Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Remember

By the first of August
the invisible beetles began
to snore and the grass was
as tough as hemp and was
no color—no more than
the sand was a color and
we had worn our bare feet
bare since the twentieth
of June and there were times
we forgot to wind up your
alarm clock and some nights
we took our gin warm and neat
from old jelly glasses while
the sun blew out of sight
like a red picture hat and
one day I tied my hair back
with a ribbon and you said
that I looked almost like
a puritan lady and what
I remember best is that
the door to your room was
the door to mine.

-- Anne Sexton


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Home Again

So I haven't seen the new Meyers-Shyer film but I've read some of the reactions, the tweets, a few reviews. And this profile of her by my friend Amy Kaufman. It's one of those movies with a cute trailer, a winning Reese Witherspoon, and a Brentwood house to die for. It makes me miss LA, and it makes me miss the silliness of LA, the brilliantly lovely artifice. (England is not without its own artifice; each city has a unique claim.) It makes me think of delicious houses on the west side, with immaculate, sparkling kitchens with carrera marbled surfaces that make you want to make bread, even if you're not a baker, of light pouring in through big windows, the sound of the birds, a glimpse of pink bougainvillea, a civilized terrace with a couple of chaise longues in a muted beige, and perhaps a cashmere throw next to the NY Times (they only get the Sunday edition, for the Styles section, natch). It reminds me of friends houses, or, specifically, industry friends houses, with discreet housekeepers just out of frame as photographs are taken, and forced niceties, even of the most genuine kind. Of parents just out of touch with reality, and materialistic children (oh, honey, they'll grow out of it). It reminds me of the gauzy reality of Los Angeles. Not now perhaps, when it's being assaulted with the highest temperatures and the worst fire on record, but most of the year when it's pleasant and 75 degrees, and you don't have to worry about coats, raincoats or walking shoes. When you can wear ridiculously inappropriate dresses and heels because you're driving your air-conditioned car, and there is no weather to think of. It reminds me of perfect restaurants whose first thought is ambience and making the farm-to-table feel authentic. Of patrons that are so hip that they could be from central casting.

And you think I'm being catty? No, this is the LA I love. Along with the melon-pink sunsets, and the way the brown haze has a terracotta glow to it just above the hills, the way you can listen to the radios of the people driving next to you on the 101. Where you're not alone in loving Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, or where Larry Mantle is something you can discuss with your kids over dinner. The way you can have a yearning for an al pastor taco and you know exactly where to find that truck. The way that your friends don't know what mud is, and every hand you encounter is manicured with square, perfect nails in effortlessly chic shades. It's like, you just know.

I miss the shop girls with the Hermes bags. The perfect high school dads who are attorneys during the week, who wear Nike and Adidas to show they know casual, who shop at Supreme, because they're down, and drive Teslas and Priuses because, you know, Range Rovers are just not cool. I miss the Brentwood Country Mart, the moms who hang out at the Starbucks, the ayurvedic spas, the pho joints on Western, where you go to feel smug, because they're, you know, the real deal.

And the sunshine, and the kindness, and the warm smiles that may be vapid, but at least their hearts are opened, and their bellies filled with green juice.

Yeah, so, I'm jealous I didn't make that movie. That movie makes me feel like home. That movie makes me wanted to snuggle up on our old brown leather sofa with the weird homemade cushions I got in Del Mar when Minky was horse showing and I can't resist a home store, with my kids, in sweats, eating chopped salads from La Scala, and watch a bad rom com set in the city we love, with all its fakery. It's all for Hollywood, but we're winking at each other anyway, because we know it too, and we're in on the game. It's our genre. It's how we live, which just a sprinkling of a veneer of unreality, under sunny, blue skies, and the roar of motorbikes ridden by aspiring actors in their muscle shirts coming up from the canyon. It's pretend. It's make believe. But it's our make believe.

Addendum: A friend just put up an article on grief from Thrive, which I randomly clicked on. Here are the first two sentences:

Another way to say that you are grieving is that a part of you is stuck in a moment in time. 
 Sometimes the cause of the stuckness isn’t the grief itself, but the fact that you don’t even recognize that you’ve lost something and that you need to grieve. 

