LIFE IS A PUZZLE

18 June 2017

 

This week we returned for our favorite Tuscan island. Twelve days of simplicity and beauty. Twelve days without even having to decide what to eat; la mamma cooking 3 meals a day without ever once repeating a dish. Every dish sourced from the family’s organic garden and animals on the property or from their farm on the mainland. And perhaps most wonderful of all, twelve days without news and without touching money.

The days were spent climbing up and down 300 stone steps to either of the two coves where, between meals, we read and swam, and did a bit of writing before climbing the steps up to yet another delicious meal. In the evenings, if we wished, we would join the other guests – anywhere from a dozen to twenty – on the patio where we would all look dreamily out to sea when not commenting on our good fortune to be in such a place of love and peace. Once in a while some of us would venture into philosophical talks that focused on non-aggression.

One evening a woman from Puglia serenaded us with Italian folk songs, accompanying herself on the guitar. At one point, seeing that one of the workers had joined us, a young Spanish woman who spoke not a word of Italian, she sang an old Spanish folk song for, her voice graveled with soul, the young woman weeping as I held her hand.

Twelve days, spent with strangers, mainly Italians, but also a couple of Germans and Scandinavians; all of us proving that it is possible to live in peace and harmony. The German couple had spent their honeymoon there and now, 25 years later, had chosen to return for their anniversary. Somehow the proprietors remembered the meal they had served them all those years ago and served it again at dinner the night of the anniversary. We watched as tears streamed down the wife’s face, the husband smiling so tenderly. And then more tears, when the staff, singing all the way, marched from the kitchen carrying an enormous chocolate cake to the couple’s table.

So, why, oh why, did I check the news upon returning home, finding among all the dismal articles of political and corporate corruption and greed, the horrendous news of the Grenfell Tower inferno in London?

When my daughter was deathly ill last year, I became addicted in the darkest moments, when all was beyond my control, to a digital game on my iPhone. The game, Cubes 1010, consists of a grid made of 10 x 10 squares outside of which 3 shapes at a time appear; L-shaped, oblong, linear, cubes, each with its own color. The object is to keep slotting them into the grid in order to eliminate completed vertical and horizontal lines. It’s called a puzzle, but that’s a con. In fact it’s unsolvable. It’s actually an unwinnable game in which you keep score against yourself. I have deleted the app from my phone many times, but after a few months, when not wanting to face something or the other, I find myself sucked back into it again. As I was this past week, after letting myself get sucked back into the news.

I hold dual citizenship in England and America, two countries that make me glad I now live in Italy. While far from perfect, and currently suffering a crop-damaging drought, nonetheless its citizens daily rescue fleeing refugees from the sea. My homeland, England, while of course still having many admirable “native” citizens, is also a country whose values have drastically changed over the last couple of decades. Those of us who watched Absolutely Fabulous back in the 90’s may have found it hilarious then, but actually it was a horrendous depiction of the vacuous,narcissistic greed of the newly rich: A class of people that has grown enormously in London, which is now one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

I was born at the end of WWII. The first 4 years of my life we lived on rationed food. I remember seeing streets of bombed out houses, partial rooms dangling mid-air, peeling wallpaper a fluttering dream. I was probably 10 before war stories – in print, on film, or overheard in grown-ups’ conversations – ceased to be a regular topic. Stories of cities bombed for 5 years; stories of people returning from work to find their whole street, families and neighbours gone. Stories of how the King and Queen refused to leave Buckingham Palace but instead remained there in solidarity with their people. Photos of the Royal couple walking through the rubble; the common folk dancing in the streets; the British spirit a finger in the eye of the enemy.

After WWI council houses started being built, somewhat uniform but with local design variations, all adhered to local authority building standards. They called them “Homes fit for heroes,” and more than a million of them were built between 1914 and 1938. I had several school friends who lived in these houses, which, on the inside looked much like the house my parents owned: clean, orderly, wallpapered, fireplaces, new appliances etc. They looked like this:

Now they look like this:

Grenfell Tower was an example of what today’s council housing looks like. “Managed” by a private sector company on behalf of the local council, it stood between the 2 richest boroughs in London. Don’t you just feel for all those filthy rich fuckers who had to “put up” with such an eyesore in their midst? Not to worry. The local council and management company agreed some couple of years ago to resurface it so it would look nicer. Never mind that its tenants were still, after years, complaining of leaks, faulty wiring, rodent infestation etc. But hey, as long as it looked good when you got in your fucking BMW a block away, off to make another million in the financial district, or have your interior designer come over and renovate the kitchen you just renovated 2 years, who gives a shit?

I know, I know, some level of this inequality has always existed. But aren’t we supposed to be evolving? I mean really evolving, on the spiritual level? What the fuck? Twenty-four floors of immigrants, some having escaped horrors in their homelands, trying to better themselves. Working minimum wage jobs and going to college and then, like disposable waste, incinerated as a result of flammable cladding used to beautify the exterior.

