The Hedge

An old photo

Photographs remind me that the privet hedge surrounding the house was once no more than waist high. Now, the long stretch of it is taller than my late husband’s 6 foot 4 height. Despite my diligence in trimming, the size of this bush has become unmanageable. Entire sections grew beyond my reach even with the extension pole on the clipper. Last summer, after a few sweaty attempts at taming, I surrendered and let it grow rogue – some shoots growing to 10 feet.

Pruning in Progress

Years ago, a friend advised me to cut it back before it buds but I never shook winter’s torpor in time until this year when February felt more like March. Not wanting to look any more like the crazy house on the corner, I began tackling the massive job of pruning 2-3 feet off the top. It’s been more than 2 weeks and I’m still at it.

I bought a new handheld chain saw that I thought would have me zipping through this job but, chain saws are not great for shrubbery. It helps with the thick branches but the speeding blades turn the sprigs into whips dangerously slapping around my face and snagging in the chain. It chews at the unsteady branches like an attacking dog, resulting in ragged, splintered cuts. No, this job requires laborious, slow, hand-cutting, branch-by-branch. With lobber in hand and small clipper in my pocket, I start at the top of the driveway moving to the middle, then out to the street side – all the while, looking at the whole, as if I were working on a sculpture.

Turns out, I mostly enjoy this slow process. The job is meditative and memories flow. I remember how I learned to do this work from George – a tiny man who I’ve long described as old but now being there myself, I wonder what his age was. Probably younger than I am now. I was 18 and working with the university’s landscape crew the summer after my sophomore year at UCONN. He showed me how to prune vines and yew and privet. “You have to feel it in here,” he said, touching his heart. I was an art student frustrated with my teachers but George spoke to me, inspiring me more than any of those professors.

So, with my heart and increasingly achey arms, I snip, lob, snip, leaning out into the scratchy branches to reach a sucker a foot higher than the rest. It’s tough to cut and I’m at a bad angle and my foot slips on the the dry leaves beneath, but I shift my grip and squeeze and the blade breaks through and clicks as if in satisfaction. It’s hard to believe that once our neighbors could easily hand us a cup of sugar over this now gigantic bush. I need to bring it down low enough so I don’t have to get up on a ladder to prune.

The Hedge in Snow

This part of the hedge is where our Cairn Terrier, Tetley, used to dash through into the street to bark and otherwise greet passing dogs. A little to the left there is still enough of a hole to slip through as a short-cut to go to our neighbor’s house – something Molly did for years. Thanks to a volunteer oak tree that insists on growing back each year to lay claim to this space, the hole remains.

The Fallen Tree

Every inch of this property and house is dense with memories, and this hedge is a tangle of them. As I pull out a thick growth, years of images come with it. Here’s where the bird’s nest was one year – lots of screaming and horror as a momma came squawking out at me and I worried I’d killed her babies but no bodies were found. Here’s where the dead elm tree fell in an early autumn snow storm, blocking the road and knocking the privet branches down, leaving a gap like a missing tooth. Once the tree was taken away, Molly and I pushed the roots back, straightening the section as much as we could and by late summer, the space had filled with new growth. It’s easy to spot the damage in winter but luckily, even at a 45 degree angle, the branches bloom in Spring covering the evidence.

Molly has memories of her own around the hedge. When I told her about my new chainsaw she remembered the summer her dad cut himself with the hedge-clipper, resulting in lots of blood. Joking about childhood trauma, she urged me to be very careful. Yes, the hedge has experienced all sorts of drama. My roughest memory is pushing aside branches in a section we never crawled through before, guiding my 8 year old ahead of me through the thick snarl of wood to the street. This was on the morning of Neil’s death, and I knew I could not let Molly see what I saw.

Our privet gives us privacy and has hidden sadness and even terrible things but within its green boundary, there have been more scenes of joy and laughter. Watching my daughter play and grow and run and swing across our lawn, joined by two of the sweetest dogs, first Tetley then Rufus – both blissfully chasing an abundance of squirrels. This woody shrubbery surrounds a place of love and good memories, including most of the years with Neil and then Rob. Despite the heartbreak of their stories, I also recall the love and sweetness and that they both made me laugh more than cry.

Published as a surprise in Molly’s high school yearbook. The community that help raise her.

