Sparkle

A few years ago I was a Brownie leader.

For 75 minutes a week (and a bit of craft shopping/preparation time), the outside world took a back seat as 16 girls aged between 7 and 10 years old met and observed traditions that have been in place across the world for years.

It’s quite a responsibility, taking on the role of informal educator. You are somewhere between parent, teacher, aunt and older sister. Memories of my own time as a Brownie were not great, but the very fact that I remember it at all meant that I took great care of my Brownies and how I looked after them. I wanted them to have good memories of their time with us.

My first meeting as a leader was when the bug man came to visit. Within a few minutes, I had a wee girl, 9 year old E, clinging desperately and slightly hysterically to me as she was petrified of spiders. I didn’t mind the spiders but wasn’t a huge fan of the giant cockroaches. I couldn’t have let on though, so sat bravely and declined to stroke them. Some of the girls did and I really admired them.

At the time it gave my week some structure and a bit of ritual. I knew that at 7.15 every Thursday night, we would stand in a circle, link little fingers and sing the same song.

When it came to enrolment, we would sing a different song – This Little Light of Mine, with the word “Guiding” added so as to make it more relevant to the movement we were part of.

As we sung the words with new little Brownies bursting with pride and relief at having remembered their promise in front of their friends and family, I hoped they might take some of the words into their hearts and call on them when needed.

“Don’t you (puff) my little light out, I’m going to let it shine,

Don’t you (puff) my little light out, I’m going to let it shine,

Don’t you (puff) my little light out, I’m going to let it shine,

Let it shine, all the time, let it shine”

It’s really easy to get flattened by the bad things in the world, to let it crush our spirit and wear us down. To dumb down because it’s not seen as appropriate to celebrate our achievements and skills, our passions and what really makes us tick.

Doing a less than thrilling day job, conquering a mountain of debt, housework, people that unwittingly drag us into their misery and lack of spirit, bad relationships, illness, injury, fear.

When I think of my little Brownies singing that song on their special day, I am always reminded of similar words from Marianne Williamson, given to me by a dear friend and often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration. They remind me not to be too shy, not to keep things hidden too much:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Over the time I’ve been in Scotland I’ve collected a few photos that remind me of what lies within, what makes me me.

I didn’t really have many before I came here. Partly because I was never doing anything exciting when there was a camera around, and partly because the sparkle had become a bit squashed and was rather too well hidden back then.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

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Inspiration

People. People you’ve met. People you haven’t met. People who’ve done amazing things. People who have done nothing but sit and moan, and who make you determined not to be like them. People who have been ill. People who are still ill. People who have died. People who never lived.

Places. Places you’ve been. Places you haven’t been. Places you never knew existed and that you heard of while you were somewhere else. Places you always wanted to go. Places you went to accidentally on the way to somewhere else, and you never knew you wanted to go. Places you promise to visit again. Places you never ever want to go back to. Physical places. Psychological places.

Events. Races, challenges, celebrations. Big races. Small races. High. Cold. Fast. Things you want to do. Things you have done and want to do again. Things you never want or need to do again. Times you survived unexpectedly. Times things went right. Times things went wrong. Times when you were alone. Times when you met someone new, or old, or different.

Things. Actual physical things you can touch. Things you can’t touch but know to be real. Big, big things. Tiny things.

Visual art, music, theatre, dance, film, poetry, literature. Words. Quotes.

Concepts, ideas, ideologies, religion, lack of religion. Maybe even love.

What inspires us, what pushes us forward?

For me, inspiration is inextricably tangled with dreams, desires, hopes, aspirations, ambitions, motivation, commitment, drive, action.

I take inspiration from friends. A friend who has moved away to another country to fulfil a dream. A friend who has retired from the corporate world to fulfil a dream. A friend who lives her life in uncompromising pursuit of what she believes is important to her and that makes her happy. Friends who have survived the toughest times, addiction, serious injury. Friends who hear of something unlikely going on somewhere in the world and think I might want to have a go. Often they are right.

I take inspiration from acquaintances. Someone who ran across some ridiculously difficult terrain from one corner of Scotland to another. Someone else who stepped away from the corporate world to fulfil another dream. Someone who ran a race in a time I can only dream of. Someone who built a home they’d always dreamed of in a really difficult location to access.

I take inspiration from family. An aunt whose time was called way before it should have been. An uncle who recovered from a brutal form of cancer and continues to live with the significant and cruel after effects. An aunt who is on watch and wait with a different but related cancer.

