Category Archives: art

RECIPES FOR SUCCESS

6th July 2017

I’m sitting on the dondolo behind the house, its canopy, and that of the ancient l’ecci trees, shading me from the sun’s intense heat. Through the branches of an olive tree I glimpse a white towel hanging from the clothesline, its still rectangle resembling a screen waiting for the projection of a film. In the opposite direction, the swing that Grandpa Joel made for our 8 year-old granddaughter’s recent visit likewise hangs immobile. If only I could shout, “Action!” and see her magically appear.

The ten day visit with Sadie and her parents was, indeed, action-packed with day trips, lizard hunting, fly-swatting, garden-touring, outdoor cooking and a whole lot of toilet humour. These annual visits become more precious with the passage of time and although we may miss the day-to-day ordinariness of sharing life lived in the same city the truth is, somehow that rarely happens. Whereas living under the same roof during these visits provides an intimacy and connection that I treasure.

And then, suddenly, everyone is gone: the little family to Venice for a few days before their return to Brooklyn, and Joel to the Arles Photo Festival where he is this year’s VIP artist.

I savor this week alone, even while the house reverberates with the echo of family chatter, it is an opportunity for me to contemplate the importance of family, the meaning of marriage and the necessity of following one’s own path.

I am tempted to go back into the cool of the house, yet I am loathe to leave the cicadas’ ceaseless cacophony, as though if I were to listen long enough I might learn yet another language. These kinds of simple decisions e.g., whether to remain out here with cicadas for company or to retreat to the cool solitude of the interior, are choices that often confound me: either/or; if that then not this; if this then not that. But something is shifting in my subterranean life.

I’m a big fan of Brian Eno and have been regularly listening to one of his CD’s for 30 years now: Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Once in a while I check him out online to see what he’s up to and as a consequence have enjoyed some of his lectures. On a recent online visit I discovered he had, with Peter Schmidt, invented, not so much a game, as an alternative sort of I Ching. It’s called: Oblique Strategies and invites you to meditate on a current dilemma and then randomly choose a card; not as an absolute answer to one’s dilemma, but as an opportunity to think outside the box.

I gave myself all of Sunday to do sweet bugger-all and thoroughly enjoyed it. But on Monday, with a stretch of 5 more days alone, I decided to focus on the dilemma of my creative path. Holding the box of cards in my hands I asked what could I do to find the courage to return to two things I recently started and then stopped. One is a large canvas, the other, a new novel. To my initial horror, the card I picked said, “Would anybody want it?” Nice. Until recently that’s the kind of stupidity I would use as proof of my belief that of course nobody wants it! Well fuck that, I thought, and picked another card: “Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them.” The phrase that came to mind immediately was “Recipes for Disaster. And I literally laughed out loud because a) I have compiled quite a stew of recipes destined for failure and b) by saying fuck it to the first card I already had one abandoned recipe under my belt!

Look, I say use whatever gets you where you keep saying you want to go. If it’s therapy, fine. I Ching, fine. Religion, meditation, yoga, fine. Substance abuse, not so much.

What I love about personal growth is how damn interesting it is. Problems are interesting, every one of them is your own beautifully imagined and constructed detective story. (Unless you’re a refugee.) When I had my therapy practice I felt that a session was a success if I could help the client turn a problem from being a burden of doom into a subject of interest. And if I could help them laugh at the absurdity of it all then they were well on their way.

Like many professionals I don’t always follow my own advice, but with Eno’s help on Monday, I have returned to the novel and am interested to discover how many more recipes will need to be abandoned in order to get out of my own way. And, by the way, the answer to “What if nobody wants it?” is, who gives a fuck, I want it.

Talking of Brian Eno and music, my 10 year-old iPod died last week and for several days I was stuck in the initial stage of grief: denial. I spent those days insisting that I could resuscitate the damn thing by trying to charge it from different outlets. Duh. Then I did the online suicide line for advice on how to fix the iPod in order to go on living. Useless. The choices were: a) by a new iPod which isn’t really an iPod but a glorified iPhone without the phone part, or b) download my music to my iPhone. Foiled again…not enough space. So I abandoned those recipes and went for texting my brilliant daughter who is also still grieving the demise of her iPod but who suggested and talked me through Spotify.

When I write these essays I’m always fascinated by the way they often circle back on themselves. The circle in this one being the importance of family. But there is another circle within that circle: the magic of the Internet without which I would not have discovered Oblique Strategies. And yet another circle within that: Brian Eno. That CD of his I first heard 30 years ago and which has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me ever since, also led me to discover and abandon recipes no longer useful to me.

And yes, of course, the first album I searched for and saved to my Spotify library is Music For Airports, by Brian Eno; made available through the help of family.

With love to you all

Maggie.

 

YEAH!

20 May 2017

I’ve been a bit grumpy lately, although Joel might choose a more specific adjective. Is one born with a short wire? Or does it get shortened with age? Whatever. What I do know is that when I find myself spending more of the day acting like one of the seven dwarfs it’s time to explore the genesis of my grump.

Mid-April of this year marked our third anniversary of living here year round and during this time we’ve turned a primitive barn on a patch of barren gravel into a sweet home amid a glorious garden. A nice achievement and one I’m personally proud of. Also, over these years, Joel has become more and more in demand throughout Europe; creating a new body of work, several books and many shows in England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. I am truly happy for him. It took a lot of courage for him to leave his native New York after 76 years and to see him be rewarded like a rock star in Europe puts a grin on my face.

So, why so grumpy Maggie? The answer is twofold: the first part has to do with the way in which we’ve stopped being here in Tuscany in a certain way. By that I mean that the constant attention necessary to making a home and garden does not always allow the freedom to enjoy it or to leave it. I think of the couple of summers we spent here before it became “ours” and memories come flooding in: day trips with Gianni in his pick-up, driving up river beds and over fields; taking all the white roads, stopping in villages not on the map, shopkeepers everywhere hailing Gianni.

Back then it seemed like we walked this country road daily, picking bunches of wildflowers, talking to the cows, waving to the odd passerby. Lunches were long and lazy, evenings spent sitting on bare stony ground in a couple of old deck chairs gazing at the surrounding hills, chatting away with each other, or friends, or the farmers. I look back on that time now and it seems so innocent and we, so young.

Now, as I sit in the dondolo (the outdoor divan-swing) a brief, sudden wind shakes the l’eccio trees and dried leaves rain down with a pitter-patter. Birds, nesting in the hedgerows are ceaseless in their chatter; a cock crows is cock-a-doodle-do and I am instantly here in the way in which I most love to be.

Why is it that we so easily get caught up in the business of life that we stop experiencing its true luxury? I’ve been wanting to sit right here, doing exactly this, for days, weeks actually. But instead I keep doing and adding chores, getting grumpier with every load of laundry, every grocery shopping, the pulling of weeds, pruning of roses, replenishing candles, bringing in firewood and on and on. And as I write that list two things strike me: a) that it is a list of privilege and b) I could put off doing any one of those things and turn to my creative expression and the world would not stop.

