Tag Archives: gratitude

LIFE IS A PUZZLE

18 June 2017

 

This week we returned for our favorite Tuscan island. Twelve days of simplicity and beauty. Twelve days without even having to decide what to eat; la mamma cooking 3 meals a day without ever once repeating a dish. Every dish sourced from the family’s organic garden and animals on the property or from their farm on the mainland. And perhaps most wonderful of all, twelve days without news and without touching money.

The days were spent climbing up and down 300 stone steps to either of the two coves where, between meals, we read and swam, and did a bit of writing before climbing the steps up to yet another delicious meal. In the evenings, if we wished, we would join the other guests – anywhere from a dozen to twenty – on the patio where we would all look dreamily out to sea when not commenting on our good fortune to be in such a place of love and peace. Once in a while some of us would venture into philosophical talks that focused on non-aggression.

One evening a woman from Puglia serenaded us with Italian folk songs, accompanying herself on the guitar. At one point, seeing that one of the workers had joined us, a young Spanish woman who spoke not a word of Italian, she sang an old Spanish folk song for, her voice graveled with soul, the young woman weeping as I held her hand.

Twelve days, spent with strangers, mainly Italians, but also a couple of Germans and Scandinavians; all of us proving that it is possible to live in peace and harmony. The German couple had spent their honeymoon there and now, 25 years later, had chosen to return for their anniversary. Somehow the proprietors remembered the meal they had served them all those years ago and served it again at dinner the night of the anniversary. We watched as tears streamed down the wife’s face, the husband smiling so tenderly. And then more tears, when the staff, singing all the way, marched from the kitchen carrying an enormous chocolate cake to the couple’s table.

So, why, oh why, did I check the news upon returning home, finding among all the dismal articles of political and corporate corruption and greed, the horrendous news of the Grenfell Tower inferno in London?

When my daughter was deathly ill last year, I became addicted in the darkest moments, when all was beyond my control, to a digital game on my iPhone. The game, Cubes 1010, consists of a grid made of 10 x 10 squares outside of which 3 shapes at a time appear; L-shaped, oblong, linear, cubes, each with its own color. The object is to keep slotting them into the grid in order to eliminate completed vertical and horizontal lines. It’s called a puzzle, but that’s a con. In fact it’s unsolvable. It’s actually an unwinnable game in which you keep score against yourself. I have deleted the app from my phone many times, but after a few months, when not wanting to face something or the other, I find myself sucked back into it again. As I was this past week, after letting myself get sucked back into the news.

I hold dual citizenship in England and America, two countries that make me glad I now live in Italy. While far from perfect, and currently suffering a crop-damaging drought, nonetheless its citizens daily rescue fleeing refugees from the sea. My homeland, England, while of course still having many admirable “native” citizens, is also a country whose values have drastically changed over the last couple of decades. Those of us who watched Absolutely Fabulous back in the 90’s may have found it hilarious then, but actually it was a horrendous depiction of the vacuous,narcissistic greed of the newly rich: A class of people that has grown enormously in London, which is now one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

I was born at the end of WWII. The first 4 years of my life we lived on rationed food. I remember seeing streets of bombed out houses, partial rooms dangling mid-air, peeling wallpaper a fluttering dream. I was probably 10 before war stories – in print, on film, or overheard in grown-ups’ conversations – ceased to be a regular topic. Stories of cities bombed for 5 years; stories of people returning from work to find their whole street, families and neighbours gone. Stories of how the King and Queen refused to leave Buckingham Palace but instead remained there in solidarity with their people. Photos of the Royal couple walking through the rubble; the common folk dancing in the streets; the British spirit a finger in the eye of the enemy.

After WWI council houses started being built, somewhat uniform but with local design variations, all adhered to local authority building standards. They called them “Homes fit for heroes,” and more than a million of them were built between 1914 and 1938. I had several school friends who lived in these houses, which, on the inside looked much like the house my parents owned: clean, orderly, wallpapered, fireplaces, new appliances etc. They looked like this:

Now they look like this:

Grenfell Tower was an example of what today’s council housing looks like. “Managed” by a private sector company on behalf of the local council, it stood between the 2 richest boroughs in London. Don’t you just feel for all those filthy rich fuckers who had to “put up” with such an eyesore in their midst? Not to worry. The local council and management company agreed some couple of years ago to resurface it so it would look nicer. Never mind that its tenants were still, after years, complaining of leaks, faulty wiring, rodent infestation etc. But hey, as long as it looked good when you got in your fucking BMW a block away, off to make another million in the financial district, or have your interior designer come over and renovate the kitchen you just renovated 2 years, who gives a shit?

I know, I know, some level of this inequality has always existed. But aren’t we supposed to be evolving? I mean really evolving, on the spiritual level? What the fuck? Twenty-four floors of immigrants, some having escaped horrors in their homelands, trying to better themselves. Working minimum wage jobs and going to college and then, like disposable waste, incinerated as a result of flammable cladding used to beautify the exterior.

Yesterday I spent an hour losing game after game of Cubes 1010. Each time I started again I thought maybe if I could just do it right I could keep fitting all those shapes and sizes into the grid until, what…? Until the rules of the game changed and instead of elimination I would finally be able to house diversity into a completed grid where every shape and size and colour would finally slot together in harmony?

If I was 10 years younger and living in London I’d house a couple of the now homeless. Instead I’ll resort to sending money. I won’t be playing Cubes 1010 anymore. Better to tend my garden and redouble my daily effort to praise beauty and be grateful for all the love in my life. Better to spend my time trying to be a little kinder to loved ones and strangers alike.

 

 

 

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.

ONWARD

 

30th December 2016

abstract

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

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

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

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

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

roses

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

our-tree

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

tired-tree

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

fire

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

blues

The radiance of my Joel…

joel-arles

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

6-feet

Thanksgiving in the Luberon, and the cherry trees ablaze.

thanksgiving

cherry-trees

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

 

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

siena-tree

The immense pleasure and gratitude of being home in Tuscany.

home

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

amy

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

studio

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

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

light

With love to you all, Maggie.

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

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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.

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