moments between

the darkness

and first light

two deer

came walking down the hill

and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,

this one is okay,

let’s see who she is

and why she is sitting

on the ground like that,

so quiet, as if

asleep, or in a dream,

but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came

on their slender legs

and gazed upon me

not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look

and look and look

into the faces of the flowers;

and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life

bring to me that could exceed

that brief moment?

For twenty years

I have gone every day to the same woods,

not waiting, exactly, just lingering.

Such gifts, bestowed,

can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this

come to visit. I live in the house

near the corner, which I have named

Gratitude.

(c) Mary Oliver

 

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Physician – heal thyself

historicdesignin00john_0049 copy 2I am not sure how to start – why I should even want to – connecting is not the straightforward process I would like. I am in a fug. I cannot straighten my own perspective on the world I experience – and having just removed myself from the benefits of prescribed medication for the first time in a couple of decades, I am trying to be gentle on myself, but now I am needed.  My husband has retirement challenges – the common experience of finding how to re purpose one’s life.  I know I can only enable – not do anything, but it’s not easy seeing the person you live with struggle with the existential loneliness that is being human. We all struggle with it to a greater or lesser degree – a universal challenge then – but he, like me, is not a great fantasist. He cannot imagine something that is not apparent. And I am beginning to consider that the art of delusion should be on the National Curriculum in order that we maximise the potential of mental wellbeing. So how can I help? Probably cannot. I choose to try and stay kind – not leaping to judge, remembering its the tiny things that make a person feel loved. But part of me is 6 year s old and screaming ‘What about me?’

And so it is. And it will go on being like this – worrying for him, about him, wanting more for myself, feeling anxious that my sons and their loved ones are going to have to feel the pains of being human.  The only real answer is non-being and I don’t think that will do down well with the family.

So tell me how you manage those feelings of hopelessness, lack of worth, lack of meaning.  Tell me how a walk in the woods nurtures you, listening to Bach, stroking the dog. What am I missing?  My rational self understands all these strategies, even believes in them, but there is still a deep well of loneliness that refuses to be filled . It’s not completely dry, but it could do with some refreshment. This once voracious reader cannot connect with the writer’s I love, something has broken and I don’t think it’s them.

Good days, bad days

 

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From W.B.Yeats poem

 

It’s always been like this. And hard to accept that the challenge is to get up every day and face what is ahead. Easier for some than others, and that in itself is a difficult consideration to process – that my life has always had the comfort and ease of being born in this century in a first world country – there is guilt in feeling any dismay when there are problems of hunger and terrorism affecting millions every  day.  First world guilt paralyses me. I end up chasing my own tail and trying to find some meaning in life through my relationships with the family I love and through the creative endeavour I call work but which is really play.

I cannot stop weeping – the tears are inside, I could cry that river if I ever dare to open that floodgate.  Recently I made a small decision which affects everyone around me, and has brought me to realisations of my own. For the past couple of decades (almost) I have taken prescribed medication to control the symptoms of a neurological disorder – the meds help to control disrupted pain signals, but they are in the anti depressant family.

It’s complicated – of course – what’s me, what’s my stage of life (menopause), what’s the condition, what’s the meds?  So I am simplifying things a little, now I have less familial duties to fulfil. The meds are gone – first a euphoria, a feeling of connection with the world that has been dulled somewhat – but accompanying that lightness of being are emotions that rattle around like a toy railway train out of control – is this me?

Who knows? This is a territory I haven’t explored for some time and I think there’s some rocky roads ahead, but walking boots on – I mean to try.

 

Before the fall

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This is a wonderful spot for a picnic – there we were on the slope overlooking this little river at Glen Etive last Sunday, watching a fantastic stag watching us as he dominated his landscape.  My husband is a real photographer – whereas I am a beginner – and as is his wont, he finished his sandwich and jumped up with tripod and camera to capture a one in a thousand shot . He didn’t manage it. I heard him before I saw him, in one glorious arc lose his footing and fall face forwards down the slope . My consciousness sort of disappeared I think. I moved, found myself next to him without knowing how, looking at a very deep gash gushing blood from just above his right eye. I didn’t know where else to check. He was horribly shocked from having to drink in his own blood as it flooded into his mouth. Horror scene.

Cut to the following day – put together like Jack that tumbled down the hill by a gorgeous young doctor at Fort William ,  he was wearing his stitches like a veteran.

What surprised me most was how physical shock attacks – I was functioning enough to cope on the hill – made a compress, found a sleeping stranger down the road to check him over- drove an hour and a half to the hospital – but the following day I was  a wreck. Cognitively even more impaired than I normally am in a morning it  was back to hospital to check out his dizziness. All o.k. on that front , but suddenly my back seizes up in chronic pain. Bizarre.

A week later and we are all good. And I am even more aware of how lucky I am to have him here with me. But when we go picnicking up waterfalls again, and we will, I think we will equip ourselves with a phone to message and possibly a flare. Often there is no signal up those hills and if he hadn’t been able to walk back down, we would have been in a much worse predicament. We are sensible , we have all the walking gear – but that doesn’t exclude accidents that can turn into nightmares. As the Scouts say ‘ Be Prepared.’

Some of the shots that my husband has taken in the past – and some of my own – are available in the sites that can be accessed on the pages in my blog if anybody cares to take a look! I love his photography and they can make great subjects for my work at Society 6 and Redbubble which goes onto lots of products. Here’s one I made earlier!

