Friday, January 22, 2016

January might be the cruelest month

I've forgotten how to read. I'm actually being serious. I spend so much time on email, I am so addicted to my devices, to screens, that reading has become a challenge. And I'm someone who used to get through two books a week. There is a certain amount of shame attached to this. I'd like to pretend that it isn't the case. I'd like to break on through and tell you that I spent this weekend conquering "A Dance to the Music of Time" by Anthony Powell which I've promised my beloved that I would read with him. The truth is, I'm on page five, and I'm finding the prose very dense. Perhaps I should pick up some Jackie Collins or Jacqueline Susann and just go for it. Perhaps I should ban myself from the phone and the laptop. It scares me. It's not just not reading, it's the state of mind that it puts one in, the dumbing down of one's mind when it's not concentrating on other worlds, other stories, other realities. I buy books and I don't read them. How much reading did I do over Christmas? None. I put the pile of books out and I cracked a couple of them a couple of times. That was it. I am no longer a reader. I can't bear to even say it. I am no longer a reader.

Poetry, for some reason, I can read. Every day I manage to read a poem or two. Poetry still translates the world for me, transforms me.

January, it must be said, is surely the cruelest month. Talk about mixing memory with desire. I can't wait for it to be over. I want the green buds of spring, more birdsong, longer days.

I walked tonight, a little too late. Darkness fell a half hour before we were back, and I had to light my way with a torch (on my phone of course). The dogs were placid and happy and the moon rose over Studio City with a slight rainbow in the dark blue sky. I love being out there on my own with my girls. I love listening to the birds that only sing at dusk, the chirrupy buzz of the freeway in the distance, the owls. I wanted to stop and sit and meditate, but a voice kept saying, is this really a good idea, being out in the dark in the middle of LA, surrounded by serial killers and weirdos. I practised saying "my dog will rip your balls off" but then I thought that sounded a little hysterical, so I calmed my voice to a Lauren Bacall drawl and said "Don't underestimate my dogs. They attack on command." Of course I'm praying all the time that my dogs, who I've spent years teaching not to jump up on strangers, and to be polite when there are guests in the house, instinctively take on their primal roles and try to kill anyone that would harm me. And all the time, the owls are hooting gently in the bare branches of trees, just below Mulholland.

There are turnips in my fridge. My mother and I are so alike. She has swedes she is going to mash for lunch on Sunday when her girlfriends come over. I am dreaming of mashed turnips. Last night I stayed up after a few girlfriends had come for supper because I couldn't find one of my silver pudding spoons. I had eleven. I needed twelve. I washed and dried them, hunted under the chairs, the table, in the bin, in the garbage disposal, was somewhat distraught. It's such a ritual, one I've inherited from my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, to count the silver back into the drawer. And a spoon was missing.  Ned, who's home because he sick, opened the sliding door between the children's bedrooms and the hallway and said, "I've got your teaspoon. You gave it to me with the flan." And thus, like my mother, and her mother before her, I could go to bed feeling happy and resolved, and also delighted to have spent the evening with excellent women. We at chili, and Mexican flan, and Caesar salad made with the whole, light-colored inner leaves of romaine, doused in a dressing of egg, buttermilk, garlic, anchovies, olive oil and lemon, my take on my ex-mother-in-law's Caesar dressing. The buttermilk is in the fridge. It's actually Norwegian kulturmelk and I steal tiny glasses of it all day, as my mother does in the summer house in Norway. It's in my bones, this strange love of weird dairy products.

I miss my love. He is in London and he speaks to me all day long. The thin, silk thread that connects us by a gentle tug on the wrist, exists, and he is aware of it, and he tugs on it, so incredibly gently, just enough for me to know that he is there, all the time. And even when he sleeps I feel them there, next to me. I don't know what this is. It's very unusual and I am very grateful, I know that much. I hear his voice on the end of the phone when I wake up, sometimes even before my tea, and it's deep and kind and gentle and I wonder how I coped with anything before he was there.

And so, because of him, I will battle on with Powell, and I will read the first volume of A Dance To the Music of Time, and I will break this horrible cycle, which I believe comes from anxiety and work, actually, having to know all day long, even in the middle of the night, what is happening in my small, enclosed world, that of Hollywood. I'll break it this weekend. Because he's doing it with me. And that is kinda great, you know?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If you forget me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

-- Pablo Neruda

Friday, January 15, 2016

We are the dead

"But I love you in your fuck-me pumps
And your nimble dress that trails
Oh, dress yourself, my urchin one, for I hear them on the rails
Because of all we've seen, because of all we've said
We are the dead
One thing kind of touched me today
I looked at you and counted all the times we had laid
Pressing our love through the night
Knowing it's right, knowing it's right"

From "We are the Dead" on Diamond Dogs by David Bowie

Monday, January 11, 2016

He blew our minds

It's an unusually sad day, one of the saddest in recent memory.

