Monthly Archives: January 2012

MONDAY, MONDAY

23 January 2012    
I like a Monday that starts well. 

When I think of the Mondays of my late childhood and adolescence I can still feel the dread which would actually start around 4pm on Sundays, dread of going to school with homework not done, or done badly; the punishment that would inevitably ensue, the staying late after school and doing lines. No, not coke. That came later. Lines were, for instance, writing 100 times “I must complete my homework on time or risk punishment.” Duh. The punishment itself was ok, if boring. It was the judgment and shame that went with it that was dreadful.

In my mid to late teens, living alone in London, Mondays often started later than required, having spent the weekend, dancing, drinking and dating I needed Monday’s to recover. But work as a secretary called, if I was to pay my rent on time, not to mention feeding and clothing myself, with just enough left over for cigarettes and cheap theatre seats.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties when I opened my own hair salon that Monday mornings ceased to be a thing of dread; Mondays being the day salons traditionally close. Of course it just transferred Monday to Tuesday. Which strikes me as interesting now, in that I loved my work then, loved holding people’s heads in my hands, loved sculpting their new-you-in-the-shape-of-a-hairdo. So, why the Tuesday morning resentment? I guess I’ve always disliked having to show up at the appointed time. Something to think about there, eh?

But I digress. This Monday morning started off well because we pretended it was Sunday, having spent Sunday in the country we’d been unable to have our traditional English breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast with marmite and marmalade, all washed down with a pot of good strong PG Tips. So there it all was this morning like a bonus, the two of us like truant kids, giggling over what we’d got away with. But we’re not truant kids and so there was none of that dread of discovery waiting for us, just an extra piece of toast and Vivaldi’s Oboe Concerto heralding Monday morning.


And then more reprieve. I thought I was going to have to spend the morning going over the Provence text with the editor. Instead I got an email from her saying, “It’s done.” Wow. I don’t have to look at it again until it’s in layout when I’ll have one last chance to make changes.

This is the first Monday in my whole life that I got my homework in on time…and it passed!


Now the light has gone from this day, not that it ever had much. A wan day out there, the river and sky without definition, water and air as close to colorless as pale grey can get.  An old writing student of mine, whom I haven’t seen in fifteen years, stopped by for tea and we swapped stories, as writers do. A courageous woman who has re-invented herself many times over, always willing to let go and move forward into the next adventure.

And of course, you cannot visit with someone you haven’t seen for such a long time without marveling at the distance traveled in one’s own life. Fifteen years ago I’d stopped resenting having to show up on Monday mornings, but I was still afraid I wouldn’t pass muster. And indeed, instead of teachers and bosses and clients, it was editors I had to submit to, and instead of punishment it was rejection that was meted out.

But today, on this Monday, I got to experience success as a writer and kudos as a teacher. And I didn’t have to take credit for the soft-boiled eggs, cooked to perfection by my husband. 

AND

21, January, 2012          

            “And is the most hopeful word 
                 in the English language.”
                                        Sean O’Faolain

And this morning when we awoke, the snow was falling straight and small of flake, yet quietly insistent, as if to separate us from what came before.

And what did come before?

A thwarted Friday in the city, the city’s jagged energy determined to leave its mark before we left it. Awakening late, and late for a meeting. Trying to choose between shades of grey and beige on an empty stomach in a cold lobby. And then, stomach growling I eat breakfast 2 hours later than usual and the emptiness in my stomach growls of a conspiracy.

And then someone close to me calls. Cries quietly into my shouldered phone. The tears a necessary part of putting out the fire that is a necessary part of forging the self from the unformed messy lump of ore that we call our identity.

And then the printer refuses to print out a rough copy of our book, which we had hoped to hold in our laps, sitting side-by-side in front of the fire. The fire one of thousands burned in the great brick hearth of dear friends, whose house sits by a pond in the woods, where the snow is falling.



And the drive to the country takes two and a half ours instead of one and a half. Sloatsburg – a stultifying name if ever there was one – staged a 45 minute traffic jam for no apparent reason.

And now the snow has stopped, leaving us bereft. Of what? Abeyance from all of life’s disasters? Bereft, perhaps, of the possibility that nature will take care of all decisions for a couple of days, rendering us shamelessly incapable of forward movement, the car gloriously hidden beneath an impossible-to-clear- drift? The roads impassable. And, of course, plenty of food and wood. Snow, the great reprieve.

