Friday, 8 November 2013

Doing what you love and loving what you do

I found this quote from Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) in one of the Senscot bulletins which pop into my inbox every week;

 “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.”

I do love what I do, I believe I’ve done great work over the past two years, and yet what I do seems to have filled an ever increasing part of my life, until there’s almost no space left for doing anything else.  I had an enlightening conversation this week with someone doing a similar job on Fetlar (Shetland), experiencing similar challenges and feeling the same strain.  When I described my struggle to separate work and not-work, he asked if I'm single.  I said yes.  “Ahhh,” he said, as though that explained everything.  Perhaps it does.  Everyone I know here is in some way connected to my work.

I think perhaps I need to distil the parts of the job I enjoy – working together with people to achieve social change & community empowerment – and ditch the parts I find frustrating or exhausting: feeling as though I’m trying to drive the bus, navigate, and carry out essential maintenance all at the same time, while each passenger is calling out different instructions, requesting a toilet stop, or asking why we’re not there already.  

 We’ve had confirmation that Highlands & Islands Enterprise is committed to securing funding to continue the LDO project.  It’s been massively successful over the past 3 years, with at least 75 projects led or supported by LDOs across Highland attracting more than £800,000 into local economies and making funding bids totalling over £2million.  It’s been really helpful to be part of a network of people doing the same thing, encountering the same challenges, and to be supported by Highlands & Islands Enterprise with easy access to match funding for projects that fall within our “Growth Plan”. 
However, I’ve decided not to continue my contract when it ends on 31st December.  It feels good to have made the decision, so I know it's the right one.  I’ll probably sleep for a week, and then I’m interested to see what it’s like to just be another person who lives here.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to decide what I want (what I really, really want) to do next...

Monday, 14 October 2013

What's so bad about being single?

I've returned from a week away rested, relaxed, and full of zen.  A whole ten days of not talking about Rum, not thinking about it, not having it occupy every waking hour.  Bliss!  Within 5 hours of setting foot back on the island (while still on holiday, it being a Sunday), someone stopped me on my bike and said; "This is about work and I know it's the weekend, but since you're here..."  Urgh!  

Later on my Rum Mentor scolded me for not responding with, "I don't mean to be rude, but..."  The problem is, I don't want to be rude, and cutting someone off like that feels disrespectful.  However, I have promised myself that I will practice asserting boundaries and asking people to respect my non-work time.  "I feel a bit rude saying this, but..."

One of my mainland treats is buying a copy of the Guardian on Saturday - easily pleased, I know.  It has so many sections that it takes me most of the week to work my way through it.  Last week there was a good article about the dispiriting lack of strong, single female characters in literature.  Apparently it's not possible to be happy unless you're married / engaged / in a stable long-term relationship.  Feisty females beware: should you attempt to live a fulfilling single life, you'll most likely end up under a train / bitter & twisted / otherwise betrayed. Where are all the contented singletons?  Not only in books, but in film as well.  I recently watched Eat Pray Love, in which Julia Roberts walks away from a series of failed relationships and embarks on a promising journey of self-discovery.  Right up to the point at the end when she falls into yet another relationship, abandoning everything she's learned in the preceeding 2 hours about being happy and whole as a single person.  Boring.

What if there isn't a Mr (or Mrs) Right, and the whole concept turns out just to be something invented because it's a good plot line?  Am I a freak for preferring the single life to making a mass of compromises in order to "be" with someone?  What does that even mean?  Do we need another person there constantly to validate ourselves?  So many of my friends seem unhappy in their relationships, or are running around looking for someone to be with, feeling as though they're only half a person until they meet "the one".  I'm not lonely because I'm not in a relationship, I have plenty of fulfilling relationships; I get lonely because everyone I know is one half of a couple, off doing couple-y things and not hanging out with me.  

Listen up writers and film-makers: can't I be happy by myself?  What's so bad about being single?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

There's No Place Like Home

Glen Affric
Calgary Bay, Mull
I've been wondering what it is about a place that attracts me, or makes me feel I could be at home there.  One of my favourite walks on Rum is the old pony path to Bloodstone Hill - the track passes under the Mordor cliffs of Orval and winds around the top of Glen Guirdil and up to Bloodstone, where Canna is laid out like a toy island and the Outer Hebridies are  strung out in an ever decreasing series of bumps on the horizon.  There's one section of the path I particularly love for no reason I can pinpoint; it slopes down to a river crossing below a steep waterfall, then wends up and around a bend.  There's just something lovely about it, something familiar and comforting.
Harris Bay, Rum
I recently had a friend visiting who talked about past life memories unconsciously drawing us back to places we've inhabited before, either because we felt safe there or because something happened that we need to revisit.

 I'm not sure I have much time for past-life theories, but wonder if there's something within the sub-conscious or unconscious mind that recognises something in the lie of the land, the curve of a bay or a river bend.