David Bowie has died.

This information is very hard to process. Does someone like Bowie give in to the banality of death? Or, as others have suggested, was he just passing through our little blue planet on his way to somewhere better?

I'm floating in a most peculiar way, dipping in and out of Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane and Low and Ziggy Stardust, unable to do much work today, immersing myself in his massive, beautiful talent, so very sad, tears coming and going. I have never shed tears over a celebrity death before, not Lennon or even Lou Reed, but this one I'm taking personally. It is personal. He was the soundtrack of our youth, every song, as my friend Vivien points out, represented a love affair, a moment. Every single song takes us back to a particular place, a specific time. When I was 19 I was sure he was God. Not in a silly way, not in a drunken, oh wow maybe Bowie could be a deity way, profoundly, insistently. I thought he knew something that no-one else knew. His lyrics were magic, each word imparted with intense meaning. He spoke to ME.

And I find I'm not alone. Today, I'm surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people who think this is personal, who believe that Bowie spoke specifically to them. He was a refuge for the freaks, the outsiders, the dorks, the people who didn't fit in. He sucked the humdrum out of life as a teenager in the English countryside, made us dream of glamour and transcendence and glitter, and blew our minds. He was everything.

And only a few days ago I was driving with the man I love through the cold, blue sunshine of Joshua Tree, windows rolled down, singing Life on Mars at the top of our lungs, holding hands and smiling as the sun flickered through the desert. And he knew the words too. All of them. How is this possible, I thought, to be in love with a man who also knows and loves Bowie as I do. This could be the most perfect day (it was January 1, 2016). This could be bliss.

The Guardian's Bowie Playlist


"Don't believe in yourself, don't deceive with belief
Knowledge comes with death's release

I'm not a prophet or a stone-age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I'm living on
I'm tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien
Can't take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
If I don't explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it on the next Bardo
I'm sinking in the quicksand of my thought
And I ain't got the power anymore."

--David Bowie, Quicksand

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Tables Turned

The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; 
Or surely you'll grow double: 
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; 
Why all this toil and trouble? 

The sun above the mountain's head, 
A freshening lustre mellow 
Through all the long green fields has spread, 
His first sweet evening yellow. 

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife: 
Come, hear the woodland linnet, 
How sweet his music! on my life, 
There's more of wisdom in it. 

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings! 
He, too, is no mean preacher: 
Come forth into the light of things, 
Let Nature be your teacher. 

She has a world of ready wealth, 
Our minds and hearts to bless— 
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health, 
Truth breathed by cheerfulness. 

One impulse from a vernal wood 
May teach you more of man, 
Of moral evil and of good, 
Than all the sages can. 

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; 
Our meddling intellect 
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:— 
We murder to dissect. 

Enough of Science and of Art; 
Close up those barren leaves; 
Come forth, and bring with you a heart 
That watches and receives. 

-- William Wordsworth


Wednesday, December 09, 2015


I can't write, I said. I don't know what to say. Why don't you, quite simply, talk about what happened in Tewkesbury Abbey? he said. I could, I thought. I could try. I could try to explain what it feels like to be standing next to the man you love, tall and elegant and in a black coat, like a character from a Powell Pressburger movie, in one of the most beautiful churches in England, while evensong is being sung, amidst bells and incense, and choirboys, amidst pomp and circumstance, and the Lord's Prayer, and a collect I vaguely remember from my childhood. I could talk about wanting to hold his hand but feeling the eyes of the congregation on us because we were the interlopers, the outsiders. But I didn't care. It was evensong, and Anglican, and I was there to be anointed, amongst the chalk and the clay and the stiffness of the English people, and the weird, starling-like voice of the vicar leading the prayers. And we sang Advent hymns and his voice was that voice men do when they're in church and they know they can't quite hit the notes, definitely basso profundo, deep and serious, and it made me want to hold his hand even more. I didn't dare look at him, but stared intently at the beautiful blue and red ceilings and tried to remember the nicene creed without looking at my prayer book and giving myself away. I fiddle in my bag for a fiver to put in the collection and wondered whether inflation had dictated that a fiver was being cheap.

And we managed to do all the right things, faced the right way, ducked our heads in prayer, nodded respectfully to the cross, pretend to be dutiful Anglicans, and left without mishap, into the freezing Gloucestershire night, and finally I slipped my gloved hand into his and wondered whether kissing someone among the gravestones was disrespectful. A fine example of a Norman facade, he said. We laughed. He kissed me. We need an onion, I said, for the bubble and squeak.

