Category Archives: expectation.

TAPPING THE SOURCE

15th September, 2017

For Brenda Bufalino, with love.

 

Waiting for Patti Smith…and this was before the crowds arrived!

We have been in New York City for 13 days. Just being able to write that sentence feels like a major achievement! Really, how do you city people do it? Hey, how did I do it, for 22 years? Even my dear Joel who is New York born and bred and lived here for 75 years – until I whisked him away to Tuscany – woke up the other morning and said, “What the fuck are we doing here?”

Well there are three good reasons why we’re here. First and foremost, always, is to see our children and grandchildren. We “see” them weekly on Skype or Facetime when we are back in Tuscany and for sure it is one of the gifts of the Internet (although there seem to be more cons than pros these days when it comes to the World Wide Web). I’m so ancient that I remember when you had to reserve a time slot with the phone company in order to make an overseas call! And then, if you were lucky enough to get through, you could almost visualize those transatlantic cables running under the sea as the voices of loved ones disappeared only to surface moments later sounding like they had swallowed vast quantities of salt water. So, yes, to be able to touch/click an icon on a screen and not only see the face of your child, or the gap in your grandchild’s teeth, but also be able to hang out, talking, laughing, sometimes crying, even sharing a meal – lunch in New York simultaneous with dinner in Tuscany – is a miracle of technology that allows for meaningful connection in real time.

But really, there is nothing like the feel of hugging your child, or the ecstatic leap of a grandchild into your arms, or watching and hearing another grandchild play classical piano before we all sit down at the same table in the same time zone and share a potluck dinner. Nothing will ever make-up for physical presence. My daughter and I shared one of those mother/daughter days last week, the kind we do so well. Bopping around Soho and Little Italy, trying on make-up and boots, admiring each other in a new pair of jeans, linking arms under an umbrella and talking about everything over lunch.

What joy to have Joel’s son stop by this morning so we could give him a birthday hug; to see the love between these two beautiful men.

We are a combined family to which the terms ‘in-laws’ and ‘step’ are no longer attached. We all belong to each other and to be in the same space at the same time is a blessing beyond words. For this alone we brave the horrors of the long haul flights, the physical depletion of days of jet-lag, the noise and filth and fear and aggression of the city, and hope we have the stamina to do so for the rest of our waning years.

The second reason for being here was the opening last week of Joel’s stunning show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, much of it never-before-seen work, including a room of Joel’s latest photography. If you are in New York please go see it. It will inspire and revive you. www.howardgreenberg.com

And last, but never least, we came for our friend Brenda Bufalino’s 80th birthday celebration (do Google her, although, ahem, like most artists her site is a bit out of date, there are also some good YouTube videos to be found). What to say? Where to begin? For me personally, it began in 1973, when, shortly after the birth of my daughter, I began taking modern and jazz dance classes with Brenda and within a few months became a proud member of her first dance company.

It was Brenda who let my creative genie out of its tightly corked bottle. And it was Brenda who a few years later, seeing me headed toward the world of addiction, wrote me a letter saying she was concerned that I wasn’t building my “inner temple.” I remember reading those words and being pierced by their truth. I remember knowing then that those words would haunt me until I either paid heed or died. It would be another 13 years before I began breaking ground for the foundation of that inner temple and while it may have a few leaks here and there it is nonetheless erect, intact and a place of ever-evolving inner peace, morality and compassion. So yes, Brenda saved my soul, too.

But this really shouldn’t be all about me. This is about Brenda. So let me try to describe her to you. She is a force of nature. She is the most courageous woman I know. She is a true artist who never gave up, who created through a failed marriage, motherhood, in the face of poverty, uncertainty, critical judgment, sexism, ignorance, fierce competition, the inanity of celebrity parading as art, and yes, through illness and the aches and pains of aging. Brenda just kept going. Creating companies, choreography, music, books, ceramics and even at one point. her own line of dance clothing. As a young woman determined to overcome her fears she bought a horse – the creature she was most afraid of – and broke it herself. And she’s a generous artist; teaching, inspiring and encouraging generations of dancers. She’s a harsh mistress, demanding the very best of all of us who are lucky enough to be invited in. She teaches not just the highest level of technique but encourages us to develop our own vision. She has always been ahead of the times creatively, while being right on time rhythmically. She’s beautiful, absurd, magical, sexy, witty, indomitable and inimitable. She is a visionary who continues to perform and teach Master Classes around the globe.