Monday, September 04, 2017

How To Continue

One of the greatest American poets, John Ashbery, has died at the age of 90. Now seems as good a time as any to re-familiarize ourselves with his beautiful work. You can listen to him reading the poem here.

Oh there once was a woman 
and she kept a shop 
selling trinkets to tourists 
not far from a dock 
who came to see what life could be 
far back on the island. 

And it was always a party there 
always different but very nice 
New friends to give you advice 
or fall in love with you which is nice 
and each grew so perfectly from the other 
it was a marvel of poetry 
and irony 

And in this unsafe quarter 
much was scary and dirty 
but no one seemed to mind 
very much 
the parties went on from house to house 
There were friends and lovers galore 
all around the store 
There was moonshine in winter 
and starshine in summer 
and everybody was happy to have discovered 
what they discovered 

And then one day the ship sailed away 
There were no more dreamers just sleepers 
in heavy attitudes on the dock 
moving as if they knew how 
among the trinkets and the souvenirs 
the random shops of modern furniture 
and a gale came and said 
it is time to take all of you away 
from the tops of the trees to the little houses 
on little paths so startled 

And when it became time to go 
they none of them would leave without the other 
for they said we are all one here 
and if one of us goes the other will not go 
and the wind whispered it to the stars 
the people all got up to go 
and looked back on love

-- John Ashbery

Two chairs

It's raining, my darling man is at the Venice Film Festival, and I've run out of chocolate that my friend Laura brings me every time she visits. She knows me far too well, and bring books of poetry and thick, purple slabs of Dairy Milk. It's dawned on me that summer is over, that I miss my friends in Los Angeles a lot and that social media is an absolute pariah when you are an empath, as apparently I am. But all moaning aside, on Saturday evening I went for a little pre-dinner walk along the Chiltern Way and then back through the fields beyond Hawridge. There is a path through a bean field. The beans are black and dry, and the ground is covered in chamomile and buttercups and shrubby grass. There was a hot air balloon on the horizon, the ubiquitous, soothing wood pigeons were doing their Kate Bush best, and the dogs were happy. And then appeared two modern-ish kitchen chairs, just parked in the middle of the field, overlooking the spectacular valley, two simple metal and plastic chairs. I looked at them and thought, this is it, really, isn't it? People that care enough about the land they live in and the other people who live in it to park two chairs randomly in a huge bean field, purely for the pleasure of stopping for a while in nature. Someone dragged two chairs miles across a field and plonked them there for the happiness of others. Perhaps that idea is what we build a world on?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Weaving in and out, sweetly

I put up a picture on Instagram yesterday of the Iron Age fort near my house, a deep almost full circle of a dell lined with beech trees. It's a peaceful place, filled with wood pigeons and the sound of the wind in the leaves. Three people noticed my little cry for help, and I want to note, here and now, how grateful I am for that.

There is such a stigma about asking for help, or not even help, but acknowledgement of the fact that you're not doing well. You just don't want to make a fuss. You know that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world that are in a far worse state than you are, and it just feels selfish to go on about not feeling fantastic. What on earth do you have to be miserable about? You have a lovely life, two fantastic children who are happy, an incredibly supportive partner, a thriving business, a sweet cottage you rent in an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty, two hilarious dogs, a garden full of blackberries and apples and daisies. There is nothing to be unhappy about! And yet, you don't feel right. You have dark thoughts. You don't feel good enough. You find yourself wanting to be alone. You can't get up in the morning. You feel ugly and unloveable and anxious. It's no fun. It's no bueno.