Yesterday I spent an hour losing game after game of Cubes 1010. Each time I started again I thought maybe if I could just do it right I could keep fitting all those shapes and sizes into the grid until, what…? Until the rules of the game changed and instead of elimination I would finally be able to house diversity into a completed grid where every shape and size and colour would finally slot together in harmony?

If I was 10 years younger and living in London I’d house a couple of the now homeless. Instead I’ll resort to sending money. I won’t be playing Cubes 1010 anymore. Better to tend my garden and redouble my daily effort to praise beauty and be grateful for all the love in my life. Better to spend my time trying to be a little kinder to loved ones and strangers alike.

 

 

 

YEAH!

20 May 2017

I’ve been a bit grumpy lately, although Joel might choose a more specific adjective. Is one born with a short wire? Or does it get shortened with age? Whatever. What I do know is that when I find myself spending more of the day acting like one of the seven dwarfs it’s time to explore the genesis of my grump.

Mid-April of this year marked our third anniversary of living here year round and during this time we’ve turned a primitive barn on a patch of barren gravel into a sweet home amid a glorious garden. A nice achievement and one I’m personally proud of. Also, over these years, Joel has become more and more in demand throughout Europe; creating a new body of work, several books and many shows in England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. I am truly happy for him. It took a lot of courage for him to leave his native New York after 76 years and to see him be rewarded like a rock star in Europe puts a grin on my face.

So, why so grumpy Maggie? The answer is twofold: the first part has to do with the way in which we’ve stopped being here in Tuscany in a certain way. By that I mean that the constant attention necessary to making a home and garden does not always allow the freedom to enjoy it or to leave it. I think of the couple of summers we spent here before it became “ours” and memories come flooding in: day trips with Gianni in his pick-up, driving up river beds and over fields; taking all the white roads, stopping in villages not on the map, shopkeepers everywhere hailing Gianni.

Back then it seemed like we walked this country road daily, picking bunches of wildflowers, talking to the cows, waving to the odd passerby. Lunches were long and lazy, evenings spent sitting on bare stony ground in a couple of old deck chairs gazing at the surrounding hills, chatting away with each other, or friends, or the farmers. I look back on that time now and it seems so innocent and we, so young.

Now, as I sit in the dondolo (the outdoor divan-swing) a brief, sudden wind shakes the l’eccio trees and dried leaves rain down with a pitter-patter. Birds, nesting in the hedgerows are ceaseless in their chatter; a cock crows is cock-a-doodle-do and I am instantly here in the way in which I most love to be.

Why is it that we so easily get caught up in the business of life that we stop experiencing its true luxury? I’ve been wanting to sit right here, doing exactly this, for days, weeks actually. But instead I keep doing and adding chores, getting grumpier with every load of laundry, every grocery shopping, the pulling of weeds, pruning of roses, replenishing candles, bringing in firewood and on and on. And as I write that list two things strike me: a) that it is a list of privilege and b) I could put off doing any one of those things and turn to my creative expression and the world would not stop.

So, today I’ve made the commitment to re-see life in Tuscany; to tell you that this week alone – and this is a typical week here – Silvia, the farmer’s wife, has brought us baskets of spicy salad greens grown from seeds that our friend Scout gave her. Luca and Antonello, the stone masons, were here every day putting in my little stone stairway, remodeling the outdoor fireplace, placing stepping stones in the gravel path and widening the rose arch at the garden gate.

 

Two of those mornings, Luca brought us eggs from his hens and Antonello brought us a can of his olive oil. On Sunday, Silvia brought us a fresh baked ricotta cake, the ricotta made from their sheep milk, the flour ground from their grain.

 

One day, feeling the accumulated stress from the fallout of a challenging situation in Joel’s New York studio, we decided to go to one our favorite village for lunch at a friend’s restaurant : www.osteriadelleone.it in Bagno Vignoni. What joy to drive the half hour there, through the ever-rolling hills, the olive groves singing with their new green leaves, poppies and sulla staining the fields scarlet and ruby; the greeting by Antonio and his staff, the wild salad and roasted pigeon as superior as ever and the promise of linden blossoms soon to come.

Tuscany. This ancient land still hanging on to its culture; the lack of greed or need for fame; the acceptance of imperfection in government and the economy, while generously sharing whatever they have. On our way to dinner with new friends we stop up the hill to buy a couple of bottles of Libera and Fortunato’s homemade wine; pure grape, no chemicals. Here there is no talk of Trump and the abysmal state of America. Here the farmer puts a piece of grain between his teeth to see how far it has to go before harvesting it. Gianni and Luana come for dinner. The fire is lit, the room aglow with candles. We sit for hours talking intimately and with ease, amazed that we can now do so in Italian.

