Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I'm 54 Today and I Am Examining My Life This Last Year In A Soft, Quiet, Soulful Mood...


"When imagination walks, she writes letters to the earth. When she runs, her feet trace postcards to the sun. And when she dances, when she dances, she sends love letters to the stars. Some people accuse Imagination of being a liar. They don't understand that she has her own ways of uncovering the truth. She studied journalism in junior high school. It gave her an excuse to leave school early and interview interesting people. She was surprisingly good at writing articles. When in doubt, she just made things up. More recently, Imagination has been working as a fortuneteller in the circus. She has this way of telling your fortune so clearly that you believe her, and then your wishes start to come true.

Imagination is studying photography now with an eye to making films. She has no intention of working in one of those factories where they manufacture images that lull us to sleep. Her vision is more complex, and very simple. Even with the old stories, she wants us to see what has never been seen before."

J. Ruth Gendler, The Book Of Qualities, 1984 ~

I think I need new glasses...

It is 11 p.m. on the night of my 54th birthday. In one hour a new day begins and I begin my 55th year. It has been a splendid day with notes and cards from family and friends, talking to my 3 children, and being taken out to a wonderful Thai dinner with my dear friends, Jeff and Chad, and back to their house for an unbelievable birthday cake. I got home at 10:30 with 4 dogs doing backflips they were so happy to see me and a cockatoo screaming and Henry, my beloved grey parrot yelling, "Mommy's HO-OME, MOMMY'S HOOOOOMMMMEEEE." It was very late for the birds and they were more than happy to be covered and go to bed. Soon I shall as well.

This is like New Year's Eve to me. A time to look over the last year and smile. Jeff and Chad took me out last year for my birthday too. Tomorrow night is the family party because my tiny grandson will be 4. Our birthdays are back to back. My sweet daughter Rachel went into labor here at my family party the night of my 5oth birthday and had Lucas the next day. It will be a sweet time.

Today I came across one of my dearest books that is 24 years old and falling apart at the seams. It is one of the most delightful books I have ever read. Ruth Gendler's, The Book Of Qualities. There's never been a book like it before or since. Each page or two is a quality and described as above, a he or a she, with a list of wonderful things describing, in human terms, that particular quality, from sorrow to joy and everything in between. I love this book so much I used it for 2 decades in my journal-writing classes.

Today, I pulled it from the shelf and read through it nostalgically. For those of you who read and reread favorite books you will know what I mean. I am one of those people who underline (...with Prismacolor colored pencils, an addiction of mine!), highlight, parenthesize, write notes in the margins, and through the years I have made stars on different pages because that felt like the one I resonated the most with at the time. Today I thought, before opening the book, that I would start this piece with Joy, or Whimsy. Two of my favorite words as well as states of being, and they were wonderful, but when I read Imagination it suited me just perfectly. Or so it feels today, and I will end this piece with the other one I love because it shows a progression in my life. At 54 I am a woman in her middle years who celebrates growing older, is happy and content more often than not, and the years that I starred the pages that said things like depression, sorrow, pity, well, they are long past. The last several years I have been softening and softening and my heart is so full of love it almost brings tears to my eyes. Tonight I am feeling very tender, toward the life I have, grateful for so many things, and while the joy and whimsy are very much a part of me, tonight I feel still and quiet, happy and content.

It amazes me that people are afraid to tell their age, and have endless surgeries to try to look younger. Why? I am aging, inside, with grace. I am gaining wisdom that heretofore would not have been possible. I have carved out for myself a life of my own choosing and if I don't work in the circus, as the quote says above, I certainly live in the zoo! It is peaceful now. Dark and quiet, with sleeping animals and snoring pugs all around me. I wonder if anyone else in the world has ever felt this blessed. I feel that I should go down on my knees and kiss the earth. All the way home tonight I kept singing that beautiful song that always makes me cry, sung by the young Jeff Buckley, who who died by drowning in his 20's. The song's lyrics are sad but his rendition of this song (The link will take you to You-Tube to see him sing it.), Hallelujah, is so full of grace and there is something that just opens my heart as wide as the sky, breaks it open and makes it spread wider and wider until tears are running down my cheeks, well, it was the perfect ending to this night. A cleansing. A preparation for whatever lies ahead.

These 54 years have been full of pain, sorrow, sweetness, tenderness, the Phoenix crashing, burning, and rising again, and finally, joy, compassion, and a kind of love I have never known. Love for myself, love for my family, my animals, my dear ones, love for another woman, love for life. I am 54 years old and I am grateful for every moment of it. Hallelujah.

I have come to the beautiful age where I am truly, fully myself and know that I will grow more so all the time. I have come into my wisdom years and look so forward to what will come ahead. And so I leave you this night, on the eve of my 55th year, with Ruth Gendler's quality, Wisdom.


Wisdom wears an indigo jacket. She takes long walks in the purple hills at twilight, pausing to meditate at an old temple near the crossroads. She was sick as a young child so she learned to be alone with herself at an early age.

Wisdom has a quiet mind. She likes to think about the edges where things spill into each other and become their opposites. She knows how to look at things inside and out. Sometimes her eyes go out to the thing she is looking at, and sometimes the thing she is looking at enters through her eyes. Questions of time, depth, and balance interest her. She is not looking for answers.

Perhaps that is the greatest gift of all. I don't need, at 54, to have all the answers. I simply need to live my life, to love, to tenderly touch all those that I can with an open heart, and to sing, Hallelujah.

I kiss the earth, I dance with the stars, I have made a temple to be alone with myself and to worship all that is holy.

Hallelujah. Happy Birthday Maitri...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Writerly Thoughts While Wandering Through The Garden On A Saturday Morning...

"They always called it Magic and indeed it seemed like it in the months that followed -- the wonderful months -- the radiant months -- the amazing ones. Oh! the things which happened in that garden! If you have never had a garden you cannot understand, and if you have had a garden you will know that it would take a whole book to describe all that came to pass there."

