Tag Archives: sisterhood

STAND YOUR GROUND

 

 

21 October 2917

The pomegranate tree is ablaze in a dazzle of gold; its last hurrah before baring its branches. The tree has lived here for two and half years now and, in spite of the fact that it has yet to provide us with a single pomegranate, it has grown sturdy and full. Rooted on one side of our little terrace it provides us cover in the summer months when we take the sun naked. Not that the farmers are likely to want to see us in our threadbare bathing suits! In the spring it protects us form the early morning chill as we eat breakfast in its embrace.

I admit that the tree is somewhat of a disappointment. I had envisioned its golden boughs adorned with exotic red fruit at this time of year, not to mention having looked forward to eating and juicing them. But plants and trees are like children in that you never know what you’re getting. However, unlike with children, one is freer to uproot a tree and discard it if it displeases. And I did, early on, think about returning this one to the nursery for a refund or replacement. But I decided to keep it and in spite of its inability to bear fruit, nurture it and love it for what it does provide. As a result it has blossomed, not only in the spring when it decorates itself with little red trumpets, but also in girth, and what I experience as a sort of pride in itself; a willingness to grow in spite of its defects.

The garden and I are having a long goodbye this autumn, partly because of global warming. Although this is disturbing, I am grateful to be able to sit outside, even now, at five o’clock on a late October day and witness the miracle of it. Here on this arid, rocky ground – made even more inhospitable by a year of drought and high heat – everything I planted over the last three years has not only survived but grown to the extent that visitors remark on how it looks as though it has been here for decades. There is something about tending a garden that rewards me more than any other endeavor.

Like many of you, I expect, I have been watching the revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse of women. I’m not sure why the backlash to his behavior is gaining so much traction as opposed to the behavior of say, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby (to name a few) all of whom disappeared from view after a relatively short outing. Don’t get me wrong…I’m thrilled that there seems to be some momentum now. But at the same time I can’t help feeling angry that it takes a lot of celebrities coming forward in order for this endemic behavior to be more roundly condemned. Do we only give credence to this systemic abuse when it is validated by “stars?” Why isn’t it enough to be an ordinary woman to have one’s story believed?

I was as a dinner a couple of weeks ago with a dozen people and the subject of Weinstein came up. I was horrified when one of the women expressed disbelief about these women’s stories. Why, she wanted to know, if it was true, had they kept silent for so long? It was all I could do not to scream. Bad enough when a man asks that question, but a woman? I asked her if she had ever experienced such abuse and when she demurred I told her of a couple of the many such experiences I had encountered during my life. I told her of the fear that accompanies violation. How men retaliate when they are accused. How women are trashed in court if it even gets that far. And I asked her why, if a woman has a less than pristine past is it deemed her fault she was raped, or otherwise abused. What is it about the word “consent” that people don’t understand? I don’t care if a woman robbed a bank, it doesn’t make it okay for her to be raped. One person’s crime doesn’t justify another’s.

I’m glad to report that by the time I finished my defense of women as victims and men as predators the woman thanked me for helping her take another view. And this is what we all must do now; we must educate each other. Women have to find the courage not only to come forward as these brave women have who were abused and terrified by Weinstein, but we have to stand firm in all the small ways. And we have to accept that our response, as women, is as ingrained as is that of the male’s erroneous sense of entitlement and superiority. And ingrained it is.

I recently overheard a male friend of mine talking with someone on the phone. This man is a good man and one who agrees with the need for equality. And yet, he too, totally unconsciously, objectified 2 women by asking the host of an upcoming event if he could invite them along, adding, “They’re beautiful.” As if beauty is the guaranteed requisite for women to gain entry…into anything! And yes, I did point out to him that what he had said is an example of how ingrained all this shit is.

It’s an interesting moment in time, isn’t it? Sure, it’s scary sometimes; all the hatred and discrimination that’s coming to a head. So what are our choices? To become overwhelmed and do nothing? Or to just do whatever little bit we’re capable of whenever we can? I personally believe that like the pomegranate tree, we have to stand our ground. Like it, we are less than perfect and yet we have the right to be treated with respect. Like it, when we are forgiven for not living up to expectations, we flourish in ways we might never have imagined.

Evening has arrived and with it, a chill breeze. I watch as the pomegranate sheds its leaves. Like tears of gold, they fall.

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