Friday, January 22, 2021

The Hill We Climb

I keep returning to the last stanza of Amanda Gorman's extraordinary Inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb. This is absolutely beautiful:

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it.
If only we're brave enough to be it.

- Amanda Gorman

I hope you are well and safe and enjoying this new day.  

Much love. 











 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Milky

The sky is milky and the red-tailed hawks are circling the house, floating on the wind. You'd think it were winter, but the magnolia tree is beginning to bud, and on the balcony of the blue room, there is a climber with white flowers, and some are opening. It's a Juliet balcony, and now I understand why. We walked past the teddy bear sheep who are so cute you want to take them home (South Down) and through the common, and lamented the detritus on the road ("It's all stimulants" noted my Bald Eagle, "which means it's bloody lorry drivers") and want to go out with luminous yellow jackets, spikey forks and black bags to pick the stuff up, and post signs that say "Your Mother Doesn't Work Here" and "Keep Britain Tidy" and "Oy, You Yobbo, Don't Throw Your Rubbish Out The Window." It's so close now, the Covid. Our builder, the ladies who run the barn where my horse is, two close friends and their partners all have it. It's now here, absolutely in our community, in our midst, in this little rural part of England, despite best efforts, it's here. We greet Amazon deliveries in masks, wash our hands after each package is handed over. We distance in the food stores, I even turn my back if someone is near me without a mask (what on earth is that about?).  He has a cough he has had for ever and it worries me. I say, perhaps you should get a lung scan, and he grumbles and mumbles something about it being okay. I don't want the virus to get near him. He is strong and brave and muscled but the cough isn't good.

I shall make sesame noodles for lunch. He says spaghetti and noodles remind him of snakes. Perhaps I shall cut them up. I only know I crave them. With scallions and thin matchsticks of cucumber on top.

We've put out four bird feeders now that it's colder. I like to sit in the kitchen quietly and watch the coal tits fight over it. He has been raking leaves, in an orange jacket from LL Bean. I see him from my desk when he walks by, and looks up. 

I long for a warm turquoise sea, and a mask and snorkel, and that feeling of the salt and the sun gently crackling your skin. I don't know how long it will be until that is possible.

Take care, my friends. Happy new year.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

I swear I do this for myself

When I was eleven, my headmistress wrote on my report card that I was altruistic. My mother, being Norwegian, had to look it up.  I realize now that my altruism was not pure; it was merely a desire to be loved. However, however, I am an enthusiast and a connector, and I hope that this blog serves two purposes, a) as a place for me to purge everything going on in my head and b) as I struggle with my own anxiety, I pass a few hopeful things on to you, the reader. Conversely, when the sun is out, I hope it brings some joy.

I have not felt joyful much lately. Sometimes, if I shower, and drink three pints of water, and walk the dogs for an hour, and school my horse in a focused way for an hour, and work very hard, and clear my inbox, and listen to soothing mantras all day long, I get there. Oh, and remember to take the Citalopram. My new book is called "Negative Capability: A Diary of Surviving" by Michèle Roberts.  It starts "I decided to write down everything that happened, the only way I could think of coping." Sounds familiar.

Today the Christmas tree fell over. It was all I needed and I took it as an omen. I burst into tears. Mr McDuck knows how to deal with me when I'm like this. He get onto his knees like Toulouse Lautrec and tries to dance with me. It never fails to make me laugh or to realize what a lucky woman I am. "Have we taken on too much?" I ask him. "Why do you say that?" he replies, and makes his bald eagle face, earnest and kind. "Oh you know, the garden, the mess, the septic tank..." my voice is wobbly. "Maybe we should go back to California?" I ask. "Well, if you take care of me we can. I'm not allowed to work there," he says. I wanted a house in a garden surrounded by horses and trees and sheep, with roses and figs, and I have all these things. It's so impossibly beautiful here. But the wet and the cold and the damp are just too much, on top of Covid and isolation and No Deal Brexit (can you even believe that shit?) And we are the lucky ones.

