Monthly Archives: November 2014

PART 2: AND THE ANSWER IS….

November 24, 2014

Ever since I received that first rejection of my novel a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been asking myself: “How can I come to peace with what I am and what I have?”

A simple question, asked daily… sometimes hourly… over the last two weeks. A question that seemed so simple that surely there must be a simple answer. And there was, but arriving at it was not so simple. In fact, there were times that the dark abyss of no answer was frightening. Had I really come all this way, survived so much, only to be unable to see the woods for the trees?

When I worked as a therapist I tried to impart the conundrum of self-evolution: the conundrum being that only we, the individual, can do the work, but that it is impossible to do the work without help. So I would like to say a thank you to my helpers during the last 2 weeks.

First is my Joel who, apart from being a great photographer, is one of the most optimistic, trauma/drama-free humans I’ve ever met. A man who, while never having experienced the despondency and depression that many of us have been visited by, nevertheless knows how to rock me when I weep. My friend Sharon, who said “Maybe we need to look more at our lives and less at our selves.” Vivian, who gives the best hugs both in person and via the phone. And our dear friend Gianni who wrote from Tuscany: “You and I have not yet been kissed by the success we have longed for, but your #1 success will always be Isabel (my daughter) and #2, meeting Joel”.  And Adam, the healer who lives next door. All of this love, along with that from my daughter and my stepdaughter and her family, has kept me going while I kept asking that question.

The answer came 2 nights ago when I was writing to all of you. For the last 3 ½ years I have been putting pen to paper in order to explore the ups and downs, ins and outs, joys and sorrows, births and deaths, aches, pains and rotting gums, food and flood, love and laughter, and the sheer miraculous absurdity of life. I’ve actually been doing this for 47 years, but only 3 ½ years ago did I find the courage and generosity to share it with all of you.

While I was writing the last post, it was as though you all gathered around me and roared a mighty “yes”. And suddenly it all fell into place: the understanding that what I “have” is such a privilege. The energy that goes from me to you and back again reaches out to more people than we can ever know. The exquisite shift of energy that occurs in the private yet open communion between writer and reader alters the molecular world, as does every sneeze and sob and snowflake.

When we are at peace with who we are and what we have, the universe expands and opportunity arises as easily as breath itself.

Oh, I thought, who cares whether the novel is published or not? Next year I will self-publish a collection of essays culled from the blog posts; a book published just for you. And why not a podcast of the blog, too, for those who cannot read or don’t have time?

I shared this revelation with my stepson, Sasha, who wrote back with such love and wisdom, encouraging me to keep blogging and furthermore, to claim it for myself because, he said, the blog is really yours anyway. A profound thank you to him for his exquisite timing.

For all of you who might shiver and gasp at the firing of my dear Joel, let me assure you that I will still include photos of his from time to time….what, are you crazy? You think I’d look that gift-horse in the mouth?

The title of the blog will remain the same except that now the ‘our’ will include us all. For at our best that is what we are all doing: feeling our way around.

So to all of you, dear readers, thank you for being a part of what I have and may we all give thanks tomorrow for the gift of life which, while not always beautifully wrapped, and sometimes having less than desirable content, is bestowed with unconditional love and offers us daily the opportunity to practice gracious acceptance.

 

PART ONE: RIDE THE PONY

November 20  2014

Grief. The last word of the last post. The last word in feelings. The last word in a world of loss.

I never did like Novembers. A bittersweet month it always seemed to me. And this one has been no exception. I hit a low spot…a swale of sadness linked to regret and rejection; the latest being from an agent in London who said “no” to my novel.

Someone asked me today “When will I stop feeling like a sad 2 year-old?” and I wished I could tell her. What I did tell her is that the place where we were psychically wounded in our childhoods is the place we will continue to emotionally react from as adults. It is an American dream that we can make history disappear. Personal and universal history, are part of our DNA. I’d like to say that the way I’ve been feeling the last couple of weeks will pass, and it most likely will. But I can’t say that I’ll never feel this way again.

What I do know is that there is more work to be done in order to come to terms with who I am and always have been as opposed to who I wish I were. This takes courage and courage takes will and energy…two assets that seem to diminish with age. In my case, a quarter century of daily physical pain along with a lifetime of alternating between rejection and recovery have certainly taken their toll. And, ashamedly, knowing that I am far better off than any woman born into a third world really doesn’t make me feel any better today. In the end, there is only one’s self to reckon with and the mirror I’m being reflected in these days is filled with flaws, its backing partially removed. But reflection doesn’t serve me well at the moment. It’s a warp of vision that’s nearer than it appears. And really, I’m tired of reaching for the brass ring instead of just riding the pony. So I’m on it.

The happiest moment of my life was the one in which I stood on a rickety bridge on the Cornish cliffs watching a moorland stream cascade on one side, before disappearing underfoot, never to be distinguished again as it rushed to the sea.

A moment without interpretation. A moment devoid of meaning. A moment absent of metaphor, absent of past or future, absent of desire, hope and expectation.