So, today I’ve made the commitment to re-see life in Tuscany; to tell you that this week alone – and this is a typical week here – Silvia, the farmer’s wife, has brought us baskets of spicy salad greens grown from seeds that our friend Scout gave her. Luca and Antonello, the stone masons, were here every day putting in my little stone stairway, remodeling the outdoor fireplace, placing stepping stones in the gravel path and widening the rose arch at the garden gate.

 

Two of those mornings, Luca brought us eggs from his hens and Antonello brought us a can of his olive oil. On Sunday, Silvia brought us a fresh baked ricotta cake, the ricotta made from their sheep milk, the flour ground from their grain.

 

One day, feeling the accumulated stress from the fallout of a challenging situation in Joel’s New York studio, we decided to go to one our favorite village for lunch at a friend’s restaurant : www.osteriadelleone.it in Bagno Vignoni. What joy to drive the half hour there, through the ever-rolling hills, the olive groves singing with their new green leaves, poppies and sulla staining the fields scarlet and ruby; the greeting by Antonio and his staff, the wild salad and roasted pigeon as superior as ever and the promise of linden blossoms soon to come.

Tuscany. This ancient land still hanging on to its culture; the lack of greed or need for fame; the acceptance of imperfection in government and the economy, while generously sharing whatever they have. On our way to dinner with new friends we stop up the hill to buy a couple of bottles of Libera and Fortunato’s homemade wine; pure grape, no chemicals. Here there is no talk of Trump and the abysmal state of America. Here the farmer puts a piece of grain between his teeth to see how far it has to go before harvesting it. Gianni and Luana come for dinner. The fire is lit, the room aglow with candles. We sit for hours talking intimately and with ease, amazed that we can now do so in Italian.

Joel has joined me on the dondolo. He, too, is writing…an introductory essay for his new retrospective book. It feels like a perfect moment. It’s been a busy year for him with three books in the works plus six shows. Which brings me to the second reason I’ve been feeling grumpy. Three books and six shows entail a lot of work at the computer and whole days go by when he is upstairs working away in front the screen. This is not a judgment; who, at 79, wouldn’t what to be in such demand?

No, the issues are mine. Issues of envy and resentment and impatience. Issues that are endemic in women of my age married to famous men. Women of my generation, unlike the current one, weren’t brought up to believe we had the right to our own desires and direction. And I am shocked to find, at this stage in my life, that I still feel the need to either wait and serve, or rebel. How ridiculous. I mean really, if it makes Joel happy to spend stretches of time at his computer then good for him. But when do I find the courage to stop complaining and simply go about my own business? What’s stopping me from creating, or taking day trips, or simply sitting on the dondolo, writing, listening to the birds and counting my lucky stars that this is where and what my life has come to?

How easily we humans can ruin our own good time. The ‘why’ of it surely has to stop being examined after a while. So one had a crap childhood, or grew up in a repressed culture; so religion taints us with guilt or shame; so we suffer illness and injury, the loss of loved ones, the failure to attain a dream. So what? We’ve come this far; each of us with our own struggles and disappointments and with each day the distance left to go is shorter. So let’s stop each day, look up, look out, breathe in, breathe out. How does it feel to “be”? What would you change? And when?

Neuroscience has proven that we carve pathways, or ruts, in our brains by habitual thinking. If we want to get out of the rut we need to change the way we think. I’m thinking Tuscany’s a pretty good rut that I have no need or desire to get out of. The rut I intend get out of is the one I’ve spent a lifetime carving by thinking that I pretty much have to destroy myself in order to have the right to live.

The sheep are getting their second milking of the day. A might chorus of baa-ing issues from the barn. Maybe it’s a Tuscan thing, but it sounds to me like they’re all saying “Yeah!”

 

 

Our wedding anniversary, 18 May 2017

NB:   Here is a the link to the latest Podcast with Julie Burstein and myself. Please let me know is you are unable to open it.  Also, let me know what you think of it!  With thanks and love as always. Maggie.

 

 

 

 

THE GIFT OF A LIFETIME

23rd April 2017

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ T.S.Eliot

It’s been a long spring, joyously so for the most part, although too hot at the start, so that the garden has a slight air of weariness, as if too much was asked of it too soon. But, oh, the bliss of returning here after two weeks away and finding the wisteria weeping from the porch roof; its perfume a swoon to the senses. I once called wisteria ‘the queen of ambiguity,’ only to find when translating that essay into Italian that here, in this gender specific land, it is masculine. Perhaps there is a botanical reason for this, but after spending a week in the company of my 7 best women friends, I can’t but think that the gender-choice was decided by some poor man unable to cope with its maternal sorrow.

Last year, shortly after I turned 70, I was sitting at my desk asking what I would most like to give myself as I entered my 8th decade. The answer came immediately: I wanted to spend time with all the women who have been of support and encouragement and inspiration to me throughout my life, including 2 who, although unknown to me less that 6 years ago, have gifted me with their wisdom and poetry, mainly through emails. And I wanted to spend this time with them in the one place on this planet to which I have been deeply connected, in this lifetime, since I was 3 years old.

It is the place I returned to on my own for decades, as a painter, and as a writer and as an ex-pat living in America. It was the place I could call my own; where I could feel my ancient spirit awakened by the wind and the sea as I walked for miles and hours upon the tufted cliffs, clambering down to my ledge to disappear into the sea spray along with the birds. It was the sense of belonging that I’ve always felt there that drew me there. I, who until a week ago, had no knowledge of my ancestral roots, felt instinctively that I belong there on those wild Cornish cliffs and moors.

The response to my email invite was swift: a chorus of Yes, although one would eventually have to drop out due to family illness. Yet even she was there, as you will later see. Over the course of the winter, I started envisioning what it was I wanted to share with these women; I wanted them to witness a part of me that they had never known; the part of me that comes from a sense of belonging as opposed to a sense of yearning.

Over those winter months, the ‘program’ evolved slowly, without pressure or need; a mix of walks, studio and museum visits, outdoor theatre, a cream tea on a farm by the sea and a private figure-drawing class in the famed studio of the St. Ives School of Painting. All the events were as rich an experience as we could have hoped for. But it was the conversation that held the ore. And we mined it at breakfast, lunch and dinner…interspersed with a few tears and much bawdy laughter.As Vivian observed, in her 70+ years she had never experienced sharing meals for 8 where every single time the group conversed as a whole. There was no splintering into pairs, except sometimes when we were walking. At table a topic would be presented or arise and then it became a pow-wow.

