Tag Archives: choice



7th October 2017

I’ve been putting off writing for the blog for a couple of weeks now because frankly I was afraid of what I might write. As I’ve said before, one of the joys of writing, for me, is that it is always a journey of discovery and that by opening oneself to that, one can be pleasantly, or not so pleasantly, surprised by what pours forth. So, I have hesitated to embark on this particular journey because the world is in such an ugly mood at the moment that I felt, well, no-one wants to hear more negativity; we need good news, uplifting stories, inspiring thoughts. Well, I thought, you’d best shut up Maggie and keep your pen capped.

We’ve been enjoying a mild start to autumn here in Tuscany. Sunny warm days in the low to mid-70’s and then that sudden drop around 5:30pm that has you hurrying to don a warm cardigan before going back out to pull a few more weeds and bring in some firewood. We have the fire going by six now, and yet one is still able to have the door open so that one can experience the outside. I love this time of year. A time of between-ness. Of one thing ending and another beginning. And that delicious suspension of time that evening carries no matter the season.

How blessed to sit by the fire and through the open door hear the birds chattering away, hundreds of them, flying into the hedges to bed down for the night. What are they going on about in such a boisterous manner? How I wish I could pull some branches aside and see what they are up to. I like to think they’re catching up on the news of the day and hope that theirs is better than ours. Although like us, I’m sure many of them are recounting tales not only of the beauty they’ve seen mid flight over this exquisite land, but also tales of near misses and catastrophe; all those who didn’t make it home but fell prey to speeding cars, the pounce of a cat, a gunshot.

As soon as I write the word ‘gunshot’ an image arises of hundreds of terrified people fleeing for their lives. All those people who thought they were about to be entertained for a few hours; a temporary escape from the news. And then they became the news. And like a bird, my imagination soars above our planet to visions of suffering so enormous one wants to fly home and bury oneself in the hedge.

The local nurserymen spent the day here yesterday, cutting back those hedges all around the perimeter of our garden. A couple of hundred yards in circumference, they had grown so tall over the summer that they had, in many places, blocked our view of the rolling hills surrounding us. And here, I believe, nature provides us with an example of the 50/50 nature of reality.

On one long side of the garden, in order to see the landscape beyond it, it is necessary to cut the hedges back by about 3 feet. But while they obliterate the view they also hide the power line that runs the length of that border. So, the choice is; do you let the hedges remain high so that you don’t have to see the ugly line and yet give up the view? Or do you cut them and reveal both?

The other reason I haven’t written is because I’ve not been well. Actually I haven’t been well for a few months during which time I chose to grow the hedge of denial in order not to deal with what might by an ugly truth. Let me put your minds at ease; I am no longer in danger. Without boring you with details suffice it to say I have, for the last 14 years had a condition, which, if I didn’t take a little pill every morning, would kill me in 8 weeks.

Just before we left for New York, I finally accepted that all was not well and my choice was to either cut the damn hedge so I could discover what was behind it and perhaps do something about it, or I could stay within the limits of my personal interior and pretend I didn’t really need the bigger picture. I decided to stop hedging my bets. After three weeks of intensive testing via my New York doctor, I’m proud to report that my heart, liver and kidneys are in super shape, with the exception of some slight heart regurgitation…but whose heart is not regurgitating in these frightening times? What wasn’t doing well at all was the thyroid and adrenals, which were close to collapse. I nearly downed my own power-line!!!

The little pill was no longer doing its job, and so an additional one was needed. Frankly it scared the shit out of me and I envisioned myself becoming one of those old ladies with a bedside table full of bottles. And this, I think, is the nub of what I’m trying to uncover in this essay: that our need for perfection, our need to remain forever young and then die quickly and nicely at 90+, our need to be seen as indomitable, as beyond the realm of failing energy and failing body parts, is not only futile, but the energy it takes to pretend nothing is changing gobbles up what precious time and energy we do have left. In other words, if we want to experience the fullness of life we must also accept its limits.

I’m sitting in the afternoon shade of the dondolo looking out to the garden and beyond to the newly revealed view. Sure, I wish the power-line wasn’t there, just like I wish I didn’t have a medical condition and like I wish there weren’t so many evil assholes in positions of power in our world. But I refuse to let the bastards stop me from seeing all that is good amongst us. And I refuse to hide the fact that I m aging. And I refuse to let a condition rob me of the gratitude for the many things I am still capable of doing and experiencing.

We have choices in life. We can pretend that ugliness doesn’t exist; we can accept that it does, but let anger keep us focused on it to the exclusion of all else, or we can accept the existence of the power-line and look beyond it to the greater beauty of the landscape.

With love, Maggie



12th October 2015


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

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

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

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

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

J sunday walk

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

sun walk 2

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

moss tree

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


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

Maggie head gear

Maggie on Phone w vest

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

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