~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden ~

One of my most favorite and certainly one
of the most magical roses in the garden ~
'Veilchenblau,' ('Violet Blue'), is an old
rambler found in the 1800's. They are
once bloomers, in the spring only, but
they are blooming now and such glory,
an astounding array of color and fragrance,
purples to violet to blue to a dark violet at the
end of the cycle. The yellow stamens and
streaks of white increase their glory and
delicacy. Simply Divine!

A garden is a magical place, transformative, a place of rest, respite, and renewal, but it has also been, for me, a great teacher.

In one of my favorite books -- I have them all -- by Elizabeth Lawrence, considered the garden maven of the south, and now, sadly, deceased, she left me with a line that I shall never forget. She was talking about the garden of course, and it served me well there, but it changed the shape of my writing, and is something I continually work toward. She wrote, "If it's miffy, let it go."

In the garden she was speaking of plants, the ones we are in love with and determined to plant because we want them so desparately. For me it shall ever be the ephemeral Himalayan Blue Poppy which will not grow in our hot climes here in the coastal south, but I have tried every way I know how. I've studied microclimates and often been amazed that something that wasn't supposed to grow here did in fact come into bloom if I carefully placed it in just the right spot. Microclimate gardening is fascinating because on any one plot of land you can plant something that ordinarily wouldn't grow there, but maybe there is some shade that lends a cooler patch and surprisingly your longed for flower will delight you by showing up after all. This only really works if you are a gardening zone off in one direction or another, not if you are in a significantly different zone where the climate is of such great contrast that you are fooling yourself, downright delusional, something along the lines of snow in Hades. You'd best forget it and just move on!

So what Lawrence called miffy were those plants we struggle, against all odds, to plant. Accept your zone, and plant the multitude of wonderful plants that will flourish in it. You will have much less work, worry, and sorrow not to mention a garden you will love and be proud of. If it's miffy, let it go.

I brought that idea into the cottage, sat down at my writing table, and gave a piece of writing a good going over. One has to be like a great Samurai warrior in the Zen sense about their own work if they are to have a piece that is clean and tight and has a good chance of publication. I'm not saying I always achieve that, but it's what I work toward. In the past I have held tight to certain passages or chapters because I had an emotional attachment to them, but upon a more careful read I realized I was just dreaming, being sentimental. If it's miffy, let it go. And in the trash that chapter went, or sections were red-pencilled, or too many frilly adjectives changed or deleted, and the work was all the better for it.

"Try to keep a garden beautiful to yourself alone and see what happens -- the neighbor, hurrying by to catch his train of mornings, will stop to snatch a glimpse of joy from iris purpling by your doorstep. The motorist will throw on brakes and back downhill just to see those Oriental poppies massed against the wall. Nature is always on the side of the public."

~ Richardson Wright ~

My lovely old fashioned purple "flags," or what
we today
call irises. I planted these from seed
in the side garden that I look out upon from my
kitchen windows. I have had show-stopper
expensive iris in my day, but I have found the
most joy from these simple, fragrant, purple
flags. You can't see it in this picture but delicate
white roses grow between and through the flags
and they just fill you with a kind of silent awe.

Too, the insects in the garden have taught me a great deal. Take the butterfly, for instance. A butterfly knows just which plants will yield the nectar they need to live. They don't waste their time going to every single flower or flowering herb on a plot of land. Insects are very efficient going about their business, they don't waste time.

Some of us, as writers, decide that we want to be a novelist, or a poet, or whatever might be the dream genre for us, but in reality, our gifts may lie in another area. I've done it too. I've written quite a lot of poetry (pitiful for the most part); novels that never sold, trying to be too artistic for their own britches, and quite a lot of them ending in suicides (It was a dark period in my life and I suppose they were at least cathartic. It was good that I wrote them, for me, but I sure learned that novels were not my forté. Spare the world. Miffy, they certainly were.). Non-fiction is my genre. I have written for magazines and newspapers for thirty years. I write memoir. I write poetic non-fiction. I have kept journals all of my life and been a journal writing teacher for 30 years. This form suits me best.

We can try, like the man who, in my youth, was on all the t.v. shows like Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson and others, the man who got white plates spinning on top of poles and he would get one going, run and start another and another and run back to the earlier ones, give them a spin, and start more. In the end he had an amazing number of plates going and, I'm certain, nearly made himself crazy. I can imagine him being drug off to "the loony bin" crying out, "One more plate, just one more plate." We run around like that too sometimes, wanting to write in every genre even though we know we are weak in some. Some people do manage it, but many more are simply not realistic. At least master one genre before moving on to another, if I may put forth an opinion. Imagine joining an orchestra and trying to learn to play five instruments at once. If you can manage it at all you will likely be weak in all of them because you haven't had the time to concentrate on one.

Be like the butterfly. Stay with the flowers that provide the most nectar.

"Making a garden is not a gentle hobby for the elderly, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitare. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole, and once it has done so he will have to accept that his life is going to be radically changed."

~ May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep ~

Last time I showed you a close-up photo of my dearest
rose, 'Crépuscule,' in a vase in the house. This is the rose
growing up over the little roofed area outside the cottage
that inside holds the fireplace. Last year the roof was
covered with these roses and I cut them back in the fall
about half size. They are glorious and so fragrant. This
lovely rose is not only my favorite rose, but in the class
of my most beloved roses of all, the Noisettes. She can
grow up to 12' tall and is best grown in the south.

As I walked around in the garden with my camera yesterday, to my great delight, in a very barren area that I had tried to cultivate as best I could last year -- digging and digging and adding good soil and compost, but it was a place that felt like concrete under my feet and I did worry -- I boldly planted lilies, and perennial hibiscus, and a few other bulbs, plus quite a lot of annual seeds. I plant like the Whirling Dervish of Seeds and prefer a good old, blowsy, cottage garden. The bulbs tried, to no avail, to straggle up, and a few puny annuals did come up, kind of sad looking, and I sighed and mumbled to myself something like, "What in the world were you thinking, you idiot?" and other sorts of things we say when we feel like a complete failure.

Well, lo and behold, this year the lilies are sprouting up, the tiny iris are coming up, a hibiscus, little seeds are sprouting from last year's planting, and while it may not be the raging success I hoped for, this year I have great hopes for it's future.

