Monthly Archives: January 2014

TRANSFORMATION/TRANSCENDENCE

January 24, 2014

The sun is setting on the Hudson River on this frigid New York day. As darkness begins its daily descent, the river turns from grey to turquoise, for just a moment, and on its New Jersey banks a black plume from a smoke stack blossoms into the evening sky, its toxicity transformed into a haiku.

Transformation? Or Transcendence? I don’t know, but I hear and read these two words quite often on this visit to the city; two words applied in equal measure to theatre, skin creams, real estate and meditation; words of genuine desire, warped by superficiality.

I light 5 candles on our coffee table, each of them contained by places I have called home: a tarnished silver holder bought two decades ago in St.Ives; a humble glass votive from Cape Cod; another candle dwells in the bottom of a silver beaker from Tuscany; mirrored glass from Provence cradles a tea-light; while the biggest candle of all, natch, sits on a glass saucer from New York.

5 candles

Photo by Maggie

All of these places have transformed me, and in all of these places I have experienced transcendent moments. Even these past two days, during which I suffered a melt down, have offered glimpses of these qualities; transcendence having arrived yesterday in the form of a brilliant production of Twelfth Night, on Broadway. Yet I wouldn’t say that this visit to New York has transformed either of us, but then I don’t believe transformation is a one-time occurrence in the life of we humans; rather, I think that if we’re lucky, we allow transformation to be our life’s work, accepting that transcendence is not necessarily a state of bliss but the willingness to rise above one’s own toxicity. Rather like that plume of smoke across the river, which even now, continues to rise and dissipate.

Talking of dissipation, on looking up the verb: to dissipate, I see that it has 2 definitions:

1.  Disperse, scatter, or disappear.

2.  Squander or waste (money, energy or resources).

I certainly have felt my energy dispersed and scattered these last couple of weeks, to the point where the person I was in Europe last year, almost entirely disappeared over the last couple of days. I see now, that the witnessing of so much squandering of money, energy and resources, actually has the power to transform me from a state of being I hold dear, to that of being anxious, frazzled, frightened and finally, sorrowful.

I went to visit a dear friend and mentor yesterday, and I saw how easily my lament about America can be taken as judgment by its natives. I’m not an American native, but I am an American Citizen; a grateful citizen, for it is in America that I did the real growing up an adult must do in order to become a real grown-up. And America has been bountiful to me; gifting me with a daughter, a husband, friends, creative development, a master’s degree, sobriety, and the honor of being of service. So while it is true that in the early years I judged America harshly, partly to hold on to the loyalty to my native country and partly because of certain cultural differences I deemed amoral (this while I was busy drinking and drugging!) nonetheless, I was also aware of, and admiring of America’s positive energy, its can-do energy, and its, then, striving for equality and human rights as well as its innovative thinking in the arts, sciences and education. And then, like many of us, I saw it reach beyond its goodness into the dark side of personal and corporate greed and political corruption and it is this that makes me sorrowful. It is one thing to squander potential, it’s quite another to transform energy from the positive to the negative.

Of course I’m speaking generally, of course there are good souls here doing their very best to slay the dragon and transcend. But it’s rough work, and encouragement is not in abundance.

I did something today I haven’t done in over a year; I read the front section of the New York Times. I read, with horror, of a corporation that owns a chain of hospitals (A chain of hospitals? Are you      f—king kidding me?)…one of many such corporations. I read that the doctors in these hospitals are color-coded according to their “admittance” levels. Doctors who admit more than half of emergency room patients (thereby increasing corporate profit while bankrupting the marginally ill) are coded green; those admitting less than half, yellow, those with the lowest score are coded red. The doctors in the latter group are considered failures and fired. Go on, think about it for a while.

The river has disappeared, its watery way transformed into a matte black vacuum lit on the far side by the lights of high rises and industry. The sky, too, has become dark, transforming that inky plume into dove grey. Transformation? Transcendence? I don’t know.

Tree_ building

Self Portrait by Maggie 

 

SERENITY AND GRATITUDE

January 16 2014

MB Anniv

On This day, 25 years ago, I took my shaking body and scrambled mind to the basement of a Methodist church Upstate New York and walked into the rooms of AA. For the next 3 years, every day, sometimes 3 times a day, I walked into sober rooms there, on Cape Cod, and New York City. In the second year of my sobriety, when I broke my neck, the meetings came to me; first in the ICU and then to my home. I worked the 12 steps, several times, I read the Big Book, several times, and I learned to surrender and I learned the true meaning of acceptance and started on the most amazing chapter of my life, untethered from the bottle.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a small café on a street where Joel and I lived for 5 years and tears of gratitude and relief are welling up. I say, let ‘em fall; on the page, on these words which do not, and probably never will, adequately articulate all that I am feeling in this moment, on this day of my 25th Anniversary.

And here’s sobriety for you: this morning I awoke with a headache radiating from a severely inflamed gum around an implant, so tender I could barely eat my breakfast. 25 years ago I’d probably have popped some pills and hoped for the best, waiting until hope ran out and the implant fell out. Instead, I called my dentist and, not wanting to have any “substances” injected into my body on this of all days, I surrendered to the scalpel and a version of Lamaze breathing that sounded more like a scene from When Harry Met Sally.