I thought I could just zoom through this make-over with a fancy tool but it’s a gift to take the time to trim, pare down, decide what branches to take out, where to cut so new growth will sprout easily. This scramble of fractals encompasses my life. I am not only preserving a boundary but creating space so I can accept the sugar offered my way.

Dog and Other Walks

My daughter brought Rufus home for Thanksgiving and when she flies back to California later today, he will remain with me. Molly will return for Christmas and will bring him back to his west coast life in January. Meanwhile I have the pleasure and responsibility of taking care of this sweet dog.

Rufus smiling

While I haven’t missed his 6 AM demand that I take him out, I don’t hate being forced to see the sunrise. While he angles his leg towards the hedge to pee, I yawn and look up at the sky. This morning the sky was glorious – a deep navy blue in the west as night moved out and a glowing yellow of a new day in the east.

Getting outside also gets me out of my head when I am more inclined to retreat to full hibernation mode. Especially in winter, I get lazy and I don’t love the cold and there have already been days when I barely step out of the house. That’s not good. Even a short walk around the neighborhood gives me a spark of energy along with a fix of fresh oxygen. Having Rufus around with his multiple required outings each day, reminds me that I need to fan these sparks into flames.

Rather than letting the days simply pass, I want to savor each as precious. Even the physical movement of opening the door changes the energy, creates an atmospheric shift reminding me that I am part of something bigger than myself. Walking through the neighborhood, exchanging a few words with a neighbor or venturing down to the river to note the tide and maybe glimpse the great blue heron who seems to be wintering nearby, all give me a sense of well-being.

Stepping outdoors with no other intent than to follow this pup around in his wander, no matter how self absorbed I was minutes earlier, the wind against my cheek, light in my eyes, crunch of leaves under my feet, keeps me present.

Rufus surveying the estate

It’s not that I don’t go for walks when Rufus isn’t here. I’m pretty disciplined about getting up and out and there are advantages to doing this solo. While I like the purpose a dog brings, walks alone are easier. Without him, I walk at my own pace instead of being pulled along, stopping abruptly so he can sniff every few feet. Alone, I can drive the 10 minutes to the beach and walk where dogs aren’t allowed but the views are spectacular. I do like the freedom of not having a pet – but I miss the rituals, the weight of him on my lap, his sweet devotion.

No, I do not want to adopt another dog right now. But I do love having him visit and I do love him. But right now I am learning who this new me is that need only take care of myself and it’s very interesting and a little luxurious. Today it is rainy and Rufus, not a fan of getting wet, won’t want to venture further than the yard to do the necessary. I may just have to leave him at home and go for a walk by myself. (Or not!)

Pets or no pets?

Changing Direction

My friend texted me as I waited at the light to turn left towards the highway – the quickest route to the community garden. She’d just watered my plot. We do that for each other sometimes. Now what? The light changed and I turned right. I’d take care of different errands instead. But what? I had enough to eat at home, plenty of toothpaste, whatever. There was nothing I really needed and nothing, now that the garden was taken care of, that needed me. A simple text exchange launched me into an existential crisis.

This summer most of my weekends have been busy and more social than the norm for me, with lots of meeting friends and an otherwise full to-do list. This Saturday morning the only pressing thing was watering the garden and now that was done. There’s been a crazy drought this summer and I hadn’t been up there since early in the week. I could have gone there anyway to pick a tomato or two, pull a weed, maybe catch my pal while she was still there. And I actually have two plots and only one is right by my friend’s – the other one is in the lower garden area. I could have and maybe I should have, gone and watered that one. But I didn’t – I abandoned my plan and turned in the opposite direction. And promptly felt lost.

The ‘lower’ garden

I continued driving right past the farmer’s market where I had been thinking of going although I didn’t really need to because I have enough food. What was the point? What was the point — of anything and of any of us? Of life? What are we all doing here on this planet? For at least a minute, I felt this question profoundly in my body. Here I am busily moving about the world taking care of tasks, my job, different roles to different people. What for? Then I remembered that my gas tank was very low. Phew! A distraction that made sense – a need. I turned right at the next intersection and drove to the cheapest but best gas I could get. It was almost $50 to fill my tank and yes that’s painful but I used to live in countries where fuel has been pricey for a long time so I’ve been trying to get over it and drive less. Shame on us for not being more adaptable and innovative and making the changes necessary for our poor thirsty or drowning earth. (depending where you live)

Back to my crisis. Saturday-morning-temporary-insanity aside, I really am at a crossroads in my life. For years my purpose felt clear – based on being needed. Now I live alone, my daughter and Rufus are happily living life on the West coast and while we talk daily, she doesn’t need me. I know my dearest and beloved daughter – I hear you in my head scolding – ‘yes I do need you’! But you don’t and that makes me happy. You are creating your own life, taking care of yourself and our sweet pup and I’m proud and know that is how it should be.