What all this made me think of, in terms of my writing, was how often we are so afraid to venture into the unknown that we do not try at all. At the first sign of what we feel is failure, we give up the ghost. Sometimes we need just plant the seeds and give them time to grow. I have foxgloves coming up in my garden this, the third year, from the planting of the seeds. This year the leaves are enormous. When we think of some of the great works that are considered classics today we must remember that the writers of those works often took years and years to write them. Imagine James Joyce writing Ulysses. Whew. What an undertaking. Do you think he didn't have doubts along the way?

One has to have a great sense of spaciousness about writing. Don't imagine your writing will support you (... maybe never, which is the most likely, and not for a long time, if it does...), and take the pressure off of it by supporting yourself some other way. Then writing has room to breathe. When you feel intense pressure to succeed with writing alone just to have food in your belly, you're going to end up with a whale of a bellyache.

I think of my great muse, and late in her life, my great friend, May Sarton, who had published, starting with poetry, when she was 25, steadily, and had a small loyal audience but was not acknowledged as she would have liked, and said, at 45, "I'm just going to go off and write and let them come to me." She did just that. She moved to an old house on a village green in New Hampshire and spent her days alone, save her beloved dog and for a time a parrot, and wrote everyday. She also gardened every day. May was a passionate gardener.

May wrote her breakthrough novel, Mrs. Stephens Hears The Mermaids Singing, which was at the time quite shocking because in 1960 you did not write "coming out" novels, but she also became an icon in the women's movement for doing just that. Then she turned a page in her book and wrote a memoir about moving to Nelson called Plant Dreaming Deep. I love that book so much that I have read it so many times it simply fell apart and I bought another copy.

Many think that Plant Dreaming Deep was a journal based on the fact that the book that followed, Journal Of A Solitude, catapulted her to the kind of success she had hoped for, still a relatively small but growing audience, and she was off and running. Until the day she died she wrote journals of her life, first in Nelson and then in York, Maine, where she moved because she grew weary of people showing up on her doorstep feeling that they knew her.

That's the interesting thing about writing this kind of book, which is the kind of book I am also writing. It is based on my life. Everything I say is true, but you edit for privacy, or you give of yourself what you are willing to give. No, Plant Dreaming Deep was indeed a memoir, and May never had any notion of continuing on with non-fiction, as she considered herself first and foremost a poet, and then a novelist, but the reaction to Plant Dreaming Deep left people feeling not only that they knew her, but that they had a personal relationship with her, so much so that they would just come up and knock on her door which unnerved her no end.

She wrote the first of her long line of journals, Journal Of A Solitude, because she wanted to set the record straight. She hadn't lied about anything, but the memoir seemed to idealize the woman writer alone in such a way that May felt that she had to write a more realistic portrait of her life. In the first real journal, she wrote about the life of a solitary writer -- the rages, the tears, the bone loneliness one encounters, as well as the joys of the work, the garden, seeing friends on occasion, and more -- and it helped, but people kept showing up and eventually she left Nelson for Maine to really have the solitude she needed, and she spent the rest of her life there.

She still wrote poems, and novels, but the journals were her mainstay, and she was 75 before true fame would come, and her last book was published posthumously in her early 80's in 1995. She was a writer through and through, and she wrote until the end, through illness, frail, and in the last weeks when we spoke on the phone her voice, normally loud, vibrant and expressive, was barely a whisper. She was the most courageous woman I have ever known because she followed her star against all odds, and success came very slowly, but she never quit. It reminds me of the wonderful quote by Winston Churchill, "Never give in, never give in, never give in."

We live, today, in a world where everything is fast and if it doesn't come fast enough it is cast to the wayside and something else is tried and cast aside, and fast food is the mainstay of a large part of society's diet. The life May lived is rarely seen today. She gave up a lot for what she believed in, it wasn't easy, but still in all, she wouldn't have traded it for the world. Never give in, never give in, never give in. Righto Winston. Cheers dear May.

I've thought of this recently when listening over and over to a wonderful interview produced by Sounds True with Natalie Goldberg (Author of Writing Down The Bones, the most successful book on writing ever.) and Julia Cameron who also became famous, after writing professionally for many long years, when she wrote something contrary to anything she'd ever written. Julia had written movies, television shows, novels, but when she wrote, The Artist's Way it turned her career on it's ear. No one was more shocked than Julia.

In the interview Natalie said that she had dreamed of fame, as we all do as young writers, but when Bones came out she realized that people thought they knew her, but they didn't really know her at all, they thought her to be the person they had conjured up reading her book. She said she learned that she had to find the fulfillment she was looking for another way. In the end we do the work and we let go. Our lives are what they are and we write the very best that we can and then we go plant tulips. What else is there to do?

"The English cottage garden has very soft, irregular lines to it's borders. The plants blend in with each other. It looks as though it just grew there."

~ June Clark ~

A very sweet corner in the wild cottage garden.
A delicate pink rosebud rests it's head in the
white yarrow, with red roses blooming behind...

With all the grand rose bushes it is often a tiny corner, like the one above, that moves me the most, and makes my heart feel very soft and tender. I have always loved tiny things. I love dandelions and wildflowers that you can't even pick because they are matted, close to the ground. There is just such a patch at my daughter's house whose flowers are bright pink. If they weren't renting I'd dig up a patch and plant it here. It has spread over a good sized piece of land and is just lovely. Then, there are her neighbors who have a stunning stand of bamboo growing up against their house, and God help me, if I don't snatch some of that it will be a miracle (I'd ask for permission of course!). I've got bamboo growing all over my kitchen, and some in my beta fish bowls. I have tall curly bamboo that has grown enormous in large cobalt blue wine bottles on each side of my kitchen window. I collect odd little things and they are everywhere. I also collect words.

Oh, I have my favorites but I have learned not to sling them hither and yon, all over the place, in a piece of writing. I like the shape of words, the look of the actual letters as they fit together in a tight little package, and I mostly love colorful words. I read the Oxford English Dictionary and my beloved Roget's The Synonym Finder like some people read novels. I am in love with synonyms. One day I came across "flapdoodle," and I was so tickled I laughed out loud and was gleeful all day long. It's synonyms are: nonsense, bosh, rubbish, twaddle, balderdash, stuff and nonsense, fiddle-faddle, and fiddlesticks. Now just tell me those don't make you giggle.