I said I felt ossified. I started out by using the word "petrified." But it is that feeling of your blood not flowing properly through your bones, a sense that not enough oxygen is reaching the parts need it. A sense of stagnation. I think of our human bodies as being an extension of the things outside us, for me at least, my body takes in the essence of things around it. Thus, when I'm in the woods, I breathe the air, listen to the birds, smell the sweet mulching leaves as they crunch underfoot. And similarly, when I can't sleep I read the accounts of our dreadful, shameful president in his ugliness and his hatefulness, and I suppose I feel it too much. My mother says that you shouldn't worry about him because you can't do anything about it. I think of the words of Heather Heyer, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

This unpleasantness that has been unleashed on the world is really beyond outrage. I think we all want to be happy, want to feel loved, want to love in return. I think most reasonable people believe that all men and women are equal and should be afforded the same rights, like clean water to drink, basic health care, respect. But the idea that one race can believe themselves to be superior or that we can judge people based on the color of their skin is absolutely mind-boggling. And by the way, that happens here, where I live. It's not overt, it's not intended to be hurtful, it's close-minded and small in its thinking, but it happens. It's quite shocking, after living in a large metropolitan city for a long time. Everyone has the same colored blood. And it spills the same way.

So, thank you for noticing my lack of sparkle. Thank you to two writer friends, one of whom sent me writing encouragement via Instagram, enough to make my day (You Know Who You Are, Miss Scotland), and the other who texted me and asked if I wanted some "recognition." She meant reignition. We laughed. And she told me that mercury was in retrograde. Hooray! And to my lovely LA friend, who wrote me a long email asking if I was okay and telling me she missed me. And to my mamma, who I had lunch with yesterday for her birthday. I tried to cover it up but I had to explain why I was fifteen minutes late to pick her up, how I'd wandered through the woods trying to save my soul (!). She was lovely. And then there's my sister, who invited herself to lunch, happily, on Sunday.

All these things create a safety net. These little gossamer threads of compassion hold me gently, just above the water, in the kindest way. The water is there, and I can splash my feet in it, but head is suspended safely in kind hands, mothering hands. My gratitude is endless. Truly.

I've also taught my dog the word "apple" today. We have so many in the garden, so many that they have taken the place of balls. As I put out the washing, I throw them. Thistle runs madly and brings them back to me. "Bring me your apple" I say, and she is obliging, or as obliging as a French Bulldog can be. But she smiles when she does this, so I know she is happy. This is the second word I've taught her this week. The first was "glis glis."

The plums are so copious that they are rotting on the trees. They grow like dates in huge bunches, like the tiny alveoli in your lungs, and the branches hang low with their weight.

This is a year of change, and I am so aware of that fact. Clinging on to my old life while forging a new path. Missing my children every day. Remembering them as children, connected by little silk strings to me, to each other, gently, sweetly. Trying to reestablish myself in the country of my birth. Getting used to not having my old friends around (that's a hard one, even for someone who likes to isolate) while making new ones. Listening to who is there. Listening for signs that we speak the same language, love the same things. Familiarizing myself with the routines of living with someone else, creating new dances and manners of existing, persisting, discovering new ways and tracks and furrows, building a framework that feels strong and can support a proper life. Cutting back, cutting off, cutting out. Living more from the land. Picking blackberries directly off the bush in to my breakfast cereal bowl. Foraging for chanterelles. Eating yellow plums off the trees on my rides through holloways banked with hedgerows. Understanding the country code, and realizing how lucky I am to have been brought up with it, where we blend seamlessly into it, outside and in, flowing one through another, without jarring, or mistake. Discovering maps and paths and connections, new places and new trees, and new cultures. Embracing this English way of doing things, often small, infinitesimally tiny, and often huge and loving and kind. Thinking about the common good more than the self. Being kind to strangers. Having strangers be kind to us without reward or expectation. And noticing everything. Sometimes too much.

Sweet dreams, my dears.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sa Ta Na Ma

It's five minutes to six and it's just me, the wood pigeons outside and the glis glis clattering about in the walls. I'm in the kitchen, doing work, because we made a rule last night not to have phones in the bedroom. Aargh, not sure how long I'll last. And, aargh, not sure if I'd survive because my constant checking of Twitter to see What He Did Now is about the most unhealthy habit I can imagine. Yesterday was a wash, I tell you. Tired from no sleep, despondent, utterly afloat. The only thing I can liken it to was the feeling I had when my father died, the sinking feeling that the buck stops with you. Obama was daddy and brother and kind uncle. This one is, well, a dim-witted, narcissistic devil, who just disrupts for disrupting's sake. "Oh go take a walk in the woods" I tweeted at him yesterday. As if that would help. Do you remember the way the eagle behaved in that famous video clip? That was everything we needed to know. Don't ever trust anyone who animals don't like. That should be the rule. And more often than not, don't trust anyone who doesn't like dogs.

