Tag Archives: light

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

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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.

THE LIGHT IS CALLING

NB. I have held off publishing this post for a week because I felt torn as to whether this was an appropriate time to share some of the content. Today I decided to go with it. Why? Because I trust that my readers are capable of accepting that the nature of reality is complex; that we have no control over any of it; and that while it is important to acknowledge the negative, it is imperative that we return to the positive.

30th October 2016

abstract

Good news! I got out of the wheelchair 10 days ago after another round of X-rays showed excellent healing of the fractures. And I was determined to get out the damn brace, in spite of the doctor telling me I needed to wear it for another month. Another month? Are you kidding me? I was out of that wheelchair so fast and moving across the room, waving the “broken” hand at her. “Look,” I said, “Don’t treat me like a 70 year old biddy.” “Look,” I said, showing the 6 inch scar from my once broken neck. “Look,” I said, doing a stiff-legged pirouette . “I was a dancer, I know my body.” I won.

What joy, to return the wheelchair and crutches, to throw out the plastic bedpan, to walk through the garden gate and down the steps, to be able to navigate the whole house again. Sure, there’s work to be done, probably another couple of months of physiotherapy before the shockingly wasted muscles return to normal. Sure there’s pain. I’ll take it, with gratitude on top.

Two days later we took ourselves off to a local spa for 5 days of thermal waters and massage. Situated on its own hilltop in the Val d’Ocia, Castello di Velona is not only gob-smackingly beautiful but has a staff that is as kind and spirited as they are professional. My wonderful physiotherapist visited 3 times to give me treatments and work me out in the water and it was amazing how quickly the knee and hand achieved the next level of recovery.

spa-pool

panorama

I’m always slightly embarrassed to share these kinds of privileges. Perhaps its because, just as I don’t want to be viewed as “old,” neither do I want to be seen as privileged, when in fact I am both. It has to do with judgment, of course, and judgment always separates us from each other. I’m proud of my working class roots and am grateful to have experienced poverty as an adult. The range of experiences I’ve had in my life have, I hope, made me a more compassionate woman. Still, I’m always quick to let people know that my life wasn’t always so blessed. Truth is I’m not that comfortable around lifelong “haves.” I like when the dirt shows.

Talking about dirt, I’d like to comment on the response women receive when they finally talk about sexual harassment years after the fact, the response usually being one of disbelief, as in, “If that really happened, how come she waited so long to report it?” The same response is also leveled at men who were raped as boys by priests or teachers. I’ll tell you why we keep it to ourselves: because we know nobody wants to believe such horrors. Sure, there are, and always will be, false accusations and there will be men who unjustly suffer as a result. However, it’s time we listened to each other. All these women coming forward with regard to Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, they need to be heard. How easy it is for people to say, “Oh, these women are just trying to cash in on some fame and fortune now.” Maybe some are…but ALL of them? Come on. The reason we don’t come forward at the time is exactly because these are powerful men and who wants to be “raped” all over again in the press or in court.

There are a lot of ways to suppress the voice of women…as Hillary Clinton well knows. But I say, watch out. People are rising up against injustice now because as Michelle Obama says, “Enough is enough.” Whether you are a black citizen fearful of being shot by the police or a woman afraid of being raped and then accused of making it up, the time has come to get it all out in the open. So, here’s my rape story.

I was 21. Living in Vancouver. I’d just lost my job and desperate for money, took a gig as a cocktail waitress. My shift was from 5pm to midnight. My ‘uniform,’ supplied by management, was a green satin mini-dress that barely covered my breasts or my bum. At the end of my shift I would go to the staffroom to get my bag so I could smoke a cigarette while adding up the tabs and tips, then I’d return to the staffroom to change into my street clothes and catch a cab home.

On the 5th night, I finished up and went to change only to find the staffroom locked. Deiter, the maître d’, said the manager must have thought I’d already left and had locked up and left, taking the key with him. Deiter, who was very tall and slim but athletically built, had struck me as very professional; courteous, but distant. He retrieved a man’s raincoat that had been left in the cloak room, gave it to me and offered to drive me home I gratefully accepted. I lived about 20 minutes away.

About 10 minutes into the ride he asked if he could make a quick stop at his apartment to get something. I said ok. He parked the car in front of his building and said why didn’t I come up for a minute. I said no thanks. He came around to the passenger side, pulled me out of the car, put his hand over my mouth and dragged me up two flights to his apartment. Terrified, but trying to play it cool, I asked if I could call home to let my mother know I’d be late (my mother lived in England). His response was to rip the phone out of the wall.