Some words I fall into as if they were soft clouds, some I have to tug and pull to get them into the sentence because I know it is the right word but I'm not happy about it. I am a metaphorist and can run one right off the page if I don't reign myself in and I do have trouble with that.

These things seem like tiny matters to most people, mere molehills, but they are mountains to me. It's all in one's perspective.

Yes, I want those tiny pink flowers but I'll have to hunt them down somewhere in an abandoned field. I travel with garden tools in my little joy-mobile, a 1994 Mitsubisi mini mini van. I have cut armloads of wisteria in bloom from vacant forgotten places. Writing is like that too. Sometimes it comes easily, and sometimes we have to dig it up with a shovel. I am a great spelunker. I will go deep into a cave to find the Holy Grail, the word that makes the whole paragraph POP! I am a very odd person, but the parrots and the dogs don't seem to mind it. It's not easy living with a writer.

If you haven't been able to follow this section at all please don't worry. I am allowing myself to just meander through my mind, tiptoe through the tulips as it were. That's what weekends are for, isn't it?

"Let me work all day in my garden, the next day ramble in the fields and woods, with a little reading, and the third day I can give myself to literary pursuits with a new freshness and vigor."

~ John Burroughs, The Heart Of Burroughs Journal

One of the most sumptuous, fragrant, favored
old roses in the garden, 'Madame Isaac Pereire.'
This picture is a little lighter than the rose which
is a deep pink with magenta. So hard to get the
colors just right! She is extremely fragrant and
many say she smells of raspberries. Madame
is a Bourbon rose and was found in the 1800's.

Beauty matters, even a jumble of colorful yarn in a basket, the roses on the early morning rose walk, my cockatoo's lofty white feathers tipped with yellow as she preens and molts and they drift to the floor. Tis the season. There are feathers everywhere. They are sacred to me. I have vases full of them and will lay them on little altars of sacred objects. A writer has her passions.

I collect vintage things. Vintage quilts, vintage velvet rugs with roses all over them and fringe around the edges. Most of my furniture came from vintage/junk shops. No expensive antiques for me, I want things that look like they might have been in my grandmother's little 1940's house. I swoon over those enamel tables and live for the day I can have the space for a Hoosier Cabinet. Perhaps that is why I love reading books that are of that period.

One of my favorite writers is Gladys Taber. Her best books were the ones she wrote from the 1930's to about 1960 about Stillmeadow, a country house on forty acres in Connecticut that she lived in with her best friend Jill after Gladys divorced and Jill's husband died. (She wrote up to the time she died in the early '80's and did some lovely work, but it's the Stillmeadow books I read and reread.) They took their three combined children, bought a falling down farmhouse that they worked on themselves, and raised cocker spaniels, with puppies everywhere, and an Irish setter for good measure, with a Victory Garden growing abundantly out back. I love those books.

I also loved to read about the way they cooked back then. A cup of lard in this or that, you know, things that would make people's hair stand on end today. The closest I've come to this kind of cooking in recent times was the hilarious show on the Food Network that ended nearly a decade ago. It was called "The Two Fat Ladies."

These ladies were, shall we say, past middle-aged, rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, only one of them was really fat, and she was very joyful about it, and they both had a wicked sense of humor. They too cooked like the old days, food that makes our mouths water today as we eat our lettuce leaves and drink purified water. Welsh Rarebit, lard or pounds of butter in everything, nothing without a sauce. Yes, I adored Jennifer (The thinner one who drove the motorcycle, smoked and drank outside when they weren't cooking, and who was the reason the show closed, as she died. But ah what a grand life she lived.) Clarissa, who rode in the sidecar and was the larger lady of the two and an extremely intelligent woman, a "Barrister" I believe (they were British), and went on to do other things, but I bought the set of videos from the show and when I get really depressed I watch them and laugh and laugh. It must have been wonderful to live in the times when people had no idea that the food "wasn't healthy," and cooked and ate with wild abandon, often living into their 80's or beyond. Food today depresses me. I was meant to live in the forties and eat without having a clue what I was putting in my mouth, but it tasted divine and I would have been SO happy.

Sadly, I am not much of a vegetable gardener. My ex-husband was a grand vegetable gardener. I grow flowers and herbs in the main, but I have grown tomatoes, and my beloved rainbow chard. So beautiful in it's neon colors and delicious too! I grow lots of rosemary and love to make rosemary roasted vegetables, drizzled with olive oil and fresh stems of rosemary on top. Divine, even with no sauce.

Dear Lord, I've run amuck. (Synonyms: frenziedly, crazedly, berserk, maniacally, like a nut, like a screwball, like a madman, wildly.) Yes, that pretty well sums me up. People imagine me to be very serious. I'm a real cut up when I'm not mournfully depressed, but I do take pills for that.

Yes, I love Glady Taber, I miss The Two Fat Ladies, I long for fresh garden vegetables and food that has a whole list of things in it that we don't eat anymore, and I swear, I will simply refuse to go into any restaurant that puts calories on the menu. The very nerve. "Murder!" as Gladys would have said, and we can just about imagine what Clarissa and Jennifer would have thought.

"Nobody sees a flower -- really -- it is so small -- we haven't time -- and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time."

~ Georgia O'Keefe ~

One of my favorite little flowers
in the garden. I just adore these
tiny magical flowers. They are
Oxypetalum 'Heaven Born,' and
are actually a member of the
milkweed family.

I love Georgia O'Keefe. I've read every book about her I can find, and own many of them. I've been to her museum in Santa Fe, saw the pink cliffs in Abiqui where she lived and saw her house there, and, one grand day, with my friends and to their horror, I loaded my pockets with seedpods from her hollyhocks. Well, they were hanging over the fence. To me, that makes them fair game. And they grew to nearly 15 feet tall. We were all in shock. They loved it here in North Carolina, but they never looked as beautiful as they did against the adobe walls in Santa Fe. I cried when we left that house. It wasn't the season to collect seeds. I feel sorrowful just thinking about it.