The sky is streaked with pink and I'm not sure which way this day is going to go. Will there be more rain, or will there be some sunshine? The English, I've discovered, are utterly nuts about the weather. It's all they discuss. In the supermarket, the dry cleaners, on the train, on the phone. "Oh dear, it's not looking too good, is it?" they say. Or "what happened to our summer?" I put my head down and try to ignore it. One more thing to worry about in the midst of existential angst, I think. One more damn reason to be miserable.

America, how could you do this?

I took a walk in the woods yesterday. Not unusually, as I live in a place surrounded by woods. I walked and walked and walked till it was me, the dogs, a soft breeze, and the gentle fluttering of green beech leaves, a net to hold the sunlight, and the smell of the mulch, that earthy soil smell which makes you realize who you are again. We walked through a stubble field and roused the crows and climbed back through a hedge because there is never, ever an outlet, is there? And we stopped for blackberries all along the way. (One of my favorite things every morning is to walk outside with my cereal bowl and pop freshly picked brambles straight into it. I think that's what they call farm to table. Or branch to mouth.) There is a rhythm when you walk, when you have stopped being worried about the things that were in your mind at the start of the walk, and you relax into the simple act of putting one foot in front of another, and your mind becomes still, and you just listen to the drumbeat. Sometimes I do the sa-ta-na-ma on my fingers (a kundalini mudra) just to help still my mind quiet. It's not as weird as it seems. Try it. In fact, there is something about reciting the sa-ta-na-ma in your head while pressing one finger at a time to your thumb, that leaves little room for your mind to do anything but be still.

Be still.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thank you, Mary

I live in a storybook village, filled with houses that could be made out of gingerbread. It's true. The people here are named after literary characters: Dorrit, Heidi, Charlie, and they live in tiny thatched cottages covered in clematis and roses, with names like "Quiet Corner." There is a cricket pitch, a windmill, an Iron Age fort guarded by tall, ancient beech trees, wild apple and plum trees, a giant oak tree with perfect branches for children to climb upon. In August, my garden is full of blackberries, overgrown daisies, butterfly bushes, florabunda, ox-eye daisies, a hazel tree filled with naughty grey squirrels, a greengage tree with groaning branches, and a badger set at the end of the garden, near the stone wall that connects us to our very lovely neighbors. Cyclists whizz by in threes and fours, in their red and black stretchiness. Duelling wood pigeons coo at each other, and clatter in the branches as they fly off.  Horses come by in pairs at a trot. And there are tractors pulling trailers full of bales as the harvest is in full swing. Silver birch shimmer.

We live at the junction of two small roads, marked by an apple and an oak that grow together. In front of our house is a triangle of grass and a white wooden signpost that you can only find in rural England. The sky is a not-too-glaring blue, a tasteful blue, not like the glaring, bold blue of Los Angeles, or the simmering, sexy blue of Greece, and small clouds float freely.

And striding into this world I wonder, how on earth did I get here? How do we find ourselves where we are? Is this intention or fate? I walk my dogs across the cricket pitch in the morning, my head full of work worries and the general existential angst that comes from having a madman as the president of my adopted country (what has he done now? is my familiar refrain every morning). And as I walk, I listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, marvel at the amount of blackberries, see how the bracken has grown since I was last here a few days ago, witness the jolly cavorting of the dogs, and everything melts away. This is what is important: to be in a place that feels like home, safe, and surrounded by the natural world, in its arms, connected to it, part of it.

"Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else?" 
-- Mary Oliver

*   *   *   *   *   

I spent a few days with both my children and no-one else, but for frequent excursions with my charming cousin out on the boat. We picnicked in the Oslofjord and we cooked suppers on the coal grill, we walked across the granite rocks and stared in awe at the blue sea, and instead of three strangers, we became a unit again. All of the outside stuff fell off, and we became ourselves again. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift. I watched my daughter in the water, attempting to master one ski, and she came out grinning, sparkling, dripping with saltwater, beaming. "Remember this," I said. "This is your authentic self. This is who we are supposed to be."  I think that's our job, as humans, to find that joy that resides inside of all of us, and to be who we are meant to be, and thus, connected to the whole.

