Picture It

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It’s my son’s nineteenth birthday today. We sat on the sofa last night as he opened presents, one of which was a book of routes up Scottish mountains, and he said he’d recently stood in Glasgow bus station and felt the west coast wind rush at him, willing him to get on the waiting bus to Oban rather than home to Edinburgh, and then to walk, walk, walk….

I get it. I get it so much.

I think if you have the highlands in your heart but your feet are standing elsewhere there’s no time the signal pulling you back is stronger than in autumn. The light gets so full and so calm each morning is its own arresting wonder.

The flat my son moved into with his friend in summer has stunning high ceilings. Looking up in a new space made me reappreciate the walls in our lounge when I got home. Picture rails. Picture rails. I’d never really seen them as anything but dividing points on the wall, till then. I blame dado rails for that oversight. Dado rails seemed to be suddenly everywhere in the 80s and 90s, offering endless possibilities for combining wallpapers, paint colours, wood stains and accents. Bloody hell, when I think back on it, it was a fabulous time for B&Q and the evolution of excited domestic self-expression. How I longed for my mum to announce we too were going to get Austrian blinds and go for a pink, black and grey rag-rolled bathroom.

Anyway, back to picture rails which, thanks to hooks and gravity, come with the offer of never having to assault the walls beneath them with a hammer again.

Since we moved in here eight years ago I’ve hung so many things on walls then changed my mind, never quite getting it right, leaving scarred plaster and discontented sighs in my wake. I’ve lead a futile, ironic battle in failing to win the effortless vibe of creating little vignettes that tell our stories, as well as fitting with the flow of the house. So, working with the wisdom of Marie Kondo once more, I decided a few months ago to take every god-damn thing on a wall in the house off the wall, bringing them all together on the kitchen table to really decide what we had that sparked joy and what we had that needed to move on or change.

The answers were different for different people, of course, but we got there. We all love the prints below, the Danish one came from a charity shop in Banchory and the Picasso one was a birthday present from husband when I was thirty-one, I think. Till recently, they both had frames which had changed colour to a tense woody orange from pale pine over the years, so they got a lick of paint each and my forehead relaxed. I had no picture-hanging wire to match my new picture hooks, so I used ribbon instead, of which I have enough to wrap around the planet.

 

While all the pictures were off the walls and assembled in The Kondo Joy Assessment Zone, I took the opportunity to go on a healing mission and fill in every single hole I’d created on my crazed hanging spree with Polyfilla and then to go the full hog and touch up paint where I’d cocked that up too. It’s odd but that work shifted something big inside me. Fixing shit that’s been wrong for years feels good, as does looking after what’s in my care. It’s as simple as that, so that’s becoming a guiding focus in my thoughts too.

Giant Achillea blooms from the garden have been the outdoors/indoors stars this year. The water dried out in their vase and I didn’t notice till it was apparently too late but still, they’re perfect. A shot of mustard that brings everything else to life and sends me down a conduit of memories; lichens on Raasay rocks and Tyninghame beach tree trunks, the colour of the second walls I painted in my flat (complete with dado rail) when I was twenty-one, back in Aberdeen; the jacket I wore to my cousin’s wedding on Camusdarroch beach. A tiny velour babygro with popper buttons on the shoulders.

Nineteen years and seven hours since I kissed his forehead – warm, soft velvet – and met my son. Tea, toast and a baby swaddled in a blue cellular blanket in the lamplight of a pink delivery room. Then, a morning as clear and freshly-laundered as they come; after my first terrified post-birth venture to the toilet, I stood on tiptoes, birth day fingertips gripping layers upon layers of brittle paint on the windowsill and peered out at Banff to glimpse the beach. I felt like the world looked back and acknowledged the sweet, shrouded shift of new life beyond the pane and thick, granite walls that was ours to hold, protect and bring. 

I am hooked on yellow, hooked on my kids and their dad and the friends and places that have become home, the times together and apart that got woven into stories. Hooked on change. And October light.

 

Truth Hurts

I’ve taken the long way around getting to writing this post. A new job, long-awaited, started back in spring last year. My instincts told me not to take it, that it was too good to be true, but I mistook them for fear and shouted them down. I have calibrated my self-listening skills since and so the learning continues.

Ah, but times have been dark.

Ah, but times have been light.

I’m not sure whether to call the last twelve months since I left the job a breakdown or a breakthrough and since there’s no need to choose, I’ll call it both. Hell, I might even go as far as to say you can’t have one without the other.

It has been a newsflash to me that somewhere in this body of wonders I don’t have an amazing superpower which turns things I want to be true into truths. Goddamn.

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So why did I take the job? I took it because we really needed the money. I took it because I trusted the voices of those with greater social and professional standing than my own when they called it A Great Thing. I took it because a fancy job title fed my ego but I didn’t stop to check whether the place and the people and the price would nurture my soul or the world. I took it because I was tired of the hustle and isolation of freelancing and scared that if I didn’t take it I’d regret it forever. And it played out terribly. A front-row seat inside what turned out to be a disaster hitherto disguised as a good, much-validated idea.

Instinct, instinct, instinct.

Now, back freelancing, the hustle and the isolation feel sweet and clean and full of peace and honesty. 

Today is the first day I can say I’m glad it all happened. I guess my fingertips have been waiting to type that, waiting and willing and working for it to at last feel true.

As well as all the breaking, I’ve grown. I’ve taken on some personal boundaries that were long overdue and realised my instincts aren’t something to be cursed for not shouting loudly enough, but that they’re a gift; a gift I’ve overlooked way too readily till now.

In jettisoning the job I waited a decade for I’ve gone on a truth trip too. Dark nights of the soul will do that. There’s been frequent beckoning from the Beelzebub of Bullshit in my brain to be dealt with as part of that; the ego wants it all to be someone else’s fault, of course, to lash out and create a social media trash fire, as is the way of the times; to be a victim, create a dramafest, control the narrative, publically post-mortem the disaster, etc. In the end, quiet truth tastes better in my mouth and doesn’t poison my gratitude for what remains, so I choose that. In so doing the need for social media has dropped away like a stone kicked absent-mindedly from a cliff edge. Strange thing, that, because social media was such a positive in my life until I went off course, P45 in hand, delighted about the prospect of regular pay.  Yet, a small splash and now the inclination is gone, into the blue. Maybe I’ll come across it one day on a beach and pick it up again.

For now, brand new creativity and productivity have replaced phone-screen time. I have a balanced freelance workload, am learning heaps of bigger production skills with podcasting and the house is getting TLC most days; an hour of painting here, a bit of sanding there, accompanied by podcasts that affirm the good shit and call out the batshit. Having the time to speak more with people face to face and down the line is nice too – truly. Now when I check the time it’s two hours behind where I think it’ll be. My phone no longer gets into the bedroom, not even in the mornings, and so I’m getting more time with books and meditation and my favourite souls. I’m no longer melding yesterday with tomorrow and constantly feeling around for a missing today.

Long may all of this version of life – broken down, broken through – continue. I am at home in the muddle of uncertainty sometimes working out into something beautiful once more. Phew.

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