No-one, besides me, knew everyone else in the group prior to this adventure. We hail from 4 different countries: England, France, USA, Italy. One other beside myself has lived as an ex-pat, originally hailing from South Africa. The youngest, whom I’ve known for 23 years, is 47. The oldest, whom I’ve know for 44 years, will be 80 this year; the rest of us filled in the intervening decades. And so it was that these 7 women met for the first time under the big clock at Paddington station at 9:30 on 3rd April. By the time the train delivered them to St. Ives at 4pm, they were a unit. And after a few tears upon seeing them all together, I stopped being the leader and just became one with them.

At Paddington Station

Our diversity in age and background was our gold, not to mention our diversity in careers: one human rights barrister/judge; one actress/film-maker/interior designer; one dancer/writer/ceramicist; one photographer/poet; one musicologist; one therapist/quilter; one antiques dealer/innkeeper/shopowner, and myself. And let’s not forget Julie, who couldn’t come: podcast producer/author/ceramicist. We are all mothers; and we all mothered each other in the best possible sense. Half of us are married. The other half lives singly as a result of death or divorce. We are all mighty.

On our second afternoon Julie joined us via Skype to lead us in a fireside tea meditation. She had taken a single piece of brown clay, embedded with blue stripes (for the sea) running its length. Then she rolled it like a jelly-roll and cut it into 9 pieces which she hand-formed into little cups. Reserving one for herself, she had sent the remaining 8 to the inn and in her Skype presence we each randomly chose from the box. Following Julie’s instructions, I placed all 8 cups in a circle touching each other and A, whose 70th birthday it was that day, pour the tea in one unbroken flow and then we sipped in silence. Julie also joined us via Skype a few evenings later when A presented 3 exquisite pieces of music by Chopin, Debussy and Ravel.

Was it only 5 days and 5 nights? Or did we live forever among the ancients? All I know is that I am still feeling bereft of their company. And I do know that each of us experienced something vital: sisterhood, womanhood, our formidable strengths and our tender vulnerabilities; no competition, no judgment. This is something many women are missing in contemporary life. Only we women can bear each other’s sorrow, cup a hand around it and urge each other forward.

Two weeks later I am still feeling the upheaval that such a deep connection brings once severed. Then again, while the physical connection has been broken the emotional one can never be severed. Which is why, perhaps, it came as no surprise, a week ago, to discover via DNA testing, my ancestral heritage: Scandinavian, thousands of years ago; then Munster Irish and Southern English and most recently, Southern English…right there on the Cornish cliffs, where I once and always belonged.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S.Eliot.

drawing by Maggie

THE ROAR OF THE CROWD

2nd February 2017

Was it only 2 weeks ago that we left Tuscany to visit family and friends in New York?

I’m sitting in front of a huge fireplace in the Lake Lounge at Mohonk Mountain House. www.mohonk.com As I finish writing that sentence it occurs to me that I’d do well to stay here and write that sentence a hundred times. Not only to be in a moment of privilege and beauty, but to acknowledge that this “I am,” is not followed by “…frightened, overwhelmed and sad:” a state of being which, these days, takes up too large a space. I am sure many of you feel the same way.

Joel and I flew to New York on Inauguration Day and the next day joined nearly half a million people marching in New York. To come above ground from the subway at 42nd and Lexington and be greeted by the enormous river of slow-moving marchers felt like a homecoming to truth and beauty. It took us three and half hours to get to Trump tower and there seemed to be no beginning and no end. We all, I felt sure, would have marched like that until either the tide turned or we were washed out to sea. By now you’ve all seen the photos and signs and hats. Many of you will have been (and will continue to be) part of that global movement that day and if so, perhaps you experienced, as did we, the periodic roar of the crowd which would start miles behind us and, like a tsunami, gather speed and intensity as it rushed toward us. And each time it reached us it stiffened our spines, entered our hearts, rising up through our chests and throats before opening our mouths to release the power of our courage out into the universe. I am thrilled and grateful to have lived long enough to experience the innate goodness and mass awaking of so many people.

My daughter, an ardent feminist since her teens and a Women’s Studies major, is fighting for the cause at the same time she is fighting chronic Lyme Disease. I applaud her. However, it seemed to me that a few days retreat for both of us was in order and so we came here to Mohonk to rest and replenish both body and spirit; this is necessary for all warriors in order to stay in the fray long enough to win.

Mohonk Mountain House is nestled high up in The Shawangunk Ridge, some 90 miles north of Manhattan, but to be here is to feel a million miles from anywhere and in a different century. Mohonk means Lake in the Sky. The lake lies implacable now, frozen over under a fresh layer of snow from yesterday’s downfall. The sky has just changed from grey to blue, the sun determined to make its present felt no matter what…just like us. A young man has just put more wood on the fire. He turns to me, and smiles. “Enjoy,” he says.

 

 

Enjoy. Think about that word. It, too, is a summons to action; to engage in joy. And this we must do. If you were to take a moment now and look around you, what could you find to connect with that would give you a moment of joy for its existence and your own? We are allowed, in this dark moment in history, to enjoy, to smile, to laugh…it is our duty to do so. You cannot be a good warrior if you are not balanced. And if all is energy, then every smile, every laugh, every positive thought contributes to the benevolent energy of the universe; an energy which has and continues to be, powerful enough to have kept us moving forward, (in spite of many regressions) for thousands of years.

Everything in life is 50/50: good/bad, sad/happy, rich/poor, up/down,sick/healthy, dead/alive. And I know that if, like me, you scan the history of your own life, you can remember many negative times which gave you the opportunity to change, to grow, in spite of the pain. So what is this moment offering you that you can be grateful for and act on?

I was talking with a guest here yesterday morning and we shared our horror and fear about what’s happening in America, and around the globe. After a while, I felt that it was going beyond common commiseration and tilting us toward gloom and doom. So I suggested we both take a breath and reflect on the past 24 hours of our lives, much like one is encouraged to do in sobriety. What, I asked, has changed? Are we still here in this beautiful place? Are the lake and the sky still here? Are we loved? Fed? Do we have beds to sleep in and a roof over our heads? We embraced and went our separate ways.

Of course we must stay vigilant and those who are able to must fight the good fight. But there is a world of difference between vigilance and projection. None of us know anything beyond this moment and none of us know the reason why things happen. Shortly after we left Italy an earthquake shifted a mountain causing an avalanche to bury a hotel and all its guests; except for the man who had gone to the parking lot to get something from his car.

There is no such thing as safety; neither is there reason to believe in the worst. We know so much less than we like to assume. For instance, a small group has entered the lounge on an historic tour of the building and I hear the guide say that the lake actually extends underneath this room. And here I was thinking I had the ground beneath my feet. Whereas, in fact, I am sitting over water, under the sky, in front of fire, surrounded by earth. Elemental.

