Tag Archives: pruning

THE POWER OF CHOICE

 

7th October 2017

I’ve been putting off writing for the blog for a couple of weeks now because frankly I was afraid of what I might write. As I’ve said before, one of the joys of writing, for me, is that it is always a journey of discovery and that by opening oneself to that, one can be pleasantly, or not so pleasantly, surprised by what pours forth. So, I have hesitated to embark on this particular journey because the world is in such an ugly mood at the moment that I felt, well, no-one wants to hear more negativity; we need good news, uplifting stories, inspiring thoughts. Well, I thought, you’d best shut up Maggie and keep your pen capped.

We’ve been enjoying a mild start to autumn here in Tuscany. Sunny warm days in the low to mid-70’s and then that sudden drop around 5:30pm that has you hurrying to don a warm cardigan before going back out to pull a few more weeds and bring in some firewood. We have the fire going by six now, and yet one is still able to have the door open so that one can experience the outside. I love this time of year. A time of between-ness. Of one thing ending and another beginning. And that delicious suspension of time that evening carries no matter the season.

How blessed to sit by the fire and through the open door hear the birds chattering away, hundreds of them, flying into the hedges to bed down for the night. What are they going on about in such a boisterous manner? How I wish I could pull some branches aside and see what they are up to. I like to think they’re catching up on the news of the day and hope that theirs is better than ours. Although like us, I’m sure many of them are recounting tales not only of the beauty they’ve seen mid flight over this exquisite land, but also tales of near misses and catastrophe; all those who didn’t make it home but fell prey to speeding cars, the pounce of a cat, a gunshot.

As soon as I write the word ‘gunshot’ an image arises of hundreds of terrified people fleeing for their lives. All those people who thought they were about to be entertained for a few hours; a temporary escape from the news. And then they became the news. And like a bird, my imagination soars above our planet to visions of suffering so enormous one wants to fly home and bury oneself in the hedge.

The local nurserymen spent the day here yesterday, cutting back those hedges all around the perimeter of our garden. A couple of hundred yards in circumference, they had grown so tall over the summer that they had, in many places, blocked our view of the rolling hills surrounding us. And here, I believe, nature provides us with an example of the 50/50 nature of reality.

On one long side of the garden, in order to see the landscape beyond it, it is necessary to cut the hedges back by about 3 feet. But while they obliterate the view they also hide the power line that runs the length of that border. So, the choice is; do you let the hedges remain high so that you don’t have to see the ugly line and yet give up the view? Or do you cut them and reveal both?

The other reason I haven’t written is because I’ve not been well. Actually I haven’t been well for a few months during which time I chose to grow the hedge of denial in order not to deal with what might by an ugly truth. Let me put your minds at ease; I am no longer in danger. Without boring you with details suffice it to say I have, for the last 14 years had a condition, which, if I didn’t take a little pill every morning, would kill me in 8 weeks.

Just before we left for New York, I finally accepted that all was not well and my choice was to either cut the damn hedge so I could discover what was behind it and perhaps do something about it, or I could stay within the limits of my personal interior and pretend I didn’t really need the bigger picture. I decided to stop hedging my bets. After three weeks of intensive testing via my New York doctor, I’m proud to report that my heart, liver and kidneys are in super shape, with the exception of some slight heart regurgitation…but whose heart is not regurgitating in these frightening times? What wasn’t doing well at all was the thyroid and adrenals, which were close to collapse. I nearly downed my own power-line!!!

The little pill was no longer doing its job, and so an additional one was needed. Frankly it scared the shit out of me and I envisioned myself becoming one of those old ladies with a bedside table full of bottles. And this, I think, is the nub of what I’m trying to uncover in this essay: that our need for perfection, our need to remain forever young and then die quickly and nicely at 90+, our need to be seen as indomitable, as beyond the realm of failing energy and failing body parts, is not only futile, but the energy it takes to pretend nothing is changing gobbles up what precious time and energy we do have left. In other words, if we want to experience the fullness of life we must also accept its limits.

I’m sitting in the afternoon shade of the dondolo looking out to the garden and beyond to the newly revealed view. Sure, I wish the power-line wasn’t there, just like I wish I didn’t have a medical condition and like I wish there weren’t so many evil assholes in positions of power in our world. But I refuse to let the bastards stop me from seeing all that is good amongst us. And I refuse to hide the fact that I m aging. And I refuse to let a condition rob me of the gratitude for the many things I am still capable of doing and experiencing.

We have choices in life. We can pretend that ugliness doesn’t exist; we can accept that it does, but let anger keep us focused on it to the exclusion of all else, or we can accept the existence of the power-line and look beyond it to the greater beauty of the landscape.

With love, 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.

 

ENOUGH IS A FEAST

October 1st, 2015

autumnvista

I hardly know where to start. When I open my journal I see I managed a single, small entry on 24th September:

Every day is just another line in the poem

 

Today, when I read that, I wonder what on earth I was thinking, and then I remember that that day was our 25th anniversary…indeed another line in the poem that is us.

Joel anniversary

L1009646_Maggie Anniv

Since then, summer has swiftly changed into autumn. Unlike the gentle autumn one associates with late September, early October, this one has more of a November feel to it; There’s a mean bite in the air that has swallowed up those lovely breakfasts under the pergola, never mind the possibility of an afternoon tea on the sun patio. Although we haven’t yet resorted to turning on the thermostat we have lit a fire every evening for more than a week now. And this is where I sit this afternoon, on the couch by the fire, to gather thoughts like kindling; writing being the vehicle I use to hear myself think.

fireplace

Any of you who have practiced meditation will know that we humans are constantly thinking in repetitive circles, obsessing about what we want instead of feeling gratitude for what we have. Monkey mind, they call it. How tiring. How non-productive is such thinking. Each thought leaning on the next, demanding instant gratification.