A morning harvest

I now have a new freedom and can start figuring out what this new, old-me wants to do with the rest of my life. I confess to feeling slightly unmoored anticipating the next thing but I don’t hate it. Life now is fascinating and exciting and terrifying, all at once. I feel on the brink of changes. But of what? How? Where? Why? These are the questions I have ideas about but no answers. For now, I continue to plod on with the daily routine of the dutiful worker, doing some iteration of what sustained my little family and this little house for the last 25 years. Am I passionate about it? Never. It’s a job. I love books. I don’t love sales but I am conscientious and interested in other people so that’s translated easily enough. And I am loathe to give up the regular paycheck not to mention health insurance. But it’s never been who I am and now that it’s only me that needs supporting, I have been trying to figure out how much do I need? When can I stop? Not knowing how long I have on this planet makes calculations challenging. But if I knew, I’d claim my time back and have every day be like a Saturday when no one but me owns my hours.

On this past Saturday, I think I had a taste of what’s to come – when I have figured enough out and am brave enough to take the leap. I will have those existential questions for longer than a drive in the car: who am I? That’s kind of the point, though, right? I want to think about that question. I have always likened anticipated life changes to changing the gears on a bicycle. You have to work up to the right gear and there’s a certain amount of grinding until you get to the place where it’s comfortable to pedal. (at least on my old bike!) That’s where I am. I don’t know what’s at the top nor the bottom of the hill so I’m staying alert and ready for anything.

Any advice from my retired readers?

Languishing To-Do Lists

Weekends are never long enough. (Is that a chorus of ‘amens’ I hear out there?) Not just for fun and relaxation but for getting life things done. If you’re a homeowner with yard maintenance to add to the to-do list, the issue of not enough time is even larger. Especially in summer. My monster hedge grows like crazy and currently, there is a corner of my property choked with weeds including thistle plants as tall as my pear trees. Plus there’s the lawn in addition to the needs inside my shabby house. Some tasks have languished on my ‘list’ for years.

This summer’s drought has at least meant a reprieve from mowing my lawn much. I haven’t yanked on that starter cord in about a month. Yesterday I did tackle the hedge for about an hour but finished only a quarter of it. And inside, also for the first time in a month, I vacuumed up some robust clusters of dust bunnies. No drought to blame for that neglect. I even cleared a few things out of the garage. AND managed to go kayaking and swimming. Today is Sunday and I’m taking rare guidance from the bible and mostly resting and writing this. The hedge will wait.

Before – from the archives. It’s taller now.

To be clear, I don’t have the neat-and-clean standards of many of my friends and neighbors who have immaculate lawns, clear kitchen counters, neatly filed (plus likely paid) bills and nary a dust-bunny in sight. That’s never been my style or my forte. Of course, in my corner of Connecticut many have housecleaners and lawn people or no longer (if they ever did) have jobs. That’s not my life this go-round; I have neither time nor enough money to spend on keeping things looking that good. I like to think that when the day comes and I can reclaim my time every day of the year (retirement — where are you?) then my house will be more orderly, my bookshelves, cupboards, basement and garage purged and neat, flaking ceilings repaired and painted. There’s so much to do around here, always. And it’s just me to do it. So if you come for a visit, please don’t judge me.

After – from the archives. I haven’t gotten this far yet!

Particularly if someone hasn’t been to my house before, I judge myself in anticipation of their judgement. I’ll usually do some kind of tidy-up, wash the kitchen floor and definitely clean the bathroom. I imagine my visitors seeing the wasted potential here in this darling cape on a generous corner plot. How great the hardwood floors would be if only they were refinished, how a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen would really brighten things up. The windows need refurbishing or maybe replacing (I’m attached to my old wooden sash windows, some need propping up and all are drafty as hell) and it would be so easy to put a second bathroom in. I imagine my visitors thinking about what flower beds they’d plant, what trees they’d trim or maybe even cut down. (gulp! not the trees!) I know this is nutty thinking and not fair to my dear friends who love me and my home.

