Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sonnet 43

Happy birthday, William Shakespeare.

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

RIP Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“He dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of living each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.”

-- From "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I'll meet you there (mashuguna)

Today isn't the greatest of days.

I've slept very little and am a little bit (read: a lot) sad because I've discovered that I'm not really made of tough enough stuff to withstand a Long Distance Relationship. I wish I were. But if you come from the opinion that you have a sweetheart (for want of a better word; I'm still at a loss to know what to call it) to make both of your lives happier and more more fulfilling, just to find yourself even more miserable, doesn't it somehow defeat the point?  LDR's have felled better than me, I can tell you that. I am not alone. But LDR's suck. They absolutely suck.

He is a good man and kind beyond measure. And I couldn't have put more boarding school lacrosse team effort into trying to make this work. I am a problem solver. This is what I do. There is nothing that irritates me more than failing to crack a puzzle. But I have failed. And I have failed miserably, ie. my failure has caused me misery. I am a miserable failure at the LDR.

So today I have to put on my smart navy blue suit and my heels, and some red lipstick, and a big smile, and I have to go to a new business meeting as if nothing has happened, as if I wasn't up half the night weeping into Bean's spotted fur.

I have listened endlessly to this song (because I am a glutton for punishment):

And I've gotten advice from my mother ("You have a good life. You are happy. Things will be all right.") And sweet Monica ("Don't focus on it. Don't be negative. There are lots of fish in the sea.")

But after six months of talking to someone mostly every day, and after six months of waking up with a smile on your face just because that person exists on the planet, it's quite (very) sad not to do that any more.

That's all.

I still firmly believe that you need to tell the people you care about that you love them, and you need to love fiercely, even if the outcome isn't always the one you want.

There is good in the world. And things will be fine. In a few days, perhaps.

And I always remember this quote, from Rumi, of course.

Monday, April 14, 2014

...wherein i reveal my seriously hippy side

My favorite thing about kundalini yoga -- which I do to fix my head rather than for its physical benefits, but my abs are in pretty good shape right now (can you say "washboard"?) -- is that right in the middle of class you view the world differently. It suddenly, miraculously turns into a benevolent, love-filled, anything-is-possible place. All your worries and your problems melt into the ether and you realize, in a slightly cray-cray SoCal way, that you need to turn it all over to Guru Ram Dass. In laymen's terms, ie. something you and I can both understand, it means that you have to trust in the universe and believe in the inherent goodness of the world.  Somehow that everything is intricately and delicately woven together, all in a lovely connected whole, makes perfect sense. Away from the lonely, loony middle of the night thoughts we all have and despise, when the sky is blue and you're surrounded by beatific beings in white meditating earnestly and gracefully folding their hands in prayer, everything is possible.

-- Jim Dine

"I'm not training you to be students. I'm training you as teachers," says Tej, my wise, wonderful teacher. "The sh*t is about to hit the fan and someone needs to have their heads on straight." The shit she's referring to are the powerful astrological events that are happening this month:  the blood moon or full lunar eclipse that is happening tonight, the Cardinal Grand Cross on the 23rd and the solar eclipse on the 29th. Even if you're not an astrological adherent (and I'm not really) popular opinion suggests that these events may in fact affect us, and make us a little, you know, loopy. There is even a whacky belief that the Cardinal Grand Cross somehow consciously uncoupled Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (I know, I know.)

I have some healthy scepticism here. (Mamma: if you're reading this, I haven't gone nuts, or been in LA too long, or joined a cult). There are things I don't agree. There are things that I find jarringly, cringingly new-agey and strange. But kundalini works for me. It cleans out the cobwebs, allows me to see clearly and to be more loving. Do you know what I mean by that? I go back to my two ways of looking at the world mantra (which I've written about ad nauseum, for example here). Life is just better when you look through the lens of love as opposed to the lens of fear. Looking at through love is adopting one's higher self. Fear is when the ego leads (see this article on what the ego is).  It's very, very simple. Everything becomes easier, more connected, more bountiful through the lens of love and positivity.

Easy things you can do to reconnect with your higher self (and I'm saying this without a trace of irony; I firmly believe this to be true):

1) attend a yoga class
2) go for a walk, preferably in nature
3) deep cleansing breaths
4) a cold shower
5) move away from your cocoon for a few minutes
6) listen to uplifting music
7) eat cucumbers or celery, cold and crisp from the refrigerator
8) interact with animals (preferably on the ground)
9) do a headstand or a shoulder stand
10) hug someone for at least 20 seconds
11) listen to a beautiful mantra, for example this one 
12) drink lots of water

These are tried and true. These things will work when you feel panicked, or small, or your mouth becomes dry, or your heart starts beating as the fight or flight reflex appears, or you feel punchy, or attacked.

