Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Always this way?

After a truly epic storm, thunder and lightning and pounding, incessant rain, enough to alarm the dogs out of their slumber, it is peaceful and dry this morning. The sun isn't out, but everything, all the detritus, has been washed away, so that the roads are full of fallen branches, sticks and stones. Marvellously, the wheat fields are pale yellow, and as I drove my lovely man to the station, there was a petit-mort of crows. "Oh look at the ravens!" I said, with a modicum of drama. "Crows," he said, matter of factly, "Ravens are much rarer." It's a familiar drive, one I've taken many times, over two humped back bridges, one of the Grand Union Canal and one over the railway line. My father used to speed up over them, so the car alighted into the air, and our tummies would leap into our throats. I'm not sure how we didn't get killed.

I'm slowly putting places together so that villages and towns I know, are beginning to connect. I discovered, for example, that there is an antique shop in our old market town, across the street from the pub where I used to have ballet lessons, that sells old books from the area. It's a town with a castle and lots of book shops, coffee shops, a cinema which plays proper films. There are men in very white panama hats who look as if they should be at a cricket match, or listening intently to Radio 3, and grey-haired women with the same hair cuts and sensible shoes for walking. The taste is unusual after Los Angeles. Some of things are very beautiful and well thought-out, but style is haphazard at best. Rather satisfyingly, there is no through-line, no one predominant aesthetic, unlike LA, where certain looks become faddish, but when you're experiencing them everywhere, it doesn't seem that way. There is a lot of silver and semi precious stone, Ikat pillows and Turkish rugs, old distressed wooden dressers and 1950s sideboards, beautifully bundled silver spoons and forks, tied with brown string or ribbon, and terrible fake flowers (I do not see the point, aside from having to dress a shoot for Beyonce's twins.)

Still the notion of distance and longing haunts me. How hard it is to know that most of my girlfriends are so far away. One of them celebrated a birthday yesterday. "We really missed you tonight," she texted, and I felt a little tug. How it is possible to remove oneself from a world and go missed or un-missed, you don't really know how or why. How there is room for both. How taking oneself away can solve certain things and not others. I drive by the wheatfields and try not to think too hard about my children -- who I will be seeing in August, thankfully -- or what they're doing or how I can't just pop by. I think about our silent dances, the language we share, the things we do together to put a supper together, which no-one else knows or can imagine. How we three (and previously we four) are an unspoken, brave, strong-willed team, a family of superheroes who can Get Things Done, for that is what we are. There is never a moment when we don't know how to handle a situation. We just do. We ask each other, or don't need to ask, and it is done. We have the Can Do spirit, as my friend Marta calls it.

And still I'm at sea, neither here nor there. Here in my own world, which the dogs share, and the mare, amongst the wood pigeons and the wet beech leaves and the golden wheat fields, and the tortoise shell butterflies, connected to it in my heart. But here also aloof and apart and not quite understanding the way things are or how they work. A lot has changed in thirty years. There are words to learn, customs, a new etiquette, a manner of speaking in order to be understood or liked, not being too direct or too pushy, talking around things instead of directly to the point, respecting silence and the vacuum of things not being said, but hanging in the air, unsaid. This is not Los Angeles, where communication is direct, and clean. Every conversation here has a Sonata-Allegro form, an introit, a method of getting to the point without mentioning the point, which, to be honest, one has to learn. I am not unhappily at sea. My boat is sturdy and I see the land and the waves are not punitive.

And I wonder if it were always this way. Always being one step back from everything else. Like the dance where you put one foot in, and one foot out. If, in fact, if is a safety net, that one foot always outside?






Monday, July 17, 2017

Drowning them is not allowed

The elusive nature of happiness is that when you're in the midst of it, it's sometimes impossible to know it. That it take a horribleness to underscore the bliss, if you know what I mean. And so these long summer days, with their soft rain, in the countryside seem like a dream. The little house, the apple tree, the dogs, the cricket pitch dotted with men in whites, the wood pigeons cooing like they're on a Kate Bush album, the field larks, the sweet smell of hay, the lunches under the hazelnut tree - it's all too much to take it for its full beauty. But the other day I said to Charlie, if I die now, I would die happy. So all those books and gurus that tell you to remember to be grateful - do that. I read an interview with Arianna Huffington about her sleep routine (in typical Huffington style, she now has the corner on sleep, critiquing the president based on his sleeping habits and so on) and she mentioned that she writes a 'gratitude list' every night. I want to roll my eyes, in fact I probably do roll my eyes, but actually, I think she's onto something.