All of those improvements would be great and I’d like to do them – except for cutting down the trees. But I will leave most of this to the next owner. Even if that’s Molly, when she hits the big time. (She adores this house and I can feel her heart sink every time I mention leaving.) But other than taking care of the basics, it’s unlikely to be me. Has anyone filled their oil tank lately??? Or ordered firewood for that matter? (can you say ‘gouging’?) $$$

Did I mention that even after living here for more than 20 years I still have a mortgage now pretty close to what it was originally? Yes, I have lived here for a long time so that’s a little crazy. But I still have a house and if you have followed this blog or know some of my story, you will understand why I am proud of that. So come visit, sit on my porch where the breeze is lovely. I’ll make you a drink or a cup of tea – just don’t judge or I’ll put you to work! ūüôā

Magical Thinking in May

Neil & Molly – Metkovic Croatia

This is Neil, my husband, holding our beautiful daughter. May 1st marked the 18th year since his death. I have been working on this post all month, stumbling along with lots of pauses and endless re-writes, beginning with these first sentences. Died, passed away, left us, ended his life, committed suicide – so many word choices. I always hesitate – realizing the impact when someone doesn’t already know the story. The word suicide is particularly harsh, sad, terrible. The reality will always be stark but with time, the way his life ended is no longer the thing. The wound of his leaving will always exist but the memory of him has become lighter. The idea of who he was and the ways that I miss him have become stronger. The dark stuff – of which there was a lot – has faded. The years have given me a gift of healing and renewed love for the man he was, the joy and fun we had.

Zagreb apartment.

Please indulge me as I leap into a complete fantasy of what life might be if he were still here and healthy.

Neil with kids somewhere in Bosnia.

The truth is, I think if Neil were alive today he wouldn’t be here with me now. He’d be volunteering in Ukraine using his ace logistics skills to move aid in or people out and in the course of a day, he’d be dashing into harms way to rescue anyone who needed rescuing. The riskier and more dramatic mission the better and him mentally crafting the story he’d tell us afterwards. Along the way, he’d find a way to make people laugh momentarily helping them to forget their own fear or pain. This was the man he was when we met in Sarajevo in 1992.

Maybe if he’d stayed living a life of peril instead of trying to tame his energy and demons into the routine of supporting and raising a family in Connecticut, maybe then, he’d still be with us. As dangerous as life in war is, for him the addicting mix of adrenaline and danger and purpose was less destructive than the self-medicating that eventually destroyed him.

Neil with ICRC Sarajevo pals

There’s no sense to magical thinking but anyone who’s lost someone to suicide lives with ‘what-if’. We all have a carousel of thoughts about what might have been done, what we might have done differently to prevent that ending.

Neil and Molly – CT

With the passage of time and because I have much more of it to myself, my memories and sense of his spirit have become more lucid. I share these thoughts with Molly. Last week she sent me video of an owl that was lingering on the roof of her apartment building and I told her how Neil had saved an owl that was caught in a fence during the early days when she in an incubator in Brindisi hospital. Of course this LA owl was her Dad watching over her! I believe it.

An owl rescued from a barbed-wire fence by Neil – Ostuni, Italy

Molly has many moments of Neil showing up in her life. I suspect the girls in England, Gemma and Zoe must too. On Molly’s plane ride when she moved to LA, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was one of the film choices and of course, she watched it. There he was on the airplane screen, accompanying his youngest girl out on the launch of her California adventure! (see the last photo below of him getting kicked in the face by Jessica Rabbit ) On another flight she took a few months later, she watched him appear in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ another oldie that happened to be a selection on the flight. Coincidence?

On the set of Jeeves & Wooster – taken off of Molly’s phone – obviously!

Before I knew him, Neil was a film and television extra in England. Handsome and tall and charming, he worked on lots of now-classics at Pinewood studios in England. He was a storm trooper in Star Wars and there’s debate whether he was the guy who knocked his head on the door frame because he was so tall. So of course he harbored fantasies of moving to LA himself – now his spirit is cheering his girl. Maybe a little ‘woo-woo’ but I believe this.

