Monthly Archives: October 2015

A POST IN THREE PARTS

 

28th October, 2015

dawn cloth

Part 1: My love has left; sliding through the dawn toward Florence and on to New York. I return to bed and finish reading Patti Smith’s M Train. I clutch it to my chest and breath in courage and poetry and pray for a renewed belief in magic. “Life,” she writes, “is at the bottom of things and belief at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all.” I go upstairs for my journal and bring it back to bed, calling to my creative impulse; to feel the center of it in the center of me. For as my love slides through the dawn toward Florence and on to New York, I know that it could be the last goodbye and I want to walk out of Patti Smith’s dream with the contagion of her belief that I am “my own lucky hand of solitaire.”

 October 30, 2015

Part 2: Last week we spent 3 days in Bologna celebrating the opening of Joel’s Morandi show and the launch of his book “Morandi’s Objects,” published by Damiani and for which I had the honor of writing the introductory essay. As is often the case when I accompany Joel to one of his events, I walk the streets of strange cities, solitary and anonymous. I rarely take a photo, preferring to let the shutter of my mind’s eye capture images too fleeting for words. I used to paint this way, storing images throughout the day and then, at night, in my studio, I’d wait until an image insisted it be the one translated via paint. Perhaps it is that visual, painterly eye that drew me to the words of Vincent Van Gogh, written on the wall of this fish store.

FishshopBologna

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storms terrible, but they don’t consider these dangers reason enough to stay on the land.” Vincent Van Gogh

Gianni joined us for a day of play. Brothers now, I watch them play on the streets.

J&GBologna 1

Sometimes I urge them to be ridiculous.

J&GBologna2

Who knows when Bologna poisoned me and with what? An exotic dish of raw autumn mushrooms, their orange skin jealous of the clementines I ate for dessert? Or was it the raw peanuts? Or perhaps a medieval ghost, cloaked in a hush of velvet, emptied his poison ring into my glass. Whatever, by our return to the farm I was covered neck to toe, front to back in a rash that took off like wild fire, raging over my skin like boysenberry flame. A cortisone shot had zero effect. Now, nearly a week later, the itching has subsided, but the skin is slow to fade and no small amount of confusion and fear remains: what to eat? What to do? Who to see?

On Wednesday, when my Joel slid through the dawn to Florence and onto New York, we grieved for lack of comfort. I sang a frail lament and turned to the beauty of my home and garden. The light, after another night of rain, was so vibrant it pierced my heart with joy and called me out into the center of it; vibrant, almost lethal color rushing up from the clover and every petal and leaf a-shimmer.

rainbow

 

As I stood there, bathing in the light, a gentle rain began, as if the sun was weeping, and I went in search of the rainbow.

vibrant clover

Days of rain finally came to a halt the day before we left for Bologna, just in time for the last planting of the season. The nurseryman, accompanied by the excavator, arrived at dawn portaging 4 big olive trees and enough plants and earth to add 2 more Mediterranean gardens. The day was warm and breezy, the earth softened by rain. In my element I donned rubber boots and worked side by side with the men.

working with men

It’s hard here. Hard ground. Hard work. The excavator’s metal bucket striking rock, sparks flying. Rock, sparks, mud, sun; a tray of coffee and chocolate and back to work we go. I watch the nurseryman climb one of the newly dug-in olive trees. Aloft, he seems to walk on water. He said he had had to cut the roots in order to release the tree from where it had stood for so many years. He needed to prune the branches to find that alchemical balance between root and branch, earth and sky; the balance un-measurable except by instinct.

man in tree

This I love; the return to instinct, to a simplicity that can only be had via the complexity of nature. Isn’t it the same with us? By opening to our wordless instinct we discover anew that our own complex nature is best served by a simple life. How sad that so many of us spend so much of our lives wanting more, only to, hopefully, rediscover that less is the proverbial more.

