“We read to know we’re not alone.” C.S. Lewis
There’s nothing like a good book to keep us company. And nothing more intimate and graceful, the experience between the storyteller and the listener. The writer writes, the reader reads. The bond is cemented. This silent exchange requires nothing of the reader but their time and attention for the length they are willing to give the book.
I have spent many a fine hour lost in a good book. Here is a list of my book faves, in hopes they will become yours too. They are not in any particular order.
- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
- My Antonia, Willa Cather
- A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
- Circling the Sun, Pam McLain
- The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
- Out of Africa, Isak Denesen
- The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
- The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
- The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
- Love Warrior, Glennon Melton
- The Distance Between Us, Reyna Grande
- Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham
- To Be The Poet, Maxine Hong Kingston
- Portrait Of An Artist, Laurie Lisle
- Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now, Maya Angelou
- All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
More to come…
Since my father passed away, I have been looking to art and beauty in the everyday. When he was alive, there wasn’t a hummingbird, a great oak tree, a good history book, a classical piece of music, or an oil painting of the beautiful English countryside that he didn’t take close notice, appreciate, and share with me. There wasn’t a day he didn’t notice Nature’s bounty and beauty, or a brilliant work of art.
As I carry him with me, I am reminded with every death, there is rebirth. For every person who dies, a baby is born. For every inhale, there is an exhale. I, of course, have intellectualized these truths, but not until I experienced my father’s passing, did I know what rebirth felt like to die to the past and weave a new life for myself.
In the book, The Second Half Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom, anthropologist and author, Angeles Arrien states, “We are all born with a great dream for our lives. A dream that may have been derailed along the way by family and career responsibilities or submerged by our own choices. In the second half of life, after your roots have gone deeply into the world, it is time to resurrect this dream.”
As a writer and insight practitioner, I look to art and beauty for inspiration. A lover of silence and creativity, the two go hand in hand, to provide the Inner Peace I value as much as the breath. Every morning, I walk my dog, then sit down to write, read and wonder about the mysteries of life all around me. Continue reading Look to Art and Beauty
2016 was a year of unpredictability and crushing loss. My father lost his battle to Alzheimer’s on September 30th at 1:10 p.m. And America lost its civility as I witnessed one of the most contentious elections in our country’s history.
I looked for stability and sanity at the wake of my father’s death. For nearly five years, I watched him decline, his brilliant mind fade-out, his body cave-in until he died. I was relieved. I was sorrow-stricken. My life was up-ended.
Exhaustion won over. For too long, we were managing his care–daily roller coaster rides filled with pain and suffering, zombie meds to manage, and bed sores to look out for. Was he losing weight? Is he alert? Does he have any quality of life left?
Our inability to help him speak rendered us speechless when perhaps all he wanted to say was “I love you,” one more time. Soon the swallowing of food proved difficult. He was confined to a wheel chair. He was trapped. So were we.
No one should endure this cruel end of life phase, no one. For me, the burden of guilt was too much to bear. Why couldn’t I have ended his pain sooner? Why did I let him rot in a nursing home? Why wasn’t he back at home with his family when he died? What happened to his right to die with dignity? What happened?
On that fateful morning, I was driving from Sonoma to L.A. to visit my father when I got the call from hospice that he was a few hours away from taking his last breath. “Would I make it in time?” They asked. I was 100 miles from the nursing home, stuck in terrible traffic, sitting with a paralyzing fear that I would miss saying good-bye to my father. My greatest fear was realized.
I wasn’t there for him when he took his last breath. I wasn’t there. I failed him, like I had failed him so many times before. This is how I saw it anyway. I wasn’t there.
When I arrived, I lowered my head in shame and sadness as I walked in to the small, sterile room. All I could do was hold his already cold lifeless hand. At least my mother made it in time. She showed up. Not me. I fell short once again. I wasn’t there.
I now understand what it means to be invisible. My father was my constant tried-and -true validater. He saw me. Never gave up on me. He was a beautiful, giving, and kind man who strived to be perfect and liked everything perfect. He had high expectations for his children. Expectations that were hard to live up to. Yet, he loved us unconditionally. He was my inspiration who never stopped believing in me. So now what? Where do I go from here?
This will be my first Christmas without him. His passing left me groundless, breathless, confused, and scared. But very few know this. I just kept going. Pretending. Moving. Go. go. go. Keep talking up a good game. Work. Write. Create. Pretend.
I am now learning how “to be” for the first time in my life. I am just an ordinary soul in Sonoma after all. One soul out of 7 billion. I don’t need to stand out. Be something I’m not. Be Somebody as they say. This thought is comforting. A little voice whispers: just be, begin again, breathe, take little baby steps to slowly transform your life.
So, I take a walk. There’s a heron standing stoic at the creek as the rain falls gently on my face, God’s hints that I have everything I need today. I have nature to comfort me. Being is enough. I am enough. It’s time to let him go, show up for myself and be free.
On this rainy Saturday, after taking a meditative walk with my dog, Ella, I nestle into a comfy port wine chair inside my living room, what my friend calls “Fireside Heaven.” I like the sound of that, a name that aptly describes a quiet sanctuary to restore, be inspired, and dream a little dream.
I am one of the fortunate few to still have a wood-burning fireplace to keep me warm and cozy, safe from the noisy and crazy world outside. Here, I look out my window at the serene side of nature, cherishing the simple things worth savoring, moment to moment.