Joel has joined me on the dondolo. He, too, is writing…an introductory essay for his new retrospective book. It feels like a perfect moment. It’s been a busy year for him with three books in the works plus six shows. Which brings me to the second reason I’ve been feeling grumpy. Three books and six shows entail a lot of work at the computer and whole days go by when he is upstairs working away in front the screen. This is not a judgment; who, at 79, wouldn’t what to be in such demand?

No, the issues are mine. Issues of envy and resentment and impatience. Issues that are endemic in women of my age married to famous men. Women of my generation, unlike the current one, weren’t brought up to believe we had the right to our own desires and direction. And I am shocked to find, at this stage in my life, that I still feel the need to either wait and serve, or rebel. How ridiculous. I mean really, if it makes Joel happy to spend stretches of time at his computer then good for him. But when do I find the courage to stop complaining and simply go about my own business? What’s stopping me from creating, or taking day trips, or simply sitting on the dondolo, writing, listening to the birds and counting my lucky stars that this is where and what my life has come to?

How easily we humans can ruin our own good time. The ‘why’ of it surely has to stop being examined after a while. So one had a crap childhood, or grew up in a repressed culture; so religion taints us with guilt or shame; so we suffer illness and injury, the loss of loved ones, the failure to attain a dream. So what? We’ve come this far; each of us with our own struggles and disappointments and with each day the distance left to go is shorter. So let’s stop each day, look up, look out, breathe in, breathe out. How does it feel to “be”? What would you change? And when?

Neuroscience has proven that we carve pathways, or ruts, in our brains by habitual thinking. If we want to get out of the rut we need to change the way we think. I’m thinking Tuscany’s a pretty good rut that I have no need or desire to get out of. The rut I intend get out of is the one I’ve spent a lifetime carving by thinking that I pretty much have to destroy myself in order to have the right to live.

The sheep are getting their second milking of the day. A might chorus of baa-ing issues from the barn. Maybe it’s a Tuscan thing, but it sounds to me like they’re all saying “Yeah!”

 

 

Our wedding anniversary, 18 May 2017

NB:   Here is a the link to the latest Podcast with Julie Burstein and myself. Please let me know is you are unable to open it.  Also, let me know what you think of it!  With thanks and love as always. Maggie.

 

 

 

 

THE GIFT OF A LIFETIME

23rd April 2017

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ T.S.Eliot

It’s been a long spring, joyously so for the most part, although too hot at the start, so that the garden has a slight air of weariness, as if too much was asked of it too soon. But, oh, the bliss of returning here after two weeks away and finding the wisteria weeping from the porch roof; its perfume a swoon to the senses. I once called wisteria ‘the queen of ambiguity,’ only to find when translating that essay into Italian that here, in this gender specific land, it is masculine. Perhaps there is a botanical reason for this, but after spending a week in the company of my 7 best women friends, I can’t but think that the gender-choice was decided by some poor man unable to cope with its maternal sorrow.

Last year, shortly after I turned 70, I was sitting at my desk asking what I would most like to give myself as I entered my 8th decade. The answer came immediately: I wanted to spend time with all the women who have been of support and encouragement and inspiration to me throughout my life, including 2 who, although unknown to me less that 6 years ago, have gifted me with their wisdom and poetry, mainly through emails. And I wanted to spend this time with them in the one place on this planet to which I have been deeply connected, in this lifetime, since I was 3 years old.

It is the place I returned to on my own for decades, as a painter, and as a writer and as an ex-pat living in America. It was the place I could call my own; where I could feel my ancient spirit awakened by the wind and the sea as I walked for miles and hours upon the tufted cliffs, clambering down to my ledge to disappear into the sea spray along with the birds. It was the sense of belonging that I’ve always felt there that drew me there. I, who until a week ago, had no knowledge of my ancestral roots, felt instinctively that I belong there on those wild Cornish cliffs and moors.

The response to my email invite was swift: a chorus of Yes, although one would eventually have to drop out due to family illness. Yet even she was there, as you will later see. Over the course of the winter, I started envisioning what it was I wanted to share with these women; I wanted them to witness a part of me that they had never known; the part of me that comes from a sense of belonging as opposed to a sense of yearning.

Over those winter months, the ‘program’ evolved slowly, without pressure or need; a mix of walks, studio and museum visits, outdoor theatre, a cream tea on a farm by the sea and a private figure-drawing class in the famed studio of the St. Ives School of Painting. All the events were as rich an experience as we could have hoped for. But it was the conversation that held the ore. And we mined it at breakfast, lunch and dinner…interspersed with a few tears and much bawdy laughter.As Vivian observed, in her 70+ years she had never experienced sharing meals for 8 where every single time the group conversed as a whole. There was no splintering into pairs, except sometimes when we were walking. At table a topic would be presented or arise and then it became a pow-wow.