As we reached the end of the march, night fell and someone began to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” As everyone joined in singing I felt myself to be cradled by the sweetness of humanity. May each of you let your little light shine and may each of you feel cradled.

CRADLE OF SNOW

A note to my European readers: I urge you please, please to learn from Brexit and the U.S. Election and start activating NOW, in earnest. Do not wait until your upcoming elections. By then it will be too late to turn it around.

ONWARD

 

30th December 2016

abstract

Well, hello to you all! I have missed you and thought of you many times since November 8th, but what to say? I did write several weeks ago, but every time I thought of posting it, it seemed insufficient. I had nothing to say that wasn’t already being said, and, as a realist, I have no appetite for conjecture.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I have been saddened, shocked and burdened by the outpouring of hatred and spite encouraged and condoned by the orange soufflé. One can only hope that like all soufflés this one will eventually fall. But let’s remember that a political crisis is much like a personal crisis in that each one, in the moment of its occurrence, feels like it is the worst ever. Not to make light of the current situation, but I do gain comfort from reading history (as long as I don’t have to remember dates). To that point, I recently read Volume 1 of Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles. Apart from it being a wild ride, rich in rhythm, tone and imagery, it also reminds us of some of the crises of the 50’s and 60’s; the H bomb, Vietnam, segregation, JFK, RFK, MLK assassinations, McCarthyism, Kent State, to name but a few. And if you want further proof of the eternal history of political machinations watch “The United States of Amnesia.”   For a more balanced take on humanity I would encourage you to read a recent article in the New York Review of books, by Zadie Smith: “On Optimism and Despair.”

I have been struggling quite a bit for quite a while now. It would be easy to say what a crap year it’s been: my daughter nearly died, by husband was near-incapacitated for 2 months, I broke a knee and a hand, my book tour was derailed and I developed an unhealthy addiction to online news. Did I mention I also turned 70? There were, of course, moments, days even, of laughter and joy, but as the months went by I found myself sinking into feelings of futility, of uselessness, of fuck-it-what’s the point. I began to taste bitterness and it frightened me. Sure, I’ve felt all of those things many times in my life, but never for such a relentlessly prolonged time. Perhaps the month in a wheelchair followed by ongoing physical therapy contributed to this inner atmosphere of despair, for while I still have a pretty impressive capacity for healing there is something about injury in later years that rubs your nose in the fact that even if you have another 20 years left, they ain’t gonna be like the last 20!

It’s the little things: the drape of crepe which will continue to spread over your entire body no matter how much you work out. And what’s with the increase in choking? You turn your head while chomping on pureed carrots and suddenly you need the Heimlich Manoeuver, or remover, as I like to call it. And why, really why, after 65 does your nose run when you eat? And consider this, you may, if you’re lucky, continue to shit once every morning, but your arse will leak all day. Depends in the future.

I don’t know what changed, but about 10 days ago, something turned around. Maybe it was something as simple as seeing two roses, pink lovebirds on a grey December day.

roses

Or maybe it was making a Christmas tree from branches and berries that dear Gianni collected for us from the woods.

our-tree

By the way, for those of you who are tired of Christmas here is the perfect tree for you

tired-tree

Maybe it was the way, after a damp start, the fire suddenly roared to life in the hearth.

fire

Or the memory of the trumpeter in Arles playing the blues.

blues

The radiance of my Joel…

joel-arles

a loving sojourn with our dear Sharon and Paul in Provence,

6-feet

Thanksgiving in the Luberon, and the cherry trees ablaze.

thanksgiving

cherry-trees

A single tree outside the wall of our village seemed to sing its own carol…

 

wall-tree while the one in Siena stood proud in its medieval piazza.

siena-tree

The immense pleasure and gratitude of being home in Tuscany.

home

The last red rose from the garden, at rest with my long-gone Amy.

amy

And finally, firing up the furnace in our new studio. After waiting 9 months for the installation of electricity, we had been on our way there to meet the electrician the day I broke my knee. Now after a year of yearning to be at play in this building with Gianni, the three of us lit incense and candles and began to create.

studio

More than a hundred years old, it was where the ploughs and carts and farm tools were put at the end of each day. It was called La Rimessa….rimessa meaning to put back.

And isn’t this what we must all do now? Put something back instead of craving something more for our selves? What changed for me was looking outward instead of inward. Taking action. How easy it is to forget our own wisdom in dark moments. But the darkness has its own wisdom; if we cannot allow ourselves to enter it how can we overcome fear? Awareness of the dark side of life is a part of consciousness. Acceptance of it brings compassion, for ourselves and others. But to re-enter the light takes action. This, now, is our calling: awareness, acceptance, action. And for those of us who have the capacity and the willingness, let’s help each other re-enter the light in 2017.

light

With love to you all, Maggie.

THE LIGHT IS CALLING

NB. I have held off publishing this post for a week because I felt torn as to whether this was an appropriate time to share some of the content. Today I decided to go with it. Why? Because I trust that my readers are capable of accepting that the nature of reality is complex; that we have no control over any of it; and that while it is important to acknowledge the negative, it is imperative that we return to the positive.

30th October 2016

abstract

Good news! I got out of the wheelchair 10 days ago after another round of X-rays showed excellent healing of the fractures. And I was determined to get out the damn brace, in spite of the doctor telling me I needed to wear it for another month. Another month? Are you kidding me? I was out of that wheelchair so fast and moving across the room, waving the “broken” hand at her. “Look,” I said, “Don’t treat me like a 70 year old biddy.” “Look,” I said, showing the 6 inch scar from my once broken neck. “Look,” I said, doing a stiff-legged pirouette . “I was a dancer, I know my body.” I won.

What joy, to return the wheelchair and crutches, to throw out the plastic bedpan, to walk through the garden gate and down the steps, to be able to navigate the whole house again. Sure, there’s work to be done, probably another couple of months of physiotherapy before the shockingly wasted muscles return to normal. Sure there’s pain. I’ll take it, with gratitude on top.

Two days later we took ourselves off to a local spa for 5 days of thermal waters and massage. Situated on its own hilltop in the Val d’Ocia, Castello di Velona is not only gob-smackingly beautiful but has a staff that is as kind and spirited as they are professional. My wonderful physiotherapist visited 3 times to give me treatments and work me out in the water and it was amazing how quickly the knee and hand achieved the next level of recovery.

spa-pool

panorama

I’m always slightly embarrassed to share these kinds of privileges. Perhaps its because, just as I don’t want to be viewed as “old,” neither do I want to be seen as privileged, when in fact I am both. It has to do with judgment, of course, and judgment always separates us from each other. I’m proud of my working class roots and am grateful to have experienced poverty as an adult. The range of experiences I’ve had in my life have, I hope, made me a more compassionate woman. Still, I’m always quick to let people know that my life wasn’t always so blessed. Truth is I’m not that comfortable around lifelong “haves.” I like when the dirt shows.