I imagine Fireside Heaven in the same way Virginia Woolf does in, “A Room of One’s Own.” A place to center one self, gather your thoughts, to read and to write. A soulful place that no one can take away from me, from any of us.
Without leaving my chair, I read and have wings to travel to Africa in Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, an inspiring story about the pioneering life of Beryl Markham, the first woman racehorse trainer and pilot to soar solo from the Atlantic, east to west, in pursuit of personal freedom. If you are a fan of Out of Africa, like I am, you’ll be intrigued with Beryl’s entanglement inside the love triangle between safari hunter, Denys Finch Hatton, and writer and Baroness, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), only to discover that the spiritual freedom she longed for was inside herself.
For me, Fireside Heaven is a form of freedom, a state of being, a place to call your own. For Beryl it was inside a plane flying into the horizon. Everyone has a room of their own if they just surrender to their place in this life, find the courage to soar and move willingly into it .
It’s not just peaceful and quiet in the wine country, it’s juicy and alive filled with wonder, color, change and possibility. It’s alchemy at its finest. Juicy, juicy, juicy. The grapes turn to wine with the help of human hands; the sun basks on our veggie gardens and produces food at the dinner table; the birds find food to feed their young in their twig-filled nests, and the peacock must do its mating dance and spread its blue-green feathers to show its magnificence.
All creatures have a passion and purpose. Every day they are busy at work to complete their mission. They simply must. This holds to true for people. Everyone has their own reason for being on this planet, if they just heed the call.
But the call does not come without its own perversity. The spirit must find its way through the obstacle course of life, and arrive if it will, dependent on its level of unbending commitment.
I learned about the perversity of spirit on Saturday when I took a writing class called, Writing as a Path to Awakening by Albert De Silva, author of the haunting memoir, Beamish Boy and Poet Laureate of Marin County, California. In the course, he shared an article by Rufi Thorpe, author of a novel, The Girls from Corona Del Mar. In the article published by The Literary Life, a young writer was asking the teacher, “Whether or not he should be a writer. Do I have what it takes?”
She answered, “that no one, no one can answer that question for you.”
On the verge of tears he went on, “But do you think I’m talented?”
She replied, “What I think is that talent is the least important thing about a writer. “What is important?” he asked.
She said dryly, maybe cruelly: “Perversity of spirit. Talent is the least important thing about a writer, compared to a love of books, which must be deep and abiding. The only thing a writer really needs is the emotional equivalent of a cartoon creature’s bouncy springiness, so that after being run over or blown up–or in the case of the writer, rejected and rejected some more–the writer is irrationally unfazed by even the most valid criticism and continues to work.”
We do what we must. Whether you’re a writer, photographer, leader, educator, curator, sculpturer, painter, etc.–it’s the perseverance and determination to see your goals and dreams come true–regardless of the Nay-sayers, the obstacles, the odds. Who cares about them and that? If you must create, you will.
I love this quote by Goethe.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Whether is Goethe, the poet or Nature the creator, they show us their creations every day through sheer will.
The truth is, the world needs beauty in the form of story, art, photos, cooking recipes, etc. and of course always is made from two essential ingredients: perseverance and an absurd, fun and strange sense of humor.
It doesn’t matter our age, what matters is our passion to create and stay juicy. The perversity of the spirit.
There is no greater state of being, nor higher goal worth pursuing than Inner Peace. What I call, the Sacred Space that springs eternal from the soul. Despite our joys, fears, doubts, hurts, disappointments and suffering, when I go inward into my heart, I tap into a pure, true and untouchable place, a knowing that I, that all of us play a part in something much more magnificent than ourselves, a part in the profound beauty and grand design of this one precious life.
In the wine country, there is evidence of this wherever I look: in the bushels that attract butterflies, in the herb garden where basil, cilantro and parsley thrive, when the Sonoma moon shines its light on my darkest nights.
Inside my home, it’s in the books of poetry I read, and the novels I hold in my hands. It’s in the grand silence that inspired writers to spill their stories onto the page.
Joan Didion, who experienced the excruciating losses of both her husband and her daughter, one to a sudden death, and the other to a cruel disease, found her salvation, her way out through her writings, her sacred space.
I suppose my greatest pull to wholeness and the life that was calling for me, came from May Sarton, a poet and journal writer who lived in New England. She wrote about the simple things inside a profound daily existence filled with language, animals, flowers, friendships, and poetic reflection. I was hooked with her first book called, Plant Dreaming Deep.
In her books, she speaks about solitude and how it helped her find her way through a noisy world, to avoid collisions with others. I ask, “How can we fully be ourselves and yet not collide with other’s wills and ways?” I like the idea of riding alongside someone in their journey, instead of butting heads to reach higher ground, greater solutions.
Sarton’s books live on a shelf by my nightstand. She reminds me every day to keep life real and simple. And in 1995, when Sarton died, I took a trip East to visit her home and grave in Nelson, New Hampshire. I knew then, I would like to continue her life, someway, somehow. My blog is a humble attempt. In her honor, I share her poem with you that she actually wrote on a pane of glass in her Nelson home.
Happy the man who can long roam-ing reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep.
When shall I see the chimney smoke once more
Of my own village; in a fervent hour
When maples blaze or lilac is in flower
Push open wide again my plain white door?
Here is a little province, poor and kind —
Warmer than marble is the weathered wood;
Dearer than holy Ganges, the wild brook;
And sweeter than old Greece to this one mind.
A ragged pasture, open green, white steeple,
And these whom I have come to call my people.
– May Sarton