Saturday, August 29, 2020

Kitchen table on the Fjord

It's odd being on a summer island at the end of the season. "Are you hytte folk?" (summer house people) a man asked as we were walking. Not many of us left, and only a few boats on the water on this overcast day. I see some light - all is not lost - but it's far away on the horizon on the east side of the Oslo fjord. This weather reminds one of trolls and sweet chestnuts and lingonberries. I am drinking too much wine. I drink too fast, I know this, I don't savor it. I cook and I sip and I am not mindful. My father insisted that we taste wine, that we take each sip and think about its taste. I don't do this. I gulp. And I don't think I'm doing that until I feel like falling asleep and of course this leads to waking up in the night, when the sugar kicks in, with dread and loathing. I listened to a hypnotism podcast for sleep at about two ayem and the man started by saying, "of course you haven't had caffeine or sugar for the last few hours" in his annoying, preachy voice, and it snapped me right out of my go-to-sleep breathing and I thought Fuck You Annoying Shamey Hypnotist Man. But then there you are, stuck in a cycle of non-sleep and waking up tired, and shame, again, and again and again. Perhaps it's because my beloved isn't here. His gentle sleep breathing is soothing. Perhaps it's Thistle's thunderous and hearty snoring I miss. It wasn't a good night. I wake up every day and I think "I drink too much." And then I look up "how much wine is too much" and then I convince myself I'm not an alcoholic. One article said "you should be able to stop for 90 days" and I think, yeah right, in the middle of a pandemic, that's doable. And then another part of me says, are you a man or a mouse, woman? Have you ever met a challenge you won't take on?

My daughter is here and she cooks delicious meals for us every night - parma ham and cold sweet melon, roasted cauliflower and leek pasta with a little bacon. We alternately laugh and quibble, hug and recalibrate. The whole process of relearning how to relate to your adult child is an interesting one. You don't know how powerful you are. You don't know how much your words mean. Especially with your children. I hold my tongue as much as I can. I try to find the right words so that I don't say the thing I don't mean to say. I watch her, every day, as we work on duelling laptops. She is calm, professional, smart. She always sounds like the grown up in the room. I know that she is setting the world on fire. I surge with pride as I watch her, listen to her interactions, feel the way that she is sweet and kind with people she respects, and how she has little time for people who don't do the work. I hope her agency knows how lucky they are to have such a great woman on their team. I call my ex-husband and I say, wow. And he says, right? And I say, yup. And we nod and smile knowingly on different continents, smug in the realization that we have great, great kids. Perhaps we had nothing to do with it, who knows? 

My sweet man is on the Isle of Wight. He drove down yesterday with the dogs in the car. He facetimes me from the boat, and shows me the dogs in the back of the car in their beds, my big orange horse blanket woven between them so that they are "extra cozy." He is with his friends for their annual bank holiday weekend end of summer get together, in a lovely, warm and light house overlooking the sea. There will be picnics on the beach, and swimming, and good food. He calls me at night as he walks the dogs and I can hear the sea wind behind him. Next week he goes to the Venice Film Festival, where he is the King, as far as I can tell. He knows the festival so well, understands how it works, is connected to everyone, is revered for his wisdom and easy going modus operandi. He will probably wear his panama hat, even though he has declared it too Radio Two, and he has new yellow sneakers, and a Tottenham mask, and probably next week I will pick up one of the trades and there will be a quote from him. The trades refer to him as an icon, unironically. I am proud. I am the proud girlfriend.

It's hard from here, from my quiet perch in the kitchen in the cottage on the island in the Oslo fjord, looking out across the sea, to ignore what is going on in the world. In the middle of the night, in my insomnia, reading too much Twitter news, too much NY Times and CNN and Trevor Noah and Colbert, and listening to the RNC and massive fact-checking of lies in the those speeches, to see what is happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the shooting of Jacob Blake, white militia, Hurricane Laura's destruction, it's almost possible, almost, to think that this might actually be the end. This idea of fighting for the soul of America doesn't seem so far-fetched, and our complete disregard of the climate crisis. We have ruined everything. We were handed a paradise, and we have destroyed it, haven't we? Civility just flew right away. Democracy is going with it. We have no respect for our fellow citizens. We don't connect with the earth. We are allowing a power hungry fascist dictator to take over. Not ever again they said, but here we are. Here we are. And yes, I am approaching this from a Jungian perspective. It's all part of everything, we are all part of the same collective consciousness. What happens to Jacob Blake, and George Floyd, happens to all of us. It's so damn Blake-ian. Or Star Wars-ian. Good versus Evil. Right here, right now.

