Tag Archives: love

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.

 

 

 

THE GIFT OF A LIFETIME

23rd April 2017

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’ T.S.Eliot

It’s been a long spring, joyously so for the most part, although too hot at the start, so that the garden has a slight air of weariness, as if too much was asked of it too soon. But, oh, the bliss of returning here after two weeks away and finding the wisteria weeping from the porch roof; its perfume a swoon to the senses. I once called wisteria ‘the queen of ambiguity,’ only to find when translating that essay into Italian that here, in this gender specific land, it is masculine. Perhaps there is a botanical reason for this, but after spending a week in the company of my 7 best women friends, I can’t but think that the gender-choice was decided by some poor man unable to cope with its maternal sorrow.

Last year, shortly after I turned 70, I was sitting at my desk asking what I would most like to give myself as I entered my 8th decade. The answer came immediately: I wanted to spend time with all the women who have been of support and encouragement and inspiration to me throughout my life, including 2 who, although unknown to me less that 6 years ago, have gifted me with their wisdom and poetry, mainly through emails. And I wanted to spend this time with them in the one place on this planet to which I have been deeply connected, in this lifetime, since I was 3 years old.

It is the place I returned to on my own for decades, as a painter, and as a writer and as an ex-pat living in America. It was the place I could call my own; where I could feel my ancient spirit awakened by the wind and the sea as I walked for miles and hours upon the tufted cliffs, clambering down to my ledge to disappear into the sea spray along with the birds. It was the sense of belonging that I’ve always felt there that drew me there. I, who until a week ago, had no knowledge of my ancestral roots, felt instinctively that I belong there on those wild Cornish cliffs and moors.

The response to my email invite was swift: a chorus of Yes, although one would eventually have to drop out due to family illness. Yet even she was there, as you will later see. Over the course of the winter, I started envisioning what it was I wanted to share with these women; I wanted them to witness a part of me that they had never known; the part of me that comes from a sense of belonging as opposed to a sense of yearning.

Over those winter months, the ‘program’ evolved slowly, without pressure or need; a mix of walks, studio and museum visits, outdoor theatre, a cream tea on a farm by the sea and a private figure-drawing class in the famed studio of the St. Ives School of Painting. All the events were as rich an experience as we could have hoped for. But it was the conversation that held the ore. And we mined it at breakfast, lunch and dinner…interspersed with a few tears and much bawdy laughter.As Vivian observed, in her 70+ years she had never experienced sharing meals for 8 where every single time the group conversed as a whole. There was no splintering into pairs, except sometimes when we were walking. At table a topic would be presented or arise and then it became a pow-wow.

No-one, besides me, knew everyone else in the group prior to this adventure. We hail from 4 different countries: England, France, USA, Italy. One other beside myself has lived as an ex-pat, originally hailing from South Africa. The youngest, whom I’ve known for 23 years, is 47. The oldest, whom I’ve know for 44 years, will be 80 this year; the rest of us filled in the intervening decades. And so it was that these 7 women met for the first time under the big clock at Paddington station at 9:30 on 3rd April. By the time the train delivered them to St. Ives at 4pm, they were a unit. And after a few tears upon seeing them all together, I stopped being the leader and just became one with them.

At Paddington Station

Our diversity in age and background was our gold, not to mention our diversity in careers: one human rights barrister/judge; one actress/film-maker/interior designer; one dancer/writer/ceramicist; one photographer/poet; one musicologist; one therapist/quilter; one antiques dealer/innkeeper/shopowner, and myself. And let’s not forget Julie, who couldn’t come: podcast producer/author/ceramicist. We are all mothers; and we all mothered each other in the best possible sense. Half of us are married. The other half lives singly as a result of death or divorce. We are all mighty.

On our second afternoon Julie joined us via Skype to lead us in a fireside tea meditation. She had taken a single piece of brown clay, embedded with blue stripes (for the sea) running its length. Then she rolled it like a jelly-roll and cut it into 9 pieces which she hand-formed into little cups. Reserving one for herself, she had sent the remaining 8 to the inn and in her Skype presence we each randomly chose from the box. Following Julie’s instructions, I placed all 8 cups in a circle touching each other and A, whose 70th birthday it was that day, pour the tea in one unbroken flow and then we sipped in silence. Julie also joined us via Skype a few evenings later when A presented 3 exquisite pieces of music by Chopin, Debussy and Ravel.

