Battlefield

I wrote this a while back:

I’ve just had my heart broken. Not in a small, ‘Aw, that’s a wee shame’, kind of way, but in a ‘My heart has been utterly shredded by the one person I trusted with it, I think I’ll spend several weeks alone in a darkened room and swallow a lot of Valium’, kind of way. No one has ever experienced the pain I have experienced. Ever. Not Abelard, not Romeo, not Don Quixote, no one.

Well, except you. You have.

Love is a wonderful, wandering thing when it’s going well. It fills you, enriches you, and informs every decision you take. Your mouth is drenched in new flavours, your ears hear sounds that haven’t been heard since the very beginning of time, and the colours? Oh, the colours. Your every waking, and probably sleeping, moment is focused on that perfect object of your adoration, and it just feels, well, divine, doesn’t it?

But when it goes wrong, when it stops unexpectedly and unasked for, you become transformed into a zombified, undead shadow of yourself. All that moment-filling and decision-informing continues, and your waking and sleeping moments remain focused, but your loved one no longer loves you back. Your emotional skin has been torn from your soul and the world you inhabit is an ocean of salty lemon juice. It fucking hurts. You cannot move, you cannot function. And no one understands.

Except, everyone does.

Let me be candid, I’m old. I’m beyond all this teenaged, fanciful, hearts and flowers nonsense. I have lived, sired children, earned money and respect. I have bedded down my gravitas in silver hair and aged wisdom, yet when my heart was broken, I was six years old again, crying for my mother. It was truly awful.

You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?

It’s not the first time my heart has been broken. It was demolished when my marriage ended. That was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, and I knew I could never live through such pain again, hah! And before that. And before that.

Why do we open ourselves to such potential destruction? We have a desire, it becomes a need, our need is returned, and fuels our own desire. We immerse ourselves in love, in the sure knowledge that every nanosecond of avidity will be returned, as fiery and hungry as all we’ve offered. In love, we consume one another, but the returned love restores us, and so we have a perpetuation of the conflagration. The fire that builds as it burns. I’m beyond all that though. Yet I’m not. No one is. Not if we are to genuinely live the lives we’ve been given.

Vulnerability is an essential part of being human, it allows us to connect with people, with things, and incorporate them into ourselves. If we don’t embrace that vulnerability we are rejecting one of the basic building blocks of our individuality, of our commonality, and we reject life.

The thing that sets us apart and makes us unique, the sharing of a unique bond with another unique being, is the thing that connects each of us to every other. And the pain that arises when these bonds are broken, betrayed, thrown under a bus, trod upon, mocked and destroyed, is a pain we all share. I once heard a counselling tutor make the observation, ‘it is our wounds that connect us’. Understanding this doesn’t reduce the pain, but it does make it easier to bear.

Buddhism talks about the concept of non-attachment, the Dalai Lama said ‘attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering’. I see the wisdom in this, yet it’s not something I can comprehend, selfish, self-centred man that I am. I cannot reconcile non-attachment with loving someone else. Maybe that’s the point, maybe it’s weakness that causes us to cling to people and things as though our lives really did depend on them, our desire is what ails us after all. Non-attachment and detachment are, so I’m told, totally different things, but I’m not sure I can understand the difference. I guess I am a long way from ‘satori’.

I feel as though these new wounds, on top of old scar tissue, will never heal, though I see evidence of healing every day. There’s a paradox to be observed here, maintaining your vulnerability in the face of rejection is somehow a protection against the hurt that vulnerability opens you up to.

And here’s the thing, the flash of inspiration that keeps me going, you know what I mean, you know what I’m talking about.

Love is a battlefield, and I’m not convinced anybody wins..

I Am a Father*

I am a father.

I have no idea whether I am a good father or a bad father, I only know that this is what I am and this is my purpose in life. It sits well with me and I am happy.

In the nine and a half years that I have been a father I have been flying by the seat of my pants. You see my own father died before I was born and so I have no reference, no guiding experience of what I should or shouldn’t do or be… but I try. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose but I guess I will have to wait another 20 years or so to see whether I did it well or not, to get the report card from my kids.