It was now about 1:30 a.m. For the next four and half hours he raped me. While he raped me he told me his parents had been Nazis. While he raped me he told me how he’d take care of me for the rest of my life. While he raped me he told me I could never speak to my family and friends again. While he raped me he told me he’d buy me new clothes. While he raped me I pretended to be happy.

At around 6 a.m., he finally fell asleep with his arm across my chest. It took me nearly an hour to inch out from under him, freezing every time he stirred. When my feet finally hit the floor I ran, grabbing my bag and the raincoat, I ran naked down the stairs and out into the middle of the street where I waved down a VW. The driver said, “Get in the back.” I started to explain. “I don’t want to know,” he said, and drove me to a taxi stand.

When I got home I called the police station. After I finished telling the cop what happened he asked, “Did he come in you?” “No,” I said. “Nothing we can do then,” he said and hung up. I ran a hot bath and sat in it for a long time.

rape

When we got home from the Spa, Silvia and Vincenzo were harvesting our olives. What goodness, to see these farmers, who are also our landlords and neighbors, up in the branches of our trees, doing what has been done here for centuries.

vands

Goodness is what we must turn to every day now. It’s time to turn from the drip-line of the “news.” It’s not new. Like goodness, the dark side has been with us forever. The details may change but the story is the same. Those who are fearful of owning their fear will continue to be the bullies, terrorists and dictators.

silvia-1

Yesterday was a turn around day for me. The night before I had shared with Joel that I was afraid of becoming more negative with age. That there was something about the accrual of events during the last couple of years that had wormed its way into me: the robbery, my months long illness, then my daughter nearly dying, then Joel being incapacitated for months and then these recent injuries. That steady drip had me unconsciously beginning to brace for the worst . It’s a thin line between bracing for the worst and starting to seek it out. I realized yesterday, that I had been indulging in tapping into the continuous cycle of negativity we call the news. I decided to stop. I’ve cast my vote, I’ve donated money, and beyond that it’s out of my control. No matter who wins this election, that which we fear will continue to exist. Better to rejoice in the perseverance of beauty and kindness.

Two days after the olives were harvested they were taken to the local frantoia to be pressed. We would have gone but we’d invited new friends we’d met at the spa to come here for tea. I made a pot of verbena ginger, the verbena picked fresh from the garden. We nibbled on pecorino cheese and pan co’ santi, the annual harvest bread studded with raisins and walnuts. We talked of creativity and openness and the beauty and light of Tuscany.

This is the good news we must spread: that light is everywhere and when we turn to it and absorb it we become it and reflect it back into the world like the sunflowers and the grapes and the fresh-pressed olive oil, glowing with goodness in the new day.

oil

 

A LITTLE BIT OF LIGHT

11th September 2016

sunset

A gentle rain has begun to fall, its light rhythm tapping the overhead awning of the dondolo where I have come to write. Now a strong breeze arrives, stirring the garden to dance. It’s 3p.m., here in Tuscany; 9 a.m., in New York. This time 15 years ago on that blue September morn’, an act of terrorism forever changed the world.

911

It is hard not to assume, that much of the negativity and hatred that is seething to the surface now, was sown on that day. Do you remember the fear? And do you remember the compassion? Especially in New York. How for a month everyone loved everyone? How the country as a whole was taking a look in the mirror, amazingly willing to discover whatever responsibility we bore in such in attracting such hatred?

For a moment there, much like children, we were chastened. Unfortunately, also like children, we wanted to pin the blame elsewhere and have someone else take responsibility for fixing it. And from that immature need we let “W” become Daddy and we condoned his decision that first Afghanistan and then Iraq should be tagged the enemy and subsequently invaded. That worked well, eh?

As I’ve said before, when I sit down to write for this blog I never know what’s going to present itself. I certainly didn’t intend to be writing about 9/11, mass consciousness and politics. Like many of you, I’m sure, I’m truly sickened and exhausted by this election cycle, not to mention Brexit. And again, it’s easy to point the finger elsewhere; the candidates, the media, corporate power…all of which bear their share of blame. But we, the people, must own our share. When was the last time any of us participated in local politics? When was the last time we threw money at our candidate instead of directly helping those less fortunate than us?

shame

And in the end, isn’t that really where it all starts; being of service to others instead of always wanting more for ourselves: another pair of shoes, a bigger house, another car, more tax breaks, more followers, more likes, more power…

Before we moved to Europe, I had a separate career from writing. For several years I had a therapy practice. Three or four days a week I had the privilege of listening to people who wanted to transcend their painful stories; people who wanted to grow beyond their history and re-educate themselves in terms of distinguishing between the reality of today as opposed to indulging in emotional reactions that belong in the past. I was always inspired and humbled to witness their courage, for it does indeed take courage to become fully responsible for your own life.