As said the rose:  “Thrive where you must; stand tall in your essential self.”

To be continued…

THE LAUNDRESS AND THE ROSE

October 31 2014        THE LAUNDRESS AND THE ROSE

Some days the need to write comes not from having something urgent to say but rather from the urgent need to locate the answer to an unformed question. Or, as the essayist Lewis H. Lapham wrote :“The essay proceeds from the question ‘What do I know’ and doesn’t stay for an answer until the author finds out what  he/she means to say by setting it up in a sentence, maybe catching it in a metaphor.”

It is this alchemy inherent in language for which I search today, and as when confronting a tangled ball of string, I reach for the end nearest at hand, the end which beckons to one’s sleight of hand, or in this case, mind. It is the word ‘metaphor’, the caboose of Lapham’s sentence above, which seduces me now; metaphor itself having a tendency to superficial art. And what cheekier metaphor exists than  “a rose is a rose is a rose”? Thank you, Gertrude Stein.

I started my day with a thigh cramp. Have you even had one? I’ve had cramps since childhood, just about everywhere from fingers to toes, most often in the calf. None of them fun. But a piece of cake compared to a thigh cramp. In place of a metaphor let me use a simile: a thigh cramp is like back labor without the reward of giving birth. To awaken into consciousness only to immediately wish to die, seems incomparably cruel.

However, if the difference between a metaphor and a simile is the word “like” as in “my love is like a red, red rose,” (Thank you, Robert Burns) as opposed to “All the world is a stage,” a metaphor courtesy of Shakespeare, then the pain of a thigh cramp would be a metaphor because it ain’t like anything, it just bloody is !

I was already heading toward despondency this week, having heard nothing from the agent to whom my novel was submitted weeks ago. Add to this the now 6 weeks-long attempt at gaining residency here in Italy and one has the perfect atmosphere of failure to thrive. Put a thigh cramp in there and you are truly f—ked.

The only options when in such a stifling state are either to pick up my pen or the laundry.  I’ve taken to cheating a little lately, now that the season makes line-drying bed linens an iffy business. So we drove into the village to run some errands one of which was to pick up the freshly laundered sheets. And I do mean fresh. The laundry/dry cleaner’s sits in the old wall of the village and is run by a woman perhaps in her 50’s whose harrowed brow no iron could ever smooth. On either side of the shop, behind the counter, are racks of exquisitely dry-cleaned vestments and stacks of neatly packaged laundry. Through the rear window of the shop, dozens of sheets can be seen, as varied as wildflowers, blowing in the breeze of the courtyard.

I’m embarrassed to say I have not yet asked her name, although I have told her that her work is superior to any of its kind I have found in any city. I sense that worry is innate to her, as is patience, the latter of which she exhibits with her 3 year-old granddaughter whom she is invariable tending along with the laundry. Perhaps it is this combination of worry and patience that presses into the linens, the immaculate state of which elicits a gasp of surprise and joy every time I open the package; the surprise being that these really are my sheets, and the joy coming not only from the fact that I didn’t have to do the work, but that such work emanates a quiet dignity and genuine respect.

I was already humbled as we drove away and perhaps only when humbled can we recognize the dignity inherent in all things humble.

We stopped at the intersection to make our right turn, an intersection we’re 19 years acquainted with and never before remarked upon. On the far left corner, a consortium; on the far right a house, its iron fence less than 2 feet from the traffic. And there like a sentinel by the front door stood a sturdy evergreen shrub, quite proud of its substantial self, it seemed, while in front of it, on a single cane, one pale pink rose nodded at every passing car.

I knew I was looking at a metaphor, but couldn’t break the code. All day the image of the mighty shrub and the delicate rose kept appearing in my mind’s eye. I’m pretty sure I saw the rose first, but just as I was about to surrender to its marvel I saw that damned evergreen. It’s self-importance annoyed me, as does my own. Standing there at the portal as if its pride of place made it relevant. But it was the rose that took my breath away; a metaphor of existence on that shabby corner. A singular thing of courageous beauty. Un-cowed by a season of inhaling exhaust fumes, it seemed to say, “Thrive where you must; stand tall in your essential self.”

Soon its petals will fall and who can know if it or we will see another spring? The owner of our bar café in the village died on Thursday, an aneurism. 57. Sitting at his desk. Pen in hand. Our dear Vincenzo, the farmer, had emergency surgery this week for appendicitis. Evergreen, or rose, laundress or writer, barman or farmer; we each have our time on earth. Life is not the simile that Forrest Gump cloyed us with. It is not like a box of chocolates. Nor is it the metaphoric bowl of cherries. It just is. It has no absolute meaning.

The beauty of the metaphor, as opposed to the simile, which merely substitutes one word for another, is that metaphor is pure, personal meaning. The laundress and the rose validated what is meaningful for me: to inhabit one’s self in a way that is of service to others in those moments when the meaninglessness of life fills us with grief.