Tag Archives: family

WE ARE THE SENTINELS

18th February, 2017                   WE ARE THE SENTINELS

 

Each time I was pregnant I would read the section in Dr. Spock’s book on how to cut the umbilical cord. I would read it over and over, trying to remember where to clamp and where to cut. The thought of having to cut the cord held more terror for me that the thought of giving birth, as if to clamp and cut incorrectly would be the fatal mistake. As it turned out, my first child would be still born, some fatal mistake already made.

My second daughter arrived alive and well and with a striking aura of independence which rendered the cutting of the cord somewhat redundant. That said, when a few days later the remainder, still attached to her naval, fell off, I put it in a little box as if to have eternal proof that we had once been so attached to each other. Of course, it too, eventually returned to dust, as will all of us one day. What I was not prepared for was how the bond between mother and child can never be severed, no matter how either may act toward the other over a lifetime. That bond, as ineffable as a gossamer thread, tugs at the hearts to which each end is connected. So when I said goodbye to my girl a week and day ago, a tremor of distress vibrated between us.

We form so many bonds to so many people and places and beliefs during our brief stay on earth. Sometimes these bonds are rent asunder: think of the refugees. But on a deeper level they resonate forever. We are living in an age where, for many of us, the attachments we have to truth and decency and honor, are being sawed through daily by those whose power is fueled by fear and greed. As much as I couldn’t wait to get out of New York and the US in general, I also felt the pang of attachment as the plane took off. Not only to my family, but the large part of my life spent there. Also, for three weeks I had experienced being part of the mighty, righteous, resistance movement of millions of citizens and would-be citizens as we found our courage to fight for our attachment to goodness. It isn’t a tug of war; the rope frayed long ago. But as the new administration severed one tie to decency after another, the people immediately forged a new one. And the bond between us that we now know to be as necessary as the umbilicus, will not be broken as long as we acknowledge it and fight for it.

Yet, how easy it is to sever oneself from responsibility. How easily I came through the garden gate here in my Tuscan paradise, and felt relieved to be “away from it all.” How easy to believe that here on this farm I am protected; the fire lit in the hearth for my arrival; the fresh eggs on the table; the joyous greetings from friends and shopkeepers, “Ben tornati!” It is deeply satisfying to be here. To see the light play on the vibrant green hills, the roses already leafing out, the birdsong of early spring, the first brave camellia flaunting its crimson petals.

Here, where the attachment to family and food is still the basic attachment to life. I feel the distance between me and my family, but our bonds are strong, too

All week I’ve busied myself with errands and cooking and gardening. The new couches arrived, made and delivered with an attention to detail that reflects centuries of pride in craftsmanship.

My dear Teddy Bear who is as old as I am, traveled in my suitcase and now sits happily in the library, the bond between us unashamedly recognized.

The weather is so glorious that yesterday I lunched outside with friends, the three of us sitting at the old table, the sun so hot we stripped down to T shirts. And in the middle of it all I wondered when was the last time that any member of the U.S. government or the new administration, or the Prime Minister of England, or the European leaders of the far right, or a terrorist, when was the last time any of them enjoyed the bond of friendship, the connection to nature, the attachment to simplicity?

Once again, I urge all of us who are fighting the good fight, to take regular time out. Turn away from your screens for a day; turn your face to the sun. Feel the gossamer threads that link us to each other, threads as powerful as the strands of our DNA. We are giving birth now to our courage and the labor is long and hard. But we can do it. Even from afar. We are the sentinels.

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.

emptyink

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.

joelanton

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

emptypen

fire unlit

BALANCE

September 1, 2015

Bubbles

There are times when it doesn’t pay to read too much into things; like for example, what might it mean that I came on vacation without my fountain pen? Certainly, after nearly 4000 miles of travel and a rough landing, to not find my pen in its usual place in my travel bag made me somewhat cast adrift. Nor does it pay to search for all the reasons as to why I might be to blame for the black mould and mildew crawling up the walls of the vacation rental I had found online months ago; so sure, then, that I had found the perfect Cape Cod house in the woods between a pond and the sea; a place where, after an absence of 4 years, we would continue a family tradition which, for me, began 44 years ago, of summers on this salty spit of land.

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When we arrived on 22nd August and finally made it to the rental with out daughter and her partner, the smell of mould and mildew in the house was so intense we could barely breathe through our instantly inflamed nasal membranes. Like most vacation spots, rentals here go from Saturday to Saturday, leaving us with only one possible house to bunk down in until we had the energy to find something more suitable. We ended up in a suburban house, albeit on a little pond and comfortable beds and for the first week ventured off to beaches and ponds with intermittent stops at realtors looking for home for the second week.

Mold

I went to an AA meeting last night on the bay in Provincetown. The topic was Balance and at one point, as I drifted from listening to someone share, I had to control a guffaw as I remembered that for a good portion of my life the definition of ‘balance’ was getting the amount and timing of enough cocaine snorts to keep me nicely wired for the night, coupled with just the right amount of booze to take the edge off. Now, balance is a shifting menu that see-saws between intimacy and dependency, chores and creativity, socializing and solitude, thought and action, judgment and tolerance, Tuscany and America. Rarely do I experience balance as easily as riding a bicycle. If I had shared at the meeting, I would have said that I have recently experienced a period of mental and emotional imbalance that took me by surprise. The problem with this kind of imbalance as opposed to physical imbalance is that it is much harder to shift one’s weight, and in fact, carries the sort of terror that I imagine falling off a tight rope with no safety net might incur.