It's all so quick, isn't it? Why is it that the best weekends are over in the blink of an eye?

Yesterday I rode a new route, following my Ordnance Survey map app down a path through the woods to Kings Ash and then back up a lane that connected with the bridle path portion of the Ridgway above Wendover (Charlie calls it Bendover). The ground is still damp from the rain so we were able to canter a little and noticed a little fox trot across the path in front of us. Bella's eyes bulged and we stood as still as she could muster, just staring at each other. He a few feet into the woods, we on the path. It's one of those moments, the mind meld, when you wonder if we are in fact all connected and all understanding each other in some crazy Jungian way. The young fox is not scared, just wary, just keeping his distance, inquisitive. Bella is spellbound. I try desperately to get a photo (a fool's errand).

(Martin has come to cut the grass. He leans over the fence and takes time with his sentences. I like this about him. He's my zen reminder that I'm too quick and grumpy, especially when I'm interrupted at my desk. He tells me that glis glis are a problem that won't go away, that he's been going to some houses for years and the problem still remains. He also tells me that some people use rat traps and that it's illegal. And no, drowning them is not allowed. I like Martin.)

I'm on a journey of connecting places, all these names I'd heard as a child, some of them I'd visited and now I'm beginning to see how they all connect, like giants gobs of knowledge, creating a new framework, a spiderweb of paths on which to hang my life.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Giving Sea

"The wind will move around with the sun" they say here. Every day. Every year. And so it is today. A medium blue still sea, the clanking of small boats, a puff of wind tugging gently at the blue and white awning, a star spangled tablecloth where I write, a memento from the July the Fourth. The silver birch need to be trimmed so that we can see across to where the Myres live, in their little white cottages, where we spent many August birthday parties as children, tucked into the boat house or on the jetty, eating soft sweet bolle with goat's cheese and listening to American Pie.

Today we will go on a boat trip, not to an island, because mother isn't sure if she can get in and out of a boat that much, especially on unfamiliar, rocky terrain, but perhaps around the islands, with a picnic. My mother, who was the one most nimble on a boat, who would stand at the front, nut brown, in a pink bikini, leaping from the jetty to the deck with ropes in her hand, or tip-toeing around the side of it to put out the boat fenders, is now not able to walk at all without a crutch. It is the cruellest irony. She is cooking hard boiled eggs to take with us on our picnic, and I know she will enjoy being out on the sea, her sea, the fjord she knows so well.

The sea here is a trove of treasure; we pulled silver green mackerel from it yesterday and the day before, effortlessly, one by one. The first fish I've caught in perhaps twenty years or more, taken easily from the generous blue water. We wonder whether jellyfish is a delicacy anywhere or whether it has natural predators. Archie says that turtles eat them, but I have not seen turtles here. Swans. Canada geese.  Terns who protect their nest ferociously, but no turtles.

I walked yesterday with my darling man, and the dog who is ours when we are here. He isn't ours, but my cousin shares him generously and at thirteen, he is giddy to go on walks, especially if there are farm animals. The weather is what you would expect in a picture book, seventy two degrees, blue skies, fluffy clouds, a little breeze, enough to move the silver birch leaves around so that you can hear them. There is farmland, small fields, cattle, lazy with the abundance of grass, oak trees, long straws of rye, butterflies, borage, meadowsweet, feverfew, yarrow. There is nothing to worry about. His hand is in mine and mine is in his and we try to think about things that concern us, and we can't. He says, you are quiet, are you low? And I say, no, I just want to lie down in the long grass with you, and we do, my head resting in the crook of his arm, and we both stare at the blue skies, with the dog beside us. A man goes by on a tractor and waves. A runner smiles. It's all fine.