In an hour, I’ll meet my beautiful daughter for lunch before we catch a matinee of Philomena, followed perhaps, by a walk in the park before we attend an introductory lecture on TM.

Joel and I, after exactly 1 year, 1 week, and 1 day of living in rural Europe, have now been back in NYC for 12 days; an experience almost as impossible to articulate as is the journey of sobriety. What strikes me most is the astounding, non-stop ambush of noise. I’ve been out in the city every day and most nights and have yet to enter any public space that is not playing mind-numbing music, which, along with the lack of the high level of nutritious food we became accustomed to in Provence and Tuscany, could be interpreted as part of a Corporate conspiracy to render humans catatonic. And that’s just the “music!” The traffic, horns, doorman’s whistles, rattling delivery carts, garbage trucks, fire engines, ambulances, police sirens, cell phone rage and on and on; I’m sure I look like “The Scream”.

So, there’s that, and there is the excitement of it all, the sheer, ambitious, driving energy which, for limited visits, is stimulating if a little shattering. But mainly there is the deep joy of being reunited with family and friends; the landscape of love being the eternal beauty we all long for, no matter where we live.

My dear Joel and I cling to each other like babies whenever we find a spare moment in our schedules, moments when we remind ourselves of the positive reason for being here: working toward a way of spending time here that enables us to enjoy the energy instead of being drained by it. And yes everyday we feel our spirits reach back across the ocean to the serenity of nature, the relaxed rhythm of life, the open space, the call of a mourning dove. The cows are mooing in the Tuscan fields, where winter wind converses with Cypress trees and the morning frost encases every leaf and twig for one brilliant moment before the sun penetrates the mist and melts the crystals. We see it, we feel it, deep in our melting hearts, as we travel on…

Serenity Prayer

Grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

 

TIME OF OUR LIVES

January 2 2014

This morning I ran errands in the village, stopping first at the boulangerie to make sure I nabbed a baguette before they were all gone. What joy to enter the little shop and be greeted not only by the intoxicating perfume of butter and yeast, but also by the smiles and salutations from the bakers and half a dozen villagers, all lined up for the day’s goodies.

Then, down the street to the Post Office and the Tabac; everywhere a Bon Annee and Bon Sante, the streets moist from an early rain, the Christmas trees outside every shop a little bedraggled, not that they were ever stunning, the way they are in New York or Paris. Here, they are, for my money, even better as there is a laissez-faire attitude toward tree decorating that pretty much entails taking a handful of tinsel and baubles, flinging them at the tree, possibly simultaneously, and whatever sticks, sticks. There’s something very refreshing about the lack of ostentatious decoration, especially as the true spirit of Christmas, giving, is so abundant here. And of course, here, food is perhaps the greatest gift.

Tree

Joel

So, it should be no surprise that our friend Roland, having told me that the traditional Luberon Christmas breakfast is scrambled eggs with shaved truffle, should knock on our door on Christmas Eve with what I at first thought was generous lump of hashish but which turned out to be an even more generous lump of truffe.

Our Christmas was made unexpectedly joyous by the surprise visit of two dear friends from London, who arrived with champagne, chocolates and a huge crate of lychees. Together we enjoyed a five-course dinner here at the house and the next day our niece, Gabrielle arrived for a two day visit, bringing golden candles and poetry. And so the festivities unfolded, with sumptuous foods purchased at the outdoor markets and local traiteurs: chicken thighs and fois gras, olives and butternut squash, black radishes, salmon, salad greens, sardines, tart tatin, buche de noel, artisanal ice-creams, hand-made chocolates, raspberry tarts, oysters, snails, chestnuts, walnuts, clementines, dates and a brie stuffed with truffle that just about sent us over the top. Some of the above we worked off with a 5 mile hike with our dear friends Paul and Sharon, the rest we metabolized on New Year’s Eve when, after a dinner with Tara and Stephane…the table lit with Gabrielle’s gold candles…we rolled back the rug and danced the new year in.

Xmas eve

You bet it’s going to be hard to leave here on Sunday. This morning, doing the rounds in the village, watching the clouds descend over the Luberon Crest, hearing the church bells, and all those greetings from the villagers, I felt woven into the fabric of life here, much the way we feel in Tuscany. But New York City calls, and we answer, Yes, we’re coming. The calendar for January is filled with the names of family and friends, with theatre dates and an Aretha Franklin concert. A realtor is coming next week to appraise the apartment, the first step toward re-inventing life in NY.

The farmers, Vincenzo and Silvia, send photos of the travertine that will surround our new bathtub. The copper chimney for the fireplace has been ordered. Two weeks ago, at an antique market, we found our ancient Soumak rug for what will be the living area in front of the new fireplace in Tuscany.

And so, like all of you, we are hurtling through space, having begun yet another revolution around the sun. A heavy shower has passed and the sun is showing its face; a perfect moment for a walk, to meditate, to be grateful for this day.

With love and best wishes for 2014, from both of us, to all of you.