I once had a brilliant acupuncturist, Dr David Kearney in Santa Monica, whose mantra was "let it go," not in the "Frozen" sense of it, but his was the idea that you just breathe stuff out and just relax. "Just chaaa" he called it. He said, your body is made up of 90% water and when water is flowing it's healthy and energetic and life-giving. When water is still it becomes green and stagnant. So, for him, the flow, the chi, and so on, was important. And, to be obvious about it, this is why you feel so good after a run or a Soul Cycle class or 20 minutes of cardio (or, in my case, 40 minutes on a bucking four year old horse.)

-- The Beatles

And I can still be a bitch. I can still be lazy. I can still despair. I can still pick a fight with an irksome guest at a dinner party. I can still be irritated by my children. But, slowly, it's getting better.

You don't have to eat chia seed pudding, or lentils, or have your chakras balanced, or wear beads in order to embrace your higher self. If Arianna Huffington can do it, anyone can. You don't have to stop using deodorant, or grow your underarm hair, or chant every day. All you have to do is open your mind to these possibilities.  Just a little.  Just a tiny, tiny bit, and everything will start to change.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Old Photograph

I spent the afternoon reading these poems by Ian Hamilton. They are surprising, emotional, sometimes terse. Quite wonderful.

You are wandering in the deep field
That backs on to the room I used to work in
And from time to time
You look up to see if I am watching you.
To this day
Your arms are full of the wild flowers
You were most in love with.

-- Ian Hamilton, from "Collected Poems"

treehouses, blind faith & the luxury of scrambled eggs

As usual, it is my mother who dispenses the best advice, when I tell her about something that is bothering me. She says, "Don't think about it this weekend. Make sure you fill your days." When did my mother become so clever? So, I rode a bucking bronco this morning in the form of my just four year old horse -- enough of a workout for anyone, I can assure you -- and went to meet my ex-husband and two of our oldest friends for lunch in Malibu. Malibu, if you don't live in Los Angeles sounds glamorous and ritzy, but until quite recently it was a little bit of a pit. Now, with the new Malibu Farm opened at the end of the pier, where the legendary Alice's used to be, it's quite a lovely place to spend a Saturday lunchtime. After brunch, we walked on the beach and chatted to a friend's surfer son, watched the paddle boarders and the lovers, and the pelicans. We marveled at the blue and told each other we didn't spend enough time at the beach, as you do.

I don't know how not to be full on. I wrote this yesterday.

I believe it has something to do with this quote from Roald Dahl:

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. He taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”

So, for me, it's full speed ahead. It's how I get on in life. I don't do things by halves and I don't just like people. I usually love them or I don't really give them the time of day. As you can imagine, sometimes this leads to some disappointment. Because more often than not, people aren't as enthusiastic as I am. (My personality is that of a ten-year-old child with a new puppy, I fear.)  I have no Be Cool switch. It's FULL ON or OFF.

from The Treehouse Book by Peter Nelson

Last night I had dinner with a few close girlfriends, and one or two I know less well, but mostly women I've been friends with for years, sweet, good, funny women, in a beautiful house nestled in the trees in one of the canyons of West LA. The house is charming. White and light and filled with flowers and pictures and dogs, warm and inviting, and in the garden an enormous treehouse, which of course you immediately want to use for a tea party. I do adore these girls nights. There is wine, some delicious food, and usually the kind of conversation that you can't have in a "couple" type of environment. As you can imagine, we talked about relationships and sex and girl stuff. All fun. All light. Lots of laughter. And then one woman, who, to be fair, may have had one too many glasses of rose, started to lay into me with advice that was unwarranted, about a situation she knew next to nothing about. It's very unlike me, but she got a rise out of me. "I don't think you should spout off about something you know so little about." I said. There was a shocked silence. No-one quite knew what to say. She stuttered a little. Apologized. It was mild. I played it off like it wasn't a big deal, but to be honest, I wanted to deck her. She had spent the whole evening making nasty jabs at me (while all along grabbing my arm in mock warmth, for emphasis), and I have no idea why. Just weird little snipey asides, thrown delicately into the conversation, and suddenly my fist felt like it would feel very good thrown very hard at her nose.

The moral of the story is, don't air your problems with anyone but those you know extremely well, those who have your back. It's rather like having someone read your unfinished writing. You want support, not advice, I suppose.

And so, to hear my mother this morning tell me so delicately to enjoy my weekend, made me more or less weep with joy. "You've gotten through so much" she said. "You have a lovely life there, and good friends, and your daughter is coming home this weekend."

I read Andrea Gillies' piece about going through divorce and getting back onto the dating wagon with joy. It's a perfect piece: brave and funny and poignant and true. You can read it here.

