Thursday, January 23, 2020

A Guide to Getting Through the Worst Month of the Year

I mean, no joke, this is the *most* dreary part of the year in England. Dull, grey, dark, and no proper, dramatic Bladerunner-style rain but that constant living in a cloud damp, thick misty rain that permeates every pore and sends you running home for a hot bath every time you're out in it. You do try - honestly you do - to ignore it, but it's like living in ominousness. So here are TEN things you can do to get through the bloody worst month of the year (spoiler alert: it's all about eliminating fear...I think that's the key to life.)

a) Have a cortado (trans. Spanish for "shot in the arm") in the morning when you deliver your beloved to the train. Even if you don't drink coffee. It makes you feel extra smart and perky. It will restore your sparkle.
b) Ditto with a pain aux raisins. They are about 8000 calories and worth every bite.
c) Break all rules and boundaries. Dogs are most definitely allowed in the bed under the covers. Think of them as mini heaters.
d) Cook comfort food. Last night I made Ottolenghi's kosheri - fluffy basmati rice pilaf with cinnamon, nutmeg, lentils, topped with spicy tomato sauce (add extra chilis), cilantro/coriander and fried onions. For extra punch and crunch, add dukkah or chopped hazlenuts.
e) Go out in it every day, preferably early. Even on hideous days, there are spectacular sunrises and having your breath taken away once a day is worth it. Walk in the woods, admire the stark beauty of the leafless trees, watch their shapes on the skyline, see how the deer move, listen to the red-tailed hawks calling to each other.
f) Listen to music. Don't forget. Music shifts your mood. Whether it's Chopin's Piano Etudes or Sat Siri Akaal or Billie Eilish doing Carpool Karaoke, listen to music.
g) Learn a language. Yup, that's what I'm doing. I am using Dualingo to polish up my French skills. (Truth be told, I went to Paris with my lovely girly this weekend, and I was shamed into speaking better French.) But, man, Dualingo is addictive. Un cheval et un croissant. 
h) See above. Go on a mini vacay to a heartbreakingly beautiful romantic European city which wasn't bombed during the war, so that it's jam-packed with neo-classical architecture. Also, make sure the sun is shining, the skies are blue, and that you eat plenty of baguette and sweet French butter. You know, comme il faut. And if you're lucky, you may fall asleep in a comfortable chair in the sun in Les Jardins du Luxembourg, surrounded by happy children and seagulls, and you will forget that it is January. And bugger the French. They're rude. And is the Pope Catholic?
i) Invest in a pair of furry Birkenstocks. Yes, they are the ugliest shoes ever invented. Yes, they are the most comfortable and if you get some, you won't want to take them off.
j) Don't judge. I keep coming back to this. In the end, I truly believe there is no joy in judging other people. Everyone is doing the best they can. So words like 'lazy' are meaningless. In my heart, I do not think that people aspire to laziness. It's all from fear. So, believing the best in people is really the only way through the morass. I love that Ram Dass quote. Every day I think of it:
"We are all just walking each other home." - Ram Dass

Good luck. The days are getting longer. Take your meds. Say your prayers.

PS. Living In Ominousness could be the name of a Talking Heads album.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Poem for My Love

Poem for My Love

How do we come to be here next to each other   
in the night
Where are the stars that show us to our love   
Outside the leaves flame usual in darkness   
and the rain
falls cool and blessed on the holy flesh   
the black men waiting on the corner for   
a womanly mirage
I am amazed by peace
It is this possibility of you
and breathing in the quiet air


Thursday, January 16, 2020


Lipstick 💋

 "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek" - Joseph Campbell

It's shocking how fast time whizzes by as you get older. I have been in the UK for three whole years. And I'm still telling people that I just moved from California, probably as a way to help them understand why I don't behave like everyone else here. "Three years, wow," Charlie said to me, on repeat, as he mulls it over. And every single time he says it, a pang of shame skewers me: I haven't done enough. I haven't used my time well. I haven't achieved what I set out to. I know that's the anxiety speaking to me. I take one of those breaths they tell you work - six in, two out - and reframe it in my head. I live with the man I love. My daughter is in London. My mamma is near by. Yes, my son lives in LA but I see him probably more now than when we lived close to each other.