I take inspiration from places I have been, and things I have done, that lead me to want to go to new places, bigger, higher, further, faster. I take inspiration from places others have been, or have suggested I might enjoy. Places where I have felt happy, or with a buzz about them that suggests a promise of good times ahead.

I take inspiration from music. Those who play the harp in a way I could only manage if I committed myself completely to that and nothing else. Those who sing, write, play their own music as well as that of others. Those who are brave enough to risk making a living from their talent in a world that wants music for nothing.

I take inspiration from words. Spoken, written, sung by those who have been before or have yet to go.

I take inspiration from people I’ve never met, possibly never likely to meet. The fastest. The best. The bravest. Those who have made a journey, those who have documented it, shared it so that I might find it and use it.

Most of all I take inspiration from time, and the knowledge that there is only so much of it. Sometimes this is all I need to keep me moving forwards. On some occasions it makes me stop, re-evaluate and change course.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

Dreams

Recently, spurred on by the rapid approach of winter, a few changes on the domestic front, and just the plain old desire to do something different, I decided to make a big push and try out some new things.

A work night out at The Stand a couple of weeks back led me to look for some more gigs to go to there, and something about the flyer on the table for Scott Gibson’s debut solo show really appealed.

Social circles are difficult to establish as an adult in a new city. Having left college a while ago, changed job again and now needing to step away from the running scene for a while, I realised that didn’t leave me with many people. And so, with another potentially long dark cold Scottish winter coming up, I decided I’d better press on and take some action.

I booked two tickets, not knowing who I’d take with me.

A Facebook post led to a dear friend agreeing to come along, he’d always wanted to go to The Stand and as we sat there fizzing away with excitement, I realised I couldn’t have come with a better person as we were both looking forward to it as much as the other. The club was packed, we were sat in a sell-out crowd and the atmosphere and anticipation was building by the minute.

The club is in a basement, bar in one corner, no frills, furniture tightly packed. The tables and chairs go right up to the edge of the stage, which is only slightly raised above the floor. I’m not sure whether it’s more intimidating for the comedian or the audience who happen to end up in the front row. Intimate is not quite the word.

The show was absolutely excellent. It’s hard to go into much detail without giving away massive spoilers, but as promised, it was dark in places, incredibly funny and brilliantly delivered. We were spellbound for each half of the two hour set.

What has stayed with me (unsurprisingly for those who know a bit about me) is the brief statement made at the close of the show, about life being short, almost being taken away from you before you’d begun, and subsequently going after your dreams.

I moved to Scotland three years ago this month, having needed to make a huge change in my life before I ended up in a box, and not really knowing what my dreams were or what kind of a life lay ahead of me.

One of the best bits of the show was realising on our way home that we had just sat through two hours of somebody literally living their dream and appreciating and savouring every second of it. It was incredibly powerful and deeply moving, and both of us will remember it for many years to come.

I’ll finish with a quote that opened the show last night…

A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

Mark Twain

On reading

I am what could be politely described as a voracious reader. I have loved books from a very young age, thanks to my gran and my mum both being primary school teachers. The most treasured possessions I kept when my granny died were some of the rare children’s books and embroidery books that she had collected over her lifetime.

Hours can pass by, until the only thing that stops me reading is a sore neck or a dead leg.

There are several books in various stages of completion next to my bed, as I love having real books around me. (Looking at them, I’m also reminded some of them are not mine and I need to get on and read them then give them back!)

I made the transition to a Kindle last year, or rather the Kindle app on an ipad mini. I had a 50 minute bus commute twice a day, got hopelessly travel sick when reading an actual physical book, but seemed to manage OK on the screen. The bus was meant to save me money on transport, but before long my monthly book expenditure was swallowing all the savings I was supposed to be making.

It has really changed how I read. I can have several books on the go at once, never losing my page. Best of all, my holiday suitcase is now much lighter. One holiday I took Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, which is a huge book, and several others. I read three, but had been stricken by indecision when packing so I took everything I fancied.

As well as books, these days I love reading blogs. I have many favourites, but one I return to regularly is that of Alastair Humphreys, an adventurer, writer and speaker known for many things including his #microadventure concept.

His site is truly inspirational, with several main themes – finding adventure in small ways, not spending a lot of money, documenting the journey, making the most of life, and calling out excuses. His 20 questions post is probably the one I read the most.

A couple of days ago, he tweeted a link to a piece he had written on Medium:

I read the link, I loved what he had written and it resonated very deeply. I was also on the hunt for a new book after finishing one recently, so I decided to buy his book There Are No Rivers.

Yesterday morning, I happened to read a chapter titled Flabbiness, which he has also published on his blog as part of the serialisation of the book.