The celebration was hosted by friends on the grounds of their country home. The weather was grey and damp, but the spirit was sunny and warm. A huge tent housed a jazz band and dance floor and as some 100 or so family, friends, dancers, musicians and patrons gathered around, Brenda took to the floor. She named just about all of us, slotting us into the different eras of her life and honouring our contribution to it. And we kept looking around at each other and feeling the ongoing river of which we are a part; the overlap, the passing of the torch, the incredible DNA of the Brenda Bufalino Tribe. And the ghosts were there, too; early deaths, suicides, the missing.

When we were all accounted for Brenda turned to the band and with a-one and a-two and a-there she goes, singing that jazz, baby. The voice like aged cognac; deep and round and full of spirit. Then the mike is put to rest and those feet pick up where the voice left off, the feet a voice of their own; the footwork precise and innovative, the taps made to whisper and rattle and snap and trill; the accents coming where you least expect them and yet so right. Her feet are speaking, singing, drumming; the vocabulary is multilingual and there is just no way Brenda is 80!

If you go back to my post of 23rd April this year, entitled The Gift of a Lifetime, you will remember that Brenda is one of my seven “sisters” whom I took to St. Ives, Cornwall, for 5 days. Half of the sisters live in Europe and were unable to make it. But here is the other half.

Scout, Vivian, Brenda and me.

So, yeah, to hell with the city. To hell with politics and greed and sheer stupidity. It doesn’t matter where we are as long as we have each other, as long as we honor the truth of history, both personal and universal. As long as we show a little kindness everyday, especially in cities because they are harsh; the lack of space, of peace, of nature, it’s not really how we’re meant to live.

Joel and I will be happy to return to our Tuscan farm, to bathe in the goodness of the land, the light, the simple pace of life lived without the desperate need for fame and fortune. But we sure will be sad to leave the physical comfort and abundant love of family and friends.

P.S. I’ve been hearing from a number of you that you are missing hearing from me more often. I miss you, too! I will try to get back to a more regular routine once I get home. But know that I have, for the last few months, been completely engaged in the writing of a new novel. It’s an intense ride which leaves me physically shaking every day. So please bear with me. And please, it goes both ways…I’d love to hear from you, too!

with love to you all, Maggie

SIMPLY BEING WHO WE ARE

 

 

29th July 2017

I’ve been thinking about the blog for a couple of weeks, but have been so engrossed writing a new novel that I was afraid I might dissipate the energy needed for that if I shifted gears and came to this. But then, the other night, we set our dinner plates on the outside table and the evening light illuminated both the simplicity of the meal and the metaphor of it; the metaphor being that it symbolized all that we hold dear about living here.

The frittata was made with eggs from the farm on which we live, the zucchini captured in their rich mixture also came from the farm, ditto the tomatoes. The frittata was seasoned with herbs from the kitchen garden in front of the table. In other words, the ingredients of our dinner came from within a fifty-yard radius of our house. You can’t get much more farm-to-table than that!

And as I looked at our dinner, it occurred to me that I could write something that simple and that wholesome to post here That not everything has to be profound or provocative or pithy, unlike the writing one undertakes for a novel which must have all those ingredients if it is to be of literary worth.

Sometimes I find it amazing how complicated a simple life can be. And we do live simply here. Ours is not a villa. We don’t even own it. Our days are a routine combination of engaging in what it takes to survive. By that I mean we are not farming it out, apart from a house-cleaner once a week and a gardener who mows the grass, also once a week, it is we who shop and cook and clean and launder and weed and water, prune and deadhead, stack and carry firewood. And I’m grateful for all of this; for the physical ability to be able to do it and for the connection it provides me to engage with the world and feel my place in it. Where it gets complicated is when I am not creating something. If I am not writing or painting I feel myself to be next to nothing. In the space between creative projects I tend to focus on all that I haven’t accomplished in life and then the daily routine I just so fondly wrote of becomes a chore I resent.