No-one, besides me, knew everyone else in the group prior to this adventure. We hail from 4 different countries: England, France, USA, Italy. One other beside myself has lived as an ex-pat, originally hailing from South Africa. The youngest, whom I’ve known for 23 years, is 47. The oldest, whom I’ve know for 44 years, will be 80 this year; the rest of us filled in the intervening decades. And so it was that these 7 women met for the first time under the big clock at Paddington station at 9:30 on 3rd April. By the time the train delivered them to St. Ives at 4pm, they were a unit. And after a few tears upon seeing them all together, I stopped being the leader and just became one with them.

At Paddington Station

Our diversity in age and background was our gold, not to mention our diversity in careers: one human rights barrister/judge; one actress/film-maker/interior designer; one dancer/writer/ceramicist; one photographer/poet; one musicologist; one therapist/quilter; one antiques dealer/innkeeper/shopowner, and myself. And let’s not forget Julie, who couldn’t come: podcast producer/author/ceramicist. We are all mothers; and we all mothered each other in the best possible sense. Half of us are married. The other half lives singly as a result of death or divorce. We are all mighty.

On our second afternoon Julie joined us via Skype to lead us in a fireside tea meditation. She had taken a single piece of brown clay, embedded with blue stripes (for the sea) running its length. Then she rolled it like a jelly-roll and cut it into 9 pieces which she hand-formed into little cups. Reserving one for herself, she had sent the remaining 8 to the inn and in her Skype presence we each randomly chose from the box. Following Julie’s instructions, I placed all 8 cups in a circle touching each other and A, whose 70th birthday it was that day, pour the tea in one unbroken flow and then we sipped in silence. Julie also joined us via Skype a few evenings later when A presented 3 exquisite pieces of music by Chopin, Debussy and Ravel.

Was it only 5 days and 5 nights? Or did we live forever among the ancients? All I know is that I am still feeling bereft of their company. And I do know that each of us experienced something vital: sisterhood, womanhood, our formidable strengths and our tender vulnerabilities; no competition, no judgment. This is something many women are missing in contemporary life. Only we women can bear each other’s sorrow, cup a hand around it and urge each other forward.

Two weeks later I am still feeling the upheaval that such a deep connection brings once severed. Then again, while the physical connection has been broken the emotional one can never be severed. Which is why, perhaps, it came as no surprise, a week ago, to discover via DNA testing, my ancestral heritage: Scandinavian, thousands of years ago; then Munster Irish and Southern English and most recently, Southern English…right there on the Cornish cliffs, where I once and always belonged.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S.Eliot.

drawing by Maggie

YET ANOTHER GLITCH

As you can see, I’m digitally challenged!

Here is the correct link to the first podcast:

THE PODCASTS

The Podcasts.

 

I have heard from several readers that they have been unable to access the Podcasts.

My apologies. Here are links:

 

https://soundcloud.com/daily-juggle/feeling-our-way-around-3-9-17/s-

 

https://soundcloud.com/daily-juggle/feeling-our-way-around-3-17-17/s-N8BAk

 

 

ACTIVATE

18th March 2017

As many of you know…and are perhaps fed up hearing about…I’ve had a bit of an issue with rejection for most of my life. I know I’m not alone in this and certainly for those of us given up for adoption it can be almost a raison d’être, especially if, like myself, you didn’t get the luck of the draw with your adoptive mother.

All of us, to some degree or another, have issues impressed upon us in childhood that we may, or may not, struggle to resolve during the course of our lives. But as my dear friend Vivian, a brilliant therapist, said the other day, “The holes from childhood can never be filled.” So, what to do? And how do we figure out the difference between persevering to overcome these issues, as opposed to the unconscious ways in which we invite these issues to keep recurring in our lives?

I’ve sat at my desk writing for many decades now. The first decade or so I was writing only for myself, and so while rejection may have been a recurring theme in those journals, the writing itself did not invite it. That said, I can be extremely creative when it comes to being self-destructive and if self-destruction isn’t the ultimate rejection, I don’t know what is. Hence the role, in my life, of alcohol, drug addiction, sex, serial marriages etc., etc.

When it comes to 27 years of rejection as a professional writer I’m not sure of the percentages: to what degree did I continue to write and submit work because I thought that commitment, discipline and perseverance would eventually pay off? Or to what degree did I continue because on some deeper level I needed to keep rejection in my life because it had become part of my identity?

I’ve spent the last few years trying figure this out and finally I decided last year that the percentages don’t matter. What really matters is I’d finally had enough of inviting rejection into my life. Period. So I self-published my novel and continued writing for this blog which gives me enormous pleasure because I know that many of you look forward to receiving the latest installment.

But life is tricky isn’t it? Last November, unbidden and unexpected, I was approached by a successful film producer who had been given a copy of my novel by a mutual friend. She told me that she had been waiting for a project that really moved her and that when she read my novel she knew that was it and she asked if she could have the movie rights.