Was it only 5 days and 5 nights? Or did we live forever among the ancients? All I know is that I am still feeling bereft of their company. And I do know that each of us experienced something vital: sisterhood, womanhood, our formidable strengths and our tender vulnerabilities; no competition, no judgment. This is something many women are missing in contemporary life. Only we women can bear each other’s sorrow, cup a hand around it and urge each other forward.

Two weeks later I am still feeling the upheaval that such a deep connection brings once severed. Then again, while the physical connection has been broken the emotional one can never be severed. Which is why, perhaps, it came as no surprise, a week ago, to discover via DNA testing, my ancestral heritage: Scandinavian, thousands of years ago; then Munster Irish and Southern English and most recently, Southern English…right there on the Cornish cliffs, where I once and always belonged.

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S.Eliot.

drawing by Maggie

ACTIVATE

18th March 2017

As many of you know…and are perhaps fed up hearing about…I’ve had a bit of an issue with rejection for most of my life. I know I’m not alone in this and certainly for those of us given up for adoption it can be almost a raison d’être, especially if, like myself, you didn’t get the luck of the draw with your adoptive mother.

All of us, to some degree or another, have issues impressed upon us in childhood that we may, or may not, struggle to resolve during the course of our lives. But as my dear friend Vivian, a brilliant therapist, said the other day, “The holes from childhood can never be filled.” So, what to do? And how do we figure out the difference between persevering to overcome these issues, as opposed to the unconscious ways in which we invite these issues to keep recurring in our lives?

I’ve sat at my desk writing for many decades now. The first decade or so I was writing only for myself, and so while rejection may have been a recurring theme in those journals, the writing itself did not invite it. That said, I can be extremely creative when it comes to being self-destructive and if self-destruction isn’t the ultimate rejection, I don’t know what is. Hence the role, in my life, of alcohol, drug addiction, sex, serial marriages etc., etc.

When it comes to 27 years of rejection as a professional writer I’m not sure of the percentages: to what degree did I continue to write and submit work because I thought that commitment, discipline and perseverance would eventually pay off? Or to what degree did I continue because on some deeper level I needed to keep rejection in my life because it had become part of my identity?

I’ve spent the last few years trying figure this out and finally I decided last year that the percentages don’t matter. What really matters is I’d finally had enough of inviting rejection into my life. Period. So I self-published my novel and continued writing for this blog which gives me enormous pleasure because I know that many of you look forward to receiving the latest installment.

But life is tricky isn’t it? Last November, unbidden and unexpected, I was approached by a successful film producer who had been given a copy of my novel by a mutual friend. She told me that she had been waiting for a project that really moved her and that when she read my novel she knew that was it and she asked if she could have the movie rights.

What joy. All those years of struggle were finally paying off. Over a couple of dinners we discussed how to move forward. She was on her way back to her homeland and in a few weeks, once settled, she would ask me to send all required materials. Weeks went by. Finally, I emailed 2 weeks ago to ask if she was ready for the package. The reply was swift and succinct: No longer interested.

The rejection I felt was so enormous it was as though every rejection was rolled into one huge hairball stuck in my throat. In fact, the expression: “something stuck in my craw,” was more than apt as I immediately began to suffer from acid reflux. Our bodies tell us everything.

Now here comes the good part.

Yesterday, our dear friend Rupert, healer supreme, came to give us massages. I told him I had rejection stuck in my craw. And here, paraphrased, was his response. “You have the wrong receptor activated.” Basically, he continued, the receptors which are activated, take all the feelings and experiences and memories deep into our cells and because they are deep in us those feelings, experiences and memories can be activated every time a similar situation occurs. As soon as he said this I felt an extraordinary lightness of being. I suddenly realized that only my rejection receptor had been activated (since birth). As a result, the receptor for success had stayed closed and therefore whatever successes I had achieved in life I’d barely acknowledge, never mind felt.