I am grateful to have been a vehicle for change in a few lives, as much as I am grateful for how much those people changed mine. For you cannot really be of help to others if you are not willing to continually take a look at your own unswept corners. To listen deeply to another human being, to hear, and help them articulate their misconceptions, denials and judgments, is to simultaneously hear your own. I miss that interaction. When we decided to move here I spent the prior year preparing my clients and myself for the end of this intimate relationship. Most of them where able to “graduate” having developed the consciousness to accept the imperfection of being merely human, as well as having assembled the necessary tools to assist in the ongoing fine-tuning of spiritual evolution. Those who weren’t quite there I referred on.

slant

In the meantime, I had decided to take full responsibility for my life as a writer and artist, craving “more” time to myself. And I justified this letting go of the practice by telling myself that in any case the 6 hour time difference would make it hard to schedule Skype sessions, even though I was also working with people in London and Paris. I don’t regret the decision. Since then I’ve revised one novel, written and published another, posted regularly for this blog, as well as starting on a new body of drawings which I am about to start translating to canvas.

But lately I’ve been feeling the need to be of service again. It turns out that it is a part of who I am, as much as is being a writer/artist. Perhaps the helplessness I feel in the face of all the dreadful news this year is its own gift. A reminder, that being of service to anyone in need who comes across my path is an essential part of my nature and therefore a necessary part of my evolution. And here is an example of how these small acts ripple out into the world:

Last Friday, Joel and I had to go to the hospital in Siena. In order to enter the parking lot one much push a button and retrieve a ticket at which point the barrier rises and allows you to enter. In order to exit the lot one must insert the ticket into a machine and then insert the amount of money indicated. There is a woman to be found sitting on the ground next to this machine, with her beggar’s cup. Always the same woman. On this day when Joel searched his pockets he found he had no change for the machine, never mind for giving to her. Neither did I. Seeing this, the woman took money from her cup and gave it Joel.

Now, you know this woman is the target of judgment everyday. Every day, without knowing the slightest thing about her, people decide she’s a cunning thief, positioning herself next to the money machine. But being of service is not about giving to those we judge worth of our ‘generosity’…that is a form of prejudice. And prejudice is capable of bring about an event like 9/11…

we-fell

 

candle-1

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SHADOW OF LIGHT

 

March 20th, 2016

edges

So often, when I sit down to write, the phrase, I don’t know where to start, comes to mind. It is the first clause of that sentence that paralyzes: I don’t know. Remember when you were a kid and the teacher asked you a question, how hot and cold you would go as you mumbled, “I don’t know,” as if that declaration was a confession that proved how stupid, lazy and hopeless an individual you were. We humans don’t do well with not knowing, and in the moment when the realization arises that we don’t have the answer to something it can easily close off the expansive arena of possibility and pitch us into the terror of the abyss.

shadow

Someone close to me (not Joel) is ill. For the sake of anonymity I will call this person Z. Z has advanced Neuro-Lyme disease which went undiagnosed for 15 years. Z nearly died from adrenal failure 3 days before we arrived in New York. Lyme disease, which has been an epidemic for 30 years, at least, still gets less attention than the Zirca virus has received in a few weeks, and yet has just as serious consequences. Lyme, contracted from the bite of a deer tick, is known as the Great Imitator. Tricky Tick, I call it. It can mimic, among other things, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and severe mental dysfunction. It can also affect the thyroid and adrenals. Yet testing for any or all of these things could come back ‘negative.’ An example: An MRI of Z’s brain showed it to be in “pristine” condition, yet at the same time Z was unable to recognize the numeral 2.

mosaic

For the last 2 weeks I have been accompanying Z in I-Don’t-Know-Land, doing my best to accept not having any answers while maintaining the belief that Z will continue to navigate this hazard course until the boat rights itself and sails into safe harbor. We’ve put together a team of doctors and healers and Z, who is courageous beyond words, is surrounded by love and support. But the truth is still, I don’t know. So how does one relax into that, because really, none of us “know” anything. Sure, 2 and 2 make 4…don’t they? I don’t know. What if 2 is unrecognizable? Do two 2’s still add up to 4?

I always like to say that I write in order to discover the next question, so that I can find the answer. But what Z is teaching me is that there is a fine line between coming up with an answer that might save your life today and letting go of the need to find the answer to everything, in the mistaken belief that it will save you from ever dying. Years ago, a friend of mine’s mother was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She and her husband spent the next 3 years of their lives travelling to Mexico and Canada to find a cure. Her days were filled with hourly supplements and self-delivered injections. Then one night she died of a heart attack.