I'm reading Joan Juliet Buck's memoir, The Price of Illusion, and I love it more than I can say.  I read her posts on Facebook - huge stream of consciousness paragraphs about life and anxiety in the time of Covid - and she makes me feel that I'm not alone. 

I think that's really the point. We aren't alone. There is something that connects us all and perhaps the key is to concentrate on putting ego aside, and focus on the common good. 

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe. And know that you are not alone. Mary Karr talks about prayer making her less anxious, a happier human unit. She says:

"To skeptics I say, Just try it. Pray every day for thirty days. See if your life gets better. If it doesn’t, tell me I’m an asshole."

We can debate what this means, and who you're praying to. Hell, I spent my whole marriage doing this. I just know that when I am anxious, this is what I come back to: the idea that there is a higher power, that we are not alone, that the idea that we are in control, guiding one's destiny without help, without any other factors weighing in, is madness, or at least arrogance. I don't know why I keep coming back to this idea, or why it gives me solace; perhaps it's the only time that one can fully relax. It's that Jesus Take The Wheel thing.

What do you think?


Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Swan

My friend Wendy reminds me to write. Her emails come in, the writing effortlessly elegant. She writes the way she sees the world, and she observes everything. Today is a gift. Rain was forecast, but there are wispy, lazy clouds across the Norwegian blue sky, and while my daughter sleeps I am here on the deck, looking at the ocean, surrounded by clothes, the sound of crows, seagulls, a blackbird in the cherry tree, and small sparrows who fly by in packs of three or five. Miraculously, my brother has left PG Tips in a jar, so we don't have to suffer through tasteless Twinings. Tea. Best drink of the day. There are two worlds; this sweet, peaceful morning world on a island devoid of holidaymakers as the season is over, with its quiet solitude, and the world of interrupted sleep and the anxiety of the news, to which, it seems, I am addicted. Turn off your phone. Turn off your phone. Breathe. My beloved is anxious, as he always is before film festivals. His head is full of work, too much work -- and he is a perfectionist and the best in the industry at what he does -- and I have to remind him to breathe and to go check on the tomatoes. No-one would know this. Outwardly he is elegant and smooth and charming. But underneath, he is paddling madly. The publicity swan we call it. Everything unruffled above the surface of the water. 



Could this not be Harald Sohlberg by day? We walked on the east of the island, a place I'd never walked before, through a knot of wooded paths and boulders of Dirhue. We scrambled up rocks and skipped over pebbles, held on to dwarfed aspens, and climbed over brambles to find ourselves on top of the island, by the lighthouse, looking at a breathtaking coastline.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Without Shoes

It's possible that I watched too many John Wayne westerns as a child; my father loved them, and would watch them on repeat on those large, fat precursors to the VHS tape. True Grit, The Searchers, Rio Bravo. Sunday afternoons and even weeknights after supper, I'd find my father gently dozing while the the tall man in the hat galloped stone-faced across the prairie.  But I knew for sure at a very young age, that the greatest thing one could be in the world was a boy, and anything I had going for me inside my strictly female dna wasn't really going to cut it in the real world. We had ponies and tea parties and books, but that was all just play. Real men rode like cowboys and shot guns, and dealt with villains at sundown. They also worked in the garden and grew vegetables and went to work in suits made for the in Jermyn Street and came home grumpy and shouty and needing a large glass of whiskey or three.

There were dresses in my cupboard, I'm sure of it, but my preferred attire during school holidays were some pin cord beige Levi's jeans that were worn out in the knees. I was skinny and I loved the way they hung around my hips. Later, in my teenage years, I re-adopted this look by adding a leather cartridge belt and a couple of dog chains, and called it Madonna meets Sid Vicious. My father forbid me from going to a Tina Turner concert dressed this way, telling me that people would get the wrong impression, but I had no idea what he was talking about. Childhood was spent running around in the woods, the abandoned pig sties, the old hay barn, making camps in the bracken and climbing trees. My brother and I were only together when we were very small, because he was at boarding school at 8, but those years formed our bond. 