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Floral tribute to RHS

Yesterday I made a further visit to RHS Hyde Hall in Essex, and it will probably be the last visit for some time as my life in the South of England is coming ever closer to a removal back to the Midlands. The two centre life I have lived over the past 14 years nevertheless remains a constant as I will be spending a great deal of time in Scotland. Hurrah!!

I hadn’t taken my working camera, so had to fall back on the companion phone camera simply because I had to capture the blooms I found there , and thought it might be interesting to show the photos and then the subsequent design that sprang from them. Sort of a Work in Progress thing.

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So there you have it! If you want to see more of my work there are links on the home page of the blog. Lots of different styles , not just flowers!!!

 

I love how my life is still flowering in new directions – particularly as now we have the opportunity to spend more time in nature, and potter about in Scotland. Cannot wait to be back up there!!

The stuff of Life

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‘ It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the one fact, the one thing only followed from the other, that many things in life – oh so many more than we think – can never be explained at all. ‘ Graham Swift ‘ Mothering Sunday’

This , then , is what I have to bring today. The closing sentences of the book I have just laid down. It did not disappoint. Within its narrative Graham Swift refers to one of my storytelling heroes – Joseph Conrad – who himself has an interesting comment on storytelling, whose quest was ‘ by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’

And the overriding sense I am left with is how fiction gives us permission to be most fully ourselves. I cannot imagine being the me I am without having encountered the characters and the writers I have met throughout my days. Science is mastering many of the facts , we are illuminating the darkness, but only dimly. Science is the first to corroborate how much is still unknown. A particle acts differently dependant upon it being observed – does this strike you as prescient on the human condition? We are and simultaneously are not the person we imagine ourselves to be. The codes we observe do not rely merely on the context of our time and culture, but also on our perception of them and of the fluctuating circumstances. That is confusing, much easier to narrate to you a true account of behaviour which shows how I hold personal codes of truth and loyalty , of fidelity and duty to be central to the person I am and yet act in complete opposition to them, choosing to end one marriage to a wonderful man , and father of my two sons because I had walked blindly into a new relationship where I felt at home. Not even a choice. And reader – I married him.

I haven’t learnt enough just from the handful of people who are present in my life, or who have been there in the past – they are priceless, but they do not bring me the breadth and depth of experience which helps me to understand I can forgive myself for frailty, for impatience, for laziness, for ineptitude. Because I am not alone. Because growing up is not just trying to imitate some version of being human handed down by parents et al, it is about encountering the various selves you inhabit, and allowing yourself not to be intimidated or frightened by them. Listening to voices from elsewhere can somehow bring you closer to knowing how to be your own.

In ‘Mothering Sunday’ Graham Swift practices his alchemy – his narrative is from a woman and it has one of the most authorative voice of being woman I have encountered. He is masterly in how deftly he practices this – the small sentences slipped in that are the ‘tell’ of what it feels like to be 22, free, single, and enjoyably bruised by sexual encounter ( not in a violent, abusive way). On removing from the scene, she mounts her bicycle ‘ slightly sore where she met the saddle’ .

I imagine the novelist’s challenge to himself – inhabiting not only the woman’s pysche at 22, but also later on – in her nineties and remembering. I imagine him imagining the reader – me – enjoying his playfulness, his zest for finding the right word, the correct tone, the piercing stab of the dramatic.

The point I am making, albeit clumsily is this – we need stories to remind us not how to live, but that life is mystery. Inexplicable paradox is what exists around us and about us, and the navigation around this mortal coil is facilitated by the storytellers, the magicians, the soothsayers, the lyric writers, the graffiti artists, the dramatists, the teachers.

There is now such a thing as a bibliotherapy – the art of listening to someone’s personal dilemnas and furnishing them with appropriate bookwear. (bookware?) . Such a stance should please me, but I am contrary enough to find something unsettling in it. Something proscribed – but then why not – we go to doctors, why not book doctors? I have a healthy disposition to challenge anything that is ‘good for me’ , and have only just discovered the heady delight of sucking up oranges. Now I evangelise about oranges. And for me they are the only fruit. I still have a long way to go.

I leave the last words to a woman author of impeccable skills, Marilynne Robinson, author of ‘Housekeeping’, ‘Gilead’ and others you may want to discover.

“While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.”

Land of the free.

 

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We , that is my husband and I, are building up to the next adventure!  We have had a love affair with the highlands of Scotland for quite some time now.  So we have been brave and sunk our lifetime savings and some capital that will be our pension pot into a small place tucked away between a river and a mountain.

We live frugally now – by temperament we are both loath to splash the cash – and having brought up the young men to be of independent spirit, in mind and purse, we can finally begin to realise a  long dreamt of retirement. Retirement being in opposition to the facts of the matter – at least for me. I am in training to keep up! My pace is slow but steady and my mindset is positive.  I am restricted from running marathons, or indeed walking further than a few miles without severe impact, but the dream will still live.  I enjoy just being in the midst of all that ‘livingness’ of nature, so we will be trying a little wild camping too. When the sun shines.

So the next couple of months is putting everything in place , then here we go!  I don’t need to travel extremely to find where I belong – just to be able to absorb the sights and sounds of nature is a magical experience for me, and from where I derive my inspiration and my  energy.

 

The illustration is a digitally altered reproduction of an old sea chart showing the coast – and if you like it enough, you can find it on decor and product at my Society6 site and my Redbubble site. If you explore my menu, there are links to take you there.