As he continue with the massage it was as though my life came flooding back to me, much like we are told happens on our death bed. Except now I am very much alive. One after another, the string of my successes lit up and I felt them deep in me: leaving home at 16 and finding my way; overcoming a stillbirth and giving birth to an exuberant daughter; joining a dance company; opening and running a successful hair salon for many years until I broke my neck; ditto painting and selling hundreds of works during that same period. Creating and hosting a current affairs radio program; buying my own house as a single 43 year-old woman. Writing and performing a play Off Broadway; Earning a Master’s Degree at 49; Founding the Tuscany Workshops which Joel and I taught for many years; Overseeing the renovation of an 18 unit apartment building in Greenwich Village; Training for and opening a rewarding therapy practice; developing and maintaining deep friendships; growing a beautiful marriage with Joel; Creating 3 gardens; Helping my daughter through a near-death experience; Moving to a new country and speaking a new language. And yes, writing a shitload of novels, stories, poems and essays.

I’m aware that this list may read like a boast, but it’s not. Not that I haven’t boasted of these things in the past. But therein lies the difference: the boast is the thing we do when we don’t actually ‘feel’ our own success. America currently has a president who is a disturbing example of this; definitely has the wrong receptors activated there!

So, no, I’m not boasting now. I’m sharing with you the joy of this particular enlightenment for the same reason I share other personal growths and triumphs: because I want to say, “Hey, there’s hope for us all!” and because I want to say thank you to Rupert and the many angels in this world who give us their insight and wisdom, sometimes almost at the last minute, when we have just about given up hope.

May we all be each other’s angels, ready to impart our wisdom, lighting up the dark sky with a millions stars of hope and possibility.

With love.

NB.  I am thrilled to announce that my friend Julie Burstein (absolutely Google her) and I have started recording a series of short Podcasts (under 5 minutes). Here are the links to the first 2.  We would be most appreciative of feedback.

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.

IN NEED OF TIME

16th October, 2016             IN NEED OF TIME

table-2

I had wanted to write last week, and again this, but each time I thought about uncapping my pen, I thought, for what? Who the hell wants to read a blow-by-blow account of recovering from broken bones? You know me, I’m all for discovering the silver lining, but frankly the last couple of weeks have been mainly overcast. Then, yesterday, I received a wonderful email from a friend in London who wrote:

“From your blog it sounds like you are in a great headspace…though I would be truly impressed if you managed never to give in to fits of swearing/being a bitch/violent thoughts and whinging.”

 Thank you Pheobe, for getting it! And no need for you or anyone else to be impressed as I have given in to all of the above and some others I’d rather not mention.

Like all journeys, this one has it highs and lows. I’ve been on more scenic adventures, that’s for sure, although surely the view inside my head is interesting to say the least. Why is it so hard to admit to feeling depressed? What is this investment in seeing oneself as indomitable? Isn’t that kind of insistence a major contribution to feeling isolated? For if you can’t share your lows with others, then not only can they not share theirs with you but it gives a false impression of superiority

So, here’s the lowdown:

  1. I am not indomitable.
  2. I sometimes feel sorry for myself.
  3. It’s hard to sleep.
  4. There is pain.
  5. It’s stultifying-ly boring.
  6. I’m bitchy to Joel.
  7. I have moments of hot resentment of people who can walk.
  8. I’m impatient.
  9. I’m disappointed with myself for not being more creative
  10. I cry every day.
  11. I am at times angry to the point of seeing red.

seeing-red

I know the above list is not a complete picture of who I am, but I still wish none of it were in the frame. It doesn’t fit with the idea I have of myself as being courageous and positive. As though only by being both those things at all times do I have the right to live. How ridiculous.

The stories we make up about ourselves! The other day I was thinking about this accident and thinking, wow, that’s so unlike me; I’m so not accident-prone. Ha. Really? What about all the broken fingers and sprained ankles in sports? The most recent being 2 summers ago playing badminton. What about the time I was leaning against the passenger door of a pick-up truck, talking to the driver and my 5 year-old daughter sitting between us when the truck rounded a bend, the door flying open and me bouncing on my back on the road? What about the broken neck? Or the dropped carving knife on my foot severing the tendon to my big toe followed by surgery and weeks of non-weight-bearing foot in a splint up to the knee?