People often ask “What does it take to be an artist?” (Insert writer, dancer, musician etc.) and I say, one doesn’t have a choice: you either are an artist or you are not. And if you are an artist then it will enthrall you and consume you, thrill you and torture you. And whether or not the world will want whatever it is you create you will have no choice but to create or feel worthless.

Does the farmer feel this way? That he/she has no choice? Is he born to it? We watch Vincenzo and Silvia work from morning until night year round. A never ending cycle of planting and watering and harvesting, of milking the sheep, slaughtering lambs, bottling wine, putting up tomatoes and on and on. Like creativity, it doesn’t always go well and when it doesn’t you see the strain and the doubt on their faces.

Why do we humans insist on our identity being dependent on what we “do?” And why do we separate some of what we do into the “worthy” column ad the rest into the “mundane” column? Why should the business of survival count for less than achieving fame of some sort?

Libera and Fortunato, wife and husband in their 70’s, live up the road from us. Along with Fortunato’s brother they farm acres of land; growing wheat and grapes and olives, plums and apricots and every vegetable under the Tuscan sun. In winter they prune and stack and mend. And every day I watch them going along at their rhythmic, unhurried pace, with nary a thought for celebrity or riches. They are the last of their kind and when they are gone they will take with them centuries of living to survive. And they will take with them knowledge that we don’t even know exists.

But we are each of us who we are. As much as I might wish to truly live the simple life I was born an artist. I have a need to communicate. I write because I will burst if I don’t and because through writing I can find my way to who I am and in so doing maybe connect with others. So, the not easy part of living this simple life here in Tuscany is that no-one here really knows who I am. I write in a language that nobody here speaks. And when I am not in the act of writing I can dwell on this and feel a lack of identity. So I am writing here, today, to say thank you to those of you who read me. To say, hey, I don’t have a lot to say today except, “Hello.” And I’m grateful to have this to come to whenever I want, because it’s not like writing novels. Or at least it’s not for me.

It’s been three years since I wrote my last novel: From Dusk to Dawn. I started it the year we moved here and went on its wild ride all summer. Then I spent months looking for an editor with whom I worked the following year. That was followed by months of submissions to agents, without success. So then I hired a copy editor and a text designer, working with them for months until I finally published my novel. Then there were a series of readings. And then my daughter nearly died and the novel ceased to exist for me. Only my daughter’s existence mattered. When she finally recovered enough for me to return here it was with the fearful eye and aching heart of a mother. The book was dead to me and I felt the likelihood of writing another highly unlikely.

I began to stumble, to doubt myself, to question the validity of living the simple life on a farm in Tuscany. And then, in the spring, unbidden, a fully formed character appeared to me, trailing a cloud of dust behind her. I knew her immediately. Her name is Felicity and every afternoon she and I duke it out at my desk. I have no idea where it’s going, nor do I care. I’m merely grateful to be writing with abandon, with no “success” in mind.

This is what it means to be an artist. And thus engaged, the artist is once again connects to the world around her, grateful for a summer evening, a frittata and salad and the realization that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it fully.

For when you peg the laundry to the clothesline you are pinning yourself into the fabric of that moment; the moment you will never have again; the moment not worth doubting or judging but simply being in. As Libera will be when she dries the seeds from this year’s tomatoes, hopefully to sow them next spring.

With love to you all,

Maggie

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 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.

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

 

 

YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW

18th September 2016

wall-2

Sometimes, when I write the date, a distant bell rings, tolling across the fields of memory, carrying its faint whisper of something once significant and I try to catch the tail end of it and trace it back to some event, or place, or person that make its mark on me. Today’s date brings nothing to mind, in and of itself. If it were tomorrow I could say, ah, yes, 46 years ago I married my daughter’s father. Or if it were the 12th I could remember yet another divorce after which, to my great surprise, I left the lawyer’s office, bent my head to the steering wheel and sobbed; not just over the end of yet another marriage, but at what I presumed then, aged 44, was the last chance of making a successful one. Twelve days later, on 24th September 1990, I would meet Joel, once again proving that presumption is a fool’s waste of time.

