Yesterday, although bitterly cold, was so bright and fresh, I wanted to be outside. I gathered twigs and branches as kindling for the fireplace. We’ve had a fire every night recently – a beautiful, antidote to the cold night – even if it’s mostly aesthetic. Then I decided to prune back the butterfly bushes. I’d intentionally left them an explosion of woody branches until now, to provide a perch for the birds and perhaps, seed still hidden in the dried-out flower heads. Yesterday, I lobbed them off. While I was at it, I tackled the roses. I know: you real gardeners out there are probably flinching. What was I thinking? Somewhere in my memory banks I recalled that roses should be cut before spring. Only today I read it’s best to do so when at least the forsythia is in bloom. Uh-oh. But look, I took this photo yesterday — proof that spring is on its way.
In any case, that wasn’t what I was going to tell you about. While out cutting back the Budelia bush, Nuthatches started to swoop around on their way to the feeder beside me. Iphone in my shaky hand, I tried to get a photo or two. Standing there in the cold, very still, the birds tweeting about me, I flashed back to being a young girl. I was up in the woods behind the house my parents owned in Canaan, NY, our weekend get-away from NYC. I loved it there. A city kid by birth, I longed to be a nature-girl, living in the woods, eating off the land and while there, I pretended I was. AStalking the Wild Asparagusdevotee – I even dug up dandelions from Van Cortlandt park and cooked up the little flower buds for my 5th grade classmates at PS 95. (hint: butter makes anything yummy)
Wandering alone ‘up the hill’ into the woods behind the house was heaven for me. Stepping gingerly, trying to be quiet enough I might catch sight of a deer. In early summer, I searched for wild strawberries and blueberries in the hidden field on the other side of the wood. I dozed in that abandoned meadow, absorbing bird and insect sounds but mostly silence. Sometimes, in the winter, I stood for what seemed forever in the snow, my arm still as a lamp post, bird seed in my cupped hand, hoping a fearless Nuthatch might land on me to steal a snack. They came so close, chirping in my ear, inching upside down along the branches very near to me, yet never touched my icy hand.
Yesterday, standing by the feeder, that girl again, I recalled the joy I found in my walks, in those frozen moments of watching and hoping for contact. And this time, trying at least for a good photo. As you can see, not much success – but still, it was precious, being still, watching, waiting. A kind of meditation and a sweet reminder to me of what decades later, remains a way to peace.
In another 8 months, my daughter will be off to her new life as a college student. This imminent change for both of us has cooked up a veritable soup of emotions but also, a sense of possibility about what adventures might also be awaiting me. My dreaming was inspired by this list of “best places to retire” article on this morning’s Yahoo page. I can never resist reading through their choices, imagining myself in any of those places. Forbes’ list launched me into a full-fledged fantasy about what I might do, of course, (since this is fantasy) if I could indeed retire. Once an expat, the itch never quite goes away. Here’s my plan:
Call me a scrooge, but still reeling from 15 years of holiday retail, I’d give all the Merry Christmas business a miss and disappear to Japan where December 25th is basically a day to eat クリスマスケーキ pronounced “krisumas-cayki”. After ringing in the New Year in lovely Kyoto, traditionally a time of cleaning and contemplation and ringing a big old bell at a neighborhood temple (details here) it’s off to find the warmth of the sun.
Definitely time I went back to Bali. (thanks Yukiko for the great photo) Creativity is everywhere in the hill villages of that tiny Hindu island in Indonesia. (please note: I was a pre-Elizabeth Gilbert visitor) I imagine a month of writing, eating, walking, while reveling in the sound of gamelans, the rice paddies, waterfalls and the brilliant smiles of the warmest people I’ve ever met. And the food is good.
Next, all the way to the bottom tip of Australia.
Tasmania is where Jenny, one of my most missed and dearest friends in the world lives. We are friends from Kyoto days – and I have never laughed so hard and so often with anyone in my life and that alone makes this a trip to take. Bonus that it will be summer there and Tasmania looks incredible with wild beaches and incredible bush.