Talking about dirt, I’d like to comment on the response women receive when they finally talk about sexual harassment years after the fact, the response usually being one of disbelief, as in, “If that really happened, how come she waited so long to report it?” The same response is also leveled at men who were raped as boys by priests or teachers. I’ll tell you why we keep it to ourselves: because we know nobody wants to believe such horrors. Sure, there are, and always will be, false accusations and there will be men who unjustly suffer as a result. However, it’s time we listened to each other. All these women coming forward with regard to Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, they need to be heard. How easy it is for people to say, “Oh, these women are just trying to cash in on some fame and fortune now.” Maybe some are…but ALL of them? Come on. The reason we don’t come forward at the time is exactly because these are powerful men and who wants to be “raped” all over again in the press or in court.

There are a lot of ways to suppress the voice of women…as Hillary Clinton well knows. But I say, watch out. People are rising up against injustice now because as Michelle Obama says, “Enough is enough.” Whether you are a black citizen fearful of being shot by the police or a woman afraid of being raped and then accused of making it up, the time has come to get it all out in the open. So, here’s my rape story.

I was 21. Living in Vancouver. I’d just lost my job and desperate for money, took a gig as a cocktail waitress. My shift was from 5pm to midnight. My ‘uniform,’ supplied by management, was a green satin mini-dress that barely covered my breasts or my bum. At the end of my shift I would go to the staffroom to get my bag so I could smoke a cigarette while adding up the tabs and tips, then I’d return to the staffroom to change into my street clothes and catch a cab home.

On the 5th night, I finished up and went to change only to find the staffroom locked. Deiter, the maître d’, said the manager must have thought I’d already left and had locked up and left, taking the key with him. Deiter, who was very tall and slim but athletically built, had struck me as very professional; courteous, but distant. He retrieved a man’s raincoat that had been left in the cloak room, gave it to me and offered to drive me home I gratefully accepted. I lived about 20 minutes away.

About 10 minutes into the ride he asked if he could make a quick stop at his apartment to get something. I said ok. He parked the car in front of his building and said why didn’t I come up for a minute. I said no thanks. He came around to the passenger side, pulled me out of the car, put his hand over my mouth and dragged me up two flights to his apartment. Terrified, but trying to play it cool, I asked if I could call home to let my mother know I’d be late (my mother lived in England). His response was to rip the phone out of the wall.

It was now about 1:30 a.m. For the next four and half hours he raped me. While he raped me he told me his parents had been Nazis. While he raped me he told me how he’d take care of me for the rest of my life. While he raped me he told me I could never speak to my family and friends again. While he raped me he told me he’d buy me new clothes. While he raped me I pretended to be happy.

At around 6 a.m., he finally fell asleep with his arm across my chest. It took me nearly an hour to inch out from under him, freezing every time he stirred. When my feet finally hit the floor I ran, grabbing my bag and the raincoat, I ran naked down the stairs and out into the middle of the street where I waved down a VW. The driver said, “Get in the back.” I started to explain. “I don’t want to know,” he said, and drove me to a taxi stand.

When I got home I called the police station. After I finished telling the cop what happened he asked, “Did he come in you?” “No,” I said. “Nothing we can do then,” he said and hung up. I ran a hot bath and sat in it for a long time.

rape

When we got home from the Spa, Silvia and Vincenzo were harvesting our olives. What goodness, to see these farmers, who are also our landlords and neighbors, up in the branches of our trees, doing what has been done here for centuries.

vands

Goodness is what we must turn to every day now. It’s time to turn from the drip-line of the “news.” It’s not new. Like goodness, the dark side has been with us forever. The details may change but the story is the same. Those who are fearful of owning their fear will continue to be the bullies, terrorists and dictators.

silvia-1

Yesterday was a turn around day for me. The night before I had shared with Joel that I was afraid of becoming more negative with age. That there was something about the accrual of events during the last couple of years that had wormed its way into me: the robbery, my months long illness, then my daughter nearly dying, then Joel being incapacitated for months and then these recent injuries. That steady drip had me unconsciously beginning to brace for the worst . It’s a thin line between bracing for the worst and starting to seek it out. I realized yesterday, that I had been indulging in tapping into the continuous cycle of negativity we call the news. I decided to stop. I’ve cast my vote, I’ve donated money, and beyond that it’s out of my control. No matter who wins this election, that which we fear will continue to exist. Better to rejoice in the perseverance of beauty and kindness.

Two days after the olives were harvested they were taken to the local frantoia to be pressed. We would have gone but we’d invited new friends we’d met at the spa to come here for tea. I made a pot of verbena ginger, the verbena picked fresh from the garden. We nibbled on pecorino cheese and pan co’ santi, the annual harvest bread studded with raisins and walnuts. We talked of creativity and openness and the beauty and light of Tuscany.

This is the good news we must spread: that light is everywhere and when we turn to it and absorb it we become it and reflect it back into the world like the sunflowers and the grapes and the fresh-pressed olive oil, glowing with goodness in the new day.

oil

 

IN NEED OF TIME

16th October, 2016             IN NEED OF TIME

table-2

I had wanted to write last week, and again this, but each time I thought about uncapping my pen, I thought, for what? Who the hell wants to read a blow-by-blow account of recovering from broken bones? You know me, I’m all for discovering the silver lining, but frankly the last couple of weeks have been mainly overcast. Then, yesterday, I received a wonderful email from a friend in London who wrote:

“From your blog it sounds like you are in a great headspace…though I would be truly impressed if you managed never to give in to fits of swearing/being a bitch/violent thoughts and whinging.”

 Thank you Pheobe, for getting it! And no need for you or anyone else to be impressed as I have given in to all of the above and some others I’d rather not mention.

Like all journeys, this one has it highs and lows. I’ve been on more scenic adventures, that’s for sure, although surely the view inside my head is interesting to say the least. Why is it so hard to admit to feeling depressed? What is this investment in seeing oneself as indomitable? Isn’t that kind of insistence a major contribution to feeling isolated? For if you can’t share your lows with others, then not only can they not share theirs with you but it gives a false impression of superiority

So, here’s the lowdown:

  1. I am not indomitable.
  2. I sometimes feel sorry for myself.
  3. It’s hard to sleep.
  4. There is pain.
  5. It’s stultifying-ly boring.
  6. I’m bitchy to Joel.
  7. I have moments of hot resentment of people who can walk.
  8. I’m impatient.
  9. I’m disappointed with myself for not being more creative
  10. I cry every day.
  11. I am at times angry to the point of seeing red.

seeing-red

I know the above list is not a complete picture of who I am, but I still wish none of it were in the frame. It doesn’t fit with the idea I have of myself as being courageous and positive. As though only by being both those things at all times do I have the right to live. How ridiculous.