I’m reading Roger Rosenblatt’s second memoir since the death of his 38 year-old daughter. He spends the book in his kayak in hopes, perhaps, that the water will gradually wash away the stain of grief that has soaked into the entire fabric of his life.

And he writes: “Americans do not believe in death, which is why we are forever shocked by its intrusion.” 

And two things strike me about that sentence: the words “death” and “forever” appearing in such close and oppositional proximity; and the absence of “and”. Perhaps it is that absence that adds to the hopeless quality of the sentence. And surely the absence of the acceptance of “death” makes a mockery of being “forever” surprised by it.

And yesterday is gone, along with all its disappointment and petty annoyances. Today is still in progress, the fire burning steadily. There will be rack of lamb for dinner and perhaps a game of Bananagrams. And we’re told the snow will return while we sleep.

THAT WHICH DOESN’T KILL YOU

19, January, 2012
So last week I go to the gum doc for the first round of surgery…at 9 in the morning. I thought I’d been pretty cool about it in the weeks leading up to the appointment, but when I woke up this morning the old heart was hammering away like a crazed woodpecker. As I leave the apartment my dear Joel tells me not to worry, that the dentist will take good care of me. I hear myself say “Yeah, if he’s not hung-over.” Where the hell did that come from?

Half an hour later I’m in the chair; I’ve been swabbed twice with topical anesthetic and given 3 needles. The nitrous oxide is trickling through a mask on my face that has me feeling like Anthony Hopkins in Silence of The Lambs. We’re ready to go. And then I can’t swallow. I mean, I CANNOT SWALLOW. Total paralysis. 

Do you know how many times you reflexively swallow per minute? Me neither, but it’s more than you think, and you don’t think about it when you do it, it just happens, like breathing. But now I can’t. And when I rip off the mask and tell the dentist, my voice sounds like I have a cleft palate.

All those Zen thoughts I’ve had about greeting death when it comes? Forget it. I AM TERRIFIED. And now I’m frantically running through the possible scenarios should I not be able to swallow, ever again. I think, God, I’ll have to sleep sitting up for the rest of my life. Then I realize, oh no, I won’t be able to eat. Oh. So, basically, I’m dead already.

By now my heart is a woodpecker on steroids. I’m sitting upright and spitting into the sink at least 15 times a minute, which, as I have just learned, is approximately the number of times per minute we swallow. The dentist is assuring me that it will pass, that some of the topical anesthetic must have gone down my throat. I think, why? I’ve had that stuff applied a hundred times and it never happened before. Then I wonder if maybe he wasn’t paying attention when he was doing it…because while he was swabbing he had told me how at breakfast this morning his girlfriend had told him he needed to take better care of himself, that he was eating too much and drinking too much wine. Oh boy. She said that at breakfast? This morning? Imagine what he was doing last night.

I can’t swallow for 2 hours. Go on, I dare you, try it and see how long you last. I leave, taking a box of tissues with me into which I spit while sitting in the back seat of taxi. I try not to make eye contact with the driver in the rearview mirror. I think spitting in public might not be kosher where he comes from. I go home, cry, and get into bed for the rest of the day. My daughter calls to see how I’m doing, when I tell her what happened she says “It was a gift, Mum. Just imagine if it hadn’t happened and he’d gone straight to the scalpel.”

I’m interviewing a new periodontist next week. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime I’m all stocked up on Internet info, a vibrating toothbrush, tea tree oil toothpicks, floss and a special mouthwash for gums. All of which I now have an intimate relationship with 3 times a day.

And so it goes. More Gratitude: I’m still alive.  This past Monday was my 23rd anniversary of sobriety. The days are crisp and sunny, the skeletal trees zinging with light. The sunsets over the river are knocking themselves out of the park, their reds and oranges a dramatic outburst before nightfall. More gratitude. And Joel and I are in the final stages of the Provence book; the choices have been made, 100’s of choices that for both of us have been made over these last 8 weeks of culling: this photograph, this essay; drop this paragraph, switch this image for that one. Change the tense, take a risk; add a piece, delete a comma. And all the while checking with the editor and the designer – both of whom are terrific – while having the courage to defend a choice and the wisdom to let go of some darlings.