As a writer I am inspired by the works of many artists in many genres. I take inspiration from them in my writing, and in my own fiber work. I think we have to be open to everything as writers, and not just things that we are comfortable with. We cast our nets upon the waters and pull in all kinds of things, many which we have no idea about what they are, and we do some research and throw any living things back, and find something like a starfish and then, just then, that starfish could be inspiration for a whole book.

Natalie said something in the interview she did with Julia Cameron and if I've heard it before I don't remember. She said, "Once I know the title of a book, I can write the book." That's exactly the key for me. A book may have been rumbling around inside of me for some long time, I may have thought a whole book out over a year or two, but once I know the title, well, I have written two books in 6-8 weeks. That was just the first draft of course, but that's how explosive a title can be. Or a starfish. Or a jar of vintage buttons, which I collect.

I look at my glass containers full of a rainbow of old ornate buttons and feel like I'm looking into a gazing ball. I can look for long periods of time and all of a sudden I am writing like mad. I've got a title for a book that has something to do with buttons, but I'm not going to tell you what it is. Writers are like that too. Secretive. (Which reminds me, just now, of a quote that I love by Charles Dickens and feel is probably the most apt description one might ever have of me.... "Secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.")

"Earth laughs in flowers."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

A barrel of newly planted flowers that will
bloom from spring through fall here in our
warm coastal region greets people who come
to the cottage at the end of the sidewalk...

I have been writing this entry for two days. I just took a break to put the parrots to bed, get the dogs out and went up on the landing to clean up Sampson's -- well, there's no polite way to say this -- poop. Sam the Man came to me from the rescue last September. He had been badly abused and I was told that he had "abandonment issues" and would stick to me like glue. That he does. I call him my velcro pug. I adore him, he sleeps with me, and I smoosh his face with kisses which he bears with grace while trying desparately to hold on to some modicum of dignity.

However, I wasn't quite prepared for the poop and believe you me I have tried everything anyone even remotely suggested to fix the problem to no avail. He will pee 23 times outside with the other dogs, and come in, and, when no one is looking, and I never seem to catch him, he will go upstairs and poop on the landing. He is a stealth pooper. I'm not happy about it but I'm used to it. When you live with 12 animals you're going to have some poop to clean up, as well as other nasty business, but I couldn't love this dog more and God only knows what horrors he went through. I just say, "Oh Sam," and shrug my shoulders, get paper towels and rug cleaners and Lysol and have done with it.

People romanticize my life here which is why I think it's important to tell the truth. There are days I am so depressed, having nightmares and flashbacks from my childhood, not sleeping, and even with the meds am curled up in my big chair with dogs all over me and perhaps a parrot or two, and cover myself with old faded quilts, and do nothing. I am a devoted hearth-tender but a lousy house-keeper. I'll leave you to figure that one out but it makes perfect sense to me. Mind, I have my standards. The dishes get washed at least every three days. Usually. I am mad about getting the trash out even though I've got clutter here and there. I collect things and have a hard time throwing anything out. But the cottage is warm and cozy and colorful and I am joyful, with the heart of a child, most of the time, and I have a heart the size of the full moon, and am a nurturer by nature. The nicest compliment I ever got was from my friend Joseph when I lived in Boulder, Colorado for awhile several years back. He came up from Santa Fe and spent Thanksgiving week with me. He said coming into my house was like going into your grandmother's, all warm and cozy. I beamed like a lit-up Christmas tree.

"Now it is summer, and as usual, life fills me with transport and I forget to work. This year I have struggled for a long time, but the beauty of the world has conquered me."

~ Leo Tolstoy ~

This amazing yellow shrub rose makes one
swoon as it blooms like mad, whole bouquets
on one stem. This is the rose that you saw in my
kitchen when a branch broke off in a storm. For
2 weeks it was like a garden in the kitchen with
buds continually opening and coming into full
bloom. Sunshine on my kitchen counter...

And that's not all that's on my kitchen counter. As I said, I have bamboo everywhere, but the wonderful thing, to me, is that I have raised cuttings of peach colored impatiens and marvelous fuschia rooted cuttings all along my kitchen windowsill. These are plants here that mainly live as annuals outdoors in summer. People told me that there was no way I could winter over the impatiens especially. Well, I have the mother plant, and a whole overflowing hanging basket of impatiens raised from tiny cuttings in a sunny window between two bird cages in the living room, and many more little rootlings waiting to be planted. I'm about to plant all the fuschia in a basket. I take great joy in this.

I have spent a lot of money on plants only to let them die. Now I will buy fewer plants and nurture them through the dark cold winter months only to bloom like crazy both in the house and for another season outside.

We've only to give things a chance really, to not listen to people who tell us something is impossible when we believe in it with all our hearts. If it's miffy, let it go. If it stands a chance, fight like hell to save it, go for your dreams. Tilt at windmills. Reach for the unreachable star. I know that sounds corny, but I believe it, I really do, and I have bright peach impatiens here to prove it!

"In order to see the birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence. One has to sit still like a mystic and wait. One soon learns that fussing, instead of achieving things, merely prevents things from happening."

~ Robert Lynd ~

This rose is indescribably beautiful and as I planted
60 roses here, and all of my records were lost in a truly
devastating computer crash, where everything was plotted
out, every rose named and information kept, I am still
searching for the name of this one, but by summer's
end I will know. I have a vast library of garden books,
especially books on roses. But as the Irish essayist,
Robert Lynd wrote in the quote above, "One has to sit
still like a mystic and
wait." This rose grew so slowly
that I didn't think she would make it. Last summer there
were only a handful of blooms, but this year, there are buds
galore and the blooms simply leave one speechless with awe
over their beauty as birds sing in the nearby trees and the
heart opens wide...

Yes, I live with my heart wide open as well, and if I get bumped and bruised and hurt a little along the way, I also experience so much joy and wonder and wonderful things that many people miss when they live closed off, trying to protect themselves, that it's worth everything. I'm an odd duck but I'm very loyal and very much in love with a woman I haven't heard much from in two years. She is in another part of the world doing her work, and I would wait for her until the end of time. I rarely leave the cottage but I am very friendly and I love (most) everybody.

