Monthly Archives: December 2014

MAY WE ALL BE LIT FROM WITHIN

December 19, 2014

A brilliant day. From the moment we awoke to the force of sunlight pushing though white fog; a strange experience of illuminated blindness. By mid-morning the fog had evaporated leaving the spotlight to the winter sun, which accompanied us until its last breathtaking moment.

During these short daylight hours, as we spin ourselves stupid toward the solstice and the ridiculousness we call Christmas, I feel the energy that gratitude blesses us with when we know that we are right where we want to be. On a day like this one can’t do enough; the possibilities are endless. From salving the sad, tired spirit of Joel, whose skin cancer removals 10 days ago, have left him with open wounds, the pain and tension of them robbing him of his usual cheery self. Why men are loathe to have a good cry I’ll never know.

And so the day made itself known as one that would have us going in different directions: Joel to his desk and me to whatever came next. Even a rotten crossword puzzle with breakfast couldn’t dampen me. Certainly not, there was weeding and raking and sweeping to be done; the earth dirty with itself and the rot of all things fallen. And then to the village for ribbon for the curtain rings to hang from; for plump chicken breasts from butcher the senior, who melts me every time he calls my name. And on to the Erboristoria to consult with Alessandra, a good witch, as to what magic potion to bring home to Joel.

Only in Italy would you be able to buy Colostro (colostrum); the breast ambrosia that arrives before the mother’s milk comes in. A thin, limited supply of everything a baby needs to nourish it into a healthy life. The Colostro Alessandra gave me contains all the ingredients found in this maternal juice…and I must say, my baby’s looking better already.

And on. To the toy shop where I found the golden lights I had envisioned placing around the bottom of our lemon tree which is bravely wintering in the library. Next stop, Cerca Trova, basically a five and dime, but translates literally into: “You look, you find.”  More success…candles. And then to Tutta Frutta, the grocers, for a bag of succulent dates and a dozen clementines.

In each of these shops, I stopped and chatted with proprietors and customers, each of us remarking on a particular sadness that can be felt this season, in our little village. We all agreed that several years of bad economy has dampened spirits; the continual hope that next year or the next would be better worn down to disappointment bordering on depression.

I was grateful to have enough Italian to be able to share my thoughts about this. It seems to me that the consumerism that has come to represent a Merry Christmas puts a pressure on us that many are unable to fulfill. I said that the real sadness is to see a culture like this begin to forget itself; that Christmas originally stood for love and compassion and an equality that allowed both kings and shepherds to welcome a child into the world. All of these qualities are inherently and deeply Tuscan, yet are nonetheless on the perilous edge of disappearing, leaving us in a world of fog unlit by the sun.

Mind you, I did have my own moment of imminent failure to provide when, on entering Bar Moderno expressly to purchase their coffee ice cream, I saw that the gelato counter was closed for the season! Oh, no! How could I possibly break the news to my dear friend Sharon who, with her husband Paul, is coming for Christmas? Sharon needs her daily dose of café gelato the way a flower needs the sun. But Tuscany to the rescue!! After several calls to surrounding villages, the Artisanal Gelato man in Montalcino said he would make a kilo just for me and that it would be ready tomorrow! That’s the spirit.

Revived, I prepped the ingredients for our dinner, and laid the fire, deciding to drive back to town to ask the tailor to affix the ribbons on the curtains. I walked out the door of our house and literally gasped. The light was so intense that the garden looked lit for a film set. It was nearly 4 o’clock and as I drove our country lane I started to weep. To be amidst such beauty was to be vividly alive in the moment. It was as if the sun had entered the earth and come back up through the roots. Every branch and leaf and blade was bursting with color of an intensity bordering on terrifying; as if the blood of nature was lit from within.

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I had planned on running another errand after the tailor, but knew I would miss the sunset if I did and so I headed for the hills and home. Home to our valley, the curl of smoke from our chimney rising as the sun fell.

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Fireplace

BELIEVE WHAT YOU WILL

December 15 2014

n.b. sorry for the delay in posting this…we just got internet connection back today, after an absence of 5 days!

A week ago today I spent contemplating the alignment of my teeth and mortality…the teeth may leave sooner than the rest of me! However the gift of the day was being interviewed for a documentary on mortality.

During the interview I discovered that I wrote my recent novel not only because mortality is daily with me, and so if not now, when, but also because I wanted to provoke readers into questioning their own beliefs; where do they come from, what purpose do they serve?

I told the filmmaker that I thought we humans have a need to come up with a belief in order to make life bearable and that we make up a story in order to make death less terrifying. The belief I hold is that the power of goodness is greater than the power of evil. By that I mean that compared to the enormous crap pile of negativity currently at large in our world, goodness is relatively small, yet so far the practice of kindness, honesty, humility, generosity and compassion by so few is nonetheless enough to keep our planet on its axis. I said that I believe this energy creates a positive circle around the planet, a circle of energy that we can both contribute to and partake of as necessary. This belief keeps me going on dark days when the overwhelming news of wars, famine, disease and greed are enough to bring me to my knees.