It’s a wonderful and mysterious process, to take what seems like finite material and find its malleability, to apply the necessary pressure in order to expose the weaknesses, and to caress it all the time, like wet clay.

I hear my brother did a bit of gardening last week, having survived major surgery and weeks of infections. I can see him puttering in his English garden shed. More Gratitude.

A TASTE OF WHAT’S TO COME

16, January, 2012

The writing process, like living, has its own timing and rhythm: it cannot be hurried; neither can it be ignored in the hope that inspiration will just present itself unannounced, let itself in, and take care of business while you are out doing something pleasant. In order for the muse to show up, the writer must always be present to greet it. And so it is that I’ve spent these last couple of weeks waiting for the moment to arrive when I could experience myself as the open vessel from which, with just the slightest tilt, the essence of what it is I want to say, having been alchemically blessed by the muse, pours itself forth with relative ease, surprising the writer as much, hopefully, as it will the reader. But oh, those days, sometimes, weeks or even months, of waiting, of not knowing if one is procrastinating or gestating.

I think, also, now that the introduction is on the page, that perhaps it took as long as it did for me to commit to it, was partly because I knew that once it was done the book, too, would be done. And then what? A sense of loss. Some sadness to be saying goodbye to a body of work that took almost a year to make. Not just the amazing privilege of having spent that time in Provence, but the gift of creating something with the man I love; of having journeyed both together and alone. The days of exploration followed by silence and then, usually late afternoon, the writing of the latest adventure and in so doing discovering the deepest connection to one’s experience, thoughts, and beliefs as well as allowing for new questions, often with no readily available answers.

We still have a tiny bit of tweaking to do, but basically this time next week photographs and text will have woven themselves together into the fabric that is this book and as such will journey on to the designer, the printer, the binder, the PR people until in October a book called Provence: Lasting Impressions, will find its way to the bookstores and online and hopefully into your hands.

We started this blog because we thought it would be an interesting way of showing people the journey from raw material to a finished work of art. It became a great forum for us, and evidently for many others. Over the months our readership has steadily increased and it is both heartening and comforting to feel the presence of so many of you eagerly following. So much so that we intend to continue posting on a regular basis. We have more adventures coming up this year as well as the ordinary day-to-day moments. We’d love to continue sharing with you and hope you’ll feel free to comment when you are so moved.

Although we cannot give you the whole thing, because of publishing rights, and we do want to stress that it is a first draft, here for your eyes only, is a sneak preview of the first half of the introduction.

 INTRODUCTION
We were offered the commission to make a book on Provence at an extraordinary moment in our lives. A moment when we had just decided to sell our cottage on the water’s edge on Cape Cod. It was a huge decision, to let go of a place where we had met and a cottage that we had restored together, nestled in an English garden by the sea.

It was there, for twenty-one years, that we put down roots, spent time with family and friends, swam at dawn and kayaked up the moonbeam. It was the place where we always thought our ashes would be scattered at low tide. But like many things to which we humans become attached, it had become the thing that imprisoned us, both financially and emotionally. 

With the recent loss of a close friend, we became super-conscious of our mortality and decided that we did not want to put off the things we kept saying wanted to do: to spend more time together, and to take a leap out into the world while we still have enough grey cells and working limbs to navigate the unknown.

Provence had not been on our list of places to explore and, in all honesty, when Barnes and Noble suggested it our initial response was “Provence? Why? Hasn’t it already been done?” The answer was yes, but not by us. And anyway who in their right minds would turn down an offer like that? Amazing how easily we can get in our own way.  So we said yes. And we will be eternally grateful to Michael Fragnito and Barbara Berger for their vision and generosity.

And so it was that at the tail end of winter we set off on our adventure. Oh, Provence, you might say, what’s such a big adventure about that? But does one have to travel to the wilds of Borneo or some such place in order to adventure? In fact, if it’s a challenge you want then going to a destination that’s already well-documented will force you to see beyond that which you “think” you know about such a place…that is if you are willing to let go of pre-conceived ideas and idealistic expectations…


…to be continued.

WHADDYA KNOW?