On Sunday, on top of a hill overlooking the Turville windmill - a village you may remember from "The Vicar of Dibley" - I realized that I'd dreamed of this for years: to ride a horse on a crisp and sunny day through the Chilterns, in the belly of Ravilious landscapes, green sod over chalk strata, littered with bare trees. "I believe I manifested this," I said to my companion, who is far more sensible than me, and pointed out that I had hit my head *very* hard on a tree trunk only half an hour before. It didn't take California to influence my belief in manifestation. It's inside all of us. All of it. All the time. You just have to bring it to fruition. (Concussion, apparently, helps.)

It's peak winter. There are no leaves left, but for fir, some ivy, a few rosehips. The trees are stark and dark and beautiful and wave in the January winds outside my window like soccer fans holding their scarves aloft. The sky is low, but briefly light comes through, and everything changes. A brightness. A moment of optimism. Base layers become important. Fires become important. I've even allowed the dogs in the bed for extra warmth. In Los Angeles, I spent my extra money on vertiginous stilettos in eccentric, capricious colors. Here I fetishize the LL Bean catalog and its myriad extra-warm waterproof outdoor coats. 

Yesterday I bought house insurance and put down the deposit on my own house, the first house that I've bought on my own. It's terrifying. I don't know what I'm doing. "If all else fails, we'll sell it and move to LA," he says, and I feel some relief, knowing that his fantasy of driving an LA muscle car and living in a mid-century modern in the desert is one step closer. "You can always move to London," says my mother, and I know I couldn't, ever, live in London. She knows this too. This chalk is in my bones. Somewhere I have wooly mammoth dna or pheasant dna, dna of all of those who trod before in these hills.

My neighbor, who has become a friend, and who has been through more tragedy than anyone I've met, puts on lipstick in the morning. I greet her as I walk back from the stable yard. Our dogs rush each other and make doggie smalltalk, and I see her there with her hair still wet from the shower, but combed, and and a pretty and fresh orange-red mouth smiling at me. She reminds me that it's the small things. I tell her that she must see "The Farewell."

I haven't done enough. I want to fix that. I want to leave a mark. And I want to greet each day with lipstick. 💋 

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

I forgot

I've forgotten how to write for the eight hundredth time and I have to learn again. My approach includes finding inspirational quotes, writing desperately to writer friends, and looking at lists of people who started doing things late in life. I wake up early, always early, just when the sky is beginning to twinkle with morning, and I think about writing while the birds wake up, and I try to resist picking up my phone to see what He Has Done Now and scouring Insta for inspiring stories. I think about people who talk about getting up early to write before the light eaks in, before their brain is addled, or the devil has found them. I used to be able to do it. I've found words that seem to make sense. I'm looking for the flow, which is what you get on a horse with a ball of energy in its tummy on a cold January morning. It's like sitting on a nuclear powered tube of toothpaste - the minute you unscrew the cap - it all wants to come squirting out. Be zen, be zen, my trainer said last week. "The more she squiggles, the calmer you must be." So I sat on her this morning trotting endless circles, my hand, my head, my leg connected, focusing on her not bucking me off. Focusing on calming her down, bringing her back to me, patting her intermittently on the neck, saying "easy girl, good girl." And slowly but surely she came back to me, and neck became soft at the base, and her poll became soft and her ears began to bend in a rhythm with the trot, and her stride lengthened and smoothed out. And all the time, we were in the flow, unaware of anything else (except the monsters in the hedge), both of us together, fully in sync.

And that's what it's like when you are writing well. You are fully focused on allowing the words to flow through your fingertips, without thinking or fearing or correcting or editing, just allowing, just, I suppose, being a conduit.

Start. That's all. Just start. There is power in a first step.

