Stephen Grosz's "The Examined Life" kept me company on an eleven hour plane ride from London yesterday, surrounded as I was by a huge Pakistani family. The fourteen year old, who didn't speak English, sat next to me and shared salted sunflower seeds and Galaxy chocolate and we watched "The Wolverine" together (God, I want to be a ninja). He (Mr. Grosz, who is a London-based psychoanalyst) talks about how change always involves loss and how the avoidance of loss is the thing that makes us reluctant to change. It is conquering that, the desire to avoid loss and its resulting pain, that actually will bring us true bliss. Not particularly an easy choice for the instant gratification generation, of which I'm part. Here's a rather lovely quote from Michiko Kakutani's review:
'Mr. Grosz quotes Isak Dinesen, who observed that “all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them,” and he goes on to argue that stories can help us to make sense of our lives, but that if “we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us — we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand."'
I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but I was in England this weekend ("I got here by plane" I answered a man at a party who asked what I thought was a dumb question, but I'm really not sure how it happened). One day, about four months ago I was standing in my kitchen sobbing into my phone to my best girlfriend in London, the way you sob when it's with your best friend, part snort, part gulp, part convulsive laughter, lamenting that there would never be any reason to celebrate ever again and that no-one would ever love me and that I might as well retreat into a well-appointed rabbit hole and wallow in my miserableness, and the next I find myself walking around London at midnight, arm in arm with someone who makes me smile constantly, listening to nightingales and marveling at the re-purposed Victorian lamplight along the paths of Holland Park.
This is how I got here: My friend, K, who is, it must be said, an optimist -- a busy, hard-working, jolly, clever optimist of the best kind -- told me once that life is much shorter than we ever imagine it and if anything ever feels right, trust it, pursue it, and take great risks to preserve it, including fording oceans and flying over thousand of miles of plains and mountains. One must be a pioneer. One must have a brave heart, a kind eye, a notion that all the best things are attained through massive risk-taking and that yes, we could lose everything, or be made to feel foolish, but you have to take that chance. Just one little step outside of the cocoon and everything could change. (In my case, the step was shoeless as my foot, having fallen down the hill in Laurel Canyon walking the dogs two days before leaving for London had swollen up to the size of a beachball, and the achilles tendon was pulsating like the alien brain at the end of the Star Trek tv show from the 70s, all green and veined. And so I went boldly through Heathrow airport one loafered foot in front of the other be-socked one, the crazy lady, plainly, to all who viewed me.)
"But this is what you must do, " she said, as I was driving onto the 170 from Ventura Boulevard in Universal City, somewhat irritated that the left turn arrow onto the freeway wasn't synced with the green light ahead of it. "There is no doubt that this is what you do." And it was that faith, that down-to-earth, sensible English voice suggesting something completely mad as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that made me leap.
The red-tailed hawks are very loud today in the canyon. I'm at my desk, overlooking Lookout Mountain, and they are screeching at each other. The mimosa, blooming a glorious, jaunty yellow, reminds me that Spring is here.
I can't write about England without including some pictures of the land I love so dearly. This is Ashridge:
|oak on aldbury common|
|the path to woodyard cottages, ashridge|
Footnote: I'd like to dedicate this to my friend, Fred, who was brave and bold, after suffering massive loss, and has listened to his heart, and is now on the brink of an epic adventure. I am so very proud of him.