6 January, 2012   
NOTE: We are aware that the last post entered the mailboxes of some of you with many of the words squished together. We have no idea why! If this happens to this post please click on the title and it will come up in the right format as a web page. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Also, if you’re wondering where Joel has been lately, he’s been editing 2 books at once: the photos for our Provence book, and his 2-volume Retrospective, all of which will be out in September. But Joel will be back on this site much sooner!
To hold a pen
   Is to be at war.
                                          Voltaire.                                                                                      

Maybe that’s why I haven’t held a pen this week. Haven’t really wanted to go to war. Whose side would I be on? Who am I?

I’ve spent these first few days of 2012…and isn’t this year just whizzing by?…reading and walking, shopping for food, cooking it and eating it. But mainly, reading. I’ve been reading the kind of books I’d like to write i.e., disturbing. And I am energized and excited and amused by the absurdity of what I call my “consciousness” and my “honesty”. It’s not that I haven’t become more “awake” during the course of my life, it’s that I still choose to spend some of my waking time asleep. Asleep to the truth of who I am. So, there goes the honesty thing.

If all this seems a bit cryptic, I apologize…and you’re right, it is a bit cryptic. But I always did love a good puzzle, so here I am, once again, looking for some stray pieces to fit into my puzzle so I can look at its complete and perfect image. And that’s what these books have been opening my eyes to: that I am, like 99.9% of humanity, invested in the image of my false self. What a riot!

The author of these books suggests that in order to “wake-up” one must first ask, “What do you know.” I’m afraid I flunked that question. I answered: I am here. Yet even as I was writing the word ‘here’ I knew there no way I could possible “know” what ‘here’ is. See what I mean about holding a pen and going to war? The actual answer is “I am.” I added ‘here’ because I didn’t want to deal with the aloneness of “I am.”  If I had said “I am alone” that would have qualified as a correct answer. But who wants to “know” that? Not me, evidently.

The other thing we all know but don’t want to, is that we’re going to die. And what I realized today is that the times when I’m most afraid of death are the times that I’m most removed from life. When I “know” I’m not fully awake to living my potential then I’m bloody terrified of death and feel the possibility of it everywhere.

This author also suggests that the reader write down one thing they “know” to be true and then prove it.  Whoa! I’m putting off that assignment. That sounds like one of those trick questions that if you really answer leaves you stripped of everything you’ve ever believed.  

Would that be so bad?

A word this author believes in and encourages is “Further.” Meaning that for those of us who are willing to wake up, there is always further to go.

And so I leave you with a dream.

Last night I dreamed I was alone and trying to go home. In this case home was Ormskirk, a small town I lived in, in reality, for 3 years from the age of 13 to16, when I left it and my parents, forever.

In the dream I ask some strangers where is Ormskirk and how far is it? They point and tell me it’s just a couple of miles. I start walking, but something doesn’t feel right. I feel like I’m headed in the wrong direction. I ask another stranger the way and he points to a signpost. Sure enough Ormskirk is in the opposite direction and much further away…20 miles, in fact. 

The stranger says it’s too far to walk and gives me an old bike. I walk the bike down a narrow path leading toward the road to Ormskirk. Suddenly the handlebars come off.  Shit. I ditch the bike and start walking. Then I think, jeez, 20 miles? Surely I could fix the handlebars? I start walking back to the bike, but quickly realize it’s potentially suicidal. I can’t fix the handlebars. But for a moment I’d pretended I could in order to stay in the illusion that I could save myself a long walk.

You could say I woke up in the dream, because suddenly I realize that if I ride that bike the handlebars are gonna come off again and then I’m road-kill. 

And that’s when I realize I’d been in Ormskirk all along. Suddenly I felt the freedom of truth and started walking down the road, walking “further” away from “home.” 

And then I woke up to today. And all day long I’ve been interested by this dream. I see it as a metaphor for how I’ve lived my life, overall. When I left home at 16 it was because I had to. My life depended on it. And it was a hard thing to do. Sure it was a high, but at the first sign of difficulty I would always want to collapse into the comfort of home. Not the one I left as a teenager, but the one I thought existed somewhere out there in the world: the illusion of home.

Who doesn’t want comfort? Nothing wrong with it. The problem is in believing there’s any place where one can be forever comfortable. It’s the belief in this non-existent reality, it would appear, that keeps us all busy building on this illusion until it becomes a fortress.