The days are too short. Unless you get up at 5am, there is not enough time. How do people stretch time in these northern European winter months? How? 

Mr McD spends long days on Zoom calls (mine happen later in the day as I'm on California time). He loves his work and has a knack for diving in, even when everything is a mess. He is soothed by it. He is smart and charming, and I can hear the way he makes everyone feel better after he's spoken to him. He rarely gets angry, choosing instead to turn inward if we're fighting. There is always the gentle hum of his voice coming from his office, through our adjoining wall. I am working out of my closet and he is working in a spare bedroom; both of us share a view of the garden - bare trees, a lawn covered with leaves, a couple of lone melon-colored roses. 

Anxiety isn't something I ever thought I suffered from. Numerous shrinks have asked about it and I suppose it was a blindspot. Anxious people are afraid of spiders and don't want to go out. Bingo. I think it started with not wanting to answer the phone. It's a sure way to lose friends; why would people want to reach out if you never make yourself available? It takes immense effort to zhush myself up, put on lipstick and some sizzle, a pair of heels helps, and then, yes, I enjoy it. Driving along the straight road from Whitchurch to Woodcote, where the trees meet in the middle like country dancers, with misty fields on each side, I had a vision of a pale blue grey velvet dress, with soft folds around the shoulders, with a waist of some sort, a wrap perhaps, and I imagined myself in this at Christmas time, in silver heels, with the table filled with silvery branches and the delicate sound of twinkly bells. And perhaps some dancing. Pale blue grey velvet dress, silver shoes, and some kind of glittery head thing, like a tiarra...no, I've never dreamed of a tiarra before. It's in stark contrast to the stack of country catalogs that sit by me at my desk: House of Bruar, Fairfax & Favor, William Powell. I did not order these but when you move to the country they become requisite. They are popped through the letterbox as if by magic to entice you into tweed plus fours and a boiled Austrian jacket with brass buttons and tasteful piping.

Now let me ask, can you wear red lipstick, and if you do, and can, please tell me, how do you stop it going gummy around the edges and fading in the middle? Every time I try, I look like someone who's had too much red wine the night before. I'd love any advice you have. Because, you know, it would look jolly nice with the pale blue grey velvet dress and glittery tiara at Christmastime.

Be well, my friends. Let's hold each other tight.



Protective Mantras

This is my go-to list of healing mantras. I play it at my desk while I write, or work; I play it in the car, or even out walking. Sometimes I just let it play in different rooms in the house. It's like a psychic smudging. I promise you, every cell in your body will vibrate on a different level. It's a purifier for the body. (Listen, I lived in Laurel Canyon for twenty five years, I'm totally *allowed* to say this stuff!):


PS. My Christmas tree just fell over.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Naked

We've hit peak anxiety, I think, with the White House now reporting more new Covid-19 cases than the whole of New Zealand. It's all a side show. Let's be concerned. Let's vote. Let's inspire other to vote, but let's concentrate on something else. Plan?

Good morning from West Berkshire, where the leaves are turning ochre and gold, and the starlings swirl around the pink skies at night. I call it murmuration lite. I think we've been in lockdown since March 23 with very little social interaction that hasn't been distanced. I've become lazily attached to my bed in the mornings, while my sweet man brings me tea, and I blame it on my lack of sleep, which I blame on the orange buffoon and anxiety, but today I leapt up and out at 7am with the idea that I could ride my pony girl at 8. She has been on box rest for nearly three months, due to a double fracture of her splint bones in her near hind leg; today marks day 7 of her being able to be up and about which means, in her case, a three mile walk hack, through the restricted byways and stone-strewn tracks of Park Corner and Russells Water, past fields of sheep, bursting blackberries rotting on their stems because of the rain, rosehips that dip down on to the path. Today she is calm. The bubble that is ever present in her belly has gone, and she walks with her head long and low, as we try to build up the muscle in her hindquarters, long and low at the end of my reins, rounding herself over her back, listening to every muscle twitch in my body. She is sweet and happy, and pants a little as we walk uphill, the veins under her fine, bronze fur, beginning to show that she is working hard, breathing as hard as a thoroughbred mare on an Autumn morning who is happy to have shed her confinement can.