The story that I’ve come up with to make death less terrifying is that I will become part of that spirit world encircling the globe; an invisible energy capable of comforting those yet to be born. Much like the angels in Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire” were privy to the sorrows of mankind, descending here and there to pat a shoulder or stroke a brow.

I’m not actually afraid of dying, although I’d rather not. But like all human beings my ego has a real hard time accepting that I will, sooner or later, cease to be. So I’ve decided that the electrical energy of which I am composed will continue to exist much as energy continues to exist when you turn off the switch to your overhead lamp; the light goes out but the energy remains.

I am sitting now in my fireside cantuccio (nook) back in Tuscany, watching the light of day disappear. In the foreground, the garden gate and steps descending to the front arbor are in shadow, whereas in the distance, the sky is illuminated in peach and aqua. This is our first December in the house, and already we have discovered that the play of winter light penetrates the interior, illuminating the mystery within the ordinary; the reflection of a coat hook hovering on the wall like a ghostly spaceship; the rays of winter’s sun low enough to dazzle golden our studio floor; the gleam of sunbeam on the kitchen shelves licking the dishes with a glare of polished silver.

Yesterday afternoon we placed a bench against the stone wall of the house and, bathed in sunlight, listened to the silence. Of course, it wasn’t silent…it only seemed so after 3 weeks of living in New York where the constant cacophony of helicopters, horns and sirens sullied every moment. We held hands, speechless, yet aware of being on the same wavelength, and listened to the sleepy buzz of a late season bumble- bee.

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FLYING SOLO

December 3, 2014

Whoa! New York City! A helluva town!

We’ve gone from profound culture shock, to urban frenzy, to “hey we can do this and isn’t it great to see the kids?” to “Let’s cram a whole bunch more stuff onto the calendar,” to looking at each other and seeing the boy in Home Alone, only with way more wrinkles, to, “When do we go back to Tuscany?” We have run the gamut of emoticons and are gearing up for primal scream.

New Yuck City, here we are…and grateful for every minute of it. The only regret is that we have disappointed most of our NY friends for not spending time with them. It’s uncomfortably impossible: there are only 2 of us, and 30 of them. We tried it when we were here in January, scheduling 23 separate lunches and dinners in 30 days and learned the hard truth: it is impossible to be all things to all people. And so, as with much else as we age, we learn to make the difficult decisions in order to prioritize in a way that doesn’t jeopardize our physical and/or mental health. Our priority this time was family, and family showed up for us.

We’ve also learned a lot on this trip. Perhaps the biggest lesson being that we’re still capable of pulling the wool over our eyes. Every time we return to NY – even in the old, summer-on-Cape Cod days – we always say the same thing: “This time it will be different. This time we’ll play in the city and soak up all its cultural goodies.”  But we never do. The tug of Joel’s studio gets him every time and every time I watch him get sucked into the vortex while I stand on the rim fearing for his safety.

It’s hard to gauge how much to blame on the city energy, which surely is relentless and can be felt clawing at every edifice to gain entry; as opposed to accepting that Joel’s life as a photographer has created a many-tentacled beast that he feels compelled to feed and train. It is not for me to hack at the tentacles until they free him.

So, in the future we’ve decided we will try coming here separately; Joel for work and family and me for family and culture. He for 2 weeks, me for 1. Why growing up is so hard to do I don’t know. Well, that’s not true…of course I know. All of us keep some spirit of the child in us; the spirit that is boundless in the belief that we can do and have everything. None of us want the ice cream cone to end.

For me, another lesson learned in the past week, which I could only have learned  by finally having accepted who I am and what I have, turned out to be a real gift.

Joel and I had been invited to collaborate, as equals we thought, in someone else’s creative project, a project that really interested us. Then I got an email the day after Thanksgiving, informing me that I would be cast in the role of supportive wife. I let a few expletives rip through the interior of the car. Then I felt disappointed, as this is someone I much admire both as an artist and a human.

But the interesting discovery was that I didn’t feel rejected or diminished…which I certainly would have until a couple of weeks ago. It was as though the universe was testing me to see how well my recent self-acceptance would hold up in such a situation.

To make it brief, I respectfully declined the offer to participate. I felt immediate relief. I felt the freedom of choosing not to scratch at crumbs and not to hope that, via Joel, I might gain recognition.  And bravo to the artist, who had the courage not to be defensive, but instead took the opportunity to learn her own lesson with grace and humility. In so doing, she created the space for me to participate in the project, in my own right: a mere human being who knows a bit about the creative process and mortality.

So, dear ones, I leave you with these words from Lewis Lapham, with the hope that any of you who might be questioning the meaning of success will take the time to redefine it in a way which reflects the true worth of who you are.

Failure is its own reward. It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame, but the escape from the prison of the self.

 

Joel Studio Table

Photo by Maggie