Tag Archives: new york

A NOD TO NATURE

15 November 2017

The sky is darkening early as another storm approaches from the north. I watch two large roses at the garden gate, their heavy pink heads bowed, yet nodding, as if to say, yes, come what may we will rejoice. I cannot imagine how I would keep my own head up in these turbulent times if it weren’t for nature.

I try to have the courage to be honest when I write, although sometimes my opinion might offend others. While it is not my wish to be offensive, or hurtful, neither is it my way to pretty-up my opinions. They are merely mine, and valuable to me as I hope all of yours are to you. I’m referring in particular to the reaction I received recently from three readers in response to a September post in which I expressed my discontent with New York city, Manhattan in particular.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how easily we can touch a nerve in another person? We are, all of us, attached to something, or someone, or some place. Yet while it might be okay for us to criticize our own mother, or city, or country, when someone else does so our backs go up immediately in defense. It would seem that each of us is guilty to some degree in the way in which we barely listen to someone else without needing to assert our own opinion as the only one valid. We see this on a large scale now, with regard to how divided so many nations have become: north-v-south, right-v-left, red-v-blue, Brexit-v-Remain and on and on.

I lived in Manhattan from 1994 to 2013 and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I also lived there during the 70’s and loved it; loved it for its diversity, its grit, its edginess. Sure it was more dangerous then, but it was also more real, more creative. And even though expensive back then, it wasn’t prohibitive. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, (although actually I don’t believe there is such a thing, either you are sensitive or you’re not), but part of what turns me off about cities in general and New York in particular is the enormous, ever-widening divide between the rich and the poor. I find it hard to see past this in order to enjoy the good stuff, of which there is much: museums, entertainment, fine food etc. But I wonder what percentage of people living in New York can actually afford any of those things? To that point I might better be able to appreciate those who leap to the city’s defense if any one of them had not been privileged enough to own homes in the country to which they can regularly escape the city’s relentless energy.

I mean really, how many people who have to take the subway every day see or experience joy? When was the last time the immigrant who delivered your dinner to your home was able to afford a visit to a museum or take his or her kid to a Broadway show? I remember days when I lived in New York when I would look at the teeming humanity on buses, sidewalks, subways and, yes, I would feel deeply connected to everyone; would feel profoundly moved by the fact that every single one of us had the courage to survive another day; each of us doing the best we were capable of. But these last few years what I more often experience is the pain and stress and anxiety etched on those faces, which, coupled with the non-stop roar of sound brings me to my knees. Maybe it’s an age thing for some of us. All I know it that after three and half years of living on a farm nature provides me with more wonder and joy than does New York. That said, I respect and am happy for those of you for whom the city is still a thrill.

There are some truths that none of us wish were so, but the truth is that for now, at least, America and New York have lost their way, and I find that upsetting. We were just in Paris for five days, lucky us. It, too, is an expensive city, yet it is still managing to hold onto some measure of humanity; some measure of what I call right-size. It’s comforting to see its citizens walking along, baguette in hand; to see tiny shops specializing in ancient trades, to catch a whiff of butter on every block.

But even though I find Paris charming I wouldn’t want to live there, anymore than I would want to live permanently in my home city of London. I just don’t need millions of people around me anymore in order to feel alive. A handful will do…along with those two roses at the gate, still nodding as evening falls.

 

With love to you all

Maggie

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.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE11

June 2, 2015

paradise

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

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

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

How could we have chosen place over family?

How could we live in such beauty and be sad?

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

How would we grow old (er) here?

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

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

clover

 

 

roses

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

Surprise! We’re tired!

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

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

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

me in paradise

 

joel in paradise