We had our friend Ember and her 3 year-old son, Chayton, visiting us for 10 days recently and so it was that we found ourselves watching Frozen one evening and Mary Poppins the next. Those 2 films would make for a good essay on the nature of our changing values and the way in which entertainment has become an impoverishment of complex ideas. But I’ll leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that Frozen gave me nothing to think about whereas Mary Poppins, herself, uttered many priceless throw away lines, one of which has been reverberating through my being for 4 days. I quote: “Enough is a Feast.”

Chayumbrella

Enough. It’s one of those words that the more you say it and look at it, the more it begins to shift shape and meaning until one finds oneself asking “what is ‘enough?’”

It’s a huge question isn’t it? Especially in today’s culture where so many of us have access to more: more food, more clothes, more gadgets, more real estate, more money. All of it taken for granted as the right to have it all.

For quite a while now, Joel and I have been saying what an awful year this has been to the point where we’ve almost come to believe in Murphy’s Law. The truth is some days and some years are better or worse than others and even though we are quick to point out all the good things that have happened we find ourselves loathe to admit that the crap seems to have the upper hand. And then, if one isn’t careful, one finds oneself listing all the crap – as if to back up the evidence – until one wants to scream “Enough already!!!”

But here’s the thing: when I stop and apply the “enough is a feast” principle to many of this years events I can see that some of them happened because I/we didn’t stop at ‘enough’…no, we continued on toward ‘more.’ Here’s an example. In February, we were returning to Tuscany from 2 weeks in Provence. We had a car full of lovely treasures we had found. In truth, we had enough. But no, we had to stop at another antique store on the way home in the quest for “more.” During that 5 minute stop our car was broken into and many personal belongings were stolen. So, the flip side of Enough is Too Much and Too Much will bankrupt your soul.

Becoming conscious of what is enough on a daily basis doesn’t just apply to the material. It also means accepting when we’ve spent enough energy. And this is the place where I, personally, have work to do.

I don’t consider myself a material girl. Sure, I like beautiful things, but I don’t have to own them. I wear the same earrings every day, we have one good car and own one piece of property. Where once I couldn’t have enough pairs of shoes, I now have a hard time resisting a new lip-gloss! But the one thing I always want more of is energy…hence cocaine having been my drug of choice. In spite of being told by many that I have great energy, I still want more. And this is want drives me to the brink of exhaustion, the arrival at which place would have a sane person taking to their bed for a couple of day. Me? No, even though I’ve been saying for weeks how tired I am, how I’d like to just curl up on the couch for a few days and read, do I do that? No. I want more.

It is from this place of exhaustion that two days ago I insisted on being able to work on the revision of my manuscript (in order to ready it for press) while at the same time supervise the crew I’d hired to prune all the trees and hedges surrounding the garden. So I showed the workers what I wanted and then headed back to my desk for 15 minutes of revision before going back outside to see how they were doing and found that while waiting for the pruning equipment to arrive they had busied themselves with butchering one of my Mediterranean gardens. This beautiful bed I planted last autumn was, until yesterday, a thing of glorious beauty. It gave us joy every day and we marveled at its growth. Plants that were a foot tall a year ago had reached nearly 6 feet and would have kept flowering until December before lying dormant until spring, at which time I would have pruned back perhaps 9 inches. In the 15 minutes I took to work at the computer this garden was pruned back to stubs.

MG beforeBEFORE

MGcutAFTER

I found a fluency in Italian I had hitherto not possessed. The pain and fury that screamed out of my mouth and hurled itself at the workers literally blew them back and then rooted them to the spot. And still I didn’t learn. Still I couldn’t accept that my need to have it all…the perfect garden and the perfectly revised manuscript…was what was keeping me from having enough. Which is why this morning I told myself that I just needed to go outside more frequently to oversee their work and continue work on the revision, just in shorter spurts. Which may account for the fact at some point this morning, nearly half of the revised manuscript disappeared. I mean, it completely vanished. A hundred pages of revision, 3 days work, just up and left. I guess it had had enough.

And so have I. Finally, I surrender. Gratefully I know it’s time to stop. Stay still. Look up. Look around. Breathe in all that is and all that I have. Reconnect with the truth, which is that I am tired; that I want to relax; that it’s more important to do less and enjoy more. If the book is a week late to press who cares? Better it’s late than I’m dead. I’m not ready for that ‘enough’ yet.rocks 5                    ROCKS #5

PS. I cried on and off all day for the loss of that flower garden. Felt like I just couldn’t bear to look at it. Then, in the evening, I realized it was bad enough that the poor thing had been brutalized, but more than that what it needed was my love. So I put a candle in a glass and headed out the door, but the wind was so strong it threatened to blow out the candle. I saw an old pitcher on the outdoor table, a lovely old thing I’d bought earlier in the summer. I put the glass with the candle in the pitcher and continued on to the garden. The now exposed rock beckoned me and I set the candle down with a whispered “I love you.” And low and behold, a flower appeared. Sometimes the best you can do is enough and if you do it, it becomes a feast.

L1009763_Garden candle flower copy