The Tuscans lament the end of Tuscany and how could they not? For their history was based on instinct and communion since the Etruscan era. Now the elders see it slipping away. They watch in sorrow as the young ones try to balance between texting and driving; watch as the young go in search of drugs and sex and ‘likes’ and tweets. The elders lean on their canes, carved from chestnut or oak, their gnarled, hard-worked hands at one with the wood. When I hear their lament I count myself fortunate to be an outsider, because from where I stand, here, rooting slowly, deeply, arms outstretched to the sky, I see that there is enough simple goodness left in this land to make me want to stay forever. And so I retrace my steps, back to the beginning of this post:

October 28th, 2015                  

Part 3: At breakfast I clutched Patti Smith to my chest, her book my morning talisman. I breathed in the alchemy, aching for the return of myself. At dinner I fetch John Berger to keep me company. When I open my worn copy of Photocopies, he gifts me a talisman: a small cap of cloth binding, stitched with a red hem. It is my infancy and my death. I stitch it onto a necklace and wear it on my chest.

talisman2

The rain has become light once more and I walk in it to the lemon tree, hearing the lemon that has called to me for days, “Take me,” it whispers, and I do, snipping it swiftly from its branch. The roses by the ingress are fruited with rain. I make my evening cup of ginger root tea, squeeze a piece of lemon into it, stir in a small wooden spoonful of local honey. I live between the covers of my book, cradled by the books of Patti and John. In this way the healing begins, even as it takes me further.

talisman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EMBRACE YOURSELF

 

12th October 2015

sun.walk.1

I have no idea what to write about today, I only know I need to feel the comfort of my little fountain pen scratch its way towards something hitherto unknown by me. The day has a distinctly autumnal Monday feel about it: sweet/sad, and inevitable. Like many an October day it has gone from brilliant sun to the kind of still grey that suspends time and which, if not careful, can beckon one towards sadness. This I do not want. I am banishing sadness to its rightful place in the corner of the soul.

Instead, I invite joy and curiosity: 2 states that so often go hand in hand. What comes to mind, as it so often has in the weeks since Joel’s brother died, is a video of Naomi Shihab Nye reciting a poem, the body of which is made up of quotes from her once 3 year-old son. www.pbs.org/wgbh/poetryeverywhere/nye.html

My friend Larry turned me on to this poet and what struck me when I first watched this video, and what has stayed with me ever since, is the journey from the wide-eyed wonder of childhood to the tunnel vision of adulthood that so many of us take. In so many instances this journey has us acquiring unsolicited baggage, which we too often agree to lug around for the rest of our lives at the cost of letting go of joy and curiosity. And so we proceed, keeping a tight grip on the handle of history, personal and universal. And I wonder why we refuse to learn the important lessons of the latter type of history, like for example the fact that war solves nothing, while refusing to relinquish our belief in the stories of our personal history; stories which do nothing to further our spiritual evolution.

I plead guilty to this, myself. I would have to say this year has offered me many opportunities to not only continue lugging around old baggage, but that I too often opened the lid and itemized the contents. Fortunately, some of them had long disappeared, leaving only dust in the corners. But I did manage to find enough poor-me vestments that still fit. What must I have looked like traipsing around in the shabby if coordinated garments of shame and failure? And I tell you what, I reckon there was lead sewn into every hem because although I’ve discarded them I’m still exhausted from having worn their burden for much too long.

The challenge now is to find the joy in surrendering to exhaustion. So far I’ve managed to breakfast in bed, wear knickers on my head, nap in broad daylight, ask my husband to make me laugh and soaked in hot, herbal baths. Yesterday, visited by a sudden burst of energy I agreed to take one of our favorite walks. We were rewarded with discovering what must be the last fig tree still bearing fruit in this season and stood in sun-drenched joy eating a couple of figs each, their jeweled insides dribbling moisture down our chins. We were reminded of a rainy autumn day some 15 years ago when we stood, in the rain, under an enormous fig tree on the estate where we used to teach. We were in such bliss standing in boot-sucking mud gorging ourselves on enough figs to function as a high colonic. It was a good ten minutes before we realized we were standing next to a sty of pigs likewise grunting and chomping on the fruit they had been bequeathed by overhanging branches of that enormous tree. Now that’s joy, feasting on figs with pigs.