What joy. All those years of struggle were finally paying off. Over a couple of dinners we discussed how to move forward. She was on her way back to her homeland and in a few weeks, once settled, she would ask me to send all required materials. Weeks went by. Finally, I emailed 2 weeks ago to ask if she was ready for the package. The reply was swift and succinct: No longer interested.

The rejection I felt was so enormous it was as though every rejection was rolled into one huge hairball stuck in my throat. In fact, the expression: “something stuck in my craw,” was more than apt as I immediately began to suffer from acid reflux. Our bodies tell us everything.

Now here comes the good part.

Yesterday, our dear friend Rupert, healer supreme, came to give us massages. I told him I had rejection stuck in my craw. And here, paraphrased, was his response. “You have the wrong receptor activated.” Basically, he continued, the receptors which are activated, take all the feelings and experiences and memories deep into our cells and because they are deep in us those feelings, experiences and memories can be activated every time a similar situation occurs. As soon as he said this I felt an extraordinary lightness of being. I suddenly realized that only my rejection receptor had been activated (since birth). As a result, the receptor for success had stayed closed and therefore whatever successes I had achieved in life I’d barely acknowledge, never mind felt.

As he continue with the massage it was as though my life came flooding back to me, much like we are told happens on our death bed. Except now I am very much alive. One after another, the string of my successes lit up and I felt them deep in me: leaving home at 16 and finding my way; overcoming a stillbirth and giving birth to an exuberant daughter; joining a dance company; opening and running a successful hair salon for many years until I broke my neck; ditto painting and selling hundreds of works during that same period. Creating and hosting a current affairs radio program; buying my own house as a single 43 year-old woman. Writing and performing a play Off Broadway; Earning a Master’s Degree at 49; Founding the Tuscany Workshops which Joel and I taught for many years; Overseeing the renovation of an 18 unit apartment building in Greenwich Village; Training for and opening a rewarding therapy practice; developing and maintaining deep friendships; growing a beautiful marriage with Joel; Creating 3 gardens; Helping my daughter through a near-death experience; Moving to a new country and speaking a new language. And yes, writing a shitload of novels, stories, poems and essays.

I’m aware that this list may read like a boast, but it’s not. Not that I haven’t boasted of these things in the past. But therein lies the difference: the boast is the thing we do when we don’t actually ‘feel’ our own success. America currently has a president who is a disturbing example of this; definitely has the wrong receptors activated there!

So, no, I’m not boasting now. I’m sharing with you the joy of this particular enlightenment for the same reason I share other personal growths and triumphs: because I want to say, “Hey, there’s hope for us all!” and because I want to say thank you to Rupert and the many angels in this world who give us their insight and wisdom, sometimes almost at the last minute, when we have just about given up hope.

May we all be each other’s angels, ready to impart our wisdom, lighting up the dark sky with a millions stars of hope and possibility.

With love.

NB.  I am thrilled to announce that my friend Julie Burstein (absolutely Google her) and I have started recording a series of short Podcasts (under 5 minutes). Here are the links to the first 2.  We would be most appreciative of feedback.

WE ARE THE SENTINELS

18th February, 2017                   WE ARE THE SENTINELS

 

Each time I was pregnant I would read the section in Dr. Spock’s book on how to cut the umbilical cord. I would read it over and over, trying to remember where to clamp and where to cut. The thought of having to cut the cord held more terror for me that the thought of giving birth, as if to clamp and cut incorrectly would be the fatal mistake. As it turned out, my first child would be still born, some fatal mistake already made.

My second daughter arrived alive and well and with a striking aura of independence which rendered the cutting of the cord somewhat redundant. That said, when a few days later the remainder, still attached to her naval, fell off, I put it in a little box as if to have eternal proof that we had once been so attached to each other. Of course, it too, eventually returned to dust, as will all of us one day. What I was not prepared for was how the bond between mother and child can never be severed, no matter how either may act toward the other over a lifetime. That bond, as ineffable as a gossamer thread, tugs at the hearts to which each end is connected. So when I said goodbye to my girl a week and day ago, a tremor of distress vibrated between us.

We form so many bonds to so many people and places and beliefs during our brief stay on earth. Sometimes these bonds are rent asunder: think of the refugees. But on a deeper level they resonate forever. We are living in an age where, for many of us, the attachments we have to truth and decency and honor, are being sawed through daily by those whose power is fueled by fear and greed. As much as I couldn’t wait to get out of New York and the US in general, I also felt the pang of attachment as the plane took off. Not only to my family, but the large part of my life spent there. Also, for three weeks I had experienced being part of the mighty, righteous, resistance movement of millions of citizens and would-be citizens as we found our courage to fight for our attachment to goodness. It isn’t a tug of war; the rope frayed long ago. But as the new administration severed one tie to decency after another, the people immediately forged a new one. And the bond between us that we now know to be as necessary as the umbilicus, will not be broken as long as we acknowledge it and fight for it.