The stories we make up about ourselves! The other day I was thinking about this accident and thinking, wow, that’s so unlike me; I’m so not accident-prone. Ha. Really? What about all the broken fingers and sprained ankles in sports? The most recent being 2 summers ago playing badminton. What about the time I was leaning against the passenger door of a pick-up truck, talking to the driver and my 5 year-old daughter sitting between us when the truck rounded a bend, the door flying open and me bouncing on my back on the road? What about the broken neck? Or the dropped carving knife on my foot severing the tendon to my big toe followed by surgery and weeks of non-weight-bearing foot in a splint up to the knee?

With regard to the latter, I must say that the medical scooter I used for getting around, kneeling on the bum leg and scooting with the other, was far superior to a bloody wheelchair. I had a basket on the front of it in which I could carry food from kitchen to couch, although mainly the basket carried Windex, Fantastic and a roll of paper towel; clean and tidy house fanatic that I am. With the wheelchair I can just about manage a fly swatter in one hand and a cappuccino in the other, navigating with elbows and the good leg. Forget the cleaning supplies. I have a new method; I just kick crap under the couch and move on.

And yes, there are highs. Like taking the cast off my hand a week early (against doctor’s orders) and massaging it with arnica several times a day. I am now able to type with all 10 fingers although the ring and pinky digits are still only good for nose-picking, unable yet to fully bend on their own. And I am now able to hop to the kitchen and stand on one leg long enough to make 2 drawings.

house-1

 

house-2

But even then my expectations got carried away. Ah, I thought, if I can express myself creatively I’m over the hump. But the tears still come. And what are these tears for, apart from finally, after 26 years, getting me a loving pedicure from Joel this morning?

I’ll tell you what the tears are for; for washing away the sadness that accumulates over a lifetime. Sadness too vast to be cleansed in one good cry. And the tears are for the inevitable sadness one feels at this age; that life is on the short end. That there is no quota for pain. That pain, whether emotional or physical, takes us away from our vitality, our life force. Isaak Dineson was so right about there being a salt cure for whatever ails us.

isaak

So, if you can’t work up a sweat and you can’t get to the sea, tears will suffice. That life force we all have, it doesn’t go away until we die. But it does take courage and determination to summon it. And it takes the love of others to help us get there. In that regard I am a wealthy woman, for although our friends are scattered far and wide they still show up for me in emails and Skype and Facetime. And how about the woman behind the counter of Bar Moderno here in town who, when Joel went in yesterday to buy me ice-cream, on hearing of my accident, removed the entire metal container of coffee gelato from the freezer counter, topped it up with stracciatelli and said, “Eccola! Un regalo per Maggie!”

icecream

 

And then there is my Joel, my greatest treasure of all, who has fed me, bed-panned me, pedicured and praised me and put up with a sea of despondency.

joel

Today he wheeled me out in the garden, handed me my walking stick with which to point at weeds, that he then hoed. Not to be outdone I hopped out of my wheelchair, lowered myself to the ground and gave a much-needed haircut to some thyme.

yay-pruning

P.S. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your kind comments and emails.

 

HUBRIS

23rd September 2016

 

mistscape

hay

The morning was sweet and misty, the crisp of autumn whispering on the skin as we set out for our 2 mile walk; part of our new regimen to gain all available strength and vigor for our remaining years. In silence, our footfalls carry us over the stony road, the hills all soft and lush in browns and greens and ochers; moist voluptuousness all around, a thousand cobwebs beaded with dew clinging to every weed and bush; a jeweled lace tatting the landscape.

webbush

On the return we pick up speed, pushing against the desire to slow, legs striding, muscles pumping, breath a little harsh. What joy to be alive on such a day, what luck to be so young this old. The day spreads before us with promise. Finally we’ll be going into the studio we’ve been waiting to create in; 18 months of roofing and new doors and the eternal bureaucratic wait for electricity. I envision the canvas stapled to the old wall, the first paint-laden brush smacking against it as, finally, I enter the waiting rocks and boulders of my imagination.

globe

Sure thing. Sure footed. Me, fooled by the step, my shoe catching it on the way up, the fall fast and treacherous, fingers of the left hand snapped backwards in futile effort to catch the rest of me, the right knee a full-on dreadful hit, the awful sound, the unnatural position of body parts, a bounce of the head on stone, the scream for help and ice, nausea rising up to meet the pain and I pass out.

What was that I wrote in the last post? Something about the folly of being human; of making plans. Oh reckless gamble; place your bets ladies and gents, red or black? Pain or gain?

And so another incident stitches us into the cloth of this foreign land. But life is not a perfect tapestry and you ain’t tried nothing until you’ve tried communicating with ambulance attendants, emergency room staff, a radiologist and the orthopedic specialist with language that at the best of times is second rate. In a crisis, where pain and fear are taking up equal space, my Italian warps and garbles, a kaleidoscopic taffy stretched beyond its limit. Yet miraculously, meaning is conveyed, as when listening to opera or poetry the music and rhythm and mystery are made clear on some alchemical level. This language will never be mine, but I will sing it forever.

As tragedy is filled with the comedy of errors, this event is no different. An emergency room attendant, more embarrassed than am I, mis-places the bedpan and I piss all over the gurney. The radiologist bangs my broken hand while trying to position my injured leg. The verdict is in: broken base joint of pinky and metatarsals of the left hand; right kneep-cap fractured in two places. Both put in casts – the leg from thigh to ankle. I will be unable to walk for a month.

cast

Five hours after the fall I am wheeled to a waiting taxi where it takes four of us to figure out how to get me onto the back seat. I’m exhausted. Who isn’t? I lean back against the door just as Joel opens it from the outside, catching me as I start to fall backwards. I’m pissed, hungry, thirsty and frightened and can’t wait to get home. So of course the taxi breaks down halfway there, 50 feet from a Nissan dealership. What are the odds of 2 men putting 2 and 2 together? “I’ll call you another taxi,” the driver says. I’m staring at the steering wheel, it says Nissan. “Ahem,” say I, the dreaded backseat driver. I point to the dealership sign. The penny drops; a mechanic is summoned. He tweaks something under the hood and we’re good to go.

I do wish we had a video of the maneuver from taxi to bed, Joel walking backward carrying my plaster casted leg, my left arm with its casted hand around the driver’s neck, the other arm around Vincenzo’s, the 4 of us trying to get through the front door and getting stuck, “After you,” “No, no after you.” Already these scenes are part of the script that will be cause for laughter once they reside in memory lane. And so it goes; pain, tears, hilarity, fear, frustration. Black humour this. Right leg immobilized. Left hand immobilized. Counterbalance out of the question. Hundreds of automatic, habitual movements now impossible to make.