Neil with ICRC armored Landrovers

He is with me randomly – as a song comes on the radio when I’m thinking of him, when I’m watching an English mystery, as I work in the garden. Driving today I saw a vintage Land Rover Defender and he was craning his head out the window to get a better look, calling out his appreciation to the driver, probably making a new friend. When I feel like I need a protector – like a scary moment driving on I-95 0 it’s him I sense with me. I wrote before of the time I asked for him for help in finding Rob’s car key that had fallen into the Long Island Sound when we were kayaking. Finding it seemed impossible. I found it. (Here’s that post)

Neil would be thrilled to be a GIF. Here’s a still of his – getting kicked in the face by Jessica Rabbit.

What would Neil have made of social media? He loved television so much that I’m sure his screen time would have been off-the charts. He’d have the fanciest phone and would be a TikTok famous old guy with tons of followers. He’d certainly have figured out how to use it to make a few quid. Handsome, exuberant, funny in his outrageous English humor on-steroids way, he would likely have gotten into a trouble too! But maybe if he stuck to dancing. He was an excellent dancer in an 80’s kind of way. Remember those dance shows in the 70s and 80s? He’d have one of those solos with his own little stage – he was that good. Social media would have given all the attention and fame he delighted in.

I have never laughed so often and hard – nor cried as much – as during my life with this man. There was no in-between – no boring. When things were bad, I longed for boring and I still appreciate the predicable cadence of my life. But I miss him. I miss the him that I married in Sarajevo, that I lived and traveled through Europe with. I miss the dream of sharing life adventures, wandering the world, the promise of a partnership. I miss the laughing. I miss the heavy weight of his arm over me at night, his 6 foot 4 presence beside me. But I am grateful for the light and love of his spirit that I feel.

Do you still feel the presence of someone you lost?

Late Summer: Sunset and Moonrise Magic

moonrise kayaking

Yesterday Molly and I went for a sunset kayak — a stunning finale to a beautiful breezy day with a bittersweet hint of autumn. We are nearing the end of this season of light.

Low tide meant a short paddle would land us on a grassy sandbar that only surfaces for a few hours a day. We spotted the little empty beach and made straight for it. After ten minutes of paddling we pulled our boats onto the rocky shore, spread a towel and settled in for the sunset show. No sooner had we clinked glasses when a rowdy trio of adult boys pulled up in small motorboat. Without so much as a ‘are we disturbing you?’ they unloaded their cooler and a gigantic speaker blasting bad music feet from where we sat. Rolling our eyes at each other then giving them side-eyes they ignored, Molly and I rolled up our towel and left them to the shrinking patch.

Back on my boat, I imagined what might have happened with different company Рthinking who might have angrily engaged the inconsiderate nincompoops escalating the experience and our blood pressure. And surprised that I did not. Instead I felt lucky to be with good-natured Molly, peacefully exiting while exchanging jokes and laughter about the rude interlopers. Then, we felt glad to be sitting on the water instead of beside it. As the sun fell beneath the horizon, a full moon cast another kind of glow on the Sound. Intoxicated by the cocktails we sipped from mason jars and from the stunning scene unfolding all around us, we let ourselves be jostled about by the incoming tide. The sky took over.

The sun left a skirt of pink fading in the West. I looked East and in what seemed only a blink, I felt a shift, a change to night and something more — another season, another state of being. So simple and quick I might have missed it — whatever that moment was — no more, no less than a sense of something. Slipping my paddle into the water, I positioned my kayak head-on into the trail of moonlight as if I might follow it to somewhere beyond the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn appeared twinkling like the stars they might be mistaken for.

Closer overhead, flocks of birds passed across a stretch of sky as if on a feather highway. First came half a dozen egrets, long legs dangling behind them. Following the egrets came a larger flock of frantically flapping terns. The birds silently followed each other into the deepening blue night and I felt a reverence in their flight as if they might feel as grateful for the day as I. Were they off to sleep on one of the islands? Turning my gaze back to the water, shimmering like giant fish scales or sequins of dark blues and blacks,  heaving beneath us in giant breaths. And at the center of it all, a hypnotizing path of moonlight.

Molly’s boat was too far away for us to talk to each other but we were both content in our own meditations. But as the flash of blue and red police lights from shore signaled the beach was closing, we called to each other — agreeing it was time to paddle back even as¬†the pathway to the moon enticed me away.