Yet, how easy it is to sever oneself from responsibility. How easily I came through the garden gate here in my Tuscan paradise, and felt relieved to be “away from it all.” How easy to believe that here on this farm I am protected; the fire lit in the hearth for my arrival; the fresh eggs on the table; the joyous greetings from friends and shopkeepers, “Ben tornati!” It is deeply satisfying to be here. To see the light play on the vibrant green hills, the roses already leafing out, the birdsong of early spring, the first brave camellia flaunting its crimson petals.

Here, where the attachment to family and food is still the basic attachment to life. I feel the distance between me and my family, but our bonds are strong, too

All week I’ve busied myself with errands and cooking and gardening. The new couches arrived, made and delivered with an attention to detail that reflects centuries of pride in craftsmanship.

My dear Teddy Bear who is as old as I am, traveled in my suitcase and now sits happily in the library, the bond between us unashamedly recognized.

The weather is so glorious that yesterday I lunched outside with friends, the three of us sitting at the old table, the sun so hot we stripped down to T shirts. And in the middle of it all I wondered when was the last time that any member of the U.S. government or the new administration, or the Prime Minister of England, or the European leaders of the far right, or a terrorist, when was the last time any of them enjoyed the bond of friendship, the connection to nature, the attachment to simplicity?

Once again, I urge all of us who are fighting the good fight, to take regular time out. Turn away from your screens for a day; turn your face to the sun. Feel the gossamer threads that link us to each other, threads as powerful as the strands of our DNA. We are giving birth now to our courage and the labor is long and hard. But we can do it. Even from afar. We are the sentinels.

THE ROAR OF THE CROWD

2nd February 2017

Was it only 2 weeks ago that we left Tuscany to visit family and friends in New York?

I’m sitting in front of a huge fireplace in the Lake Lounge at Mohonk Mountain House. www.mohonk.com As I finish writing that sentence it occurs to me that I’d do well to stay here and write that sentence a hundred times. Not only to be in a moment of privilege and beauty, but to acknowledge that this “I am,” is not followed by “…frightened, overwhelmed and sad:” a state of being which, these days, takes up too large a space. I am sure many of you feel the same way.

Joel and I flew to New York on Inauguration Day and the next day joined nearly half a million people marching in New York. To come above ground from the subway at 42nd and Lexington and be greeted by the enormous river of slow-moving marchers felt like a homecoming to truth and beauty. It took us three and half hours to get to Trump tower and there seemed to be no beginning and no end. We all, I felt sure, would have marched like that until either the tide turned or we were washed out to sea. By now you’ve all seen the photos and signs and hats. Many of you will have been (and will continue to be) part of that global movement that day and if so, perhaps you experienced, as did we, the periodic roar of the crowd which would start miles behind us and, like a tsunami, gather speed and intensity as it rushed toward us. And each time it reached us it stiffened our spines, entered our hearts, rising up through our chests and throats before opening our mouths to release the power of our courage out into the universe. I am thrilled and grateful to have lived long enough to experience the innate goodness and mass awaking of so many people.

My daughter, an ardent feminist since her teens and a Women’s Studies major, is fighting for the cause at the same time she is fighting chronic Lyme Disease. I applaud her. However, it seemed to me that a few days retreat for both of us was in order and so we came here to Mohonk to rest and replenish both body and spirit; this is necessary for all warriors in order to stay in the fray long enough to win.

Mohonk Mountain House is nestled high up in The Shawangunk Ridge, some 90 miles north of Manhattan, but to be here is to feel a million miles from anywhere and in a different century. Mohonk means Lake in the Sky. The lake lies implacable now, frozen over under a fresh layer of snow from yesterday’s downfall. The sky has just changed from grey to blue, the sun determined to make its present felt no matter what…just like us. A young man has just put more wood on the fire. He turns to me, and smiles. “Enjoy,” he says.

 

 

Enjoy. Think about that word. It, too, is a summons to action; to engage in joy. And this we must do. If you were to take a moment now and look around you, what could you find to connect with that would give you a moment of joy for its existence and your own? We are allowed, in this dark moment in history, to enjoy, to smile, to laugh…it is our duty to do so. You cannot be a good warrior if you are not balanced. And if all is energy, then every smile, every laugh, every positive thought contributes to the benevolent energy of the universe; an energy which has and continues to be, powerful enough to have kept us moving forward, (in spite of many regressions) for thousands of years.

Everything in life is 50/50: good/bad, sad/happy, rich/poor, up/down,sick/healthy, dead/alive. And I know that if, like me, you scan the history of your own life, you can remember many negative times which gave you the opportunity to change, to grow, in spite of the pain. So what is this moment offering you that you can be grateful for and act on?