It’s about going from being a bit lazy to finding your life has slipped away before your eyes. It was a particularly powerful piece for me, and it reassured  me that a painful decision made recently was ultimately the right one. There have been a couple of big adventures since, there are more to come and I can’t wait to see how they pan out.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

On Hope

It’s a funny old word, one that is actually quite hard to define. I guess it’s a state of mind that’s somewhere between the present and your dreams.

Obviously there’s the short term hope, that a bus arrives, for a sunny day, that there’s no traffic, that you get up and down a mountain with no mishaps, that you finish a race without injury or missing a cutoff.

And then a deeper hope, that everything will work out in the long run, that we won’t make the same mistakes yet again, that despite getting it wrong quite a lot, we’ll somehow find the right way.

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Hoping to go back to St Bartholema on the Konigsee to have a crack at the Watzmann, just out of shot on the right
Hoping we'll make it up the mountain the next day (hidden by cloud behind my dad)
Hoping we’ll make it up the mountain the next day (hidden by cloud behind my dad)
Hoping the path gets better soon (it didn't)
Hoping the path down gets better soon (it didn’t!)
Hoping your leg heals soon and you can come swimming next time! (thanks Cheri for the photo)
Hoping your leg heals soon and you can come swimming next time! (thanks Cheri for the photo)

On Learning

September 1st, back to school, another new start. Or so it seems, certainly if you are south of the border. Scotland has been back for a couple of weeks already.

Despite my protestations that it had to still be summer because it’s not my birthday yet, the Scottish weather outdid even my determination and threw some really heavy rain at me on my run this evening. There are fallen leaves under the tree in my front garden and there was a real nip to the air this morning when I took my dogs out for their morning walk.

I met a friend for lunch today, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years but who had been a huge part of my life for a couple of months back in 2013 when we were working on Carousel at the RCS.

We talked about all things musical, and part of the conversation involved some reflection on what I’d learned while I was at music college. I had to leave before the end of my course sadly, but I had made my peace a while before and am now happy I made the right decision, and even better, I felt I had taken away everything I needed from my time studying.

I desperately miss the freedom to structure my day to suit my own productive times, and to enjoy the best of the weather when it comes, and the creative inspiration that comes from being surrounded by other musicians and artists, but I am finding ways to make the best of things all the time.

Another thing I’ve taken is an understanding of what I need to look after myself and keep myself happy. It boils down to just a handful of things (and surprise surprise, they’re not actual material Things!).

Over the last few weeks, there was a time of enforced rest and healing, as I was physically prevented from dashing about by the stitches in my leg and the pain from the initial injury. This gave me a bit of time to slow right down and get myself back on an even keel. It helped that I was in the beautiful surroundings (and equally beautiful weather!) of the Austrian/German Alps and being looked after by a good friend.

I’ve learned that it is time to get on and enjoy having some really big dreams about the future.

This was partly inspired by seeing a car I’ve wanted for years while I was away in Austria, and partly because my finances are slowly improving meaning I can start to tentatively make a few bigger plans.

The latter means that perhaps indulging in the former might, just might, be a possibility in a few years.

Quick Release

Last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a very long time. All thoughts of trying to stay calm went out of the window, and it ended up being a race to get to the end of the week in one piece. Nothing Really Bad happened, just what felt like a battering of events, deadlines and a couple of really late nights which when combined with the early mornings really knocked the stuffing out of me.

My week finished at about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon. The wedding I’d played for had gone really well, and a ruined kirk on the north east coast of Scotland was filled with love and happiness as two people got married surrounded by their friends and family.

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My harp and all the associated clutter was all safely loaded into the car, I said my goodbyes and got back on the road for the long journey back south.

Shortly after I pulled out of the village, I saw a sign.

Scotstown beach, ½ mile.

Time was tight if I was to be home for greyhound tea time, but I figured they would forgive me for being a few minutes late.

I turned off the main road, tried not to bounce too hard around (and sometimes inevitably through) the numerous pot holes and parked up at the bottom of the dunes. I had no idea what the beach would be like, but I couldn’t resist exploring just a little.

I got out of the car, rolled my jeans up and took my shoes off. The sand was wonderfully warm beneath my feet.

I ran up the dune, through the gap between the grass and down onto a gorgeous golden sandy beach. It was completely empty.

The sun shone, and the only sound was the waves breaking gently. I skipped along the sand, and then wandered into the sea. It was cold, but it takes rather more than that to stop me getting my feet wet.

I think I was there for about ten minutes. It wasn’t long enough, and yet it was.

Everything lifted in those few minutes, and I didn’t have to try very hard to put on a big smile.

