This month I got stranded by the weather for the first time. I meant to return from a car club meeting on Eigg on the Sheerwater, a little passenger boat which runs from Arisaig. However, no amount of eyelash fluttering would persuade them to brave the waves across the Sound of Rum, so I had to take the Calmac ferry back to Mallaig and spend the night there. I'm lucky to have a friend there who lets me stay in his spare house at times such as these. It was like having a day off from my life, and reminded me of some of the long solitary journeys I made in my more youthful days; that sense of being in limbo, between places, outside my self. On the other hand, being on Rum is often like being on a mythical fantasy island, removed from the outside world. The mainland is erased by cloud and the goings-on of the village become suffocatingly everything. Being not-on-Rum, but looking at it half obscured by mist, it seemed tantalisingly easy to just not return; to not stop at Mallaig but keep going away, away, away.
I’ve been examining this tendency in myself to pack up and leave when things get a bit ... well, a bit much. A friend across the water recently set herself the challenge of not leaving the similarly isolated community in which she lives, for a whole year. She’s making a film about it, which I’m looking forward to seeing. At the end of the year she fled to London and hasn’t been seen since – I can understand this, but wonder if the pull of the wild land and open spaces will eventually be too much. I am absolutely certain that not leaving Rum for a whole year would drive me insane; but perhaps it wouldn’t. Perhaps standing still and acknowledging what’s going on is a more healthy way of doing things. Running is easy. Sitting through the turmoil is much more difficult.
I haven’t measured the time since I came here by photographing myself in the same place every day. I haven’t kept a diary with any regularity. I do try and sit in stillness for ten minutes each day, but have lacked even this simple discipline in recent months. I strive to measure time by what I achieve between one point and the next, but have found it unsatisfying to do that here, because of the way time works – nothing happens for ages, then everything happens at once. Time moves in stops and starts; backwards, forwards, sideways. A week can seem to last a month, but there are some months I can’t account for at all (August, for example).
I find change unsettling, and yet staying in one place doesn’t stop things from changing. When I came here I didn’t know what to expect, but I did expect there to be some kind of stability or continuity. It’s a remote, isolated island. Surely all that changes is the weather? In fact, there is a constant coming and going of people. Again and again, I form quick, deep bonds with people who move away after a few months, and so I start all over again with new people; but how long will they last – how long will I last?
I’ve been thinking hard about my motivation for coming here – the job, the sense of helping a community to achieve something. But the community is fragmented, we don't speak with one voice, we're a collection of individuals rather than a single organism. I'm tired of writing the same thing over and again in funding applications, of consulting everyone yet again on the same project becuase this is what funders require. If only we had our own money & could just make things happen without being at the mercy of grant funding. Many of the beneficiaries of my hard work seem completely indifferent to the changes I’m helping to bring about. If nothing happens, as nothing has happened historically, what difference will that make? Change is unsettling. Time will tell.