• The Story Pilgrim

Grey Hair and New Specs

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

The sight of grey streaks cause me to flinch. It is not a particular endearing shade of grey but nonetheless it is grey. It has to be said that being grey does not faze me, I truly desire to embrace grey but not this shade. It is too lacklustre. I consider grey to be very much maligned as a colour when it can in its own rights reveal vibrancy. I suppose much of what is considered old in today's terms are often seen in a derogatory light. My imagination runs with she the one with the wisdom, the silver grey hair of one who spins stories. There is something magical in that image and I take comfort from it. However, I will have to be content with another shade because this woman fears the use of peroxide on my hair to achieve an overall grey. However, the image that reflects back to me strongly suggests that it is time for a radical new style and I am looking forward to this new make-over.

I let out a soft under breath giggle. I spent my gift of Christmas money on two pairs of new glasses. I am fortunate that I don't really need glasses but when I tried on several frames during my wait for an eye test I liked the effect that they produced. I love my new black circular rimmed glasses and my sage green frames and I am already in the process of saving for a third pair. A girl needs different styles for different outfits.

New village, new glasses and new hair colour so what has happened to initiate this change?

When I arrived home from Belfast with the bones of a new story I realised I was drifting into change. It is the kind of change that is not instant. It is the type that hovers slowly and quietly but then zooms in and rocks you out of your comfort zone. It is the type of change that states I have grown weary of fitting into the square peg of living to the rhythm of the expectations of others. I have arrived at my silver hair age and finally I have arrived at a destination where I am going to be me.

In one way I was fortunate that Christmas was fast approaching and as the festive lights glimmered in the season of the long nights one can easily close the curtains and say goodbye to the outside world. However, I fully understood that I had to come up with a way of avoiding hearing the lament of those dreaded words 'you can't spend Christmas on your own.' I knew I would have to have some form of strategy to deflect the hurling arrows of well meaning but unnecessary concern. I also had to prepare myself for that familiar gaze of unbelief that turns into probing as to why someone who has family was wanting to spend Christmas alone.

My younger daughter resides in Spain and this Christmas her brother and sister took the opportunity of spending Christmas with their sister. Catriona desired to walk the Camino and for part of the journey her brother and sister wanted to accompany her. I was delighted that they all wanted to spend Christmas in this way as it allowed me to be free to do what I really desired. I explained to my youngest daughter that I really needed time out and nearly cried when Catriona said she fully understood. She too, has an introvert personality and also enjoys savouring the sense of solitude. With relief upon me I logged off Messenger knowing we would all meet up in the Spring. I made the decision to tell as few people as possible about my plan. I did not want to feel coerced by others who aren't yet convinced that Christmas can be spent alone with fondness. As I write I note that for some unknown reason I am still explaining my family situation as if I have to prove that I am not estranged from my family. Well folks for the record I am not estranged from my family.

With the remainder of my Christmas money I purchased a supply of copic pens. I wanted to try out some new comic book characters. I planned to keep Christmas simple but I did buy a few treats. I wanted to embrace Christmas with an attitude of gratefulness. After all, I am blessed. I am grateful for my comfortable home, the food in my fridge, my books, my pens and the canopy of sparkling West Cork sky. Christmas turned out to be memorable and the slower pace of life proved to be beneficial for my well-being. I truly wonder what all the fuss is really about? I have survived without scars to tell the tale of a Christmas spent drawing, reading, and watching old movies. In other words there is no story to tell. Does spending time alone trigger up some innate fear or have individuals been seduced by tinsel and songs about sleigh bells and reindeer so much that it renders up some form of guilt. It is certainly true that the scenes portrayed at Christmas by advertisers and media can cause triggering effects for people who are genuinely alone and I am not advocating that we airbrush out the seriousness of the plight of isolation. Indeed, I myself may fall into this category some time in the future but for the moment I take comfort from watching the Christmas episodes of Eastenders. Better to spend Christmas on my own that having festive chaos. May I take this moment to also add that loneliness is something that is confined to the festive season. I have had people say to me that they actually feel more alone in the summer months because of the sightings of crowds enjoying themselves on the beach.

Upon reflection, the time of hibernation resulted in me gaining strength and I appreciated the time to stop, think and deliberate. 2018 was equally a fruitful and a challenging year. My health was so bad and my spirit had been ripped apart. I needed to extract myself from the source of my sorrows, so I moved down here early April. The worst moment was last August when I suffered yet another setback in that I was too ill to participate in the fun of the Cape Clear Storytelling Festival. I remember I cried the whole weekend. I was totally devastated - yet another event missed. As a lay in bed on the Friday morning, gaunt and my lips covered in cold sores I made the decision that I was quitting. I was turning my back on storytelling. I had grown weary of the continual disappointment of missing out. I was worn from climbing a little ladder then tumbling down a giant snake back to the beginning.