I’ve been in New York for 2 weeks and 1 day. During this time Joel became 78; I gave a reading from my novel and cancelled two other events in order to be with Z; I have marveled at how so many millions of people are able to live in a city, oblivious to the daily demands such stress puts on a person’s physical and mental well-being.

couchperson

I have witnessed the horror of America’s misogynistic, racist, class-prejudiced medical system and been heartened by the humanity of a couple of doctors; I’ve travelled back and forth  between Manhattan and Brooklyn more times in one day than I have in the previous 3 years; I have peeled an apple with my front teeth in a crowded waiting room in order keep Z from crashing before lunch; I have visited with friends who’ve listed patiently while I recounted the tales of the day and I have seen the sun glint off more steel and concrete than I can handle.

suncity

sunglint

And I have watched sunset’s light play on the walls of our apartment, reveling in the mystery of shadows.

birdIt is here, in the shadows, that I find an answer to today’s question, the question being: how do I live with serenity in the not-knowing. The answer being that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark anymore than there is in the light. Knowing, not knowing, each carries the illusion of safety. Life, in any given moment can be experienced as a dangerous journey or a mystical adventure. Believe everything…know nothing.

THIS LITTLE LIGHT

14 September, 2015

stone lovers

I received a lovely email from a reader in response to the last post: BALANCE. In her email she told me she has been following the blog for several years and that sometimes she was tempted to stop when it “got too dark.” I’m glad she didn’t, and I’m extremely grateful for her honesty and encouragement. I try to write about reality as I experience it; certainly it’s only my reality and the way I experience it isn’t always on the bright side. So I have often wondered how many readers are put off, or lost, as a result of my “darker” experiences.

I think it was Chekov who said that happy families don’t make for good fiction. I would add that perpetually writing only about “happiness” doesn’t make for a good essay. Nor is it of service to those of us who are willing to experience the suffering that is part of life. I admit that I went through a rough patch for a few weeks this summer. I could have kept my pen capped and waited until I could tell you that said rough patch had passed and how grateful I was for it and how much I learned. But I chose not to. Maybe I should rename the blog “The Whole Hog,” because, really, life is a pig sometime,s and I’m not interested in pretending otherwise.

However, I am happy to report that my return to Tuscany on 6th September, after 2 weeks on Cape Cod, was absolute joy; the miracle of landing safely from two flights; the joy of coming in my garden gate; the blissful embrace of this simple home; the delivery of fresh eggs from the hens down the lane; the gift of groceries from Luana’ the hugs from everyone; the sheer, inescapable beauty of the landscape and the deep comfort of slipping into bed – albeit with out my Joel – gazing out the window to the night sky; the hills recumbent yet pulsing with the mystery of centuries.

omelet

I couldn’t wait t tell you that as much as Cape Cod was familiar and beautiful, it no longer holds me in its thrall. It was somewhat like seeing an old lover, one that had been a grand passion and from whom parting had been a heartache. The kind of lover that keeps a piece of one’s heart for a while, causing it to flutter when a surprise sighting occurs. Then, one day, you see the ex-lover on the street, or at a party and your heart stays still. You are free to love again. Now, my heart belongs to Tuscany.

outside lite

And what a thrill, the day after my return, to find myself speaking Italian without aforethought. It was as though not speaking it for 2 weeks had let that part of my brain absorb, uninterrupted, all that I have learned so far. I spent that day, Monday last, pottering around the garden, surprised and proud at how much it had grown in two weeks; much the way I used to feel when my daughter would return from summer camp. I spent that day and the next two, reveling in my solitude, eating what and when I wanted, playing piano, gathering thoughts about the next essay for the blog and working on a new series of drawings.

Rocks 4

Meanwhile, my dear Joel had gone from Cape Cod to New York for 9 days, for work. We missed each other, but talked and laughed daily via Skype. Life was rich and we were – and still are – excited about Joel not taking on new projects next year. Instead we are planning to travel in Italy and the rest of Europe where we have many friends.

Plans.

On Wednesday evening, Joel’s “baby” brother, Steve, was killed in a car crash. He leaves behind a wife, 3 children, and an extended family along with so many friends that his funeral this past Sunday filled the synagogue and spilled outside. I don’t need to tell you all the details. I’m sure every one of you has experienced tragedy and loss. But I can tell you this: kindness is everything. I can tell you that we must all do our best to seek beauty and light and that even so, there will be ties when the heart is so heavy that beauty and light can only be registered for later use. And I can tell you that I believe we are light and that our light is full of the beauty and mystery of all time.

On Wednesday evening, before I had learned of Steve’s death, I lit all the candles in the house. On Thursday evening I designated one for Steve. When I went to light it, I saw that even without a flame it was already lit. I choose to believe it was Steve’s spirit and that his light, like that of each of us, remains forever. It is up to each of us, for as long as we are alive, to look up and register it.

For Stevie

With love to you all.