Sango Sands, Durness
Driving north on the A9 where the road begins to descend toward Inverness, with a view of the bridge and the Black Isle beyond, the moray firth stretching out below, always felt like coming home.  It was one of the reasons I eventually decided to stop moving away from Inverness and to just setlle there (before I moved away again, further west).  There are other places that feel like home, though; some I only passed through once and noticed the gravity-tug of wanting to stay.  Some I return to again and again - yet I don't live in any of them.

Part of me thinks that if I could just find the perfect place, the place I can call Home, then I'll be happy.
Anywhere with a view of Suilven

Monday, 2 September 2013

Doing and not-doing

I have not been blogging.  I have not been meditating, practicing yoga, or running very much at all.  Apart from a short spate of munro-bagging on my holidays in July, I have not been climbing mountains.  I have not been doing any of the things that would have recharged and revitalised me.  I'm left wondering why it is that when I feel a bit down, a bit hopeless, I can't even muster the energy to do the things I know I enjoy.  I don't do them, and then I give myself a hard time for not doing them, which is hardly helpful.  It seems I'm not alone in this - I have been given a gentle telling-off by a good friend who also has a tendency to behave this way.  I think of myself as a thoughtful, self-aware person, and yet it took someone else to point out that I've been behaving in a thoroughly self-destructive way without even realising it.  

At some point I have become consumed by my job.  The lines between what's work and what's just being part of a small community have become so blurred over the past two years that I have completely lost sight of who I am, separate from what I do for a living. Life is too short for me to want to spend the majority of my waking hours toiling away at "just a job", but equally I don't want to feel the way I do right now, which is that I'm never not working.  

Things will change, because they have to and because now I understand what's been happening.  I need to re-establish some boundaries, go back to doing things for myself, take as many Time Outs as I feel I need.

I found this, by Thomas Merton, who was a Trappist Monk in America; it seems like good advice to me, and to my fellow Development Officers:
"Do not depend on the hope of results . . .you may have to face the fact that your work will appear worthless - achieve no result at all - or perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. . . .you gradually struggle less and less for an idea - and more and more for specific people... In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that will sustain you".

From now until the end of the year I will endeavour to write more regularly. Not about work, but about all the other big and small things that make up my life.  And mostly the things that make me happy or appreciative.  They are so easily overlooked.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Always Something New to Discover

I like to read Gerry Hassan’s blog from time to time & a paragraph in this one about Scottish independence  struck me as particularly relevant to our wee island, which is so often just a picture of the wider world in miniature: “More potent than the ‘powers’ perspective is the psychological case for self-government, within the context of a Scottish nation where people in their own lives have belief in themselves to stop blaming others (whether the UK Government, Tories or the English), and decide to grow up and run things better. This is about aiding and nurturing a wider sense of change which goes beyond the narrow political to the cultural. The psychological argument is about an independence of the mind.”  

One of the things I find most frustrating in my job is the amount of talk in the village about “something” that should be done by “someone”.  Why don’t you, the complainer, take responsibility and do it yourself?  Why are you still waiting for it to be someone else’s problem?

Minishal Lochan
Even so, I think the signs of a maturing community are here; we are gradually starting to believe in ourselves, growing up and running things better.  We’ve redesigned our website into something we’re really proud of.  Individuals are taking advantage of business opportunities.  The bar in the Castle has closed and someone suggested we apply for an events license for the village hall and have a bar there, with entertainment, at least once a month through the season.  The first night, Easter Saturday, went down well with locals and visitors.  I didn’t go, because I was tired from a day of discovering yet more parts of the island I hadn’t known were there...

Shellesder Caves

Our on-island website design team coined a tagline for Rum which is incredibly apt; “...always something new to discover”.  Almost two years on I still don’t feel that I’m done exploring.  We love the line so much that we’re using it all over the place, on signs, adverts, marketing leaflets, and even turning it into a little ditty that we hum to ourselves while walking (that may be just me).  Part of the reason it’s taking me so long to get to all parts of the island is that now I’ve done the easy ones, the rest involve a good deal more effort – venturing into places without paths, tripping over heather and falling down holes concealed by wind-blown grass.  Yet it’s incredibly rewarding to discover a hidden little lochan, pass below curious rock formations, or walk into caves with a Mediterranean feel to them.  The further you venture from the village, the more it feels as though yours are the first human eyes to see these fabulous things, the first feet to cross rocks scarred by glaciers.

Atlantic Coire
Now that we’ve made it through the winter without killing each other (sometimes living here is like living with an extended family over a Christmas that drags on for months after the cake’s been eaten and the decorations taken down), I’m going to try applying our slogan to the people I know so well, yet know so little about.  It’s easy to forget that everyone had a life before Rum, just as I forget that my parents had a whole life of their own before I came along.  This month I want to get to know my neighbours better, understand where they’re coming from, and maybe live a richer life as a result.