It's so much more difficult than you would imagine. I'm not yet divorced and I'm lucky enough to have a soon-to-be-ex-husband that I get along well with. We can laugh together and joke with each other, and it's okay. But the dating thing? Oh dear. Los Angeles is not where you want to be when you're starting out again with two grown up children. Los Angeles is where all the beautiful, sometimes thick, people migrate to when they want a career in the movies. LA has a glut of beautiful women under the age of 30, and an entire other population of women who live in the youth culture and are trying to keep up, desperately, so that their husbands don't go off with their perky-breasted assistants. I don't know a lot of people who've gone under the knife, but people "have work done," which usually means filler, or botox, or oxygen facials, and they dye their hair (there are NO grey-haired people in Los Angeles) and they work out. I'm no slouch, but I've never set foot in a gym in my life, and truthfully, I like to go out without a full slathering of face paint if I can possibly help it. I'm opinionated, self-sufficient, and I don't suffer fools. It is very hard to find quality dating stock. And dating is anathema to me. I've said this before. Maybe I'm picky. Maybe clever and kind and funny and not completely physically repellant doesn't exist in Los Angeles in one package.

And so I'm seeing someone who isn't from Los Angeles. Someone clever and kind and funny and handsome. But this, this "Long Distance Relationship" is terribly, terribly hard. There is an 8 hour time difference, first off, which is virtually impossible to get around. They're sleepy when you're awake, you're perky and full of morning light when they're about to have supper, and so on. It's so un-spontaneous and you have to be grown-up and organized and have systems in place to deal with these things. And you have to remember what they look like and smell like and what their hand feels like in yours, because you don't see them for great stretches of time. And you have to remember not to become estranged or alienated, or offended when you don't hear back and are imagining the worst. It's awfully hard. Especially for someone who is as full on as me. I don't know how to play it cool, how to wait for a phone call, how to play games. I missed out a whole chunk of dating life that my peers have had. I am a complete neophyte and half the time it feels as if I'm about eighteen years old, with the same emotions and the same dorky, jerky, unsmooth movements of a colt.  I want to be Princess Grace or even Joan Collins but I'm more like a Kirsten Wiig SNL character, awkward and hopeless (though without doll-sized arms).

Kirsten Wiig

And of course when you see each other it's literally the best thing in the world. But in between, it's hell.

The phone seems to be the best way to communicate. It's easy to have long silences, just listening to each other breathe, without feeling awkward. Skype feel more demanding, somehow, of being on show. And there are emails, which I love, and he doesn't, where you get the things that seem hard to voice. But there is a such a huge element of blind faith that has to be present in order for these things to work.  It's such a luxury to be able to touch the sleeve of your beau, or to just hand the book over to them to read a line, or to hear the same bird singing together, or make scrambled eggs for two. Or, to laugh in the same room, till you weep.

(Saturday joke: A hamburger and a hot dog walk into a bar. The bartender says "Sorry guys, we don't serve food here.")

I just don't know how not to be full on.

And a recipe:

proper scrambled eggs (serves 2)

Gordon Ramsay's scrambled eggs with chives

break three eggs into a bowl
add sea salt & freshly cracked pepper & a little slosh of milk
beat with a fork till frothy (you can add chopped chives too if you like)
melt a good glob of butter in a pan over a medium/medium-high heat (you don't want the butter to brown but you want a little sizzle)
add the eggs and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, scooping the cooked bits up and into the rest of the mixture. continue until the desired consistency is formed.
serve immediately, preferably on some wholegrain toast


"It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkable difficult to kill."

-- Neil Gaiman

Friday, April 11, 2014

Not waving but drowning

Ever felt this way? I was much further out than you thought.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.

-- Stevie Smith

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cod in Indian Spicy Tomato Sauce via Wonderful Wendy

A lovely guest post from my wonderful friend Wendy. (Note: if you can't get cod, then a white fish such as orange roughy would work well):

When I came to America I brought odd things like a teapot and a vintage quilt. And four cookbooks.  Cranks, Delia Smith, Food for Thought and Madhur Jaffrey.
Delia still has the best Victoria Sponge recipe and Food for Thought still has the best quiches. Cranks has it’s unrivaled Nut Loaf. And that very first Madhur Jaffrey has a number of things. This is one of them.

It is called “ Timatari wali maachi.”  translated as "Cod in spicy tomato sauce." Totally brilliant.

2 lbs of cod. ( I got True Cod… I avoided the Lying Cod…that is just ridiculous)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp turmeric
9 tblsp veg oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds ( I use double ).
6 oz onions. finely chopped.
2 or 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
14oz chopped up tinned tomatoes
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/2 ground roasted cumin seeds ( I had these, but if you don’t….not a problem)

pat the fish dry, rub them on both sides with the salt, turmeric, cayenne mixture. Set aside for 30 mins.