With regard to the latter, I must say that the medical scooter I used for getting around, kneeling on the bum leg and scooting with the other, was far superior to a bloody wheelchair. I had a basket on the front of it in which I could carry food from kitchen to couch, although mainly the basket carried Windex, Fantastic and a roll of paper towel; clean and tidy house fanatic that I am. With the wheelchair I can just about manage a fly swatter in one hand and a cappuccino in the other, navigating with elbows and the good leg. Forget the cleaning supplies. I have a new method; I just kick crap under the couch and move on.

And yes, there are highs. Like taking the cast off my hand a week early (against doctor’s orders) and massaging it with arnica several times a day. I am now able to type with all 10 fingers although the ring and pinky digits are still only good for nose-picking, unable yet to fully bend on their own. And I am now able to hop to the kitchen and stand on one leg long enough to make 2 drawings.

house-1

 

house-2

But even then my expectations got carried away. Ah, I thought, if I can express myself creatively I’m over the hump. But the tears still come. And what are these tears for, apart from finally, after 26 years, getting me a loving pedicure from Joel this morning?

I’ll tell you what the tears are for; for washing away the sadness that accumulates over a lifetime. Sadness too vast to be cleansed in one good cry. And the tears are for the inevitable sadness one feels at this age; that life is on the short end. That there is no quota for pain. That pain, whether emotional or physical, takes us away from our vitality, our life force. Isaak Dineson was so right about there being a salt cure for whatever ails us.

isaak

So, if you can’t work up a sweat and you can’t get to the sea, tears will suffice. That life force we all have, it doesn’t go away until we die. But it does take courage and determination to summon it. And it takes the love of others to help us get there. In that regard I am a wealthy woman, for although our friends are scattered far and wide they still show up for me in emails and Skype and Facetime. And how about the woman behind the counter of Bar Moderno here in town who, when Joel went in yesterday to buy me ice-cream, on hearing of my accident, removed the entire metal container of coffee gelato from the freezer counter, topped it up with stracciatelli and said, “Eccola! Un regalo per Maggie!”

icecream

 

And then there is my Joel, my greatest treasure of all, who has fed me, bed-panned me, pedicured and praised me and put up with a sea of despondency.

joel

Today he wheeled me out in the garden, handed me my walking stick with which to point at weeds, that he then hoed. Not to be outdone I hopped out of my wheelchair, lowered myself to the ground and gave a much-needed haircut to some thyme.

yay-pruning

P.S. My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your kind comments and emails.

 

LOVE

14th February 2016                           LOVE

 

Love. What is there to say? That love is all you need? If only…And what are we saying when we say “I love you”..?

hearthead

Can love be conveyed through words? Many have tried. Love letters abounded for centuries, written in complex sentences, feelings of love explored in the dark of night; in the trenches, from the prison cell, in a young maiden’s room; candles guttering with desire, casting shadows on the page, ink drying in the form of love. Now we have the emoticon.

A friend sent me a photo this morning. The photo, taken by David Goldblatt in 1964, during the apartheid years in South Africa, shows a young boy standing behind his nursemaid who is seated on concrete border. His hands rest gently on her cowed shoulders. Her left hand reaches being her to clasp his left foot; a gesture of forbidden love that grounds him. Far away the Beatles sing, “Love Me Do.”

david_goldblatt_11-a-farmers-son-with-his-nursemaid-heimweebergnietverdiend-1964

David Goldblatt   A Farmers Son with his Nursemaid. 1964

For some reason I had no sense of this day’s approach. Normally a hopeless romantic who can spend hours making some love token for Joel I never gave it a thought this year. Maybe when you reach our age and still experience being in love then that is all you need. There is no need to make something that represents love…there is no stand-in for love. Sadly, there are many alternatives: hatred being the absolute enemy of love drags in its wake its lesser disciples; judgment, envy, greed, prejudice and all the variables that fear engenders.