I think I live with animals, however, because despite the poopy situation, and the bird doo doo, animals are packages of unconditional love, and there's many a morning I wouldn't get up if a bevy of four-legged creatures were not staring me straight in the face, and Henry, my grey parrot, calling out, "Good Morning, good morning, good morning!" I may drag myself up groggily, but you wake up pretty quickly when you've got 4 dogs to get out, bring in, give treats to, and feed, and then rush in for the six parrots, don't forget the beta fish, and by then you're wide awake, if lurching about on a bad foot at odd angles. I sit down at my desk amongst them all, with piles of books around me, several different fiber pieces in the works here and there, and meditate on the foam in my latté while smiling and feeling happy and content as the dogs flop down and go back to sleep, and the birds splash about in their bath bowls bathing, singing, talking, eating, and just living their merry little lives. The fish don't say much but we have a deep communion between us. Vincent and Yeats are deep thinkers. We philosophize without saying a word out loud. And trust me, they know, they really know. I've learned a lot from those fish.

"My garden all is overblown with roses, My spirit all is overblown with rhyme..." ~ Vita Sackville-West ~

Oh the clematis! I adore clematis and have
quite a number of them planted amongst the
roses here and there. This is the stunning
purple classic 'Jackmanii,' and it is growing
up through a classic old rose not yet in bloom,
the utterly beautiful and divinely fragrant
'Zepherine Drouhin.' And it grows just under
my kitchen windows. I love having the windows
open with the fragrance wafting in. Paradise!
Wherever a rose grows we are given a preview
of Heaven to come, and oh, what an other-
worldy experience it is.

My life seems full of otherworldy things. Now don't go all funny on me, but I seem to have, ahem, gifts. I'm not a psychic and I'd never do anything for money, but I know things, feel things, intuit things, and I use pendulums and am spot on. I love them. I use stones and crystals in the metaphysical sense and for healing (myself only). Pendulums are not scary things, and I always pray before I use them. I don't use them for ill will or wantonly, but I take their guidance and the answers I get are always right. I can't believe I'm writing about this. I never discuss this with anyone.

On my desk I am surrounded by beads and stones, feathers and dream-catchers, totems and pendulums, dried roses and rose petals (Mary's flowers...), Buddha and Kwan Yin, and statues and homages to the Goddesses, and while I have been a Buddhist since my 20's (I'll be 54 this week) I still pray to Mary and the saints and certainly believe in God. I am a deeply spiritual woman who doesn't go to church but keeps Catholic rosaries and Buddhist malas and spiritual books around me at all times.

I am, as all of us are, both a puzzle and just an ordinary woman. Perhaps there is no other-worldly (Except, perhaps, the pugs. Pugs are not dogs. You have to have them to realize this. Moe is a dog. Babs, Sampson and Coco are, well, my friend Joseph who has had them calls them alien beings. I just call them snuggle bugs and smoosh buckets full of love. Mainly they are couch potatoes who eat, sleep, and poop on the landing. (Only one, but I'm not mentioning any names.)

Yes, I am just an ordinary woman. Odd, but ordinary.

"The sun shone down for nearly a week on the secret garden. The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place."

~ France Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden ~

Meidiland rose, 'Colette' with wisteria, whose
blooms have just passed, draped above, just
outside the front door to the cottage. I shall slip
inside now to my own magical fairy place...

It's time for me to head back into the cottage. It's been a long walk and a lovely time. If you've hung in with me this long I thank you and maybe you'd best take an aspirin. I may be a little hard to follow but I mean well. Now I'm off to read the synonym finder, put my feet up, and enjoy the silence, well, near silence. The birds are asleep, as is Moe. The pugs are snoring, but that keeps me company. It's seldom lonely here...


This entry would not have been possible without
the diligent efforts of Sampson and
who sat on my feet and wouldn't
let me
up until I finished!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Writer Meanders Through The Days ~ The Profound Weekend That Lingered...

The lovely roses I cut on the morning garden walk, out
with the dogs. A combination of antique roses and
David Austin English Roses with my favorite Austin
rose, 'Heritage,' hanging over the front...

Such a perfect rose, she deserved a separate vase.
This is 'Pat Austin,' one of my David Austin English
roses. Isn't she GORGEOUS! And very fragrant!

My favorite rose of all time. This is the antique noisette

rose 'Crepuscule.' A great southern rose. Tight buds open a
deep apricot becoming softer and softer to a butter yellow
tipped with a pinky peach. This is an amazing rose, with a
lovely fragrance...

I started this entry on Sunday. I had canoodled around, and gazed at the stars deep in the weesmas (the wee small hours) during the night before. I sipped my latté early Sunday morning and watched the grass grow. I wandered around in the garden, deadheading here, snipping off dead wood there, watching the dogs romp, pulling weeds and singing Amazing Grace loudly as I went. All of a sudden I looked up at a neighbor on his balcony looking down, coffee cup in hand, mouth hanging open in disbelief, at this Goddess shaped (My preference in describing my... ahem... not petite figure...) woman, huge latté cup in hand, pruners in the other, flower basket over my arm, long flowing caftan and shawl and big clod-hopper Crocs, my favorite shoes which I have in several colors (Imagine: Goddess as Bigfoot.), singing loudly, cutting roses (and talking to them as I went) and laughing at one big black dog and three puglings larking about. I can't imagine a nicer way to start a Sunday. I think I sent my neighbor reeling in shock and dashing back into his apartment for safety. Some people have no idea how to live and be happy. Sigh...

I was in a good mood because this morning's
latté message was beautiful. Perfect for a holy day. I may not sit in a church pew, but God is in my garden, in my animal's eyes, and apparently performing miracles in my latté foam. This morning's latté picture/message changed 3 times right before my eyes, leaving me with a sense of awe and wonder. It started as a perfect heart, drops of blood, so to speak, dripping off the bottom of the heart. It then morphed into a rather lopsided heart and you could watch it shapeshifting right before your eyes. Here it is "mid-morph..."