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I realised how much I relax when I am by the sea, and promised myself I would find a way to come more often. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I might like to live on a longer term basis, and as I stood with the waves tickling my toes, I wondered if perhaps I could, or even should, factor in a nearby beach somehow.

The previous Saturday I had my feet in the waves at Brodick Bay on the island of Arran off the south west coast of Scotland. This week it was the north east coast.

Next Saturday, I’ll be in the mountains in Austria. No beaches there, but maybe I can find somewhere quiet in the hills to have a bit of a paddle, perhaps even a swim.

In a month’s time I’ll be on the island of Tiree celebrating my birthday by running round the island one day then hitting the waves the next.

It’s no coincidence that all the travelling is related to a break-up. Rather than waiting on someone else’s plans, I’ve jumped straight in and made my own and I feel all the better for it.

This is more travelling than I’ve done for a long while, and I’d forgotten how much I love getting away seeing new places. The best thing about living where I do is that I don’t always have to go very far from home to find an adventure to have.



 

Storming

It’s the first of July tomorrow. The first half of the year, bar a few intensely fantastic highlights, has been one to forget.

One of the best things about life I think is that you can start again whenever you feel like it. Every time I think about what isn’t working for me, I remind myself that, largely through choice, I am ultimately not tied down or committed to anything (beyond clearing a lot of debt) and, most importantly, I can change things any time I want.

As I make yet another fresh start, and make yet more promises to myself that I will somehow find a way to fit everything in and one day perhaps Figure Things Out, I also remind myself that really, life is good, the bad stuff is largely behind me and that whatever comes or goes along the way, I will deal with it.

Time feels as though it is always in short supply, but I am doing my best to make the most of what is left over once the must-dos are out of the way.

 

 

On saying no

Richard Branson’s blog is a great read. He recently tweeted a post about knowing when to say no.  It was one of those that hit hard just at the moment I needed it.

Sometimes saying no is about taking care of your physical self – keeping yourself safe when the danger is very real. Or saying no to something you’ve done a thousand times before, but for whatever reason doesn’t feel safe this time.

Twice I’ve ignored this feeling in a high-adrenaline situation – once while reaching for a big stretch while leading my first outdoor rock climb, and once while sizing up an overtake in a race. Both times, the choice to say yes was mine and mine alone. There was a little external pressure, not wanting to look silly in front of my climbing partner in the first and wanting to make up a place in the second. Both times, I made a mistake and broke bones (badly, both times) as a somewhat extreme consequence.

Sometimes, though, saying no is less dramatic.

Things are always quite hectic here, and I started a new job recently to add to the mix. It’s quite a change from the old one and it’s going to take a little time to change costume and adapt.

Last weekend I completely and utterly forgot I was meant to be somewhere. This is really unlike me and I was pretty upset about it. It was a chance to hang out with two musicians who I really admire and enjoy being around, working on a big project that I’m really excited about. My input wasn’t essential on this bit but I had been looking forward to our time together.

Then things ran away with me. I woke up on Sunday and I felt utterly exhausted. I had a huge list of things to do. I was tearful, washed out, washed up even and in desperate need of a little breathing space.

A message came in reminding me of where I was meant to be. I messaged back to say I’d be there.

I worried for a while, I knew I’d be terrible company, would spend the time worrying about what else I needed to get done, and most likely the current jumble of emotions would get the better of me.

And then I calmed down, realised they were nice people who would understand and I could catch up with them another time. And then I messaged again to say I was dreadfully sorry but I couldn’t come.

I’ve said yes to a lot recently. I hate missing out and I hate letting others down. But there comes a point when you have to listen to yourself, take care of yourself when your energy is low and say no, despite how much you would have enjoyed saying yes.

Beginnings

I started this blog a few weeks ago, after feeling it was time for a new one.

A few things came to a definite end, a few new things started, and a few other things have shifted quietly and inexplicably from one phase to another.

Since I started my previous blog, I’ve become a long distance runner, discovered a creative spirit I never knew existed, left full-time employment (and then sadly had to return earlier than planned), moved house and moved country.

I’ve cycled up and run up more hills and mountains than I could ever have imagined back when I lived in the flatlands of coastal Essex.

I’m physically, mentally and emotionally much fitter and healthier than I could ever have imagined.

After a few days away, and having just started a new job, it’s a great time to acknowledge the changes taking place in my life, and to re-commit to my goals and my dreams and those of the people I love.

This blog will be about two things – adventures and inspiration, and how they feed each other and push me forwards.

The picture above was taken just after the end of one big phase a couple of years ago, and I hope you’ll stick around for the next phase of the journey.