My brother was a boy scout, or a cub scout, which the younger boys were called. The cub hut was located behind the Little Gaddesden Village Hall, next to our primary school. He must have been 6 or 7 and I was about 8 when my mother decided that I should be dropped off with him, because she had something to do. This was before the days of health and safety, and pædophilia was just a notion that was brushed over (everyone knew someone who tried to corner small boys in potting sheds, and I don't say this lightly, it's another topic entirely). I don't know whether I arrived at the cub hut without shoes, but I know that I made a firm resolve to take them off when it was decided that we would be going for a ramble in the woods. Perhaps it was a treasure hunt, a paper chase, I'm not sure, but I know that in my heart I believed that if I did everything the boys were doing but without shoes I would be certain to gain their admiration. The more brambles the better, I thought. I ran, exhilarated, with the boys through the beech woods, through mud and stones and holly and blackberries and thorns, and came home muddy and bruised and scratched and bleeding, but with the most extraordinary sense of accomplishment. This was the closest I came to being a man until I was much, much older. Also reading this, I think, wtaf? I wasn't even raised Catholic.  

If you're a girl, all the nonsense gets beaten out of you at about thirteen. (Dr Mary Pipher has written brilliantly about this in Reviving Ophelia). 

I didn't "girl" very well. I remember distinctly being told by an Italian schoolmate in the Lower Sixth, the very elegant Alessandra Nori from Bologne, with her short, shiny black curls, and her retroussé nose that I walked like a farmer in gumboots (ie with my feet turned out in fifth position. She painstakingly taught me to walk more like a woman, one foot in front of another, feet facing the front, with just the tiniest toe-first lilt of a gazelle. Apparently this was supposed to help me with boys. It didn't. I took this advice from her because I realized she was the chic-est girl in our year. She had leather penny loafers and a crossbody bag in chocolate brown leather and wore Breton sweaters, while the rest of us lumped around in polyester Ms Selfridge and Dotty P.

Which brings me back to this magical island. We are sitting on the deck, with the blue and white awning just covering us enough so that we can write/work without our laptops being blinded by the sunlight, cups of tea in hand, looking out over the fir hedge to the blue sea, and the granite rocks. "Why do you feel so grounded when you fall asleep on warm granite?" I asked yesterday during our trip to one of the islands in the fjord. And this is what I found:

Granite enables one to see the big picture, helps banish skepticism, and defeats negativity with ease. In Ancient times, Granite was revered by the Mayan nation. Aboriginal tribes consider Granite to be a “stone of protection” with sacred and magical qualities.

Fall asleep in the sunshine on warm granite rocks in the Oslo fjord and you will remember who you were supposed to be. Better yet, stretch out like a starfish, and forget the curled up, inward-looking person you became while at your desk, wondering whether your sense of smell was in tact. Norway: the great unfurling.

Be well, stay safe, know you are loved.

Ms W. xoxo

Sunday, August 23, 2020



I slept a full eight hours and woke up to the clanking of boats and the scrabble of seagull feet on the roof, familiar and soothing sounds. I'm propped up on my made bed, the sun blazing through the window and warming my feet, the window blowing through the ash outside the bedroom, making grey and white shadows on the wooden siding. Outside, the see is the perfect marine blue as far as the eye can see. We're nestled inside the skerry guard of smooth, grey rocks, on a coastline dotted with brick red and ochre yellow and white wooden houses, interspersed among the pine trees. 

I've been reading about how our neurology is affected by every interaction we have. Neurologist Tom Oliver:

Neuroscience shows our neural networks are hugely dynamic: always changing to the physical and social context we are surrounded by. Every time we speak to someone, every word and touch we receive is changing the neural networks in our brains. 

And so I believe that being here, surrounded by the sea, the birds, the familiar stuff that seems to sit deep in my dna, has to be therapeutic.

(Actually, the piece I've linked to is about interconnectivity and how working as a whole is the only way to get us through this pandemic.)

The picnic is packed; bread and cheese and eggs and tomatoes and cod's roe Kaviar, and we are off on a boat, captained by my seagoing cousin, to Mink Island, across the sea, into the waves, to watch the world go by from a different perspective. To swim and dive in the saltwater, the cure for everything.



