Tuesday, August 25, 2015
It sounds perfect, doesn't it? I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it's not as easy as it seems, because with all the ease, and the sweetness and the laughter, it's quite odd to be out at a family birthday party and not go home together. It's quite hard to only have dinner when it's a family occasion (a birthday, a child going back to college). We're very good at pretending. Always. We've always been very good at pretending. There is an ease, a sweetness, a rhythm, a script we adhere to. We know our roles and we know how to play them.
Another friend is going through a horrible divorce from a man who turned out to be a serial philanderer. He was sleeping with multiple women throughout their marriage and lying about it. Women at work, women in business destinations, secretaries, neighbors, the whole thing. Not a good guy. Not a good guy at all. I'd always thought him a little tacky and my husband thought I was being a snob. Maybe I was. I just couldn't shrug off the feeling that she'd married a cheeser. And now he poisons their children against her and she is treated horribly by the children and worries about losing her house. "Why can't we be like you?" she says, over green meatballs and green sauce that I made last night. We sat in the garden and had some wine and she told her story, every sordid detail of it.
Yes, I'm lucky. It's not what you plan. You don't plan to be alone at 52. You don't plan to sleep alone. You don't plan to make one cup of tea in the morning, or share your photographs with Instagram, because there is no-one walking alongside you. There is no lap to jump into, no extra toothpaste tube with its cap off to moan about, no shirts to iron, no-one to dance with in the kitchen while you cook supper.
"How are you?" said my ex yesterday. "Talk to me. I haven't seen you for ages. How's it going?" "Well, I'm happy," I said. "I'm really happy. The children are here and I'm working hard and I had a lovely holiday and I'm content. And I fully expect to be single for the rest of my life now and I'm okay with it." "Oh, don't be silly" he said. "You're hot. Someone great will come along when you least expect it." But you see, I wasn't looking for sympathy. I am all right with it. It's not what you plan. But it's all right.
The great joy of living in Los Angeles is the one-year-old birthday party. These are like weddings. The one we went to featured a taco truck, a band who encouraged the children to beat tambourines and drums, and did a version of "Uptown Funk" so everyone could dance. Incredibly sexy, chic parents wandered about, one or two children tucked under an arm. Red and pink and fuchsia and white balloons. A crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc. "Oh wow," said my twenty-year old daughter "all these fathers are seriously hot." Eddie, a man I befriended, told me conspiratorially that the band that were playing the party, featuring two t-shirted twenty-something men with a sprinkling of facial hair, were the "absolute hottest thing on the pre-school circuit. In fact," he went on "we just got back from a party in Broad Beach where they were playing." Another mother, wearing studded flat Valentino sandals told me that one of the band members "sleeps with the mommies to keep them happy." Where's Judd Apatow when you need him? The ex and I threw bemused looks at each other across the pink paper-lanterned garden, and were impossibly enchanted by the birthday girl, who really, really, really makes you want to have more children. "Oh. My. God." said Minky. "I want to hold a baby SO badly." "Grab one," I said, "there are hundreds. No-one will notice."
I found a charming octogenarian Egyptian man, the grandfather of the birthday girl, and he told me wonderful stories of riding Arab horses as a teenager near the Pyramids, galloping through the warm desert. And we discussed dukkah and pistachios and labneh. Oh the romance!
I love Los Angeles. Have I said that? I love it all. The earnestness. The artifice. The blowsy, sunny beauty. The bland, bland, pleasant weather. The drama of traffic. I love that people don't know how to make conversation and can't recognize a joke at a hundred paces. I love that people care about silly things and embrace ridiculousness wholeheartedly. I had a serious conversation with a good friend about his fascination with channeling, for example. Channeling. "I don't think you're patient enough for it," he said and all I could think about was Shirley MacLaine with ectoplasm coming out of her head. Of course I'm fucking patient I thought. I'm fucking spiritual. Shove that up your namaste. Ha ha ha. I love that I've become desperately un-English, in the immortal words of my friend Giles, and yet not quite American.