After exploring around the South Pacific, (Fiji? Papua New Guinea maybe?) it will be time to make my way back towards spring in the Northern Hemisphere. First stopping for some good eats and the crazy energy of Hong Kong and a little exploration of South East Asia. (Laos?)
Spring comes early to the incredible coast of Croatia and Montenegro. I long to marvel once again at the Adriatic light, the most remarkable spectrum of sea colors. Ideally, there will be a sweet house (or this incredible place looks fine!) looking out at that rugged landscape where I will write and maybe even paint for a month or so. I imagine the scent of eucalyptus, the light, the soft breeze through the cypress and the crystalline water lapping over the rocks. I’ll sit here and read, stare, swim, doze…
Next, a visit to Greece. I haven’t been since becoming entranced at 18 when I landed on the island of Paros and could explore no further. There is an art school there so even in November, although the tourists were gone, I discovered a dynamic arts community. It was as if I had been drugged by the sweet lavender air – the days drifted into one another – exploring the rocky hills, the restaurants, the retsina? What was it about that place? I’d like to see if I’d feel it again. And – to eat the food! To, as I did a lifetime ago, wake to the fisherman slapping octopus against the rocks.
Italy always calls to me. Perhaps I can make that visit with Molly – a pilgrimage to her birthplace in Puglia, to the hospital in Brindisi and if we can find them, meet up with the doctors who saved her life. Then, up north to a villa – in Tuscany or here less saturated Abruzzo. I’d invite my Studio 70 sisters for one of our creative retreats. This would do nicely, don’t you think, gals?
I imagine our days overlooking the hills, dinners of incredible food and endless red wine. Still, we’ll wake early and find our solitary corners to drink too many cups of coffee and feel inspired. Bliss.
By then it’s time to return to Connecticut to plant my garden at my sweet house and catch up with loved friends. Of course the groundhogs will still eat most of what I plant but I won’t mind as much. As I’m retired, there will be no excuses not to host all the dinner parties I always imagine – set at our lovely table out back. The sunflowers (these past years, eaten as seeds, every one) will be bountiful.
Lots of kayaking out to the islands and long overdue trips into the city to museums and restaurants and visits with missed friends and family.
As summer wanes, it’s time to hit the road again — into the groovy AirStream of my dreams for a leisurely trip across the States. I know it’s terribly muggy in Kentucky at this time of year but that just makes everyone move slower – savoring the sweaty nights of catching up with more missed friends from Studio 70 days. We’ll sit along the muddy banks of the meandering Ohio River as if no time has passed but rather just been an endless current of connection unbroken by time or space. And of course, like the old days, we’ll discuss time, space, art.
Then, meandering across the US – (the northern route this time) – popping in to National Parks (check out the webcam of Old Faithful!) A few weeks of luxuriously visiting friends, making new ones, browsing bookstores and thrift shops, farmer’s markets.
Now it’s autumn — a good time to tootle along the Pacific Coast — hikes through the (to me) exotic landscape and perhaps landing in an idyllic spot overlooking the ocean — to contemplate, walk, write — somewhere temperate – Monterey area maybe? I remember a summer spent in San Francisco – and again, the light and sweet air smells.
And as we roll into December it will be time to head back to Kyoto again – to get ready to ring in another year of itchy-foot plans. India? Definitely Morrocco…
I became obsessed with wishing at a very early age. My bedtime ritual included peering through the screened window out over neighboring Bronx buildings into the smoggy city sky and wishing on the first star I saw that night. Now I suspect I was sending out my yearnings to either Venus or Mars.
The first time my mother retrieved a fallen eyelash from my cheek and presented it to me on her finger with instructions to make a wish, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. A few weeks later, alarmed she said, “What happened to all your eyelashes?” I never had luxurious lashes again.
In trying to recall what exactly I was wishing for, I draw a blank. Perhaps they were lofty hopes like for world peace – inspired by the anti-Vietnam war marches my parents brought me to. Or maybe for the long-desired dog. Now I fantasize about winning the lottery, dream about getting my book published, aspire to staying healthy and hope for my daughter’s life to be charmed.