We have to take these days and remember them. We have to remember how it can be. And so today we go in the boat, with a picnic. A mother, her two children, a grandchild. Into the giving ocean.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Sorting out

Relative calm. Sitting in my favorite place on my favorite island in the Oslo fjord. Only a few geese, some seagulls, the distant rumble of a plane, the clanking of the moorings on the public jetty. Even the house next door, who partied from 2 to 11 last night, is quiet. July 1 marked the beginning of the three week holiday all Norwegians enjoy and marked the beginning of a long weekend in the US, a lovely four days off, a respite from the madness of a four plus week press tour. Yesterday the fatigue was so intense I could hardly move. Bought multivitamins at the local store just in case, drank water, swam in the ocean, half read, half slept through the day, in an effort to feel like myself again. And bees, I can hear the bees, a low, low hum of bees, underneath the other sounds, probably in the wild roses (Charlie calls them cabbage roses, maybe they are cabbage, but they are fuchsia pink, blowsy) or perhaps the climbing hydrangea that scatters its pollen, a sand yellow, all over the steps. But the bees are there, you just have to tune in your hearing.

When you don't write you forget how. Like anything it's a habit, a rhythm, a way of thinking. For the last month, longer perhaps, I've thought what I'd write, I've had the thoughts that flicker brightly at the time and then go because they are not transferred from head to hand, or even scribbled into a note pad in my bag. My bag has been full of schedules and business cards and quotes from journalists and ways of thinking about cinema. Of German hotel keys (a huge, fat, solid Bavarian brass one, nicked with permission from a Grand Hotel in Munich) and flat credit card shaped ones from hot, characterless hotels in New York, biscuits I've wrapped in napkins for later, clear plastic pouches from Muji I hoped would be useful when I became an organized person, notebooks filled with strategy, to do lists falling out of them, because rather there than in my head. But the other things, the important things to remember, the things that you think briefly, the ephemera that might some day connect the dots to make sense of All Of This, not even a scratch. Nothing. All gone. Fireflies.

Catch lightning in a bottle, my old boss used to say. A lot. So much that when I saw a photograph of a bottle lit up with fireflies, in a respectable Manhattan gallery, I laughed. Mirthlessly. But these things should be captured. That's why people walk around with notebooks entitled "Great Thoughts" and not, as mine does, "People I'd Like To Punch In The Face."

The tremendously rewarding thing about the work I do, and the work that a lot of my friends do, is the removal of ego. There is no ego involved. It is entirely transferred to the client. For two or three weeks, there is no "I."  I think I even behave differently with people I meet while wearing my press agent hat. There is one step back when usually I would step forward. There is deferral. There is a pause before answering. After too long I begin to dislike it, truthfully. I see people doing it, people who do what I do, when they step right back from the conversation and look around as if it's not happening to them. I hate it. I tell people who work with me not to do it. Engage, I say. You have as much right to be there as anyone else. You have things to add to the conversation. I dislike the back foot stance. Step in. Stand forward. Lean in. Ask questions. Ugh, I hate it. Passivity. Not engaging in the moment.

Chattering magpies now. Two for joy.

But it is an honor and a privilege to spend so much time with one person that you get to know them really, really well. I regret this is not something I do with my friends. There is no real getting to know anyone during a dinner party, where the conversation is either general or lofty or point-scoring. Perhaps all girlfriends should go on a Thelma and Louise style road trip.

We lived, truth be told, on the rosé and french fry diet. Too much bread, too much red meat. Not enough vegetables or fresh air or trees or grass underfoot. But we laughed and laughed and laughed. It's the only way to survive An Epic Press Tour.

This island is small and it feels small. It reduces thought, encapsulates it, not necessarily to its detriment. Like children on holiday without too many distractions - like our holidays as children with a little boat, the sea and things that live in it, some cherry trees, a few books - it's good for thinking. Los Angeles feels too big, too lofty, too many possibilities, too much potential. The box of a small island, even an island surrounded by oceans that reach far into other lands, means that you can sort out your thinking, focus on the important things, draw out the essence of things.

And the bees keep humming.

I think this week is for sorting things out, for walking around with a note book, for writing things down that seem to be important, for creating links between things, for not ignoring the voice inside that has been buried and tamped down. For paying attention and observing and holding on to the observations, not letting them go. For giving thanks for my teacher, Mr Williams, whose most important lesson, apart from teaching us the Kings & Queens of England in an easy to remember little rhyme,  was imploring us to not just merely look at things but to observe them and to remember the name and the characteristics of the thing we had seen. This is a creative child's most useful tool.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fragments of an idea


Sometimes you know what you have to do. I'm not sure what speaks to you. A series of signals become clear and fit together in such an elaborate and harmonious way that it seems almost churlish not to follow the trail of breadcrumbs.