I came across this quote from Steve Jobs, part of his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Isn't what we all need to be told? 

This has been a time of reflection. Since March 23, we've all been forced to assess our lives, what matters to us, who we choose to be our friends, what we fill our time with. 

I dreamed the other night that I had a baby that I'd neglected. The neglect wasn't life-threatening. But I remember the feeling of panic when I walked into a bedroom and found a little baby asleep in it, a child I didn't know I had. And I felt the most overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. And as I fed the baby, she smiled at me, seemingly with forgiveness. I took her into the bath with me and washed her with warm water and dried her with a fluffy, soft towel, and I held her and hugged her and told her how sorry I was. But she smiled at me again, as if there was absolutely no resentment.

So what could this mean? Yes, I could be neglecting my inner child. Yes, there could be some aspect of life that I've forgotten. But, I think, this is what people might call God. I think this is a reminder that there is a deep spiritual side in all of us that we must not ignore. I'm afraid my anxiety has ignored this part. And in fact, the simple solution is, instead of investing oneself in anxiety, how much better it is, and more healthy, and easier on the heart, to turn one's head just slightly to face the idea that we're connected to something bigger. You know, smite the ego.  After all, you are already naked.

My friend David Kirkpatrick has been writing a lot about the Irish monk and writer, John O'Donohue. As as with all good things, of course now that I have an orange VW Bug, I see orange VW Bugs everywhere. But in this case, it's John O'Donohue, who presented himself to me on the Tube on Sunday with this poem:


I think it's quite good.

So what's this blog all about? I think it's about finding things that connect to each other and piecing them together in an effort to discover meaning in life. Does that sound completely barmy? I do think that is what it is. It's something we all do. I salute magpies. I sing "One for sorrow, Two for joy." I watch the starlings in the evenings and wish for murmurations. I think if there is one it will be a sign. I look at the avenues of old oaks that we find all around us and wonder who planted them and what they mean. I discovered that Christopher Wren carved his name --  + Wren -- thusly, into a stone at Stonehenge as a boy, because he grew up in a village close to it, and the circumference of the dome at St. Paul's Cathedral is the exact same circumference as that of Stonehenge (30 m diameter). Coincidence? (Said in the voice of Ricky Jay, in Magnolia.) I think not. 

So let's thread together, through this world, and see what we can discover on our journeys.


Love to you all.


xo


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Coax

Last night, September 29, 2020 will mark the end of civility in America, the downfall of democracy, and the beginning of the end of the age of innocence. Everything we bought and believed in about the American Dream - - and I was one of them - bounding out to California at the bright and optimistic age of 22 and culminating in my citizenship in 2019 — can now be buried. I am disgusted by what I saw and I have woken today with the heaviest heart, an ache in my neck and shoulders, close to tears. I walk now, saluting magpies as I go, through English woodland, bereft. Where is the Ian McEwen essay that came after 9/11? Where is the soothing poem that brings us back to the sound of geese overhead? The thing that reminds us to look to nature for solace?

My sleep has never been worse and I am aware that my mental health is compromised. I made a spiced apple cake yesterday in celebration of the season. I cleaned the wood floors till my back ached. I was at my desk from breakfast till after supper, and then more in the night. Sleep is fitful if at all. I dreamed of India Knight, of Princess Margaret, and some poet friends and a happy lunch with garden vegetables, pale sunshine, a group of smiling dogs, an old client whom I adore, a big arm around my shoulders coaxing the energy back into me slowly. And then I was awake again with the twittering classes and the despair. 

I am sitting in a wood listening to birds and it is all I can do this morning to wrestle my life back and contemplate what it is I can do to make this world a place of joy again. I am for once in my life, all out of ideas. 

People come here for inspiration and joy. I know this. I don't have any to give. I look at old photos of bon mots and they feel quaint and old fashioned. 



Please bare with as Miranda would say. We will claw our way back soon. 

Much love 💕 





 

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?