No, really, she does! Oh alright, you've got me. It was me. I'm the woman who walked into a bar. Joke's over. During my recent residency on Shetland, I went to a bar by myself. I went to a few gigs...by myself. I went for a steak...by myself. Doing all of these things unaccompanied, took guts. I'm no shrinking violet, I like a chat as much as the next person. However, it takes a certain amount of bravery for me to walk into some situations without a wingman/woman. I don't believe I am a shy person so don't think that is what causes the dread. I'm a woman.
After an early start and a lot of exploring and hiking around the north coast of Shetland, I was ravenous!! I mean, I could have gnawed my own arm off, kind of ravenous. I was also knackered. The sea air takes it out of you (I had no sleep due to inconsiderate hurricanes whirring around the lighthouse through the night). I needed food....and caffeine. Didn't care about the order, I just needed them and fast. I finally reached civilisation at Scalloway and visited an establishment there. The hunger meant my eyes moved over the words on the menu but took nothing in. I ordered a cheeseburger and a latte and a water. Sat in the corner by the window of this empty pub in the early afternoon, I was caught in a hallucination. A mirage, if you will. Chicken legs and potatoes floated around my brain as I willed the chef to move quicker. This day dream was broken by the noise of 3 guys who came in and stood at the bar. They stared. For a split second I wondered if they could see the chicken legs too. They stared some more. It turns out they were staring at me. Their eyes followed me as they took a seat at the opposite end of the pub. This was awkward. I really did not want an audience for the devouring that was about to take place. Who does?!! I knew the hair was in a bad way, I knew there was mud spattered up my boots and legs, I knew that my mascara was smudged from the elements. This was not why they were staring though. If I was a guy sat there alone eating a burger in the corner of a pub, would it have warranted this level of intrigue? I didn't even have the sketchbook out at this stage. It bothered me a little. This is why I am apprehensive about going to certain places by myself. I don't want to be looked at...particularly while ramming a quarter pounder into my face. I felt flustered and sick. The latte was like an espresso and it turns out they don't go so well with burgers. I left, walking past, feeling paranoid. I wanted to go back in and say something witty....but I didn't.
To be fair, I should mention that I encountered some truly welcoming and kind spirited people. The guy at the shop was lovely. He also served at the Sunday cream tea and gave me a piece of his home baked carrot cake. He was a legend. My bravery to attend the Sunday Cream Tea and muscle my way in at the end of a long busy table, was rewarded by some lovely conversations. My knocking on the door at Bressay Lighthouse was rewarded by meeting the fellow artist in residence and we had a nice blether. Generally I found that if you felt the fear and did it anyway, I was compensated with memorable connections.
While I love the idea of being independent and not relying on anyone else to "chum" me to places, there is such a fine balance. Throughout this residency I pushed myself into situations I felt uncomfortable with, in terms of being alone. I don't want to miss out on amazing things because I am waiting for someone to come and hold my hand. It made me think.
Whenever I meet my mother somewhere, she has this odd thing where she has to meet you outside. Even if it is raining, snowing, windy, you name it. Outside, at the entrance. Not inside where it is warm and you can get a seat. In fact, she has a knack of turning up early. The funny thing is, that she is annoyed if you are not early. She could tell you to meet at 2pm and you turn up at 1.55pm feeling smug. She will have been there since 1.45pm and feel miffed that she has been stood there on her own. Purposeless. This thing of being alone and being seen to be alone and without purpose or safety blanket, is fascinating to me. The mobile phone has become the number one safety blanket. My sketchbook became mine. On Shetland, I went for coffee by myself. I went to an open mic night, by myself. I saw Blade Runner at the cinema, by myself. However, I must confess that I often had my sketchbook there as a safety blanket. As a purpose.
And I am proud of myself for getting out there and not hiding in a cupboard. When you are on your own, you are an awkward balance of independence and vulnerability.
Perhaps this feeling is a generational thing. I think it is something we are getting better at (as women). It is something I want to get better at. This year I have tried surfing, I have hiked Munro's, I have wallpapered my own bedroom, I have spent time on Tiree, I have trained for a half marathon (and wrecked my knee). These are small achievements in the grand scheme of things...but each has enriched my life, contributed to my skills and improved my health. When I was hiking up Ben Lomond, a woman in her 60's (maybe she was older), ran past me. RAN!!! Up a mountain!!! I pretended to take photos every 100 yards just to catch my breath and this woman just leapt up like a mountain goat. I remember thinking "Wow, she is my hero!" She still is. This stranger modelled to me something important. Ladies, if there is something you want, go get it. At least try. At least don't be put off because no one is holding your hand. And guys, don't be that guy. Be a gentleman. Be an equal. Support your fellow man/woman to fullfill whatever noble cause they are trying to pursue...whether it is running up a mountain or ramming a burger into their face.