Within seconds, as I carried it from the kitchen to my desk, it morphed into a human's face and the dots looked like teardrops. All of a sudden I felt this enormous surge of love. The human heart, so fragile. If only we could remember what tender beings we all are, each and every one of us. If only we could remember that when we look into the eyes of the person next to us, and everyone we meet. I got pensive. I canoodled some more. I was not getting this entry written, although I had taken the pictures and uploaded them onto the page. All I could do was look at the pictures, a wordless canvas, and wonder what in the world I had to say that might have any value at all, and then I remembered that that was judging, and I didn't need to do that. I just needed to write what was in my heart.

It had been a very deep weekend for me. Quiet, and all alone with my animals, I spent hours on Saturday and hours on Sunday listening to a book I had downloaded from (my new passion, as it is so nice to listen to a book while I do my fiber or other artwork). This particular book moved me deeply and made me cry. The story would likely affect anyone this way, but I had a special connection to it that, when I first read the book years ago, made me weep. The book was Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg.

Not only had I studied with Natalie twice as I have mentioned here before, and I have all of her books and tapes and she has been my teacher via her work for more than 2 decades now, this particular work was about Natalie living through the death of her beloved Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. First of all, you cannot have read all of Natalie's books and not formed a dear relationship in your heart with Katagiri, but, and she speaks of this in the book, she taught a workshop in Taos in February 1990 and immediately left there to go back to the Zen center in Minneapolis to be with him as he died. She didn't make it. He died just before she got there. As if that weren't enough, I was in the workshop she mentioned. The last day of the workshop she sat cross-legged on the desk at the front of the room, her whole body slumping, the sadness in her eyes near unbearable, and she told us that Katagiri was dying and she was leaving this workshop to go to be at his deathbed. We, who loved her as our teacher, and felt we knew Katagiri through her books (And I had read his book as well, the beautiful Returning To Silence.) were devasted for her. That was the last time I ever saw her, but I never forgot that frozen moment in time. Katagiri dying while she taught us that whole beautiful week long. The week I fell in love with Taos and had a mystical experience there, found my spiritual home, with the mud nearly sucking the boots off of my feet I walked the little town of Taos, stopping to write in little cafe's, writing fast and furious, my heart breaking over the thought of leaving, never realizing that as we, Natalie's students, were there having a profound learning experience, she was doing a stellar job just getting through it as her teacher lie dying far, far away.

I put a quote on my blog yesterday, thinking of this weekend of listening to this book again, and crying through parts of it, and being awakened again to this kind of pain and loss. My own mother is dying. My best friend's nephew just murdered. You never know, when you see someone on the street, what their life is like. Smile gently, and say a prayer for them in your heart. You've just no way of knowing what they are walking toward. So I put the ancient quote by Philo of Alexandria on my blog yesterday (on the right side, a good ways down...).

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

It is so easy to forget this. When we are having a hard time, another person can aggravate us easily, but remember, kindness trumps everything else. You will never lose anything by offering a gentle smile or a kind word. We are all fighting a great battle.

And so this weekend I sat crocheting, or doing other silent pursuits, listening to Natalie, spellbound. Long Quiet Highway was her third book. She has written many now and I have read them all. But I, like many others, consider this memoir to be her best book. And to hear her read it aloud -- over 8 hours -- and to realize that twice she cried while reading it (This was discussed afterword in a wonderful interview with the Sounds True interviewer.) made my heart clutch. I had heard it too, although it was barely audible and I'm certain many missed it. That wasn't just a book, it was a journey through a great loss, and a tremendous awakening for me on so many levels at this time in my life that it just blew me away.

And so rather than update this blog over the weekend as I'd planned I did the chores that keep the cottage going, and cared for the animals, and cherished my time in the garden, and looked to images in my latté foam for wise council, and for a great part of the weekend I was simply silent. I moved about doing what needed to be done. I spoke to no one, no phone calls, simply my animals, nature, Natalie's words, and it left me feeling ever more deeply the preciousness of the lives of those around me, those I love dearly, one I love so much that is so far away it cuts like a knife, and I pray for her everyday, and then I looked out of my window and saw an elderly man carrying his trash to a dumpster and almost cried. My heart was so wide open the Grand Canyon could have fit inside of it.

Luckily, pugs and parrots keep you grounded. Unfortunately Blossom, the innocent and very beautiful cockatoo who is now part of our family has picked up some rather unseemly language from Henry, my potty mouthed grey parrot. (I've NO idea where HE got it.... sigh...) Just as I sat here feeling as if my heart would explode, Blossom dropped a toy and let out an "OH SHIT," as loudly as she could. This jolted me awake!

Maitri, smiling numbly at the camera trying to pretend
like she is not raising a bunch of hooligans and heathens...

And so the days have gone along and I have started this entry many times over and just couldn't do it. The experience of living through last weekend with Natalie, her voice, her book, her wisdom, her big open heart, bigger than a midwest prairie, left me changed, and once more there was a turn of the kaleidoscope and my whole world shape-shifted again.

It's good to stay awake. It's good to feel your feelings, to have deep, profound weekends, to have birds to make you laugh, and roses to remind you of the beauty in the world and good coffee and silence and things to do with your hands to take you out of your head. My fiberwork saves my life, keeps me afloat. It is the perfect companion to my writing and all too intuitive, inward nature. And if there's any chance I'm about to drift off again a wee small girl, the tiniest but most stubborn pug in the house, will set me straight. Babs just came up to me and said, "Get off of the computer this minute. I want a treat." There's no way I can argue with a face like this. Laugh, yes. Kiss, oh, you betcha. But argue. Never. I've no chance of winning...

She's actually a very sweet little peapod,
and I carry her in my arms like a baby and
smooch her to pieces. But when she means
bidness, she means bidness!

Smile gently. Live your life. And be kind, always be kind...



Friday, April 18, 2008

The Transformation Of A Writer ~ Moving Through Pain Into Love Through Storytelling...

"I sat down to write a book about pain and
ended up writing a book about love."