Joel and I plot maneuvers like commanders in a war room: from bed to wheelchair to toilet to wheelchair, to couch to wheelchair to patio for a moment of sun, a glimpse of the evil step, the garden in full September splendor, then wheelchair to bed, oh blessed bed. Flat on the back for 8 hours, mouth agape, leg and hand a-throb and yes, I succumb, I’ll take the painkiller, a moment of bliss between pain and sleep.

window

In the morning the sun comes in the window lifting my spirits, filling me with gratitude. It comes and goes, the gratitude. 70 is 70 even if it’s a fit 70. Time is short and some precious drops of it must now be spent in slow motion. I am not a patient person. But I remember the slow time of the broken neck and so I know there are gifts to be had. I’m re-learning what I learned then; that pain doesn’t kill you; that it is useless to try and skip over it. The secret is to slip down below it and rest there in the dark quiet of trust and surrender. There, where the landscape is filled with illuminated fragility; the dew-beaded cobwebs holding on for dear life.

webs

 

 

A LITTLE BIT OF LIGHT

11th September 2016

sunset

A gentle rain has begun to fall, its light rhythm tapping the overhead awning of the dondolo where I have come to write. Now a strong breeze arrives, stirring the garden to dance. It’s 3p.m., here in Tuscany; 9 a.m., in New York. This time 15 years ago on that blue September morn’, an act of terrorism forever changed the world.

911

It is hard not to assume, that much of the negativity and hatred that is seething to the surface now, was sown on that day. Do you remember the fear? And do you remember the compassion? Especially in New York. How for a month everyone loved everyone? How the country as a whole was taking a look in the mirror, amazingly willing to discover whatever responsibility we bore in such in attracting such hatred?

For a moment there, much like children, we were chastened. Unfortunately, also like children, we wanted to pin the blame elsewhere and have someone else take responsibility for fixing it. And from that immature need we let “W” become Daddy and we condoned his decision that first Afghanistan and then Iraq should be tagged the enemy and subsequently invaded. That worked well, eh?

As I’ve said before, when I sit down to write for this blog I never know what’s going to present itself. I certainly didn’t intend to be writing about 9/11, mass consciousness and politics. Like many of you, I’m sure, I’m truly sickened and exhausted by this election cycle, not to mention Brexit. And again, it’s easy to point the finger elsewhere; the candidates, the media, corporate power…all of which bear their share of blame. But we, the people, must own our share. When was the last time any of us participated in local politics? When was the last time we threw money at our candidate instead of directly helping those less fortunate than us?

shame

And in the end, isn’t that really where it all starts; being of service to others instead of always wanting more for ourselves: another pair of shoes, a bigger house, another car, more tax breaks, more followers, more likes, more power…

Before we moved to Europe, I had a separate career from writing. For several years I had a therapy practice. Three or four days a week I had the privilege of listening to people who wanted to transcend their painful stories; people who wanted to grow beyond their history and re-educate themselves in terms of distinguishing between the reality of today as opposed to indulging in emotional reactions that belong in the past. I was always inspired and humbled to witness their courage, for it does indeed take courage to become fully responsible for your own life.

I am grateful to have been a vehicle for change in a few lives, as much as I am grateful for how much those people changed mine. For you cannot really be of help to others if you are not willing to continually take a look at your own unswept corners. To listen deeply to another human being, to hear, and help them articulate their misconceptions, denials and judgments, is to simultaneously hear your own. I miss that interaction. When we decided to move here I spent the prior year preparing my clients and myself for the end of this intimate relationship. Most of them where able to “graduate” having developed the consciousness to accept the imperfection of being merely human, as well as having assembled the necessary tools to assist in the ongoing fine-tuning of spiritual evolution. Those who weren’t quite there I referred on.

slant

In the meantime, I had decided to take full responsibility for my life as a writer and artist, craving “more” time to myself. And I justified this letting go of the practice by telling myself that in any case the 6 hour time difference would make it hard to schedule Skype sessions, even though I was also working with people in London and Paris. I don’t regret the decision. Since then I’ve revised one novel, written and published another, posted regularly for this blog, as well as starting on a new body of drawings which I am about to start translating to canvas.

But lately I’ve been feeling the need to be of service again. It turns out that it is a part of who I am, as much as is being a writer/artist. Perhaps the helplessness I feel in the face of all the dreadful news this year is its own gift. A reminder, that being of service to anyone in need who comes across my path is an essential part of my nature and therefore a necessary part of my evolution. And here is an example of how these small acts ripple out into the world:

Last Friday, Joel and I had to go to the hospital in Siena. In order to enter the parking lot one much push a button and retrieve a ticket at which point the barrier rises and allows you to enter. In order to exit the lot one must insert the ticket into a machine and then insert the amount of money indicated. There is a woman to be found sitting on the ground next to this machine, with her beggar’s cup. Always the same woman. On this day when Joel searched his pockets he found he had no change for the machine, never mind for giving to her. Neither did I. Seeing this, the woman took money from her cup and gave it Joel.

Now, you know this woman is the target of judgment everyday. Every day, without knowing the slightest thing about her, people decide she’s a cunning thief, positioning herself next to the money machine. But being of service is not about giving to those we judge worth of our ‘generosity’…that is a form of prejudice. And prejudice is capable of bring about an event like 9/11…

we-fell

 

candle-1

 

 

A NEW AGE

31st July 2016

sky

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me how my sabbatical from achievement was going. I said I felt like I was my own strobe light: constantly switching on and off between light/dark, yes/no, happy/sad, relieved/anxious, positive/negative, hopeful/dispirited. And I thought about a man I’d known in the 70’s at which time he was the quintessential love-child; laid back and loving, his face a constant smile. Then we lost touch. The next time I saw him was in the early 80’s. He came knocking on my door in Woodstock, crawling out of his skin, crazed on cocaine. I remember being torn between wishing he’d brought some coke with him and the fear that he was going to die. I ended up putting him in a warm bath in an effort to soothe him.

Another decade passed and then one day, in the early 90’s, I was on a bus in Port Authority on my way back to my Upstate NY home. Just before the bus pulled out, an edgy man got on. Our eyes locked. It was him. The seat next to me was empty but he passed me and took a seat at the back. Five minutes later, he came and sat with me. He’d just got out of jail. He was wired, talking frantically in an attempt to convince himself that he was okay. I had 3 years sobriety at that time and looking at him I was reminded of how close I’d come to being where he was at. I put a hand on his shoulder and urged him to slow down, that life would last longer if he did. He looked at me in amazement bordering on horror. “Slow down!” he exclaimed. “If I slowed down I’d skid for 30 years.”

During these last 2 months of my own attempt at slowly down I’ve come to realize how hard it is to do.  While I do not feel I have a 30 year skid ahead of me, I have, nonetheless, experienced the kind of driven, anxious energy that seems to have a life of its own, continually rising up and lurching forward even as the sane part of me succumbs to flopping on the couch. So, I skidded for 2 months. And then something amazing happened.