I was talking with a guest here yesterday morning and we shared our horror and fear about what’s happening in America, and around the globe. After a while, I felt that it was going beyond common commiseration and tilting us toward gloom and doom. So I suggested we both take a breath and reflect on the past 24 hours of our lives, much like one is encouraged to do in sobriety. What, I asked, has changed? Are we still here in this beautiful place? Are the lake and the sky still here? Are we loved? Fed? Do we have beds to sleep in and a roof over our heads? We embraced and went our separate ways.

Of course we must stay vigilant and those who are able to must fight the good fight. But there is a world of difference between vigilance and projection. None of us know anything beyond this moment and none of us know the reason why things happen. Shortly after we left Italy an earthquake shifted a mountain causing an avalanche to bury a hotel and all its guests; except for the man who had gone to the parking lot to get something from his car.

There is no such thing as safety; neither is there reason to believe in the worst. We know so much less than we like to assume. For instance, a small group has entered the lounge on an historic tour of the building and I hear the guide say that the lake actually extends underneath this room. And here I was thinking I had the ground beneath my feet. Whereas, in fact, I am sitting over water, under the sky, in front of fire, surrounded by earth. Elemental.

As we reached the end of the march, night fell and someone began to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” As everyone joined in singing I felt myself to be cradled by the sweetness of humanity. May each of you let your little light shine and may each of you feel cradled.

CRADLE OF SNOW

A note to my European readers: I urge you please, please to learn from Brexit and the U.S. Election and start activating NOW, in earnest. Do not wait until your upcoming elections. By then it will be too late to turn it around.

PLACE HOLDERS

8th January, 2017

abstract

When Joel and I made the commitment to living here year round, nearly 3 years ago, it happened very quickly and we had to make a lot of fast decisions and choices in order to turn the place from a well renovated but spare barn into a home. Some of these choices we made in the 2 weeks left between being summer residents here and the 3 winter months we were about to spend in Provence. During those 2 weeks we designed a fireplace, chose a bathtub and ordered 2 couches and a sofa bed. Once in Provence we hunted for antiques to truck back to Tuscany in the spring, along with a cheap, portable digital piano. I considered the piano and the couches to be placeholders.

The great thing about placeholders is you don’t expect much of them; you know they will be in your life for a limited time, until you can make a better choice. This is how I now choose to think of the Donald: as a placeholder. Something you look at from time to time and wish you had something more pleasing, more comfortable, more serviceable. Something you can’t wait to replace with the ‘real’ thing. We consider ourselves very fortunate that, unlike the 4-year presidential term, we are able, after only 3 years, to replace the 2 couches and the piano.

A couple of years ago, while wandering the back streets of Florence, we discovered an amazing shop filled with fabrics and custom-made couches so comfortable we wanted to stay overnight. We promised ourselves that one day we would return there with our own design, which we did the week before Christmas.

I would have to say that Italy is a country of extremes, which perhaps is why I feel so at home here, being a bit of an extremist myself. When it comes to doing business here you either get a shoddy, unprofessional experience, or absolute top of the line. Our couch guy, Luca, is in the latter category. After sitting on various couches in his shop, which has been in the family for 500 years, we made some preliminary decisions and showed him Joel’s drawing of what we wanted. “Oh,” he said, “but I’ll come down the day after Christmas and look at your home to make sure we have it right.”

And so he did…and hour and half drive each way. He made some important refinements to our design and, taking in our aesthetic, said he would return this week with fabric samples, at which time he would also take the smaller of the 2 couches back to Florence where he will make it more comfortable as well as reupholstering it to match the new one.

There are some things however, for which there are no placeholders and our Gianni is one of them.

g-and-j

We missed him sorely last year while he hunkered down in order to finish his house by Christmas, which he did. It took him 8 years to build. There was the odd dinner here and there, during 2016, but no adventures with him. And La Rimessa, the studio that the three of us has found a year and half ago, remained empty as we waited first for the installation of electricity (9 months) then for Gianni to finish his house, and finally for me to recover from my injuries. During those 18 months the building itself represented a placeholder, the place where the 3 of us wanted to play and create and collaborate.

gianni

 

studio

On New Year’s Eve we began to inhabit it: Joel setting up his still life area, Gianni filling part of the space with his found objects and me beginning to paint a large canvas. I could have stopped where I ended that day: I can make a pretty painting or sentence quite easily.

 

canvas-1

But pretty is not what I consider art, in any genre. So when I stood back and looked at the canvas I knew that it, too, was just a place-holder and that in order to deeply enter it and go beyond the limit of my vision meant being prepared to fuck it up. Which I did the next day.

canvas-2

Two days later my new Yamaha digital piano arrived, a serious piece of business that made the previous keyboard feel like a toy piano.

piano

The Yamaha has a rich, round, resonant tone and the keyboard action is similar to some grand pianos I’ve played. It is a challenging, magical instrument which from the moment I first sat at it,  made me realize that I had places to go and that I’m finally willing to go there. I have held myself in place creatively, in many ways, for too long. Now, fully aware of being at the short end of the stick of my life, I feel unfettered to the point where I refuse to feel regret at how long it took to get to this place.