J sunday walk

Not wishing to repeat the intestinal cleansing experience, we left yesterday’s tree and strolled between olive trees, wild rosemary and berry-laden hawthorn, the whole Val D’Arbia at our feet.

sun walk 2

On the way back we eyed that fig tree again. It seemed a shame to waste the remaining dozen figs. We had no basket so I took Joel’s kerchief and summoning the spirit of Dick Wittington, tied the fruit-filled cloth to a stick and slung it over my shoulder.

moss tree

And there were more treasures in store. Two little ferns called out to us from a muddy bank, “Take us home,” they cried. And we did, digging them in on the north side of our old outbuilding which once housed pigs! How perfect!

ferns

Talking about history, tomorrow will be 25 years since I broke my neck. For the last 2 weeks I have been experiencing pain in my thumbs and arms. Some of this has to do with too much gardening, but I think the recent increase in pain has to do with 2 kinds of history, the first being cellular. In the moments, 25 years ago, when I saw the inevitability of my little sports car colliding with a 4 wheel drive vehicle – at 50 mph – I braced myself. That is to say, I clung to the steering wheel at the same time that I was trying to push myself back, away from the collision, so that my arms were locked straight. The impact travelled up my arms sheering the nerves and fracturing vertebrae C5 and C6. So it makes sense to me that my body is remembering this incident and is therefore bracing itself.

Maggie head gear

Maggie on Phone w vest

The other type of history is one I mentioned earlier…the one that records events from childhood and braces against their possible recurrence in adulthood. For me that would entail bracing myself against unkindness and failure, both of which have had repeat turns in the spotlight this year.

Obviously it is time to remedy this. There is a great difference and distance between wide-eyed childhood and tunnel-vision adulthood. Yet the root is the same. Whether we are children or adults we are essentially “us.” As such we have the choice, as adults, to remember the essential self, the self that as a 3 year-old was perhaps easier to access, but which is ready to be embraced at any moment.  Likewise the difference and distance between bracing and embracing, the root of both coming from the latin bracchia, meaning ‘arms.’   Like much else in life, what we choose do with our arms is up to us.

dickwittington

 

 

ENOUGH IS A FEAST

October 1st, 2015

autumnvista

I hardly know where to start. When I open my journal I see I managed a single, small entry on 24th September:

Every day is just another line in the poem

 

Today, when I read that, I wonder what on earth I was thinking, and then I remember that that day was our 25th anniversary…indeed another line in the poem that is us.

Joel anniversary

L1009646_Maggie Anniv

Since then, summer has swiftly changed into autumn. Unlike the gentle autumn one associates with late September, early October, this one has more of a November feel to it; There’s a mean bite in the air that has swallowed up those lovely breakfasts under the pergola, never mind the possibility of an afternoon tea on the sun patio. Although we haven’t yet resorted to turning on the thermostat we have lit a fire every evening for more than a week now. And this is where I sit this afternoon, on the couch by the fire, to gather thoughts like kindling; writing being the vehicle I use to hear myself think.

fireplace

Any of you who have practiced meditation will know that we humans are constantly thinking in repetitive circles, obsessing about what we want instead of feeling gratitude for what we have. Monkey mind, they call it. How tiring. How non-productive is such thinking. Each thought leaning on the next, demanding instant gratification.

We had our friend Ember and her 3 year-old son, Chayton, visiting us for 10 days recently and so it was that we found ourselves watching Frozen one evening and Mary Poppins the next. Those 2 films would make for a good essay on the nature of our changing values and the way in which entertainment has become an impoverishment of complex ideas. But I’ll leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that Frozen gave me nothing to think about whereas Mary Poppins, herself, uttered many priceless throw away lines, one of which has been reverberating through my being for 4 days. I quote: “Enough is a Feast.”

Chayumbrella

Enough. It’s one of those words that the more you say it and look at it, the more it begins to shift shape and meaning until one finds oneself asking “what is ‘enough?’”

It’s a huge question isn’t it? Especially in today’s culture where so many of us have access to more: more food, more clothes, more gadgets, more real estate, more money. All of it taken for granted as the right to have it all.