The month of February seems to have crept in the back door while I wasn’t looking. One minute it was Christmas, the next it was January and we were living and loving it up in London and time seemed to standstill while it filled itself up with goodness and then suddenly it was 5th February and time to return to Tuscany. And we came home full of all the love we and been given, our own rekindled, so it never occurred to me that this day was upon us until yesterday, when Joel could no longer contain his excitement about the gift he was to give me this morning.

heavyheart

He found it a month ago in the back room of an antique shop in Florence. Wrapped in dusty old newspaper it had been left on the shelf, so to speak, for who knows how long. This morning, wrapped in gold paper and tied with string, it sat on the kitchen table. I picked it up and felt the weight of it, the kind of weight that has metaphoric import. Tenderly I unwrapped it and found it to be the 2 halves of a brass mold in the shape of a heart. It made me gasp. The one half, contained the plump mound of heart, the other its mirror opposite, concave and empty; the two halves necessary to each other. The two halves making one heavy heart…and whose heart is not heavy these days?

heavyheart 2

I look at these 2 hearts, the one so full and bursting, the other empty, waiting to receive and I wonder how many times some wafer of metal was placed between them. I see the hearts pressed together, and in their yearning to touch they impress themselves onto a blank material, the material forced to yield until it takes on the shape of love; the new heart perhaps then filled with chocolate, again and again, until there are enough to fill a box tied with red ribbon and given to a young woman who sucks on the sweetness, longing to be filled with its aphrodesia, unaware of how much work it takes to make love.

And that young boy, is he still alive? And if so, does he still feel the imprint of his nursemaid’s hand; her love given against all odds.

stoneheart

LET THE HEALING BEGIN

21st November 2015                    LET THE HEALING BEGIN

treelight

NB. Dear Readers, I owe you 2 apologies. The first is re: the announcement of the arrival of my novel: From Dusk to Dawn. The link I provided caused some confusion for readers outside the U.S.A., because it linked only to the American Amazon site. For those of you living in the UK. Canada, Europe, Australia, please visit Amazon in your country: e.g., If you are in Italy go to Amazon.it   In Britain go to Amazon.co.uk etc., type in Title of book and my name. The second apology is for not posting in nearly a month. When you read this following you will understand why and will perhaps understand why it’s taken me a week to post it!

It is said that April is the cruelest month, but for me it’s November. Ever since childhood, no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve found this penultimate month to carry an air of gloom. In England this is the month that starts of with a bang, the 5th being Guy Fawkes Day; the chap who tried to blow up the houses of parliament back in 1605. I am still not sure if we celebrate that day because of his capture or because we are secretly rejoicing in his attempt at annihilating the King and his government which, like just about all of them, everywhere then and now, tend to be seats of power not much in favor of the common citizen. In any case, the fine drizzle of an English November more often than not puts a damper on the celebrations.

Aware that November was about to have its way with me, and being on my own now for a few weeks – more on that later – I decided to go to Bonnieux and spend a week with our dear friends Paul and Sharon. Friends who I knew I could take my loneliness and fragility to and they would hold it and me; a healing for which I am eternally grateful. We walked a lot, down lanes and through vineyards, reveling in the warmth and beauty of an extended Indian summer.

orange tree

apple tree

P&Swlk

And we talked and ate amazing food and laughed over an early dinner with friends in spite of the sorrow of the night before; the sorrow of Paris, where I had originally booked a flight and hotel for that very weekend, but which I cancelled at the last minute, choosing to go to my friends instead. We held the sorrow and surrounded it with love, as we all must do now.

Sharon table

Caro Jutta

Paul&Paul

How easy it is to believe that the world is filled with terror. For sure terror exists and always has. Really, imagine what it must have been like to be chased by some asshole in a bearskin wielding a spiked truncheon! Maybe it seems worse now because there are so many more of us and because the media reports it in never-ending loops. But we must not think like this. We must not believe that by refusing to help the millions of refugees fleeing terror that we are keeping ourselves safe. Safety is an illusion.If we do not open our arms and our doors and our hearts to the suffering then their suffering will turn them into the desperate and desperation is the enemy of life. When we are desperate the terror we feel within becomes too much and we vent on the innocent.

My dear Joel has been in New York for more than three weeks working 6 grueling days a week, going through 40,000 photographs in his archive in order to choose and sign the ones of highest quality in order to hand them over to the buyer some time next month. Joel, known word-wide for his exquisite timing with a camera does not have the same gift with the clock; what he thought would take 3 weeks will more likely be 7. So we are almost at the halfway mark and I miss him terribly.