And happy new year to all of you who have been so very kind and supportive over the years. I am most grateful.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Mary Karr on prayer


It's easy to get overwhelmed in all of it. Scorched rainforest. Scrawny polar bears. Florida's rising sea levels. The corrupt, bat-shit crazy President. Fox News. Brexit. Plastic in the oceans. The decline of the freshwater mussel. More news sources. Surveillance Capitalism. Rising suicide rates. More anxiety in young children. Gun violence.

On December 3, my friend Laura dived into the sea in Cornwall. On that day, it was -2 degrees centigrade where I live. The sea was fresh, clear, blue. And freezing. But this seems to be the correct response to all of the mental garbage. Cold, fresh, saltwater. Immerse yourself in it.

Simplification is perhaps the antidote. Pare down everything. Marie Condo your whole life.

Somehow the end of the decade has crept up on me. Did you see it coming? I made a 2020 playlist this morning and realized that some of my favorite songs are nearly fifty years old: Bowie, Velvet Underground, Talking Heads. How?

So, here we are on the eve of a new decade; a time to take stock, to reevaluate, to cut away the calcified crud, to spring clean one's life. To make, perhaps, decisions to change.

If you ever needed a sign to start something new, this is it. Right here and now.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Happiness is an electric heater

Happiness, it turns out, is as simple as a small electric heater placed strategically on a corner counter in one's kitchen. It actually makes my oatmeal and flax taste joyful.

Don't despair, we're nearing the solstice. Only sixteen days to go before the days begin to lengthen. This is what I tell myself as I pop my tiny white tablets - one a day for anxiety.

Here it should be pointed out that anxiety isn't something you can always recognize. Especially if you have lived with it your whole life. The thoughts in your brain are your thoughts and therefore they are familiar and commonplace and it's easy to believe that everyone's brain works the same way. It's only as you begin to explore these things, you discover the truth. (Matt Haig is very good on this subject. If you haven't read Reasons To Stay Alive, please do.)

I remember once during my early career that I was supposed to be at a meeting at a studio at 9am with a client - it was a big filmmaker meeting with the whole marketing and distribution department. My boss wasn't going and wanted to make sure that I would be there. I was maybe 28 years old. I was running late and the parking was difficult and I didn't look good (looking back I always looked good at 28!) and I decided just to miss the meeting.  I didn't call. I didn't tell anyone. I just didn't go. Though this term had not been used at that time, I ghosted them.  My boss was furious when he found out. How could I do such a thing? I didn't have an answer. I didn't have a clue what an adequate answer would be and "I just didn't want to go" sounded like a petulant teenager. But I just didn't want to go. I couldn't go.

Yep. This, I discover all these years later, is anxiety. I am not lazy. I am not irresponsible. I am anxious.

I have bought a house. I am going to be careful saying this because it isn't completed, but I shall say with caution, that there is a lovely house with a walled garden which I hope will be mine. Believe me, the most important things I need to get right in that house is heat and light, because without those two things (and there is very little of the latter during the English winter) I would probably dig myself a hole and hibernate. The house isn't a supermodel, but the thing it has that many English cottages don't have, is lots of big windows, with views across the Berkshire Downs, or toward the tiny Norman church next door. Every window is a landscape, something I discovered when we had a beach house near Derek Jarman's garden in Dungeness. Every big oblong window had its own picture.

Here's my advice for this next cold week:

  • Eat oatmeal (porridge) with flax and berries
  • Remember the healing power of a warm bath
  • Drink lots of water - when it's cold you will think you don't need to
  • Spend time with animals
  • Walk in nature
  • Channel your art, somehow

Sunday, December 01, 2019


Even a brief encounter with sunlight in England in early December fills the world with possibility. Light is optimism. I write this at a quarter to seven in my dark kitchen, my dog at my feet, guarding me, waiting for my daughter to come downstairs so that I can take her to the station. She, too, fills the world with light. I had no idea how much I had missed her. 

A very happy Monday to you all.