Our vacation see-saw has been neatly divided into two weeks: the first in a house and area not of our preference, and this week in a light-filled house on a tidal inlet on Lieutenant’s Island, the peace and beauty of it all gratefully inhaled through every pore into every cell. And through it all, we two couples, Joel and myself, and my daughter and her partner, heroically recalibrated the distance between ourselves and each other and, more importantly, between disappointment and the opening up to new adventures.

Porch portrait

iz fire elli

Unlike the tick-tock of the clock, which demands a balance between seconds, the tides with their six hour spread between high and low twice a day, slow down our inner clocks, at first putting us off balance as we continue to hurtle along at digital speed for a few days before surrendering to nature’s time. And in the surrender, the last dregs of recent distress ebb, salty tears mingling with salty sea.

Wellfleet

I hadn’t been to an AA meeting in a few years, but as is always the case, I got what I needed there, not only in the opportunity to reassess the true nature of balance, but also the chance to reconnect with early sobriety. Just the day before I had shared with Joel that although I had finally given up the decades-long search for, and addiction to, the need for recognition, what I was now experiencing was similar to the first year of sobriety when, along with the relief of surrender comes also the sorrow of it having taken so long as well as the disorienting sensation of a loss of a big piece of one’s identity. I chose to sit with all of this alone on the beach in front of the house, letting the rest of the family take care of dinner preparations while I let the last of my sorrow wash out to sea, the tears turning to compassion for all the decades I spent wanting something that has nothing to do with my true nature.

Moonrise

And surely, part of being balanced is accepting the reality that one can’t maintain it 100% of the time: the volley will end with a ball out of bounds, the surfer will fall off her board, disappointment will temporarily throw us off course, loss, of any kind, will take the ground from beneath us. Then, the best we can do is not to read too much into it but rather, as the song goes, “Pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.”….today, for me, with a $12 pen and blue ink!

Blue Ink 2

SURPRISE, SURPRISE11

June 2, 2015

paradise

Life is full of surprises, isn’t it? And like many truisms that have become cliché, it’s a statement that often induces eye-rolling mutters, allowing us to over-ride a moment of awareness as to how some surprises, while hardly life-threatening, nonetheless cause discomfort.

Discomfort, like disease, is a word worth taking another look at, in that the first syllable negates the second. So I was surprised this morning to feel discomfort mixed with a sense of displacement and dissatisfaction that led to disbelief. How could I possibly be feeling so blue waking up to Joel by my side, the day soft and warm, breakfast in bed and all of Italy on vacation; today being yet another of the many festa’s for which this country comes to a complete commercial standstill?

I had a niggling feeling as to the cause of the sadness but, finding it unacceptably surprising, I managed for a few minutes to re-route it by reading book reviews which led me to a seat on the pity pot from whence I wailed to Joel “I didn’t even get an agent. 22 years of submitting work and not even an agent.” Joel dutifully commiserated which was of no help because I knew it was tired old shit. So I got off the pot and let myself experience the true source of the sadness: I missed my daughter and the rest of our family in whose loving embrace we had just spent a week. But that’s not what surprised me. What surprised me was the feeling of having made a mistake; living in a foreign country, the two of us alone on this National holiday; the startling realization that we are without family in a country that’s all about family. To allow, even for one second, entertaining the possibility of having made a mistake of such enormity was so frightening it was easier to just remain namelessly sad. Suddenly the surprise became multifaceted and contradictory:

How could we have chosen place over family?

How could we live in such beauty and be sad?

How could we have spent so much time and money on making a home so far from everyone we knew?

How would we grow old (er) here?

How could we live in a place where the only people we know don’t speak English?

And as the sense of loneliness grew I found myself up to my old tricks: Start focusing on the negative Maggie and maybe you can talk yourself out of being here. Fucking cherry tree. First the frost kills the blossoms, then the ants attack the roots, now the leaves are clogged with what look like blackheads but which are actually some kind of leaf-destroying-evil insect. The frigging clover not only survived it grew so tall while we were away that we had to mow it yesterday and now it’s turning yellow. And what the feck is with all the bloody anthills around here? And now I find out they harvest aphids, which would explain why I had to murder an infestation of them on all the roses the day we returned. And why, for chrissakes, did the bathroom renovation not get finished as promised while we were in New York? What are we on Tuscan time here? Of course, the slip covers aren’t ready, you’re living in Italy. And really, could the neighbor who made the new bookcase not have waited until we got our suitcases in the door before delivering the damn thing…and installing it while we tried to unpack. Of course we’ve made a mistake!!!!

clover

 

 

roses

But here’s the thing: the mistake is not that we moved to Tuscany; (you can, as we did for some years, live close to family and yet not really be close. What’s sad-making is that now we are such a great family! ) Our mistake is really about not recognizing, once again, that you can’t have it all, or do it all. As Joel gently reminded me today, we flew to New York where, besides spending joyous time with the kids we also each had two dental visits, went to 2 museums, had dinner with friends, took in a movie, went to the theatre, picnicked in the park, met my daughter’s partner’s parents for the first time, went to an art opening, met with our accountant and attended several other business meetings. Then we got on a plane with stewards who looked and acted as tired as we felt, flew through the night, got stuck in a traffic jam between Rome and home and then, finding home to be in need of work, rolled up our sleeves and went to it.

Surprise! We’re tired!

Surprise! We ain’t as young as we used to be!

Surprise! It’s possible to live in paradise and feel like hell!

Surprise! All we had to do to stop feeling sad was give ourselves permission to join in the national holiday of our chosen country, get out of bed, and sit in the middle of the biggest surprise of all…living on a farm in Tuscany!

me in paradise

 

joel in paradise