The beginning of a New Year is a universal time when many of us feel the need to make new resolutions usually based on “should’s.” Maybe it would be more profitable to take some meditative time to look at the landscapes of our lives; to be willing to acknowledge the place-holders we have kept and for how long. Because in the end it’s all an illusion. We cannot hold place, it holds us…until it doesn’t.

ONWARD

 

30th December 2016

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Well, hello to you all! I have missed you and thought of you many times since November 8th, but what to say? I did write several weeks ago, but every time I thought of posting it, it seemed insufficient. I had nothing to say that wasn’t already being said, and, as a realist, I have no appetite for conjecture.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have been saddened, shocked and burdened by the outpouring of hatred and spite encouraged and condoned by the orange soufflé. One can only hope that like all soufflés this one will eventually fall. But let’s remember that a political crisis is much like a personal crisis in that each one, in the moment of its occurrence, feels like it is the worst ever. Not to make light of the current situation, but I do gain comfort from reading history (as long as I don’t have to remember dates). To that point, I recently read Volume 1 of Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles. Apart from it being a wild ride, rich in rhythm, tone and imagery, it also reminds us of some of the crises of the 50’s and 60’s; the H bomb, Vietnam, segregation, JFK, RFK, MLK assassinations, McCarthyism, Kent State, to name but a few. And if you want further proof of the eternal history of political machinations watch “The United States of Amnesia.”   For a more balanced take on humanity I would encourage you to read a recent article in the New York Review of books, by Zadie Smith: “On Optimism and Despair.”

I have been struggling quite a bit for quite a while now. It would be easy to say what a crap year it’s been: my daughter nearly died, by husband was near-incapacitated for 2 months, I broke a knee and a hand, my book tour was derailed and I developed an unhealthy addiction to online news. Did I mention I also turned 70? There were, of course, moments, days even, of laughter and joy, but as the months went by I found myself sinking into feelings of futility, of uselessness, of fuck-it-what’s the point. I began to taste bitterness and it frightened me. Sure, I’ve felt all of those things many times in my life, but never for such a relentlessly prolonged time. Perhaps the month in a wheelchair followed by ongoing physical therapy contributed to this inner atmosphere of despair, for while I still have a pretty impressive capacity for healing there is something about injury in later years that rubs your nose in the fact that even if you have another 20 years left, they ain’t gonna be like the last 20!

It’s the little things: the drape of crepe which will continue to spread over your entire body no matter how much you work out. And what’s with the increase in choking? You turn your head while chomping on pureed carrots and suddenly you need the Heimlich Manoeuver, or remover, as I like to call it. And why, really why, after 65 does your nose run when you eat? And consider this, you may, if you’re lucky, continue to shit once every morning, but your arse will leak all day. Depends in the future.

I don’t know what changed, but about 10 days ago, something turned around. Maybe it was something as simple as seeing two roses, pink lovebirds on a grey December day.

roses

Or maybe it was making a Christmas tree from branches and berries that dear Gianni collected for us from the woods.

our-tree

By the way, for those of you who are tired of Christmas here is the perfect tree for you

tired-tree

Maybe it was the way, after a damp start, the fire suddenly roared to life in the hearth.

fire

Or the memory of the trumpeter in Arles playing the blues.

blues

The radiance of my Joel…

joel-arles

a loving sojourn with our dear Sharon and Paul in Provence,

6-feet

Thanksgiving in the Luberon, and the cherry trees ablaze.

thanksgiving

cherry-trees

A single tree outside the wall of our village seemed to sing its own carol…

 

wall-tree while the one in Siena stood proud in its medieval piazza.

siena-tree

The immense pleasure and gratitude of being home in Tuscany.

home

The last red rose from the garden, at rest with my long-gone Amy.

amy

And finally, firing up the furnace in our new studio. After waiting 9 months for the installation of electricity, we had been on our way there to meet the electrician the day I broke my knee. Now after a year of yearning to be at play in this building with Gianni, the three of us lit incense and candles and began to create.

studio

More than a hundred years old, it was where the ploughs and carts and farm tools were put at the end of each day. It was called La Rimessa….rimessa meaning to put back.

And isn’t this what we must all do now? Put something back instead of craving something more for our selves? What changed for me was looking outward instead of inward. Taking action. How easy it is to forget our own wisdom in dark moments. But the darkness has its own wisdom; if we cannot allow ourselves to enter it how can we overcome fear? Awareness of the dark side of life is a part of consciousness. Acceptance of it brings compassion, for ourselves and others. But to re-enter the light takes action. This, now, is our calling: awareness, acceptance, action. And for those of us who have the capacity and the willingness, let’s help each other re-enter the light in 2017.

light

With love to you all, Maggie.