But my greatest joy is something that my father never had the opportunity to experience. I have a son… I have a SON.

I could never have anticipated what that would mean or what an impact having a son would have on me. My first two children were girls and I loved them with every ounce of existence but to have a son? When he was born I was over the moon but almost immediately a fear set in. How could I be Daddy to a boy? I even resented his existence for a time. I had been happy and content with the girls in my life, I knew girls, I knew women but I knew nothing about boys. When I looked at him I would feel an enormous empty ache fill my chest, grief for my father, my daddy; that strange figure in black and white who left me alone. I didn’t want my boy because I knew that I would fail him, I knew that he would hate me and grow up resenting me because I didn’t know how to be. I couldn’t explain these feelings to Amber or to anyone, I mean, it was warped wasn’t it? I was a bad man for even thinking such thoughts. What kind of a father felt these things towards an infant?

So all I could do was continue. I saw this little lump of male flesh grow into a real baby with a smile the size of the moon and with the biggest blue eyes of any boy child I had ever seen. I watched him go through the same stages the girls had but he seemed slower, less able, somehow less of me. Everyone told me that he was just like me, in miniature… I only saw Amber. I just could not see anything of myself in this child and whilst I loved him, there was no connection, I couldn’t feel the bond that I had read about… this father – son thing, there wasn’t the tie there was between my girls and me.

Then suddenly, when he was about two, he started needing me. Not in the way the girls needed me but in a strange and different way. He needed something ONLY I could give, he needed me. The more he needed me, the more I warmed to him and the more my soul thawed. I saw so much in him, so much that I had never seen in myself. I saw the growth of care, the bravery of a three year old, the concern and love of a four year old for his sisters, the insatiable curiosity of an agile mind, the unquenchable thirst for life of a boy, the sheer joy of loving and living. But most of all I saw the growth and development of a relationship the likes of which, in my wildest dreams, I never thought possible. I saw the flowering of this strange, unknowable father – son friendship.

Every waking moment I sought him out, not to interfere or to hamper, but to watch, to listen, to experience him. I wanted to hold him and to smell him; I wanted to be close to him constantly. I learned his ways, his moods, his frustrations. Each day, as I learned him more I saw little pieces of myself… the lost things, the frozen things, and as I saw them I began to see who I was, for the very first time in my life.

My boy loves me with a raging, open, unsullied and unconditional love. He loves me like I have never been loved. He loves me the way I have always needed to be loved and I, in return, love him like a hurricane. My boy is teaching me about myself and he is letting me see myself through his eyes. My boy is helping me grow up and my lack is a lack no longer. He has birthed the man in me. My boy is unique, he is only himself; he is the brightest star, the sweetest note, the widest ocean. He is the blue of the sky and the freshness of the breeze. My boy is the sun on my shoulders and the road beneath my feet, he is my life and if anyone ever tells me he is like me I swell with pride and know that I could only ever hope to be like him.

My son is the father I never had.

(*posted on www.mommybloggers.com in 2006)

Memory Plays Tricks Sometimes

In the centre of Glasgow there is a grand railway bridge. Locals jokingly call it “the hielanman’s umbrella” suggesting it as a gathering place for parsimonious northern natives, displaced to the big city by reason of glamour or employment. In the absence of traditional highland regalia it’s difficult to tell the teuchters from the ordinary Glasgow stock.

Below the platforms of Central Station you will experience, I believe, the very Breath of Glasgow.

It has a distinct and unique smell. A moist combination of chip-fat, newsprint and the exhaust fumes of countless corporation buses; and old cigarette smoke. It is delicious and homely and, when underpinned by the throaty roar of accelerating taxis, is as comforting as the chunky arms of a favourite aunt; the deep rumble of trains overhead, her heartbeat.

At night, though to be fair it always feels a little less than daytime there, the place becomes a flashing, sparkling mess of life, filled with issues and desires. A place where the rest of the city, the rest of the country, becomes insignificant and wan. It’s certainly not the nightlife hub of Glasgow, but its food outlets, amusement arcades and brightly lit emporia of tat, make it as enchanting, and as cold, as Vegas.