And yes, we're so civilized. Tonight, I'm having a completely un-ironic vegan supper at a raw restaurant with a friend. And I can't wait.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Monday, August 17, 2015
"Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”
Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.
To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success… Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice."
-- Parker Palmer
Friday, August 14, 2015
Skin-tight with longing, like dangerous girls,
the tomatoes reel, drunk
from the vine.
The corn, its secret ears
studded like microphones, transmits August
across the field: paranoid crickets, the noise of snakes
between stalks, peeling themselves from
I am burdened as the sky,
clouds, upset buckets pour
their varnish onto earth.
Last year you asked if I was
faint because of the blood. The tomatoes
bristled in their improbable skins,
This is one way to say it.
The girl gone, you left.
& this another.
Last year in August I hung
my head between my knees, looked up
flirting with atmosphere
but you were here
& the sky had no gravity.
Now love falls from me,
walls from a besieged city.
When I move the mountains shrug off
skin, horizon shudders, I wear the moon
On the surface the sea argues.
The tide pulls water like a cloth
from the table, beached boats, dishes
left standing. Without apology
nature abandons us.
Returns, promiscuous, & slides between
sheets, unspooling the length
of our bodies.
Black wild rabbits beside the lighthouse
at Letite. They disappear before
I am certain I've seen them.
Have they learned this from you?
I read the journal of the boy who starved
to death on the other side of a river
under trees grown so old he would not feed them
to a signal fire. His last entry:
August 12 Beautiful Blueberries!
Everything I say about desire or
hunger is only lip service
in the face of it.
Still there were days I know
your mouth gave that last taste of blue.
When you said you were
I pictured a tree;
spring, the green
not the fall
when we are banished
from the garden
Another woman fell
in love with the sea,
land kissed by salt, the skin
at the neck a tidal zone, she rowed
against the escaping tide
fighting to stay afloat.
To find the sea she had to turn her back to it,
The sea is a wound
& in loving it
she learned to love what goes missing.
Once the raspberries grew
into our room, swollen as the
brains of insects, I dreamt a
wedding. We could not find our
way up the twisted ramp, out from under
ground, my hair earth-damp.
I woke. A raspberry bush clung to us
sticky as the toes of frogs.
A warning: you carried betrayal
like a mantis
folded to your chest – legs, wings, tongue
would open, knife
the leaves above us.
If I could step into
your skin, my fingers
into your fingers putting on
gloves, my legs, your legs,
a snake zipping
up. If I could look
out of your tired eyeholes
brain of my brain,
I might know
why we failed.
(Once we thought the same
thoughts, felt the same things.)
A heavy cloak, I wear
you, an old black wing
I can't shrug off.
O heart of my heart,
come home. O flesh,
come to me before
the worm, before earth
ate the girl,
before you left without
You said, there are women
I know whose presence
changes the quality of air.
I am not one of those. The leaves
lift & sigh, the river
keeps saying the unsayable things.
I hesitate to prod the corn from the coals
though I have soaked it in Arctic water.
I stop the knife near the tomato
skin, all summer coiled there.
You are not coming back.
One step is closer
to the fire.
September will fall
with twilight's metal,
from a pocket. Quicker than
an oar can fight water,
I will look up from my feet
catch the leaves red-handed
Around me, lost things gather
for an instant
in earth-dark air.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
"You're so thin" said my son last night. I'm not thin at all. I'm fat and happy (and at least 15 pounds heavier than the summer my marriage dissolved) but the happy part makes me appear skinny, for some unknown reason.
I've been reading about ego death. Which is odd, I know, because everything I've mentioned here is about ego - my weight, my vanity surrounding my hair - but I think the point is that happiness pushes ego further and further away. Ego says, I'm fearful, I'm proud, I care what people say, I'm vain, I'm small. A diminished ego says, I love, I don't care what people think, I'm expansive, I'm connected to everything, I'm at one with the earth. Ram Dass, who was a younger follower of Timothy Leary, is a great person to follow on Twitter and Instagram because he reminds you of these things. It was he who said, for example:
Here is a piece he wrote on the ego, a dichotomy of fear and love.