I confess, I still believe in magic. Or something. I guess, at the risk of sounding new-agey, I believe in putting ‘it’ out there — ‘it’ being a range of things. I confess to making a random wish, but mostly, I take action even though the odds are against me. For instance, I buy a lottery ticket almost every week. I’m not so delusional that I actually think I will win — but I might. But only if I buy a ticket, right? And during those delicious days of possibility, I love the fantasy my ticket inspires.
I also continue to believe I will get my book published even though the state of the industry is abysmal. I still send out queries to agents and continue to feel excitement in the waiting – and just file the rejections and start all over again. The possibility is only there as long as I keep trying, keep putting myself out there. For the rest, I eat healthy and exercise and my daughter is charming thus, must be charmed.
The cup of tea on the table behind me grows cold, the ceiling needs painting, my finger throbs from yesterday’s accidental slicing, there is too much pressure on my right ankle sitting cross-legged like this, my stomach is grumbling – is there yogurt left? A glimpse of my (short) meditation session this morning. And exactly why I feel the need to ‘sit’: to train myself, establish a discipline, reel my mind in from tasks and toys around me with the hope I can find my way to the quiet place within. That place where creativity and serenity can be found.
And yet – yesterday I traded in my sturdy text-and-talk-only-telephone for a (free) i-phone (‘4’ in case you are wondering). My thinking is that this amazing gadget might be just the tool to keep me in my morning ‘writerly’ mode throughout the day. Any time inspiration strikes, I can whip out my phone and blog, take photos, make notes. That’s the idea. Ha.
The thing is, my most disciplined and focused writing has been done on an ancient laptop with no internet capability. No distractions. Dark mornings, when I turned on my computer, I immediately began writing. I did not check emails, Facebook, the news headlines, the gossip, my blog-stats, other blogs… you get the idea.
Endless cyber offerings lure me away from the quiet place where creative juices brew, devouring my time, numbing my brain – and yet, resisting is so difficult. And now, with my cool new 21st century phone, these enticements are available to me anywhere, anytime… What have I done?
I’ve been thinking about meditation recently so this little zabuton is the perfect inspiration to get my ass positioned for a ‘sit’. Reasons to do so are plentiful: relieves stress, inspires creativity and general well being.
Meditation is one of those things that I’m never sure I’m doing right. (Kind of how I often feel about writing…) Rationally, I know that this is nonsense-thinking, but still I doubt myself and I think I should really learn how do to this from a teacher. And then I remember Taniguchi-san.
In Kyoto in the 1980s, I met a Buddhist monk on a bus and we became friends. I initiated a conversation with the kind looking elderly man beside me (he was not in his robes so I had no idea he was a monk) because I was intrigued by the book he was looking at of these amazing little stone sculptures.
While in Kyoto, I fancied myself a sculptor and was so excited by these expressive, wacky looking little figures all lined up in endless rows that I said, “Summimasen, doko deska?” while pointing to his book. Turns out, these nembustu were at a temple in Arashiyama not so far away. He introduced himself as a monk who lived at a another beautiful temple and offered to take me to this place. Of course, I gleefully accepted his generous invitation.
A week later I met Taniguchi-san at his temple, Myoshinji .
We mounted bicycles and I pedaled furiously behind this 70+ year old gem, marveling for the millionth time at the wonderfulness of Kyoto. I’d been living there for over 3 years and had recently decided to move on. Before I left, my new friend Taniguchi-san gave me a crash-course in meditating.
I met him on a beautiful spring day at Miyoshinji temple again and this time, I followed him inside to his quarters past simple gardens, silent but for the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, bees as we passed the cherry blossoms, buzzing in what seemed a chant. In a simple tatami mat room, Taniguchi-san talked about breath and paying attention. Mind you, my Japanese was not great and he spoke only a smattering of English. I searched my journals this morning to see if I’d made notes and found nothing. But I do have this:
As a parting gift, Taniguchi-san gave me this lovely stone – explaining I might, with eyes just ever-so-slightly open, focus on this rock. He knew I’d been inspired to come to Japan because of the rock gardens. For over 20 years this precious piece has graced my bureau. I blew the dust off setting off ripples of recollection as if this old stone had been tossed into the depths of my mind. A cushion, a rock, a lesson remembered. A return to breath.