I’m hoping to travel further down the road to Truth this year. I’m sure there will be wayside inns I can call home for a night. But I don’t really “know” that.
 Maggie’s photo

WITH LOVE AND THANKS – December 31, 2011

31st December, 2011  
I watch a lick of neon orange sunlight glowing on the glossy white paint of a window frame. It deepens, intensifies, becomes a metallic, fire-light my camera cannot capture. The wall behind me is also cast with the light of the setting sun, a ghost window, whose pink panes disappear with every second, all of it coming and going. Such beauty of fleeting existence, gone now, with these last words, yet still imbuing me with a sense of well-being that I know I cannot hold onto, for to even try would be to fight against time.

                     Maggie’s photographs

Time. The great illusion. Of course it exists, but I think not in the way – or limited to – how we mortals understand it, as if it were an infinite tick-tock handily delineated into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries and on and on like a never-ending stretch of taffy.

It’s New Year’s Eve, or the last day of 2011, if you prefer, and most of us are caught up in its treacherous significance: the taking stock of the the year, the resolutions for the next. I succumb to the romance of it, hence our having shopped for some of our favorite foods today which we will assemble, chop, dice, marinate, sauté, steam, dress and thoroughly enjoy. We’ll raise our flutes of non-alcoholic champagne at midnight and take a moment to think of loved ones.

Yet as I pass through time I increasingly sense the absurdity of it. One of the things I love about Europe, – Provence and, particularly, Tuscany – is the sensation of all time existing all the time. The accumulation of it. Not specific historic events, but more the scent of it, the look of it, the whisper of it in the wind. The way a field, tilled for centuries holds every print of man and beast that ever toiled there. The way an old door reveals its incarnations in the layers of chipped paint. In these moments I experience time as the great mystery; inevitable, unavoidable, unknowable. And I like it that way.

I turned a corner a few days ago. Nothing changed out there in the universe: I still have ailing relatives, politicians are still terrifyingly laughable, Broadway @ 100th Street is still seedy, I still need gum surgery. I didn’t change either. I just woke up one morning and nothing was such a big deal.

I have some of you to thank for this. My last post seemed to have touched a spark in some of you and I received comments and emails that encouraged me. What a gift that is…to encourage each other. I like that word, encouragement. If you believe, as I do, that courage cannot exist without fear, then one can see how important it is to summon one’s courage to slay fear. Of course, fear is seductive; to succumb to it is to absolve one’s self of self-responsibility. So a good nudge from a fellow human being when nearing the pits is much appreciated.

One such nudge came from a dear friend in Tuscany. I’ve always felt him to be a kindred spiritual warrior, i.e., someone capable of taking a hatchet to pseudo-spirituality without needing to abandon the observation of modest ritual. Thanks to him I just started reading the first book inTed McKenna’s trilogy: “Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damndest Thing.” After a rollicking introduction on the uselessness of following any path, god, guru, or religion he talks about the “black diamond of fear” which he believes every human has and that is the fear of “no-self.” So I think between him and Proust, who it seems to me suffered from this fear, writing from it, into it, and perhaps out of it, between these two writers I think this writer is nicely set to endure and recover from a few weeks of gum surgery.

I’m looking forward to the gas. Not looking forward to the pain. Fully intend to use whatever medication alleviates it and am grateful for a loving husband, a cozy couch, a fireplace and the Hudson River doing its tidal thing out the window. Which makes me think of the expression ‘river of time’ as one of the more adequate metaphors to describe this thing we cannot grasp.

If I were to sum up 2011 I’d say it was a year of letting go, leaping into the unknown, feeling deep contentment and high anxiety. The contentment came from letting go and taking the leap. The anxiety came from the fear that I wouldn’t be rewarded for my courage, the need for which came from the fear of no-self.

Self-responsibility, it turns out, has no time limit. It is ongoing, but not, as I once thought, relentless. Neither is it infallible. And I have no idea if it is possible to keep up infinitely, although perhaps self-responsibility includes taking responsibility for consciously not take responsibility. But I’ll have to think about that a bit more; that may be just a fancy way of letting myself off the hook.

So, I guess that’s my resolution for 2012: self-responsibility regardless of time. That and some more time in Provence, and back to the farm in Tuscany.

In the meantime, or let me re-phrase that: we are infinitely grateful for all of you, our dear readers, family and friends, for journeying through space with us. And we wish you all an expansive and truthful 2012.  With love and thanks.


    Last light, 2011