Sunday, July 26, 2020

Little Boxes

I'm trying to remember to write this stuff down as it happens and not stop writing because there is too much going on. So here we are, in the middle of a move to my new house, the house full of boxes, packed and unpacked, bubble wrap, old newspapers, piles of papers everywhere. The sun is out, which helps the mood, and to dry the sheets, because the new drier is at the house. The dogs are anxious. The sight of a suitcase is enough to send Bean into paroxysms of misery, so you can only imagine how she is with boxes being packed all around her. The previously healed hot spot is the size of two pound coin, and she has licked down about four layers of the epidermis. My desk is in my bedroom, so I can only write when I am alone, and I snatch moments between packing. A few things to note:
I went to the house yesterday and found that we had a kitchen and a cooker and two bedrooms had floors. All I know is that standing in that house makes me very, very calm. It has good juju, good bones too, but I think there has been a lot of love there. It's painted white because I couldn't figure out what colors would work without living in it, so it's now like an elegant Scandinavian building site. Stuart, our builder, has been working weekends to finish things, and I am so grateful for his quiet, modest, meticulous work ethic, his wry grin, his sardines on toast that he makes for lunch every day. Thanks in part to his measured, inquisitive nature we've found that we have to replace an old, very long wooden beam that is holding up the roof with something made of steel. Knowledge is power, I say. And then I try not to look at my bank account.
C is a marvel on the packing front. While I fall down rabbit holes of organization and culling and sorting, he quietly makes boxes, fills them with bubble wrap, and adds well-wrapped items, one by one. Sometimes I will take the dogs for a walk and come back to find three new huge boxes filled. We are the tortoise and the hare. I am Miss Las Minute, falling into screes of anxious worry which leaves me paralyzed and focused on the wrong things and he is a planner, moves slowly and thoroughly and always wins the race.
I am trying to Marie Kondo everything, but I am at heart, a pack rat. There is no reason, for example to keep years of New Yorkers or greasy fingerprinted copies of Bon Appetit. But they comfort me. With a heavy heart, I have recycled them. My boxes of cook books have been packed and I know exactly where they are, glancing at them nervously in the hope that they are never far away.
There is a calm that comes over me when I realize my daughter is only a few hours away. I can look at my phone and I can see where she is and I know that she is close enough to drive too. My son is too far away, where the Covid cases keep rising. He is steady and smart and I know he will be safe, but I worry about him all the time. Once again, I long for a Tardis, to transport me or my loved ones wherever they need to be, preferably so that all our little bubbles can live together.
Cooking supper for friends used to be the way I'd calm my anxiety. It's just not possible now. Geographically and because of this virus. Laying a table, gathering flowers, choosing glasses, preparing boards of snacks, all of these things have a deeply soothing effect. It is a cliche to say that cooking is a way of expressing love, but for me, I know that is true. Nothing is more satisfying than to be surrounded by loved ones, preferably outside on a sunny summer night, with good food, a glass of lovely wine, and laughter. This is what I wish for everyone.
The ladies at the livery across the drive are having tea and cake for us at three as a farewell. I will miss my lovely ladies. Every morning they are there, rain or shine, waving over the gate, calling me over for a cup of tea, sharing gossip and advice - so much excellent horsey advice. Carole, Susan, Tracey, Denise, Carlin, Sarah -- I shall miss them all enormously. And Thistle will miss Rusty, who is absolutely King of the Yard - he is a tan-colored Jack Russell mix with rather impressive whiskers, thoroughly self-contained, wise and discerning.
I will miss this place; I will miss the peacocks who wake us up at 4am, the walkers who wave as they traverse the Ridgeway, Lester the Happy Gardener, who, it turns out, is a lovely and sensitive human being, our octogenarian landlord, and his dog Jeeves the black labrador, who tells us amusing tales of his adventures around the globe, and shared a very lovely bottle of Bollinger with us to toast our leaving. I won't miss the bully of a gamekeeper here. I'm sure he has reasons for his unpleasantness, perhaps an unhappy childhood - who knows? I was bright and cheerful with him for a long time and then he was awful, so good riddance.
They say moving house is one of the great stressful things of life. Like divorce and death. Looking at what is happening all over the world right now, I'd say that this isn't even a blip on the scale.
"Movers" just popped up on my screen as a calendar event for tomorrow.
For now, be safe, be well, hug your loved ones tight.
Love, Miss W xo

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Summer Playlist

Something cheering; our Summer Playlist. I hope you enjoy it. Play it loud and dance around the kitchen.