Ps: I saw our heart-attack friend in hospital four days after the event.  He said he felt better than ever, as though he'd been through a good service and MOT.  We had a good conversation about coming to terms with your own mortality and how maybe it's easier in some way to be the one doing the dying than to be the ones watching.  It made me think about how much there is that I don't know, about so many things.  It was good to see him looking so well.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

It Casts a Grim Shadow

I haven’t written anything for a while because I’ve been feeling a bit stressed and despondent; although I can be brutally honest here up to a point, I still feel I have to be careful what I say given that what I say is out in the public domain.  I was also hoping to bring news about bunkhouse funding; perhaps next month.

Today has been one of those days that stops you in your tracks and makes you re-evaluate what’s important and what’s not really worth stressing over.  One of the contractors working on the new temporary hostel accommodation collapsed unconscious and fell into a hole he’d been digging; as the second person on the scene I felt totally helpless – no clue what to do.  He looked in a bad way but his colleague and the Castle chef had him in the recovery position, so I went for help.  From there, everybody knew exactly what to do – the right people appeared on the scene, the air rescue helicopter was summoned and then ... an agonising wait.  The minutes stretched out excruciatingly into half an hour and still no tuk tuk tuk of approaching rotor blades.  The man on the ground came round and we all stood around trying not to crowd him, but unwilling to leave until we knew what was happening.  The helicopter came, paramedics took over in their maddeningly calm, unhurried way, everybody moved inside out of the cold; more waiting.  The helicopter left with our friend inside, we drank sweet tea and talked over and over about what happened.  Everybody did everything right; the systems in place for just this sort of thing swung into action, yet as the helicopter shrank steadily away from us, I think we all felt a bit helpless.

We don’t know if he’s going to be ok.  Nothing is quite the same.  The things that seemed so important when I woke up this morning don’t seem as pressing any more.  These contractors have been coming to the island off and on for a long time, they’ve become our friends.  It’s a terrible thing to see one of them so close to death, to be so closely reminded that it will come to all of us at some point – even to me.  Everybody did everything right, hopefully a life was saved today.  We are all shaken by it.  There’s nothing like a life or death situation for giving back perspective, but I’m glad it doesn’t happen very often.

Monday, 11 February 2013

People Need Wild Places

I’m in a much better head space now than I was this time last year, though it’s difficult to pin down exactly why.  A different mix of people on the island, more social events, better weather, feeling as though I’ve actually achieved something; maybe a combination of these.   As the Independence Debate steps up a gear with the setting of The Question, I’m hopeful that a new popular democratic movement will emerge.  I’m all in favour of devolved power – right down to community level, but with the caveat that with increased power comes increased responsibility and maybe not everyone is quite ready for that yet.  I’m watching these guys closely – So Say Scotland is a project working to bring people closer to the decision making process.  It happened in Iceland after The Crash, why not here? 

On a more mundane note, we’re still trying to figure out how to pay for the repairs to the roads (every day the potholes get a little bit bigger, cycling from the pier to the village takes longer & becomes more jarring).  We are the state of the nation in miniature.  Yet when I walk past our weathered-in camping cabins, I have a little smile to myself, remembering that they weren’t here this time last year and it was me that made them happen (with a little help from my friends); this is what community ownership is about.  Planning permission has been granted for our new bunkhouse and I’ve submitted our funding application to Big Lottery - I feel suddenly lighter, brighter, less worried.  I’ve had time to put together some adverts for our Marketing Rum campaign which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed – watch out for us in the Visit Scotland guide and the Highlands & Islands Travellers Guide.  I love sharing the best bits of our beautiful island with others.
 This is from Barbara Kingsolver, in her book ‘Small Wonder’ – “People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers. To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about our economic status or our running day calendar. Wildness puts us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own."

This is what makes Rum so special.
I have a new housemate – my fourth in 18 months – an ecologist doing a phd on our thriving rat population.  He’s become known as the Rat Man, obviously.  He’s here for two years and we’re getting along just fine, so hopefully that’s one thing that won’t change for a few months, even if everything else does.  It’s interesting seeing the island through his eyes – he has the same hope and enthusiasm I had when I first arrived: so many possibilities! 

Change continues to be as relentless as the ebb and flow of the tides; our Castle Manager and his wife & child have left for a new job in York, and another of my friends is planning to depart in the spring.  I think we need a moratorium on people leaving; it’s too hard saying goodbye every few months to someone I’ve come to know & like.  The future of the Castle itself is up for debate through the spring, with a discussion of positive options involving various stakeholders, including the Rum community.  Like it or not, it’s central to the island’s identity – a giant folly, a rich man’s extravagance, but in a sense as much ours now as the hills, the rivers and the wildlife.  How would we feel, actually, if it was bought by a private investor who had the money to restore it but shut us out of the building, the woods and the grounds?  We don’t necessarily want it, but do we want someone else to have it?