September seems to be full of endings and beginnings: summer, autumn, vacation, school, the world before and after 9/11; and now, for some people, the end of walking nonchalantly in the Chelsea district of Manhattan…and the beginning of what?

The sun is blazing through the window now. Lower in the sky than a week ago, it hits me in the face as I write. We’ve had a small fire going most of the day, having lit it this morning while the rain beat on the roof, bringing a chill from the north. Then the sun would suddenly arrive, illuminating the rain bejeweled garden and we’d let the fire go, only to rekindle it 10 minutes later as the next bank of charcoal clouds delivered another torrent. This time accompanied by a strong wind that threatened to snap the rose tree. We saved it just in time with the aid of a broom.

broom

And so the day has been, between one season and another, back and forth, much like we were on Friday. We had been scheduled to leave early that morning for Porto San Stefano from whence we would take the ferry to Giglio and from there, the small boat to our favourite inn. We’d been looking forward to it for weeks, a last, summer fling of sea and sun, swimming, lolling, reading and hiking. Oh, we kept saying, won’t it be great not to have to shop, cook or do the dishes for a whole week. Ha!

Thursday night, suitcases packed, fridge emptied, the inn called to say a severe storm was headed to the island. The small boat would never make it. Not to worry, we said, we’ll come on Saturday. We spent most of Friday watching rain and wind beat on the garden. We also kept checking the weather for Giglio but it remained consistently bleak, with 4 of the remaining days we’d be there either cloudy or raining. So we cancelled. Talk about glum. We were like sad kids. Even though we were aware that it was hardly a tragedy, the disappointment was sharp. It took us hours to let go. Hours of trying to figure out where else to go: Capri, rain; Amalfi Coast, rain; Florence, rain. The whole frigging weather map of Europe was one big gloomy cloud.

So Joel baked a plum cake.

plumcake

And the post lady delivered a terrific DVD, that I’d ordered weeks ago and forgotten about. We had lamb in the freezer and Silvia brought the last of the tomatoes from her garden. We unpacked our suitcases and put away our disappointment, grateful to be “stuck” in this paradise.

goldhill

rainlight

Gratitude: so much more rewarding than disappointment. Disappointment is all about the future; I wish, I want, I’m going to…. Gratitude is all about now: I have this, now. I am here, now. I am alive, now. Sorrow? Sorrow belongs to the past. There’s not much we can do about sorrow. Any fully lived life will contain it. We can do something about disappointment, although it’s not a 100% possible achievement. We’re human. We will continue to make plans, and they will continue to provide as much disappointment as gain. But gratitude; that’s a choice, even for the downtrodden and the abused. I realize that may sound glib and somewhat rich coming from someone in my fortunate position, but many of the Nelson Mandela’s of the world, and Holocaust survivors, have told us they made it through the unimaginable by focusing on the smallest crumb of gratitude.

Talking about crumbs…the plum cake was delicious. And talking about gratitude, I’d like to recommend a documentary available on Netflix: “Hello, My Name is David.” Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SEASON TO TASTE

15th May 2016                                SEASON TO TASTE

stallerose

One of the many aspects I love about living in Tuscany is the equal division of the seasons. I thought about this again over our Sunday English breakfast this morning, a tradition for us, along with the accompaniment of Vivaldi’s Oboe Concertos. Perhaps only someone living here could have composed The Four Seasons, in which each movement is given equal weight. Here, each season is apportioned 3 months, a measure of time that allows for total immersion into the separate wonders that each season offers.