Ballydehob proved to be a lifeline. It has been a place of recuperation. Months of eating organic food and using bottled milk sourced from a local farm had propelled me back to health. It is a relief not to have to explain why I don't buy sausage or bacon to people who want to turn it into an argument. The majority of the neighbourhood understand the plight of penned pigs and it is much easier to source alternatives. The sight of seeing an otter in Roaring Water Bay always delights me . The nourishment of a nurturing art class revived my love of comic art and on Thursday mornings I embrace the joy of drawing. The group is so endorsing that it has aided me in the healing process. Moreover, the Antiquity Vegan/Cafe in Skibbereen has opened up wonderful new opportunities to meet new people and to engage in creative endeavours.

As I scrutinised my reflection in the mirror my eyes catch my frost grey roots again. It is definitely time to make a visit to the hairdresser. I am emphatic that I no longer want the red. I want to make a statement of newness. Besides the red no longer fits my mood and it is 'so last year' Grief had settled into my weary bones. I had been grieving the the loss of the familiar and close connected friends. I had no option but to move due to the dampness in my home and I was saying goodbye to friends. I began to see that the change happened when I got my first article published.

When I had my first article published to say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. After two years of frustration dealing with unemployment and consequently having to change direction by taking a gruelling Masters getting an article published was indeed a personal celebration. I constantly struggled and often found myself in tears trying to figure out coding language. I have a Humanities background which probably secured my place on the course but I did not have any experience whatsoever in computers other than sending an email.

I take a step back from the mirror and slowly slump downward onto my bed. Realisation hits. The sun breaks through the clouds releasing a shaft of light upon me. In a moment I become aware that it was ultimately nothing other than destiny, and it all happened for a reason. Without those dark merciless times I would never have been propelled to the woman I am meant to be. I would still be existing in a sad place of frustration and quiet desperation feeling an outsider. I was more lonely within this group of friends than I was spending time alone at Christmas.

I suppose it was my journey on the Masters which was the final jolt which shook me away from my old path. The struggle trying to attain the Masters changed me. I have done a previous Masters but in all honesty the change that happened then was minimal. My transformation occurred during the knotted tangles of the struggle. It took me to a different level. The struggle had released strengths that I was unaware that I had and the actual process of transcendence afforded me the opportunity to actually learn to respect myself. I had come to terms that it was I who had changed and needed to travel a different path.

The journey from Belfast saw me return as a woman on the cusp of newness. During the workshop a story had touched me on the shoulder and whispered tell me. Hence, I was not quitting telling stories. The workshop had re-energised me and I was feeling good. The days of constant tears had gone.

Three months later I am in Ballydehob looking forward to another storytelling workshop in Blarney. Sitting on the bed the false and negative words come back but this time they have no hold over me, there is no strength in them. They quickly fall away. I have since learned that people can offer ill advice and I am now truly grateful that I did not heed the words - 'Oh you should quit the masters, it is too much for you'. Yes I put my hands up I did not learn the rudiments of coding which I believe the course was designed to do. I may only have achieved a 2:1 but that Masters propelled me towards storytelling. I actually enjoyed my six months visiting Donegal and taking the time to create my comic book. I loved writing my thesis on storytelling. I read Joseph Campbell, Robert McKee. Leonard Shlain and others. It gave me an opportunity to explore the history of storytelling. In other words I got the sustenance I needed from the course. My biggest learning curve - I did not quit. I refused to listen to the words of failure placed upon me. and I had no option but to re-think strategy in order to attain the certificate. I made the decision to regain control over my own life by going to my tutur and request if I could do a comic book as my digital artefact. He said 'Does it involve digital tools' I replied 'Yes'. He looked at me and simply responded with 'Yes.' Thus I have learned the value of perseverance and the importance of looking for an alternative solution and not be bogged down by something which doesn't work.

I am looking forward to putting on my new spectacles but I will be holding off until I get my hair styled. My eyes glance towards the wardrobe, enforcing the need to declutter. Perhaps I will buy some new clothes. I stand up, look out the window and smile. I am totally grateful for this feeling of newness. Moving to Ballydehob has been a good move for me. Simple things like easily accessing vegan cake and the joy of meeting up with one of my new friends in a coffee shop that has a choice of vegan cake. I got tired of sitting with a cup of tea and no cake. I am allergic to egg white and in my old town I found it challenging to find vegan cake. I got fed up with being offered the same old flapjack or being told that a particular item is gluten free. 'Ah no I would often smile before I continue with 'I can eat wheat, rye, barley proteins', Furthermore, I can source a nose pin and it is a joy to go into an art shop and get copic pens without the need to go into the city or order online. I love buying local but it only works if people in the area can actually source their requirements and I can do that here in West Cork.

A fierce thirst descends, it is time for a cuppa of tea and a slice of vegan cake. I glimpse towards my new glasses lying on my dresser. I can't wait to step out with them but it will be a few weeks before I do. My appointment is two weeks ahead from the time of writing. And as for the silver grey hair which I truly desire, well folks that will have to wait until I actually get over my fear of using peroxide on my hair. However, the colour I have decided on is actually a good substitute. A very good substitute indeed.

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