For quite a while now, Joel and I have been saying what an awful year this has been to the point where we’ve almost come to believe in Murphy’s Law. The truth is some days and some years are better or worse than others and even though we are quick to point out all the good things that have happened we find ourselves loathe to admit that the crap seems to have the upper hand. And then, if one isn’t careful, one finds oneself listing all the crap – as if to back up the evidence – until one wants to scream “Enough already!!!”

But here’s the thing: when I stop and apply the “enough is a feast” principle to many of this years events I can see that some of them happened because I/we didn’t stop at ‘enough’…no, we continued on toward ‘more.’ Here’s an example. In February, we were returning to Tuscany from 2 weeks in Provence. We had a car full of lovely treasures we had found. In truth, we had enough. But no, we had to stop at another antique store on the way home in the quest for “more.” During that 5 minute stop our car was broken into and many personal belongings were stolen. So, the flip side of Enough is Too Much and Too Much will bankrupt your soul.

Becoming conscious of what is enough on a daily basis doesn’t just apply to the material. It also means accepting when we’ve spent enough energy. And this is the place where I, personally, have work to do.

I don’t consider myself a material girl. Sure, I like beautiful things, but I don’t have to own them. I wear the same earrings every day, we have one good car and own one piece of property. Where once I couldn’t have enough pairs of shoes, I now have a hard time resisting a new lip-gloss! But the one thing I always want more of is energy…hence cocaine having been my drug of choice. In spite of being told by many that I have great energy, I still want more. And this is want drives me to the brink of exhaustion, the arrival at which place would have a sane person taking to their bed for a couple of day. Me? No, even though I’ve been saying for weeks how tired I am, how I’d like to just curl up on the couch for a few days and read, do I do that? No. I want more.

It is from this place of exhaustion that two days ago I insisted on being able to work on the revision of my manuscript (in order to ready it for press) while at the same time supervise the crew I’d hired to prune all the trees and hedges surrounding the garden. So I showed the workers what I wanted and then headed back to my desk for 15 minutes of revision before going back outside to see how they were doing and found that while waiting for the pruning equipment to arrive they had busied themselves with butchering one of my Mediterranean gardens. This beautiful bed I planted last autumn was, until yesterday, a thing of glorious beauty. It gave us joy every day and we marveled at its growth. Plants that were a foot tall a year ago had reached nearly 6 feet and would have kept flowering until December before lying dormant until spring, at which time I would have pruned back perhaps 9 inches. In the 15 minutes I took to work at the computer this garden was pruned back to stubs.

MG beforeBEFORE

MGcutAFTER

I found a fluency in Italian I had hitherto not possessed. The pain and fury that screamed out of my mouth and hurled itself at the workers literally blew them back and then rooted them to the spot. And still I didn’t learn. Still I couldn’t accept that my need to have it all…the perfect garden and the perfectly revised manuscript…was what was keeping me from having enough. Which is why this morning I told myself that I just needed to go outside more frequently to oversee their work and continue work on the revision, just in shorter spurts. Which may account for the fact at some point this morning, nearly half of the revised manuscript disappeared. I mean, it completely vanished. A hundred pages of revision, 3 days work, just up and left. I guess it had had enough.

And so have I. Finally, I surrender. Gratefully I know it’s time to stop. Stay still. Look up. Look around. Breathe in all that is and all that I have. Reconnect with the truth, which is that I am tired; that I want to relax; that it’s more important to do less and enjoy more. If the book is a week late to press who cares? Better it’s late than I’m dead. I’m not ready for that ‘enough’ yet.rocks 5                    ROCKS #5

PS. I cried on and off all day for the loss of that flower garden. Felt like I just couldn’t bear to look at it. Then, in the evening, I realized it was bad enough that the poor thing had been brutalized, but more than that what it needed was my love. So I put a candle in a glass and headed out the door, but the wind was so strong it threatened to blow out the candle. I saw an old pitcher on the outdoor table, a lovely old thing I’d bought earlier in the summer. I put the glass with the candle in the pitcher and continued on to the garden. The now exposed rock beckoned me and I set the candle down with a whispered “I love you.” And low and behold, a flower appeared. Sometimes the best you can do is enough and if you do it, it becomes a feast.

L1009763_Garden candle flower copy