I had been concerned while in New York that I would miss spring here this year. In New York, as in most of the North Eastern States, spring and autumn gets a brief fling before jumping straight into full blown summer. Autumn, likewise, although extremely beautiful, still lasts but a few weeks before giving way to 5 months of never-ending winter. But when we arrived here mid April, spring was just gearing up; less than 3 weeks into the season it still had another 9 to go and I have been reveling in every one of them.

me&jasmine

The days are warm enough to work in the garden in a long sleeved T shirt, the evenings cool enough for a fire. Sudden torrents of rain are followed by breathtaking light that seems to come up from the earth as much as it comes down from the sky. What joy to watch the lavender send its yet to open spears into the air; the roses burgeoning buds gradually scenting the air as the unfold. The gaura in the rockery is still a teas of wands whose flowers will dance like butterflies right through the autumn.

The garden, which I stated 2 years ago, looks as if it were here forever and is finally becoming the wild place I’d hoped for; a garden that looks un-manicured, even though it takes work to look that way; a place that blends with the majestic landscape beyond its borders.

before the garden


L1001273

I grew up on the south coast of England, on the Gulf Stream; a temperate place that also had 4 equally apportioned seasons. I love the rhythm of living inside nature’s time, each season long enough to bask in, yet short enough to make one look forward to enjoying the next.

Earlier today we lay naked on the sun terrace. Now the sky has darkened against which the pink of the roses climbing the arched entrance to the garden seems unbearably tender as the petals shiver against the gunmetal clouds. A rumble of thunder heralds rain and soon we’ll make soup and light the fire.

sculpture

All this beauty we breathe in every day and for us it makes a huge difference to our sense of wellbeing. For, let’s face it, life happens no matter where one lives. Beauty or no, I still had to have a bridge put in my mouth. The surgery to remove the failed implant, along with what was left of the surrounding bone, was a traumatic experience, perhaps made more so by the stress of Z’s illness. Oh, and anyway, let me be honest, I’m terrified of dental work, having had more than a fair share of nightmarish experiences dating back to the first at age 5 with the school dentist. So, couple the terror with the challenge of finding a new dentist in a new land in a new language and you might get the picture. Finally, I started making inquiries with Italian friends, one of whom turns out to be terrified of dentistry also. So, off to her dentist I went.

Wow! We walk the cobblestone streets of Siena to the medieval building that houses his state of the art practice: 3 waiting rooms with Italian designed furniture; 5 treatment rooms, one just for kids; smiling, loving assistants, and the dentist himself a kind, thorough, reassuring man….and he speaks English!!! After a consultation I made an appointment for last Friday and left feeling relieved.

Yet when the day arrived, terror came back for a visit. As always, I like to name the terror: What are you afraid of Maggie? Oh, that’s easy: pain, teeth crumbling because they’re too weak to support the bridge, something awful will happen like the drill penetrating my brain, or my heart will simply stop. Oh…I’m afraid of dying. Why? Because I like it here, because I like being alive in Tuscany and I don’t want it to ever end.

Talking about this Joel last night, we shared how each of us has reached an age where death makes its presence felt on an almost daily basis. It’s a strange presence, unbidden, a shadow that comes out of the shadows. And we cannot mathematically change the fact that we are in the winter of our lives. A brutal season winter; and yet glorious, the world laid bare to the bones and we with it. Shorter days giving way to lazy, cozy nights; the sense that one’s labor is over and each day is an opportunity to be present in that that day and that day only. And so we drove through the glorious countryside to the centuries old city and I thought, well, if today is the day, how lucky am I that it came down to this: well loved and surrounded by beauty.

us

The procedure wasn’t fun. I particularly hated the use of the hammer to remove the crowns…nothing regal there! But the needles went in like feathers and a little potion of something relaxing was offered, followed by 15 minutes of being massaged in a leather recliner while the anesthesia took hold; the room semi-darkened except for soft light that cycled through the colours of the rainbow. As I opened my mouth the dentist said, “Don’t think about the past.” Forty-five minutes later the bridge was in and Joel took me for a gelato.

It seems to me that winter is the season of acceptance; acceptance that everything must end: each petal, each spear of lavender, every tree and field, a tooth, a dream. All will be replaced, as will we. But until then let’s revel in the courageous cycle of spring.

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NB. all photos for this post are by Joel Meyerowitz.