A connection with place has always been important to me. My obsessive love of maps, my desire to walk every inch of a place before I can fully call it mine, observing the lacy patterns of footpaths connecting with each other. I immerse myself in the woods. Immerse yourself, I say. This is what soothes. Today it rains. And so the already glowingly verdant foliage is luminous. Fronds of beech and evolving oak leaves in that just born stage, acid green, feathery, bowing under the weight of the water. You bathe in it, this stuff. The sounds of the birds, the wind through the papery leaves, the patter of rain, it all washes over you, allows you to feel renewal.  

You have to be patient. You have to believe that things will happen for you, in a way that is kind to you. You have to know that the Universe is there to help you, to cleanse you, to put you on the path you're supposed to be on. You have to accept that when you find yourself in Wing, or Mentmore, or Soulbury, or in a small village just below the ridge of the Beacon, surrounded by black-faced two day old lambs, that you're supposed to be there. As odd and strange and Merlin-like as it sounds, you wait for the call. Everything feels wrong and then, one day, in magnificent confluence of events, it's right and it's where you're meant to be.

When I'm nervous, I clean. I make myself busy with sweeping floors and doing laundry and hanging a load of navy blue tshirts and black underpants on our clothes line, where they are now soaked. I think of cleaning as penance, as the waiting time, for the idea to come. And then it does, and then you know what you have to do.

Today I walked into a house that I can't buy in a village I didn't know existed, other than as a child, when I remembered the pub there had a great pudding trolley. (Do you remember the bliss of the pudding trolley, piled high with trifles and jellies and Black Forest Gateau, and iced buns, and chocolate eclairs and pink meringues?) And as my mother and I walked in we were greeted with pale grey wallpaper decorated in hand-stamped bumble bees. I have the same paper on my laptop as background. I believe it's made by Timorous Beasties. And a claw-footed tub in a bathroom with painted wooden floors and palest lilac walls. And a picture window, the type you'd want to put a plush bench in, and masses of brightly colored cushions. And, best of all, a summer house, a writing hut, lined with shelves. "Just ready for someone to write a bestseller," said the charismatically challenged yet kind estate agent (realtor). "In the winter, when the trees lose their leaves," she said, "you can see through to the big house; this used to be where the butler lived." The 'big house' is a local stately home, most famously used as the setting for Roxy Music's Avalon music video, and Kubrick's much-debated "Eyes Wide Shut." It's a lovely house in a beautiful village designed by Hannah de Rothschild's architect. And I know I'm only there because I veered off course yesterday while picking up some horse supplies in Leighton Buzzard.

But on the green, there are two beautiful little cottages, with ornamental box hedges, purple wisteria, big, proper windows, elegant doors. There is a little red post box outside one of them, a green and a children's play area next door, and across the road a huge, wide, picture book view of the Vale of Aylesbury, spread out on this green and misty morning like a mythical land, all low clouds and hedgerows.

You can't go back to the place you grew up. Or you can, but you won't find it. it won't be the same as you remember. But there are other strands and fragments beginning to come together. As a child you remember roads or paths, places, special trees but you don't have a map in your head of how they all connect. I have been down this road, for example, only as far as this farm, I have no idea where it goes to past the farm. The joy of coming back home as an adult is the ability to put the pieces together, build the puzzle out of the fragments. The feeling of being in the trees, smelling the dirt, the sound of a blackbird becomes more specific, tied to something particular. The nostalgia is making room for something more tangible, more solid, more sustainable. That's the fun. 



 

Friday, April 28, 2017

blowing the mind

Whenever I hear of people who have died too young (the great Jonathan Demme, 73) it brings me back to my own mortality, to our mortality and the thing that we always, somehow, forget: that we are here on this planet for a finite time, and then we turn to dust. I'm sure we're programmed to believe that this isn't the case for if we believed, every day, that it could be our last, our behaviour would be wildly different. At a friend's birthday lunch on Sunday, in the wilds of the Cotswolds, I was speaking to a very jolly and fit man who had been in hospital for two months in a coma, with sepsis. He was sent from the local hospital to a London teaching hospital, and when he recovered -- and the recovery, he told me, was indeed miraculous -- many doctors from all over the country gathered at his bedside to marvel. Not the best at cocktail party small talk, I ventured "you must feel very different about your life now." "Don't waste a moment" he replied, and winked at me, because we both knew we were spouting cliches. But underneath, that is exactly what he meant, and exactly what I took from it.