Despite the sunshine, the bumble bees, the wood pigeon who call to each other on our 6am walks, despite the blue breezy skies of summer, despite it being mid-July and everyone should be on holiday, there is discomfort. It's hard to fiddle while Rome burns. I shall quote Joan Juliet Buck, who keeps me sane on Facebook, by actually feeling in her bones what is going on and saying it:
Anarchy. We are so far beyond being gently boiled frogs. Poverty, rage, violence, hunger, guns, crime coming, and law enforcement so discredited by those among them who enforced their own law, their own violence, their own rage, normal law enforcement so blurred and diluted by anonymous armed military spiriting protesters into unmarked vans that there is nothing left to trust 
           We are in immediate danger, our country is the mouth of hell. I am scared.The organism melted into a puddle of its own spin yesterday on Fox,  with a respectful Chris Wallace, redder, more dye-hued, more embarrassed each time he attempted a correction,  as respectful as my sips of water had been as I sat in front of an empty zoom screen in the absence of a Buddhist monk , barely daring to drink so as to express my respect to a person who wasn’t there.
We are in the midst of a dystopian horror that world hasn't seen before. Covid reporting has been moved from the CDC to the Trump administration to "control." Armed militia have moved into American cities. It's hard to believe that I'm typing these things.

My friend texted me that he was in Santa Barbara "A nice place to contemplate the end of the United States as we know it." And I laughed but really wanted to cry. Democracy is just a pie in the sky notion, something we took for granted for so long, and now it's disappearing rapidly. De Tocqueville wouldn't recognize America. I mean, who does?

And here we are at a boil, us frogs, without really noticing...or so intent on our agape jaws and spitting out things like "no words" that we didn't take proper action. Yes, I am appalled, and if you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

I'm staring at my white bed and its white sheets and the boxes piled up on the side of the room. The sheets are calming. The anxiety keeps me up every night. I read the New Yorker and the New York Times and the Washington Post. I dream about flying on planes with my horse to LA. I miss my son. I research the Aldermaston Pottery. I take solace in art, in the woods, in the animals. There is scaffolding outside my window because they've been painting the house for the new people who are arriving, and beyond that the lawn and the roses. Beyond that, trees and peacocks and blue skies. Yes, I am away from the hub of this, I am away from my son and my friends in Los Angeles. I don't live in a city in one bedroom apartment with my small children. I am white and privileged and very fortunate. But I believe that justice affects everyone and if one of us is hurting, all of us are hurting.

My clothes have been culled, Marie Kondo style; suits and shoes and bags from my studio executive days have been laid out on the bed and offered to horsey friends and the rest will go to the charity shop. I am parting with my neon orange Jimmy Choo stilettos that gave me more compliments than anything article of clothing I have owned. Why keep these things? They feel oddly tone deaf now...I don't know. I don't know anything. I just know that giving them away feels right. The new house is painted white, with lots of windows, and it will be minimal and Scandinavian (I say that's like my ancestors, but my grandmother was anything but minimal - her taste veered more towards the rococo or the baroque. I fantasize about clean, simple rooms, decorated with flowers, a few books. I dream of clarity and simplicity and a way to kick that arse out of the White House in November. I dream of a better time, of the adherence to proper values again, a time of tolerance and kindness and forgiveness, and being able to write again, properly, not with this terrible faux Virginia Woolf string of consciousness therapy babble. It's therapy, all of it, really. A way to exorcise the anxiety and the existential terror. Poems used to do it, with little help from anything else at all.

Also rigor. Scholarly rigor. What happened to that?

My friend Georgie says "I'm a radiator not a drain." There are creators and destroyers in this world, and we need more creators. People who put things together and leave places more lovely than how they found them. It's like planting trees before you die. Leaving a legacy, of love, or trees, or kindness. Let's face it, this man has taken a huge dump on America. He is essentially pissing on the flag, although it would take an act exactly that visual to show his supporters who he really is. Chris Wallace tried, and his efforts were admirable.

Fuck, who could imagine The Emperor's New Clothes to be so prescient? Do you remember first hearing that story as a child? Do you remember the picture book illustrations? Do you remember even at 7 years old being flummoxed by the fact that no-one could see that the Emperor was naked?

I want to be a radiator, not a drain.

Tell me what you're doing in the time of Covid. Are you reading? Have you joined an online choir? Do you garden? Are you growing vegetables for the first time? Have you dusted off your sewing machine?  Did you learn a language?

The great Representative John Lewis has died. I leave you with this:

"Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble. Necessary trouble." 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

A Brave And Startling Truth


We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth 

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms 

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil 

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze 

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse 

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets 

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world 

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe 

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines 

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear 

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

— Maya Angelou