I’d been on the fence about going kayaking – laziness and a little chill in the air as my excuse. What I would have missed! Out on the water I marvel, dream, think and wonder ¬†— about life — the present, the future. Last night I considered where to be and how to live this (last!) leg of life. But do we get to curate our own lives, really? So much is a crapshoot, the luck of the draw or whatever version of God or not, one believes in. Having moments like last night are enough for me. In spite of – or maybe because of the goofs who drove us out into the water, their Lord of the Flies like howls always audible as we communed with the poetry of the night.

Disaster Preparedness

Tree damage in graveyard

Nature is boss. In case we’d forgotten, she recently blasted the Northeast with gale winds and a few tornado touch-downs. Uprooting trees and knocking out electricity and even taking off the roof of a local (unoccupied) house, she reminded us that we are kidding ourselves if we think we are in control. Heeding this kick in the ass, I am both practically and spiritually rethinking how I live.

When the whistling wind turned to a roar and our cell phones blasted a tornado warning, Molly and I descended into the dark, old-house basement with dog, water bottles and flashlights. We felt sure the house would blow down on top of us. It did not and except for a few downed branches we made it through intact. Power was out for 3 days — a minor inconvenience compared to many who are without almost 2 weeks later. We were without internet for 11 days and since I work at home these COVID days, that was tough in a first world problem way.

I have lived without electricity and water for long stretches, including in winter during the war in the Balkans. Nothing like being in the cold and dark with the rattle of machine guns and an occasional thud of mortar fire shaking the walls. But not having water is the worst. These recent days in the dark, even as I stumbled to the sink, I felt grateful as I turned on the faucet or hopped, gasping into a cold shower. Temporarily losing these conveniences I take for granted is a great exercise in gratitude. So many around the world, because of war, poverty and injustice, (thinking here about poisoned water in Flint, Michigan and Navajo¬†Nations with no running water!) lack this basic necessity and it’s criminal.

It seems a little crazy that we are so electricity dependent and all of that can be undone in a flash. Even in my life with wood stove and clothesline, I found those few days challenging. I am, like many, addicted to the internet. My phone is never far away from me and for no particular reason. I am rarely expecting a call. But there are so many pictures to look at! News and gossip to follow! I still had phone service and while it was charged squinted at the little screen for updates on my corner-of and the rest of the currently sorry-world.

Solar light shot

Evening entertainment during electric-free days, we enjoyed light-pollution free star-gazing and reading on the front porch.¬†Only days earlier, I’d presciently installed solar motion-sensor lights so we settled in the evening breeze with our books and took turns waving our arms every few minutes to reactivate the light. (photo above)

Have you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I wasn’t reading that on the porch– in fact, it’s a book I tried and abandoned years ago because it was so bloody bleak. I mean, I appreciate dark but I can’t do apocalypse. But I’m still haunted by what I did read. Too real? Too possible? These days, I’d say yes. But I’m a practical gal and a survivor and I’ve started to plan.

What I missed the most during the 3 day blackout was my own food and cups of tea and the electric bidet toilet seat. (you mean you don’t have one?) ¬†I’m working on preparing solutions for next time. In my Kyoto kitchen there was a hatch door in the middle of the floor that opened into a little ground storage space perfect for keeping food cool. ¬†Isn’t that brilliant? I won’t be digging any holes outside but I might get another cooler and lots of ice. As for cooking, I don’t have a grill but am researching little hibachis and for morning caffeine fixes, a butane burner with shelf-life milk. And there are simple bidet options that don’t require electricity. Note: all bidets online are currently sold out – no surprise after COVID scramble for toilet paper.

Now that I have internet back, I’ve been able to do a lot more research on how to weather storms and in considering other possible catastrophes, what countries in the world I could escape to. Frankly, I’d rather stay here in my country in my sweet house, but I know it’s better to be prepared.¬†

Any suggestions on preparing for storms, elections and other possible disasters?

 

 

Over the Years of Writing it Down

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Almost sunset so only a few more hours before kissing goodbye to December and another decade. I’m determined, by the skin of my teeth and a few hours, to maintain my record of not yet missing a month of posting at least something here.

I would have written more but for: computer problems, lack of discipline, lack of inspiration, laziness, existential questions about ‘what’s the point?’. You know – the usual. But I pay to maintain this blog – domain name, anti-hack security – enough that I don’t want to waste the $200 plus I just spent for another 2 year whirl around the dance floor. It’s a bit like taking a class so I feel compelled to periodically write.