Heat oven to gas mark 4/350F/180c

Heat 4 tbsp oil. When hot put in fennel and mustard seeds.
As soon as mustard seeds pop in garlic and onions.
Stir until onions start to turn.
Put in cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne.
Stir a couple of times to cook the cumin  and put in tomatoes and garam masala and roasted cumin.
Bring to boil. Cover, turn heat to low and simmer for 15 mins.

Put the remaining 5 tbsp oil in non stick frying pan. When hot put in fish until it has color on both sides…but do not cook the fish all the way through.

Put fish in some sort of baking dish and pour the tomato sauce over it and bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until you think the fish is done.

If no one is looking, lick the plate.

Serve over basmati rice, cooked with peas, onion and cumin seeds…’ll be very happy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

What is a blog, exactly?

My friend asked me the other day "Should I read your blog?" (To be honest, when I say friend, I really mean boyfriend, but I'm a little shy to use that word for the first time. It's so, I don't know, grown up. Really, there should be a better word that doesn't sound incredibly cheesy. Lover conjurs up the SNL sketch with Will Ferrell in the hot tub.) "Isn't a blog a diary that you want people to read?" he said. This is rather a rough first introduction, I admit. He is in fact a kind person, an incredibly brilliant person, and he exudes goodness, but he's not alone in this, somewhat myopic, observation. I'd love my blogger friends to weigh in here, but I don't really see this as an online personal diary I want people to watch. I don't often record what I had for breakfast or how much I weigh or my daily interactions. (Let's remedy that: my gardener, who hails from Belize, is, it turns out, a huge anglophile, and just spent about twenty minutes telling me everything he loved about Britannia. The people with the blue eyes, the fair skin, the intelligence of the English race, the extraordinary history, and the resilience and resourcefulness of those brought up on a cold, windy, wet island.)

"Should I read your blog" said my friend, who is a man, and of whom I'm rather fond. (I'm pretty much positive he won't be and so I am emboldened to share this post.) "I prefer to get to know you directly, not through what you share with other people," he said. And I understand this. It's rather lovely in fact.  But, he's a writer, and I've found myself reading a lot of the things he's written maybe to understand him better, maybe to educate myself (I don't know a huge amount about Foreign Aid or Veterans issues) or maybe because there's certain amount of obsession that takes over when you start to see someone new: you want to know everything there is to know about them -- including but not limited to their feelings about breakfast foods, dogs, their musical taste, poetry, how they treat other people, what's their relationship with their mother, are they conservative or liberal, can they kiss, boxers or briefs, do they hold their knife properly, are they attentive, and so on. I'm happy to report that he does very well on most of these things: he likes dogs, and moreover he is a dog person, he likes to walk and go on adventures, can recite poems by heart, is a big fan of breakfast, and he can dance! It's pretty great, to be sure.

A blog is more than a diary. It's an appreciation. For me, everything I love is poured into this place. Art, poetry, dogs, horses, memoir, recipes, trees, in equal measure. It's a way to remember things and way to memorialize things. It's a map, filled with tumuli and landlines and cliffs and contours and lakes and ponds and undiscovered ancient burial grounds. It's a place to discover things and to bury things. It's who I am, in a strange way. It started as a place to write because I was too scared to write. I didn't know where my voice was or if I had one. So a place that could be found, but wasn't necessarily blatantly public, was perfect. There was an element of terror: someone could see it. But that was good. That took away, to some extent, the self-indulgence. The writing is hardly ever edited. My whole approach was always stream of consciousness. Inspired by Woolf, although I am sure she was edited, with the idea that only by blurting it all out there would I find some truth. And sometimes it's really bad. And I know it. But it's real.

On Wednesdays I go to my writers group which is an alarmingly brilliant group of people, all of whom are more accomplished than me (read: published) and the most supportive folk you could ever hope to sit in a circle with once a week. We write. We read. We share. We critique. And every time I get closer to screwing my courage to the sticking point. There is a book. There are short stories. There is a half book (actually three of them). And soon, because I can feel it, I will be very brave and hand it over to someone who may be able to put it out into the world. But I wouldn't be able to do any of it without this blog, and my readers who encourage me to keep going, to keep writing, and tell me that sometimes I say something that helps them. That's it really. It's something about being able to glimpse the human condition, to look at some things that we all share, the things that make us fragile and real. The things that hurt us. The things that please us. The things that we love and bring us joy.

My closest blogging friends, Amid Privilege and Backwards in High Heels, write more frequently than I do, and they do so beautifully. I encourage you to visit their sites, as well as all of the good folk on my blog roll.

If you want insight into the human condition, a blog is the way to go. Raw, uncut, emotional, sometimes sharing too much information, but, essentially, real.