My third and final guest poet is Mandy Beattie. Here is her mysterious poem inspired by a local Scottish landmarkof standing stones.
A pantry of organic nettle tea and skeins of wild raspberries tumble through the turnstile between times of concrete & standing-stanes where sky sits a duck-egg blue ceiling on the Hill O’ Many Stanes
The Land O’ The Cat where Hairy-Brottachs hatch into Louded Yellow and Green-Veined White butterflies and dandelion clocks puff among mosaics of standing-stanes
Kneeling at a silver stane-pew palming ley-lines with my life-lines I am litmus among lichen waking-dreaming of way-back-when the Wee Folk jigged in amethyst heather and fairy rings in The Land O’ the Cat where the veil’s still thin between worlds.
Poem Copyright of Mandy Beattie
Note:- The Hill o’ Many Stanes consists of about 200 small stones arranged in rows running down a low hill in East Caithness, Northern Scotland. They were erected about 4,000 years ago, possibly for gatherings and religious ceremonies. Caithness was once known as the Land of the Cat People, a reference to an ancient legendary tribe of Picts who inhabited the area.
Mandy Beattie, is a feminist from Caithness, with an MA in Social Work Practice & Research. Her poetry is a tapestry of stories and imagery, rooted in people, place & the natural environment, set at home and abroad.
Just realised today is the twelfth anniversary of the day I abandoned my city life. A lot has changed since then. Good and bad. On my last day in the city everything went wrong. The removal men were late, the central heating broke down so I had to shower in cold water, there was a biblical style rainstorm that went on all day and my phone was struck by lightening! I hoped these were not sinister omens for my new life. My flat looked bleak and cold stripped of all my possessions. I did not get away until 8pm. It was already getting dark and I was exhausted after a sleepless night and the stress of packing up fifteen years worth of life. I’d given truck loads of stuff to charity shops and friends. I’d had two car boot sales. I’d filled two skips with crap. The rest was going into storage until I established my new home. So I set off north with just essential clothes and books piled in the back of my old blue Toyota Corolla. I can still see my friend Anne receding in my rear view mirror. She’s standing in the twilight rain, waving and looking sad as I drive away. I’m feeling excited and terrified about my nine hour journey and what is to come…
The term ‘loner’ is rarely meant as a compliment. It carries negative connotations. Its what neighbours always say on the TV news about murderers….”he kept himself to himself, he was a loner’. It’s assumed there must be something wrong with a person who chooses not to run with the pack. Someone who prefers solitude must be a psychopath, a potential serial killer, sex pervert or antisocial. There is even more stigma attached to women who want to be alone. They are seen as a threat to the natural order of things, called derogatory names such as ‘spinster’, ‘hag’, ‘selfish’ or ‘whore’. Even in this supposed age of gender equality the perceived role of women is domestic, safely contained within a family group where their own needs are secondary to those of children, partners, and parents. Women are seen as too weak and powerless to survive apart from the familiar, to stray into the unknown. Anyone who does so is labelled as ‘selfish’ or ‘crazy’. Single women are still presumed to be unattractive rejects, sterile and sexless. Not that long ago women who lived apart from the mainstream were burned alive or drowned as witches. Today they are denigrated in more subtle but equally damaging ways.
I’ll never forget the negative reactions I had from all my family and friends when I announced my intention to break from city life, to move to a remote area in the Far North and build my own home. Not one person said, “wow, that’s so exciting and brave. Go for it while you can and good luck”. The messages I received from others were that I must be having a nervous breakdown, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was irresponsible and selfish for abandoning my elderly parents (parents who had, in reality, rejected and abused me my entire life). They all thought me delusional. I must be “running away from something”. When I replied that I was running towards a more meaningful, peaceful life, to be closer to the landscape and nature where I would be free to pursue my creativity, everyone scoffed. My house build project was bound to be a disaster. What did I know about house building, they said, after all I was just a foolish disabled woman. Even when my lovely little home by the sea was complete and I sent photographs to my former critics not one of them said “congratulations” or “your house is fab”. There was just an uncomfortable silence.
Unfortunately there was also a negative reaction to my single status in the small rural community I moved into. This was something I had never anticipated. I had hoped to be welcomed with open arms and home baking not viewed with suspicion and animosity. I had wanted, in my own way, to contribute to the community. I have many useful skills in art and education. The hostility I received was and still is, sadly, the worst from other women who continue to see me as a threat, competition for their husbands and jobs, an alien with her fancy clothes and strange ways. Even after ten years I don’t feel welcomed by the locals. During the first few years I experienced sexual harrassment from men who assumed I was easy meat and sexually available to all and sundry. Now, they know better, they keep away. I have few visitors. I ignore the whispers in the Post Office and stay focussed on what is important to me. After all, I moved here to be alone, to be the real me.
This morning I was up early to let my cat out and was transfixed by the sight of a double rainbow over the back field. I doubt this moment would have been any more intense if someone had been here to share it with me (cats seem to be immune to rainbows but not to moonlight or sunshine or flowers). Its very likely any human companion might have spoiled the moment by complaining about breakfast or being woken early. Unless one is lucky enough to share life with a real soulmate who appreciates the same things then solitude can only enhance happiness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We do not feel and see in the same way. I remember taking a couple of city friends from my old life to Dunnet Head, mainland Britain’s most northerly point. It was a glorious April day with azure skies and racing white clouds. There is a viewpoint at the end of the track by the ruined WW2 radar station with one of the most spectacular sights in the country, a 360 degree panorama. It’s like being on top of the world, a god looking down on his/her creation but all my friends could say was grumble about the cold wind. A quick blast of the northern wind makes me feel more alive, blows the stale thoughts from my mind. I was sad my friends’ hearts and eyes were closed.
In Sean Penn’s amazing film, Into The Wild, the free spirit Christopher McCandless realises just before his tragic death alone in the wilderness of Alaska that “Happiness is only real when shared”. Do you agree? Discuss in 500 words or less.
Was McCandless an inspiring figure who pursued his dream to the bitter end gaining precious moments of intensity and wisdom or was he a misguided, selfish young man who threw away his life and hurt his family in a self-destruct? I’m inclined to the first point of view. It is better to live a shorter life to the full rather than a long life trapped in a meaningless consumerist rat race. Quality not quantity is what counts. In modern life we seem to be obsessed with trying to live forever, avoiding risks, preferring the well-trodden path of safe conformity and a predictable end in a rancid nursing home where no-one gives a damn when you die in your own despairing piss. What makes life meaningful? Is it proving your own worth by collecting thousands of ‘likes’ and so-called ‘friends’ on Facebook? Do we need love and acceptance to survive? Humans are programmed to live in groups. We are supposedly a social animal. But a city can be a far lonelier place than a cold mountainside.
Why am I writing this blog if not in an attempt to share my life and happiness?
Click on this link for a film review of Into the Wild:-
I don’t promise enlightenment or wisdom. I don’t promise the secret formula for success and happiness. I do promise to share my story of a life set apart from the mainstream, a solitary path that I resisted for many years but have grown to cherish. Solitude made me stronger. Art and nature gave me meaning. I learned to celebrate my differences. I stopped trying to please others and began to please myself. I hope my experiences will help others who struggle to find a place in a difficult world. Life is short and sometimes brutal so be true to yourself, laugh as much as possible, enjoy the little things and above all, don’t let the bastards grind you down. I will be back…
Please note all the art, photography and poetry on this blog are my own original work unless otherwise stated. Some of the images are for sale, any enquiries via the contact page.