The other day I ran into another blogger who lives locally and we discussed inactivity on our respective blogs. We agreed that we do enjoy it – the cyber community and the process of writing. Like right this very second — I feel good! The activity of ‘writing’ is mostly pleasurable for me and at the least, compelling. In parting, she and I committed to stepping it up and writing. (I can’t remember the timeline – but here I am, Susan – I look forward to yours!)

Recently I was speaking with my beloved sister. We speak often about everything and anything. She’s a great listener and asks thoughtful questions that land like stones in my often dull lake-mind, leaving ripples of insight long after we’ve hung up. Both of us have boxes of journals – the only place one might read what I’m sure is her stunning writing. Like I said, we talk about everything – including our inevitable demise. I asked her the other day what should be done with her journals when her number is up? Burn them – she said, somewhat to my disappointment. Too bad. I bet she’s got some great books in there.

It’s been a long time since I regularly kept a journal. Sometimes I might write down a dream but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll randomly look at one. Here, I’ll do it now… (I walked to a shelf and randomly selected) a journal from 2001. Again, I randomly flipped open to something written while Neil and I were on an AA/Al-Anon recovery retreat for couples somewhere up the coast run by an inspiring priest – Father Mike C. (Oh, we did try hard for so many years!) What seems uncanny is how much the pages relate to my current ramble. From all the journals and all the pages I could have opened to, here’s where I landed:

“Julia Cameron, author of The Artists’ Way” was at the store the other day – and although I didn’t find her earth-shattering, her message is definitely a good one. And some simple exercises like writing 3 pages every morning and making an “artist’s date” with one’s self…. I have moved so far away from doing my work instead, chasing Neil and his addiction. And this was a choice. And one I no longer choose. It is that simple. I need to be on my own road now – back to finding that peace and joy and discovery I feel when I create. This is my prayer.”

Thank you Julia Cameron –  I guess you are ‘earth-shattering’ enough in the end! I confess to never really reading her – but I will now and get to those 3 pages. Here’s to closing out this decade and entering a new one with love and indeed, a prayer for a road of peace, joy and discovery for us all. Happy New Year! xxx

Where We Are

A question constantly hovering in and out of focus in my life has been WHERE? Right out of college, my focus was a place to live as an artist – where could I work as little as possible so I can make my art? I ended up in Kyoto. As I crept towards thirty, my diminishing egg count led me out of Japan in search of where I might find a man to have a family with. This led to an interesting, adventure filled quest. I can tell you, years in NYC did¬†not ¬†lead to success on that front. It took a few more years until the ‘where’ of raising a family – with the man I met and married in Sarajevo, would pop up.

The first year of Molly’s life, we moved 4, yes, 4 times – from her birth in Italy, 2 different parts of Croatia, arriving in Connecticut just days before her first birthday. We came here mostly by happenstance and here, I still am.

This year I enter my 6th decade and guess what question has been popping up? I am not alone in this: the topic is a hot one with my peers. Where to grow old? It’s happening so we let’s figure out if we’re in the best place to do that the way we want to. As much as any of us have control over this. This is certainly something of a first world problem and I say that only with some snark. Here in our wealthy nation, there is only a paltry social system and many of us do not have generations of family to absorb us with love and care. So how much better are we, really? It’s a lot to burden one kid with though I know she loves me, I hope not to need much besides just that.

So I think of the practical stuff: can I continue to afford living in the wealthiest corner of Connecticut? Mine is a charming old and drafty house but still and probably forever, owned more by the bank than by me. The guy who came to clean my ancient oil burner the other day, wished me luck that I might get another year without it breaking down. ($8K for a new one?) Will this house still work for me as I get creaky? Like the bedrooms and one bathroom at the top of the stairs. Yeah, I can’t believe I’m even thinking about this stuff – but there you are. (Are you too??)

Anyway, is this where I still¬†want to be? Mostly I think yes. Although this span of Connecticut is crowded, the landscape suits me. There’s a good mix of accessibility of urban and nature joys including the Long Island Sound minutes away. I am not a mountain gal, I need to be close to a where salt water meets sky.