It’s Glasgow, just as I remember it.

It’s Like Feckin’ Groundhog Day

I have been here, it seems, about a million and eleven times, and here I am again.

Previous blogs have gone and should be forgotten; this one, under my own name, is intended to be a forum for my writing and more in-depth engagement with the world than Facebook, Google+ and Twitter will allow me. I hope it develops nicely, with some decent interaction and positive development, but we’ll see.

I’ve posted loads of bits and pieces for your delight and delectation. Some of you will have seen them before, some of you won’t. Enjoy anyway. Please bear in mind that some of the older stuff dates back to my angst ridden youth, so approach it all with forgiveness in mind.

On the up-side, there will probably be fewer posts about arses… but I make no promises.

Once Bitten

I wouldn’t call myself a proper angler, but I am definitely a wannabee.

Strange that, because I feel as if I’m wannabee everything. Farmer, fisherman, hunter, gardener, writer, painter, musician, adult. Kind of like when I was eight.

Mind you, forty odd years as a wannabee hasn’t dulled my enthusiasm for “stuff” one iota so, whilst I wouldn’t call myself an angler, I suppose I actually am one.

I got the bug at the age of six, my cousin showing me how. Dangling a piece of fine line and a size 18 hook, baited with a mussel tongue, off the pier in Oban. I don’t suppose anything I caught was over an inch, and I don’t know what they really were, but, in my head, they were sharks.

The next year I really got bitten (also by a bat, but that’s another story). We were holidaying in the privately owned coach-house of Carbisdale Castle and the ghillie, a scruffy, unique, publicly curmudgeonly but privately gentle, man named Iain Fraser, took me out in a little motor-boat and taught me to spin. Man did I spin. I spun myself dizzy. After two days of picking up nothing but lessons in patience from Fraser, I caught a real fish, a sea trout, a GAME fish. I have a photo to prove it and the fish is honestly almost the size of my seven year-old self.

Ever since that summer the smell of whisky and stale tobacco has conjured up the delightful memory of spinning for sea trout and salmon (I have also harboured a long standing desire to grow a curly moustache, hmmmm).

At the end of the holiday my mother scored some summer work at Carbisdale Castle itself, so we had another five glorious weeks there and I had the time of my life. Really. I wandered, fished, carved sticks, built hideouts, chased rabbits, fought dragons and hitch-hiked the six miles to Bonar Bridge with my sister, who was all of ten. I also pinched a packet of chocolate biscuits from the top of a back packer’s back-pack. Statute of limitations anyone?

Iain Fraser taught me knots and fishing; how to polish a droppen with Brasso, how to jiggle my rod just so, how to keep a boat’s head into the stream and how to spit through my teeth. We had days out to various salmon rivers; the Shin, the Oykel and the Cassley, watching the beautiful silver beasties leap for their lives. I saw fly-fishers for the first time that summer too and was entranced, as well as a bit overawed. I stuck to the spinner though, with the occasional day trying worm and maggot in the Kyle of Sutherland. These live bait trips produced flounders and eels as well as the odd trout. I’m sure that any angler will recognize the sheer fizz of of joy that takes over the soul of a boy, indeed the soul of a grown up, when he hooks into a fish.

One day we were down at the foot of the Cassley Falls and a salmon misjudged his leap, ending up flapping in a rock pool at the side of the gorge. My mother, ever keen to take advantage of opportunity, promptly sat on the bugger and yelled for someone to come and help her.

We dined on poached salmon that night and though I have never been a big fish eater (there’s a back story there too), I fell in love with the slight vinegary taste of the soft pink flesh.

I haven’t fished for years, but the attraction is still there. I still know the feel of a bite on the end of a line.

So fast forward forty years (alliteration? No sweat, just one more talent). I now live beside a lovely little trout river and this year I took up a fly rod for the first time. I am hooked again. Not just the joy of the chase, the stalk, the catch, but the whole fishy subculture and specialist gear thing. Flies, lines, zingers, rods, reels, hooks, feathers, fur and a million different items to occupy my mind, fingers and wallet.

A second childhood? I never left the first.