Because I continually said no to the wild energy, I eventually came to rest in the state of merely being. I no longer felt need, or desire, anxiety or ambition. I even gave up gardening. Finally accepting that my damaged hands needed a rest, I handed it over to 2 local men and another surprising thing happened: Once I let go of the need to feel I was at least achieving something by slaving in the garden, I suddenly got to enjoy “being” in the garden. Sure, I still find it hard to walk past a week without yanking it, but I now find it more rewarding to sit alone, or with Joel and appreciate what I’ve made; to marvel at how many birds have taken up residence, to become hypnotized by wands of gaura fluttering in the breeze.

gaura

 

joel

3 weeks ago we went to Giglio with friends from London and together we spent 5 days, all of us in need of rest. We surrendered to being taken care of by the family-run inn and spent our days napping, reading, swimming, laughing and eating.

boulders

cove

 

Maggie-Pip dancing

I got to the point where I felt yes, I can live like this: peacefully, slowly, one day at a time. And after a week of feeling this way something miraculous started happening. I started receiving emails from people telling me they just read my book and loved it, that it had been chosen by a couple of book clubs to be the book of the month. A friend in Paris wrote to say she is trying to arrange for me to read in Paris in the autumn. Another person wants to include me in her new Podcast series in the fall, in which we will discuss various topics that arise in the blog. And then I started hearing from people about how much they miss the blog.

I started to write again, for the pure, adventurous joy of it. I’m attaching 2 pieces, in reverse order date-wise. Pieces that I wrote purely for myself but which I would now like to share with you. I hope you enjoy them and I hope you will feel free to comment.

Joel and I are leaving on 4th August for a week in Edinburgh where we will meet good friends from NY, attend the Fringe Festival and celebrate my 70th birthday. A new age indeed!! I look forward to connecting with you again when I return.  With love to you all, Maggie

 

22nd  July, 2016               TOWARDS THE LIGHT

candle

So, the truth is that I miss writing for the blog. Of course, I could have kept writing just for myself, and in fact, I did write one essay a couple of weeks ago, which I will attach at the end of this post. I wrote because it’s in my blood. After 50 years of putting pen to paper it’s more than a question of identity; it has a quality of mystery, of alchemy, that magical, timeless place in which artists disappear and which we live for. I love the feeling of disappearing, of becoming a vessel, which is both empty and full.

It is as much a surprise to me as it may be to a reader, what the contents of my mind will spill at any given moment. In fact, what I really love about writing, or participating in any art form, is the feeling of being both present and absent; of being exquisitely attuned to the moment. For this, one does not need an audience, or “recognition,”. In fact is the absence of that need, I believe, which makes for true art.

Still there comes that moment when you put down the pen, close the lid on the piano, wipe the brushes clean or take off the ballet slippers, when an atmosphere of emptiness is so startling one wonders where one has been and in that moment one looks around for others; witnesses, so to speak, as if by hearing from another it makes real that which one has just created. And, more than making it “real”, one longs to hear the murmur of approval; that wonderful sound that proves that what you have created, from that place of present absence, connects deeply with others.

Whether one makes an essay, a painting, a cake or a pair of shoes, one is making a product that one wishes to feel has worth to someone else. So, yes, I have missed all of you. For you, in a way, are the muse. You are part of the mystery and the alchemy.

And who wants to forego that?

And let’s face it, in these disturbing times, when many of us feel disconnected and alone, it is important to reach out to whomever might be listening. Those of us who are capable of love and honest communication have a responsibility to reach out to each other. We must continue to believe in the mystery, which is capable of making something of value, of beauty and of kindness. While acknowledging that dark times will continue to visit us, personally and globally, we can balance this by continuing to inspire each other; encouraging each other to go forward, always, toward the light.

To all of you who have reached out to me and encouraged me to continue with the blog, my heartfelt thanks.

6th July, 2016         LIVE FREE OR DIE

 

Years ago, I was an ardent fan of the BBC TV series, Foyles War. The title character was a police detective who searched for the truth with an admirable combination of cynicism and compassion. Each case he investigated entailed a civilian criminal act with WWII as the backdrop. In this way the series brilliantly combined the personal and the political, an intersection that has always fascinated me.

Today I am taking on the role of both detective and perpetrator, albeit not criminal, of my own destiny, with Britain and America as the backdrop. As a holder of both British EU and American passports I am equally affected by the dire events in both nations. Just as a starting point, I realize that these 2 nations bear a metaphoric resemblance to my personal history. England is my birth mother, the one who raised me, educated and clothes me, instilled its values of prudence and common sense in me. America is my adoptive mother, the alien parent against whose demands I continually rebelled, yet to whom I finally found compassion and gratitude for all that it/she gave me.

Like the birth mother I never met, I cling to my idealization of England. As for my adoptive mother and my adoptive country, while neither gave me a sense of belonging I nonetheless continued to hold out hope that some basic sense of fair play that both had demonstrated, would hold. Just goes to show you how hope and expectation can let you down.

Britain’s vote to leave the EU hit me hard. The sense of abandonment I felt, while I certainly was not the only one feeling this, surely held a tinge of the original abandonment. Likewise the revelation of a vast section of the American public’s seething hatred of anything “other” which has been exposed by the certifiably insane Trump makes me want to run as far away as possible; much like I ran away from my parents’ home at 16.

The feelings of bereavement I feel with regard to England and America certainly mirror, even magnify, the sense of not belonging I experienced as a result of being abandoned by one mother and mistreated by another. All of the “pain” described above, comes, of course, from the human desire to attach: to have roots, ancestry, nationality. So it is ironic that at this moment in my life, when I am daily trying to let go of attachment to identity, vanity and achievement, that two countries are obligingly giving me a kick up the arse.

As the detective, I am searching for clues as to how to solve the mystery of my existence. I must admit, to myself at least, that this process is stubbornly complex, at times frightening, and at others seemingly a waste of time. Yet every once in a while I get a brief vision of the possibility that liberation from identity holds: One’s sense of identity being the most tenuous, demanding and frightening attachment of all.

Can one really detach?  Since I stopped writing for recognition, I have filled the, at times, crazy-making emptiness with gardening. In other words, the garden became yet another attachment, indeed the only one right now. As such I immediately became a servant to the need to make the garden perfect, so that anyone wandering into it would exclaim, “What an amazing achievement!” But, as of today, after years of bullying my way through the pain of damaged thumbs, I can now barely wield a pen, never mind pull a weed. My days of gardening are done. The detective in me wants to know who am I now? I have no idea.

The echo of my own absence is hovering between terror and excitement. The terror stemming from the belief that without an identity I will go mad; the excitement coming from the belief that if I can maintain the courage to live unknown, then I will merely live, until I don’t.

pen