“We're all just walking each other home.”
My friend Katy, a beautiful woman, a party girl in her teens and early twenties, discovered that she had talents for healing people and works with crystals on the chakras, finds it sometimes hard for people to accept what she does. It's getting easier. The more that she accepts it herself, and the more work she does, with results, the more her reputation grows. She told me that I should make a vision board. "It's very simple," she said, "and I know it sounds a bit odd, but it really does work." (She is lovely and smiley and sweet and hard to not go with her on this one.) "Just put some pictures of things you want on a board and have a look at it every day, keep it in your desk and just glance at it -- it will remind you of who you want to be and where you want to go." And it's true, we get lost, in love, in work, in commitments. As you get into your fifties, life appears shorter and shorter. Even the days shrink visibly and suddenly you want time back, want to grab onto all the moments you can, and make them count. The intellectual side of me wants to eschew the vision board (I think Katy calls it the happiness board). I mean, it's ridiculous, isn't it? But my INFP side likes it, and wants to try it. Why can't we manifest what we want?
"Your blog is DEEPLY un-English" said my friend Giles as we drank a glass of Italian Barolo in my mother's garden on my last night in England. Everyone else had gone to bed. We'd spent the evening eating spaghetti carbonara and looking at his old photo albums, pictures from Oxford, from my wedding, from his trip to California. Pictures of me and Jum (my ex-husband) brown-skinned and smiling and swimming together, kissing in Christchurch meadow, lovely memories of our youth, of being in love as children. We were practically children. It was good to see. I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten how much I loved him, his beautiful face, his California surfer meets east coast intellectual swagger. Those pink, crisp Brooks Brothers button-downs, the way he smelled of soap (Englishmen, then, smelled of whiskey and old cigarettes and wet flannels.) "I mean," said Giles, who still has that oiky accent that public schoolboys assume when they're 13 and lose again when they're 22 but he didn't, "I like it, but" (he doesn't pronounce the "t"; it's more of a glottal stop) "it's not really what English people do, pouring it all out like that." I suppose it isn't. I suppose I should care more about what people think. Or do I accept, now, that I am in fact, slightly mad, slightly nuts, more than slightly eccentric?
One of my sisters mimicked me when I used an American word. I wanted to say "I've been in California for nearly thirty years. Of course I'm going to use an American word." But after her outburst she felt so bad, felt so embarrassed, that I let it go. I know it makes her uncomfortable that I'm not like her, that I do odd things, that my eccentricities are apparent. But what can I do? This is, for better or worse, who I am and I can't reduce it or tamp it down, or behave differently just to fit in the room.
And so we come to the biggest question, the one I've been grappling with. Am I English? Or am I Dancer? Ha ha. Or am I American?
I just don't know. I don't know at all.
I walk around in this:
It's not the smallness of England that appeals to me, although its smallness is exquisite, it's the bigness. It's the damp, verdant vastness, the layered ghosts, the history, the well-trodden paths, the idea of generations following generations, the cycles of life and death that are in front of your face. Gwyneth, who works at the shop in the village I grew up in, looks exactly the same to me. She must be 15 years older than me but to me, she looks as she did when I was a child. "Do you have pear drops?" I asked her. "No," she said, "I'm afraid not." "Lemon bonbons then" I ventured. "Are you reminded of your childhood?" she said and laughed. "It's funny. I still think of you and your brother as children." I hardly know Gwyneth. I was too scared to talk to her as a child. Now I don't know why. She has a nice face, she's warm, and kind. But she's a witness. She's part of the fabric that witnesses the cycles of life. A fabric that's woven together. It's animal and vegetable and mineral and it's beliefs and traditions and science and math and fragments of stories and ghosts, too, but it creates a fine, gossamer net that holds one. It creates a sensation of being safe.