What I should like to do before I die is to find way to move seamlessly from my earthly preoccupation with the minutiae: the anxiety, the domestic chores, money woes, petty squabbles, and rise up to a place where you see everything in perspective; that place where it suddenly becomes clear why you are here, what is important, and what you need to do. I reach this place of elevated conscience infrequently, but I'm here to say that sweating on the yoga mat, doing the cat/cow while listening to soothing mantras is one method. My lovely teacher and guru (though she would not want to be called that, for her it's about the practice) Tej, who runs Nine Treasures (Kundalini) Yoga in LA has one mission in life and that is to lift people up to be the leaders, to be the enlightened ones. "If you can't see God in everything, you can't see God at all" is a favorite saying of Yogi Bhajan.

Here is my currently favorite mantra. It is the mantra for clearing the subconscious, Gobinday Mukunday. Put it on in your house or car and just let it play:


Similarly, I find myself in tears whenever I step inside a church. Probably, in my case, this comes from nostalgia, from having spent a lot of time inside churches as a child. There is something very nice about a quiet, sacred space, where all one is required to do is to sit and think or pray. The Church of St Martin in the Fields yesterday was filled with middle-aged, middle class white women, the kind you only find in England, who were sipping coffees and doing brass rubbings. I wanted to take pictures of them but thought better of it. As I walked up the glass staircase from the crypt to the street, there they were, heads bowed, rubbing away with their crayons. Awfully, awfully sweet (and I say that without judgement).

Before Easter, on Good Friday, Charlie and I went to St. Albans Cathedral to look around. Neither of us are particularly formal about our faith, both of us brought up CofE, both of us nostalgic for it, both of us particularly fond of a nice bit of Evensong (who isn't? That beautiful choral music!) but neither of us that interested. But, oh my goodness! What an amazing experience to spend a few minutes inside one of the most beautiful cathedrals (and with the longest nave) in the country when the most beautiful liturgy, the saddest one in the Christian faith, is being sung. I found myself staring up at those beautiful ceilings with the tears running down my face.



And then there is the other cathedral. This one:


This is where you must go. This is where you discover the great release of the knowledge that you are merely the tiniest part of the whole, that you are just a fragment and there is an enormous, infinite, intricate, beautiful fabric that makes up the universe, of which you are an intrinsic, albeit miniscule part. I think that realization is the truly mind-blowing one.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tales from a Sloping Bed



There are three dogs in our house tonight, all of them thrust hunkamunka into the little bedroom with the wonky floors. Only after spending the night on London and sleeping like a lamb all night long do I fully understand quite how disruptive it is to slip diagonally from top right to bottom during the sleep cycle. I insist on sleeping the windows cracked open, and the curtains drawn, to hear the birds and witness the sunrise, but this too may have just been a romantic affect. The dogs are still wary of each other. Two on my side, the other, a small and cautious little rescue terrier who is recovering from a large operation, on his. Mine follow me down to the loo in the middle of the night and wait by my side as I fill a glass of water; she barks gently as we come up the rickety stairs. I suspect it will take them a couple of days to get used to each other. I hope she will come to enjoy her sojourn in the country. I hate to say this, but on nights like this I miss Shoreditch with its hermetically sealed windows, its heavy winter weight duvet, the solid, tall bed. 

We have just said goodbye to my daughter who has been here for five days, with her lovely young man on his first visit to the UK. London became a tourist destination and with sturdy shoes and maps and bottles of water we cross-crossed the city, from the Tate Modern to St Paul's to Borough Market, from Spittlefields to Buckingham Palace to Richmond Hill. London is the place you fall in love with in the morning when it is still cold but the sun is new and people are scurrying to work filled with hope. I rather enjoyed seeing the same young man in his suit, with his coffee, in Hoxton Square each morning before work, listening to music and smiling at my dogs. I admire people who have the patience and the forethought to wait for a few minutes; it's a way of capturing time, holding it in a little glass bottle, actually experiencing the world going by instead of rushing with it. How elusive is time, how much do I wish I could slow it? My daughter is twenty two years old and she sat on my knee on the underground and it was if she were four again. What do we do with our days? What do we have to show for all the hours we have been here? How do we elicit meaning from each precious moment? Or don't we? Is that the point? That all of it feels meaningful only in retrospect?

Tomorrow night I intend to sleep on the flat earth under the stars. And dream.