In our early years together one or the other of us would sometimes go off alone on a trip…Joel on a shoot and I on a writing retreat, usually in Cornwall. I used to enjoy these times apart; loved feeling my independence and solitude. And of course there was always the sexy thrill of reuniting. But now, as the tape measure begins to reach its end, these separations are painful, partly because we have become a comfy old pair of slippers and partly because at our age the scent of death wafts through every day. While absence may make the heart grow fonder, it also aches with the knowledge that one day one of us will live out the rest of life alone.

And I tell you, there is nothing like being alone in the wilderness of a foreign country to take the shine right off the honeymoon phase of, well, living in the wilderness of a foreign country. As a writer I have come to know solitude and to embrace its silence. It is a necessary state of being for all artists. But loneliness is something else and can be felt anywhere, even in the midst of a bustling city. Experiencing it in a foreign language, in a place where we have only two close friends…who speak no English, gives one pause to think.

The problem with thoughts, if not shared, is that they become beliefs and it is to that dangerous place I returned this week; thinking, then believing, that I’ve made a terrible mistake; thinking and then believing that I am more fragile than I want to be; thinking then believing that after nearly 3 years in Europe we are now no longer important to the family and friends we left behind. And perhaps the lowest point happened this week when my novel finally made it to the finishing line.

I was upstairs in the studio Joel and I share. I clicked on Amazon, entered the title of my book and there it was!!!!! After 25 years of trying to get published, there was my book! Out of habit, I turned to Joel’s desk, feeling the surge of joy, about to jump up and down with him in celebration…but he wasn’t there. I kept looking around for someone to celebrate with, but I was a single parent and suddenly the arrival of my baby seemed meaningless.

Today I found myself voicing these negative thoughts out loud and as horrifying as it is to hear them, it’s also that essential; only when we literally hear ourselves think do we have the possibility of choosing between believing our thoughts and realizing that many of them are misconceptions. So, have I really made a mistake choosing to live here? No. Most of the time I love it. But as the saying goes: wherever you go there you are. And wherever we go life brings equal amounts of joy and pain. Am I really more fragile than I like to think I am? Sometimes, yes. Always? No. Are we less important to our family and friends? Perhaps to some, and understandably so.

What’s really wrong with my thinking is that I think I have to bully my way through the tough times, when in fact, unlike the refugees I am privileged to have choices. Tomorrow I will try to swap loneliness for solitude, but if the gloom of November descends then I will take myself off to Florence for a few days of culture and friends.

So that when Thanksgiving Day arrives in America, I will be giving thanks in Italy: for my life, my Joel, my family and friends, for the beauty that still outshines terror, and for all of you, my lovely, loyal readers.

29 Nov. 2015

N.B. As it turned out, a day after I wrote this I received the results of my blood tests and found out that I have a food intolerance and a severely compromise immune system. I am now on a restricted diet for 2 months, plus probiotics and will soon receive the first of a series of vaccines.

Today is the first day in weeks that I have felt like myself. I tell you this because I think it is important to share that the kind of depression I have experienced on and off for the last few months is one of the side-effects of inflammation. In the course of talking with the doctor and the nutritionist I learned a lot, including the medical fact that inflammation in the intestines also inflames the brain. It also causes joint pain, skin conditions, leg cramps and diarrhea…all of which I have been experiencing.

 One could say that this is a chicken and the egg type of situation: did stress cause the intolerance and inflammation or vice versa? It’s very easy for some of us to blame ourselves for illness, but this not only is a waste of time, it goes against the healing process. It’s no use toughing it out and saying, oh, I should have done this, or I should have been stronger or if I hadn’t done such and such this would never have happened. A medical condition is a medical condition and needs to be treated. The psychology of the event can be indulged once the brain is no longer inflamed.

 I share this because maybe one of you is feeling depressed and feels guilty about it,especially if, like me, you have a good life, and feel you have no reason or right to be depressed. Maybe it’s worth taking a blood test?

 Okay, end of pep talk….time to order that book from Amazon in your country…please! From Dawn to Dusk, Maggie Barrett

Cover and Maggie