Los Angeles has the net too. But it's still, after thirty years, not entirely my net. Does that make any sense? I come back to the canyon, and its smells and its familiar golden-brown vegetation, starved of water for so long now. It's been fifteen years of drought. But still, despite this, the wild pink lilies have grown and appeared since I left. I stare at them, mouth open. It's almost inconceivable that something so beautiful could have grown without any water. My brother says that dew plays a part, that plants only need a few drops of moisture to survive. As it is for us I suppose.
But what do I know?
Sunday, August 02, 2015
Back from the boat tour, wind in my hair, a skip in my step, excited to cook, the whole of the bay filled with dark blue waves, Norwegian flags waving, sparkling eyes, and there it is, an email from him. And immediately the breath gets stuck in my throat, my heart starts to pound, I feel the anxiety creeping up my legs. I reply breezily. "All is well. Take care." Even now, writing about it, I feel the adrenaline, the tears behind my eyes. I loved you, I think. You were lucky. I don't give it away lightly. Why are you trying to hurt me? Why can't you be kind? Are you really that damaged? Why are you trying to hurt me?
You can do anything to me, I told him once. I am resilient. I bounce back. Just love me and I will do anything for you. But please, whatever you do, don't put me in coventry. I can't tell you why without sounding mawkish and wet and miserable, but don't do that, don't ignore me. It hurts me more than anything. It makes my heart jump into my throat, totally shuts me down, derails me. Do anything but that.
And he did that. Yes, that is who I loved. Someone who did that.
It's my last day here and I'm doing all the things I want to jam into the next year -- eating cardamom bolle with goat's cheese and painting watercolors of the view and listening to my favorite playlists, dealing rounds of patience, pulled out some smoked trout for lunch. I shall walk around the mountain, or further, with my favorite cousin and his clever, singing dog, and pick blueberries, and swim in the cold blue sea. And I will exorcise this. It will go away. But I had to share it. Forgive me. Forgive me.
Friday, July 31, 2015
It's around six in the morning and I'm at the kitchen table at the cottage in Tjøme, with the door open. Outside, a glorious sunrise, the clink of masts, magpies and seagulls, a calm blue sea. There is a blue cloth on the table, and I'm brewing tea -- not the bags, which don't seem to work, but proper Indian leaves, which we have to pour into cups slowly because we don't have a strainer. My mother left yesterday. This was the first night I've spent in the house alone.
There is fear and there is love. That is all.
I spent hours last night talking to my cousin, a woman who struggles with addiction. She is an artist in her heart and yet she does not find time to do her art. It's too hard to concentrate, too hard to be consistent, she doesn't want to be like anyone else, she has self-loathing. She is beautiful and bright and can't find her way. I wake up thinking about "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” -- Pressfield
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”-- Pressfield
“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.I lie to her. I tell her I write every day. I tell her I'm miserable if I don't. This part isn't a lie. But here at six in the morning, I realize this is how each day should start, in the sunshine, listening to the birds, with tea, my fingers on the keys of my laptop.
Do it or don't do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself,. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.” -- Pressfield
Yesterday's epic hike took us up the hill by Mågerø, through the pines and hundreds of small blueberry bushes, on a winding path, dotted with lingonberries and fallen trees and small puddles and rocky steps, and down again to the road, by way of a fjord pony and our favorite brown and white pigs, back through the woods. There were sheep and goats, a deer, some dogs, a few cats. It was the zoological tour of the island. It was the first time, we realized, that we three cousins, friends from childhood, had walked together. We laughed like children, spoke of trolls and witches, stained our hands and mouths with blueberries, splashed our legs in muddy puddles, had conversations with children, stood in awe in the middle of the forest where the light shone through. It's important to note these things: I had a distinct feeling of warm happiness, of feeling connected. These are my people, I thought, as they complained of their tiny family and then revealed stories of my grandfather's brothers -- an Artic explorer, a professional footballer, a javelin thrower -- all these people we didn't know existed until after my grandfather died. We found a mailbox with N-o-r-d-a-h-l written on the front and we all thought the same thing -- more long lost cousins. "People have reunions, sometimes with 50, 100, 150 family members, often twice a year" said my cousin. But we were walking in the woods together, the three of us, we odd three, and feeling like children again.