I hope you all have a marvelous day. #onlylove

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Don't be a Ninny

I am such a ninny. I've written about depression here before but so long ago that I forgot that I suffered. Yes, I said that. I plain gone and forgot. So, as you do, I stopped taking my meds about three months ago, and about six weeks ago I said to my doctor friend Sue, who I ride with, "I stopped taking my meds, and I feel fine! And it was only a tiny dose. I don't think I need them. I'm so happy. I live in a beautiful place. I walk every day. I have a gorgeous man who loves me..." She looks at me and she says, plainly "Wait till the three month mark." And here I am. Tiny anxious thoughts starting trickling in to my head last week, just silly things, and I thought I hadn't had enough sleep. And yesterday, full on "I suck" mode. Not fun. Even now, I'm still ahead of it, still looking down on, can still see it as a thing, so it hasn't fully taken over, but I know it's there. It's harder to lose myself in the beech trees and the bracken. It's harder to enjoy food. It's harder to see the comedy in situations. It's harder to feel lighthearted. It's harder to not assign (malicious) intent to other people's actions. Harder not to take things personally. Harder to Be The Lighthouse (Yogi Bhajan).

Don't be a ninny: take your meds. Don't believe that you're above them.

My friend who runs a recovery center for depression, addiction, anxiety and so on, says that one of the things he does with the young people he helps is that he takes them out on the street in London and says, "help someone." And he will point them towards a tourist with a map, and say "Go and see if you can point them in the right direction. He probably wants to get to Harrods." And it works. The person feels better because he has reached out to someone else, and he's thought about someone other than himself.

Depression makes the world smaller, shrinks it down, and doesn't allow you to see the huge bountifulness of it all. It lowers the sky. It makes things feel disjointed, not connected. Happiness feels transcendent, big, optimistic, magnanimous, light.  Depression feels little, mean even, dark. You don't have enough to give anyone else.

Earlier today I asked my lovely man to go to London. It's not that I don't want him here. He's amazing with me. For example, on Sunday night, when I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling and not really sure what to do with myself, he lay by me, with his book, and unselfconsciously reached out his hand for mine. It made me cry. I thought "Here am I feeling useless and crap and this lovely man is just lying next to me, supporting me." I didn't feel worthy. But sometimes I can't imagine anyone would want to be with someone who is in this state. It's prickly, a little mean, not particularly loveable.

The opposite of this is the way you feel when you've been plucking up the courage to go in the sea and you decide that you must go, but the sea is cold, and yet you go in anyway, and it's cold but refreshing and you swim, and you keep swimming and it begins to feel warmer. And when you come out, you feel so good that you don't care that your hair is a mess or your tummy is sticking out or your nose is running. Your skin is shimmering and salty, you just feel yourself, your true essence.

That's the piece that's missing. So I will speak with the lovely Dr Joe on the phone tonight and we'll try to get this taken care of.  I don't want to miss a thing.

(For more on feeling crap and dealing with sadness and depression,  please do read the lovely Tania Kindersley's blog, especially this piece. She inspires me every day.)

Mine is a minor ailment in comparison to many. And I thank you for allowing me to express it here, because even this downloading (and I do it better in writing than I do in person) helps. Knowing that it can be shared and knowing that other people experience similar things (like Tania) makes everything much much much more deal-able. I don't like myself when I am this way but I know that that in itself is a symptom, and that I need to embrace it. I encourage everyone to reach out and share these things with friends, or keep a diary. The mere fact that we can crack it open and let it out helps it see some sunlight, helps it heal.


It's bramble season.
Morning walks are blackberry-laden.
The dogs are covered in dew and grass seeds.
There are butterflies everywhere.
And bracken, unfurling, bending over the paths.

We have one desk that sits perpendicular to the window. There is a light on each end, piles of books, a stapler, two laptops that face each other, each with a chair behind it. This is where we sit in the mornings, where we work, and today there is a bowl of brambles in between us, sweet and juicy, which we both nibble on.