Happy birthday, Dalton Trumbo

Have you ever been up in your plane at night, alone, somewhere, 20,000 feet above the ocean?... Did you ever hear music up there?... It's the music a man's spirit sings to his heart, when the earth's far away and there isn't any more fear. It's the high, fine, beautiful sound of an earth-bound creature who grew wings and flew up high and looked straight into the face of the future. And caught, just for an instant, the unbelievable vision of a free man in a free world.
Read more at:
Have you ever been up in your plane at night, alone, somewhere, 20,000 feet above the ocean?... Did you ever hear music up there?... It's the music a man's spirit sings to his heart, when the earth's far away and there isn't any more fear. It's the high, fine, beautiful sound of an earth-bound creature who grew wings and flew up high and looked straight into the face of the future. And caught, just for an instant, the unbelievable vision of a free man in a free world.
Read more at:

Sunday, November 08, 2015

My brother, Justin

Sudden onset sadness today. And it's not out of character. I've been working non-stop for three or four weeks, including weekends, and work is its own balm. I'm very grateful for it. But it's put off for me the mourning of the death of my older brother, Justin. We didn't grow up together because he's twenty years older than me, but he is someone I've always admired greatly and always been very happy to see. I wish I had known him a little better.

He was ten when my mother came into his life as his au pair, and only a little older when his own mother died. My earliest memory of him was that he was in the equivalent of the Peace Corps, in Africa, the Gambia. His room was filled with books and trunks and African tribal masks and artifacts, strange looking fabrics, animal tusks, things I'd never seen before. He was tall and funny, had a port wine stain on his cheek that I was fascinated with as a small child, and he didn't always get on with my father. As I got older, we came to appreciate each other. I learned about irony and sarcasm from him, about generosity, the joy of drinking a good glass of wine (something, no doubt, he inherited from my father). He introduced me to the books of Richard Mabey, who was a friend of his, and later he encouraged my riding. Like all Ward men, he was a good shot, had a real talent with dogs, and rode and understood horses beautifully.  The horse I remember of his was an ex-chaser, a grey Irish thoroughbred named McGinty.

He has a lovely wife, an artist, a beauty, someone who was by his side all along, someone who is stalwart, particularly at the end, dealing with the horribleness of pancreatic cancer. She was his rock. I saw him twice in the summer, and she brought us tea as he talked to us from his bed, with his dogs next to him. "All my life," he said, "I was told not to feel anything, not to cry. Once by my mother's grave, I felt myself break, and my grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said 'Pull yourself together.' And so now, forgive me if I'm an emotional old fool. It's all coming out." It was strange to see him alternately funny and teary. I'd never seen him like that. It was lovely. He wasn't sorry for himself, just for the other people, everyone that was worried about him, people he might be leaving behind, his own sweet daughters, old friends.

"When I was at school, one Sunday, I was in the sick bay, and everyone was in chapel and the woman looking after me was from the town. I think she was filling in for the nurse for an hour. She came into my room and said "let's open the windows now. That's what we do every Sunday at this time, so we can hear the beautiful singing. Listen to that!" He'd just remembered this and told my younger brother and me, voice choked a little by it. With a minute he'd snapped back into sarcastic mode, and said something funny to cover up.

I don't want to think of him dying or lying in bed. I remember his laugh. I can hear it now as I write. The best memories are of the summer Sunday lunches we'd have in the garden. Everyone was invited, my two half sisters and their husbands and children, my half brother, Hermione, their lovely girls. There was always a glass of champagne, dogs on the lawn, the peach trees growing on the wall that separated the garden from the kitchen driveway, a barbecue going, my father grilling belly pork and lamb chops and sausages, an enormous salad great wedges of little gem and chive flowers, straight from the garden, new potatoes with mint, lots of red wine, and family banter. Snapdragons and roses and dahlias in the borders, the tomatoes we'd get from the deliciously warm and damp greenhouse. Sometimes, when it was too hot, we'd move the table a hundred yards down the lawn under the copper beech tree, and there we'd sit for hours, after pudding and cheese and port and more bad jokes, until we'd all either fall asleep or play a drunken game of bocce.

This is how I remember him, in his hat, smiling, glass of wine in his hand, always gently teasing me, or picking on John, very sweetly, as he was the token American. Or on a horse. I always had a soft spot for the men who rode with me. He even took me hunting, and taught me the right way to box a horse.

It's taken a few days to sink in, but they don't make men like that anymore. Such kindness, such generosity, always thinking about other people, giving back. (He lent his lovely cottage in Norfolk to John and the children one year when I had to work back in LA. They said it was the best holiday, ever.) I miss his missives, his poems he'd send, the occasional witty email. Actually, I'll miss him very, very much indeed.

Justin and my father. Summer of 1997. Justin is in one of his excellent hats. My father has a dog whistle around his neck. Both carry a glass of claret.