Tag Archives: cornwall

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

TIME TO BE

 

5th June 2016

bliss

I replace the empty cartridge in my fountain pen and wonder how long it will be before I do that again. In the 5+ years that I have been writing for this blog I have also revised one novel and written another. During this time I have refilled the pen perhaps a thousand times; each time with a sort of elation as if the empty cartridge was proof of achievement and the new one full of ink and promise of the continuing journey of discovery that writing has held for me for 50 years.

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Since I last wrote here, we have had friends with us for a week, then a few days of solitude before the arrival of the first round of family. Once again I am reminded of my limited capacity to spread myself between time with those whom I love, time to garden, and time to write. The latter is always the thing I let go of; sometimes willingly and sometimes with resentment.

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maggieanton

It is letting go that I now wish to embrace, for one can only let go willingly: letting go with resentment is a contradiction in terms. I have broached this subject before, both here and in conversations with Joel. Yet as I approach my 70th birthday (August 8th) I find myself face to face with my continuing refusal to:

let go of achievement

let go of the idea of success

let go of the pain of rejection

let go of choosing the path of rejection

let go of the resentment at not gaining outside recognition

let go of regret

And for sure I feel regret for having sat alone at my desk for 25 years plugging away at something that been a constant source of failure in terms of achieving a publisher. For the past year I have been alternating between letting go of all of this, while continuing to experience a stone of bitterness wedged in my core. So, obviously I wasn’t truly letting go. Why? Because letting go always requires one to feel the pain of attachment. It requires one to head into terra incognito. It also requires one to take responsibility for having chosen to cling to a path of resistance.

I was talking with my daughter-in-law this morning and in so doing we discovered that our shared fear of rejection does not diminish with age. But, as we agreed, what can change is the choice to invite it. All of us have our childhood wounds, raw beneath the scar. The stories differ, but the impressions of misconception are the same. The interpretation that we come up with as children more often than not has us deciding – way back then – that the fault is ours. Because what child can bear to believe that adults could act so cruelly without good reason? And so these beliefs about ourselves form our identities: e.g., I am worthless therefore I will always be rejected.

But as adults we really do know better. We just have to be willing to re-educate ourselves each time we slip into default mode. For me the deeper question now is why do I have to perpetuate unhappiness when my life is filled with such bounty? Is it some ancient superstition that happiness equals death? On the other hand, who gives a fuck? Why not cut to the chase and cut out the behavior already?

Ten years ago I found myself in a similar situation and then one day I had the vision that I had created my own tightrope; a thin wire that stretched from my core way into the distance where a landing platform atop a ladder was barely visible. I realized that this thin wire which I had been treading had narrowed my perception of reality, whereupon I reeled myself in, sat on the landing with feet dangling and surveyed the enormous, thrilling landscape of my life.

The next day I booked a flight to London, took the train to the foot of Cornwall and checked in to a small, family run hotel on the edge of the cliffs. I took no paints or pen with me. On the first evening I was ushered to a table-for-one by a window looking out to a garden and the sea beyond. The innkeepers had placed my chair facing into the dining room, probably thinking that by so doing I would be able see and communicate with the other diners.

With the innate wisdom that we all possess, I knew that was the last thing I wanted. I had no interest in communicating with others nor did I want to tell my story one more time. I simply wanted to be. So I took the chair and switched it to face out to sea, my back turned to everyone. For 3 weeks I said, Good Morning, Good Evening, Goodnight, please and thank you. Already 17 years sober I was always the first to finish dinner, which allowed me to enjoy a half hour of solitude by the fire, in the small adjoining sitting room, sipping a cup of chamomile tea before retiring to my room.

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Each morning, after breakfast, I would wander the cobblestone streets down in the village, buy a sandwich and with it and a thermos of tea would stride out across the cliff-tops. For 3 weeks I “did” nothing except be. I “did” what I truly wanted from moment to moment: sat on a rock here, a boulder there, climbed down a cliff face and sat on a rocky ledge being with the birds and the sea and the cliff. I interpreted nothing; attached no meaning to anything; had no desire to describe my experience of the world to others through writing or painting or conversation. They were the happiest 3 weeks of my life.

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On the penultimate day, I took a taxi to the village of Zennor and told the driver to return for me in 4 hours. I walked the ancient paths, sat on a boulder to eat my lunch, the sea my constant companion. At one point, further along the cliff, I came to a narrow wooden footbridge. I unwrapped a bar of chocolate, my childhood favorite, and experienced utter bliss nibbling on it while watching a small gorge tumble down from the moors, down over the moss covered rocks between fern adorned banks; watched it disappear under the bridge before emerging on the other side where it rushed in wild abandon to become one with the sea.

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The time has come for me to detach like that again. To put down my pen and just be. To feel the release of contained energy and let it take me where it may.

I had thought last week that I would like to take a break from the blog this summer and spend my time selecting and editing the best essays from the last 5 years, and who knows, maybe at some point I will do that. But today I am choosing to take a break from writing…period. I am choosing to let go of the attachment to achievement and merely be.

Writing the blog has been a gift to me, and from what I hear from some, a small gift to you. I have no idea who most of you are, but I have felt you out there and have welcomed your company. I’d like to think that this is just a summer hiatus but that, of course, would not really be let go. Still, I am merely human and therefore would ask you to wait a while before deleting me. I’d like to think I’d be welcome back if I so choose.

For now, I bid you adieu. The pen is empty, the fire unlit.

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fire unlit