But wait a minute! Am I really ready to give up the notion of myself as being worldly and adventurous? There’s something about anyone who has ever led an expat life – a longing, an itch even – that never really goes away. Adored friends who live very far away and places across the world that somehow still feel like home – I want to see and spend time with them all again. For me that includes Jenny now in Australia, friends in Kyoto and cafes in Italy. Granted – those places are gorgeous and easy to love – but both also felt almost weirdly familiar when I lived there. I felt like me there, as if I had history there – even before I really did.

What’s that about? Why do certain landscapes, places feel like ours? I am not a desert person but my dear friend Paula feels a spiritual connection to the Southwest. When we drove across country in our early twenties, I witnessed her recognition, her joy when we got to Taos New Mexico. As if she’d arrived home although it was her first time there. I could barely breathe in the arid heat and while impressed by the beauty, was happy to get back on the road and our journey further West. And when we arrived in the San Francisco Bay area where we spent the summer, I fell in love with it. The light made me feel like I was in the South of France¬†and every breath of air flavored with eucalyptus and brine, felt nourishing. I’d live there – at least in my memory of place.

But in the end (pun sort of intended), as we move in and out of our days, we’re all always¬†here¬†aren’t we? I find that a comfort – don’t you?

Did you search for your place or did you just land there? Where’s your ‘where’?

Books Can Save Us

I have an abundance of riches in reading material. Stacks of both purchased and advanced reader copies of favorite or new authors stacked in towers around my house. So how to pick what to read next? What do you do? I’m a sucker for a good cover. And of course I have favorite authors who I eagerly snag from the Advanced Reader pile at work. I am always hoping to understand my beloved ghosts so am drawn to titles relating to addiction, book-love, memoirs and weird places. That’s how I picked up The Lost Chapters: Finding Renewal and Recovery One Book at a Time by Leslie Schwartz. It checks all of the above.

Leslie Schwartz is a novelist and an addict who spent 90 days in a Los Angeles County Jail for a DUI. Before starting her sentence she chose the books she wanted to read and her family sent them to her weekly. They arrived just in time – as books seem to do. Her list included a book of Mary Oliver poetry, The Woman Warrior, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Unbroken, Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart (a book that saved me more than once) and one of my all time favorites, A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

“…Ozeki showed me, that time in its clock-on-a-wall form, and story as linear, like a yardstick, is often the least truthful way to talk about or understand its passage. All stories can only be re-created by collapsing the past, the present, and the future. We are not what we do, like a resume. Jail, for all its insidious horror, its odious dehumanization, its dependence on the momentum of days, of counting along the agonizing progress of calendars facing ever forward, is really a place that embraces no time, for which there is no clear understanding of its movement. In jail, time moves backward and forward, It is without symmetry, a starfish with five arms and no central brain. We are not, it turns out, simply our crimes or our release dates. We are where we came from. We are how we change. We are what we remember, and what we don’t remember. We are the moments that pass, and also the moments that stand still. Time is not our enemy but our puppet. Memory is prophecy and what we think is real is just an illusion.”

This passage from the Lost Chapters is followed by one about addiction and finding recovery. It’s gutting and beautiful and everything I know from being on the other side – loving the addict. Neither of mine ever made it through the window.

“Forcing compliance doesn’t work. It inspires retaliation and usually still more relapse. This is why rehabs and jails don’t work. And yet, addiction itself keeps the addict enslaved, unable to want to stop. I am still in awe that I was granted that tiny window somewhere along the line and even more baffling that I slipped through it.”

I love this book. The author does not whine. She owns her shit and her privilege and shares her outrage and the injustice and failures of our system – particularly for women of color.

I’ve always adored books. Walking into a bookstore even after 21 years, I still feel the thrill of all those books! New titles! And I believe that books can really save us. I am not alone. My friend Nina was devastated after the early death of a beloved sister and found comfort, healing and JOY by reading a book a day for a year. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

And have you heard about this extraordinary man, wrongfully convicted as a teen? He spent 17 years in prison — and how reading saved him. Here’s his story and here’s the organization the remarkable John Bunn created¬†A Voice 4 the Unheard – with the goal of¬†bringing books and literacy to prisoners. Note the story of the corrupt and wrongful conviction doesn’t figure on his website. Is it books, is it reading that allowed this man to not be bitter after 17 years wrongfully imprisoned!? ¬†He humbles me.

Forget the deserted island – these are tricky times. What books would you want in prison?

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