~ Linda Hogan ~

The Woman Who Watches Over The World

A Native Memoir

Since beginning to write the book that it has taken me a decade of living my way into to even begin writing, something in me has changed, and changed deeply. It has been such a complete transformation I never saw it coming, only vaguely realized in the last couple of years that it might be happening, and when I read the above quote on the flyleaf of Linda Hogan's book, I nearly wept. Such waves of relief flooded my entire body, a sense of calm, like lying on the beach and letting warm water wash up over you, came over me. This is a place I've needed to get to my whole life long and didn't even know it. I have moved, in my writing and in my life, out of pain and into love.

I will be 54 on April 30 and I have been writing professionally since my early 20's. Other than specific assignments for magazines or newspapers, a great deal of what I've written about dealt with the abuse I suffered as a child, being adopted, and all of the oddities and idiosyncracies that I ended up with, a potpourri of diagnoses that make for an interesting mix and have led to a life that is outside the norm. I wasn't on my pity pot, I wasn't wallowing in pain or self-loathing, I wasn't trying to rid myself of the demons of my childhood, I was honestly using the most natural tool that I had to try to understand.

When I was young there was a lot of "Why me?" and decades of therapy, and just as it is said, "We teach what we need to learn," I became a journal-writing teacher as an adult, after keeping one since I was 9 years old, and for thirty years taught people how to write out their anguish and pain, to tell their stories, through writing. It certainly wasn't all painful things that we wrote about in class or I in my life, but my internal turmoil was so overwhelming that I was filling a large journal a week for several years running. There are hundreds of them in boxes in my attic. I wrote like I breathed. I wrote to save my life. And I wrote several books (that didn't sell, thank God...) that were about these things as well as a couple of novels ending in suicides. As I think back now, it quite unnerves me. And I look at my life today and it is as though the winds of grace swept through my life and my heart started to open, and then, finally, somewhere along the line, I drew a line in the sand, stepped over it, and didn't look back. It was time to move on.

Now I still lead a life that people find peculiar, mostly hermetic, like an anchorite, in a little cottage filled with animals, surrounded by gardens, and filled with books, fibers and fiberwork tools, and old vintage furniture that I bought piece by piece as I stitched together odd bits of this and that to make a patchwork quilt of a life after leaving a marriage nearly 3 decades long. In the wake of that divorce, after the tidal wave swept through my life, inklings of a new kind of life began. It was the beginning of Dragonfly Cottage.

Dragonfly Cottage is both a physical place and a state of mind, a haven, and a refuge. I have lived several places in the near decade since leaving the marriage and all of them have been Dragonfly Cottage, this place most of all. Each new place took me into a deeper dimension of the life I was creating without consciously realizing it, and it was at many junctures agonizing, sometimes paralyzing, and finally the light began streaming in.

I will be moving sometime in the near future into a cottage that I am planning and dreaming about, and that will begin a whole new chapter of my life, but my task now, with the book I am writing, is to record the transformation of a married mother of 3 to a woman alone at midlife, and all of the changes that would take place over these last years to discover who I really am -- not someone's daughter, or someone's wife, or someone's mother, but a woman, in her fifties, a writer and an artist, a woman who has created, little by little, a life she could only have imagined and dreamed about for decades, a life where I no longer have to explain or apologize or hide the rather odd person I seem to be, a life where I can revel in my oddities and idiosyncracies to the point that
now I celebrate them as my best qualities in many ways.

And so yes, when I read the quote at the top of this entry from Linda Hogan, tears filled my eyes, but they were tears of joy, and of relief, as I realized that I had turned a corner, in my life and in my writing.

I have known for some long time that I would need to write this book, but I imagined it would be a book filled with pain, of triumph over pain, of survival. Instead, it will be a story of a woman metamorphosing into all that she might be, a book about joy, a book about love, finally, for myself, which is why I took the name Maitri legally, as I've written here before, to honor the Buddhist teaching of maitri, of having loving-kindness and compassion, first for oneself and then for the world around us, and the larger world that I live in, even if from my tiny corner of the world. I took the name to remind myself all the days of my life to love, to always love, to infuse my life and my days with tenderness, and to give to those around me in the ways that I could, from a loving heart, and in the process I created a world in which I could live and do the work of maitri, through my writing, and in person, where I can, all the days of my life.

I am deeply dedicated to this life, just as I am the soft snoring pug lying on my feet under my desk as I write this, my tiny precious 4 year old grandson that I babysat yesterday, my three wonderful children and their partners or spouses who are now like my own, my ex-husband to whom I am still really close, and those that are so near and dear to me that they have become part of my family. My life informs my work, as it does all writer's work, even if they are not writing memoir. Who a writer is, the life that they lived as a child and young adult, the experiences that they have had, and finally the life that they have created, all these things shape our work, even if we are writing fiction. The axiom "Write what you know," is more apt than many writers realize when they are young and want to be "A Writer," and start out to write "The Great American Novel." I remember reading, some long years ago, that you have live a life to have something to write about. I have written all of my life, since very young, but now I know what that means. Our deepest work can only come after living a good long while, after being the Phoenix who crashes and burns and rises again, or the pot, fully formed, but not finished until put in the fire of the kiln to harden the clay. The beautiful glaze we admire came after much hard work, and a long process. So, too, our life and our writing.

Mind, I had those dreams of being a famous writer too when I was 20. I never thought about the life I might create, or who I might become, as long as I was a Writer with a capital "W." Now, the fact that I am a writer, and certainly, I am a writer through and through, is almost incidental to the life that I am creating. My human life. And, as Jean Shinoda Bolen put it so well in an interview for the book, On Women Turning 50, by Cathleen Rountree, "I think of us as spiritual beings on a human path, rather than human beings on a spiritual path." These days I am more concerned about my humanity, about what I might give than what I might receive, of living a full life filled with purpose and meaning. Writing is my vehicle for doing that, but I no longer think of myself as a Writer, but as a woman writing, sharing her life, her thoughts, her heart with the world in order to perhaps reach out and touch another, which can only happen if I concentrate first and foremost on living the best and most loving life that I can. That is my plan. That is what I'm trying to do.

And so now I write the book and it is interesting. It is as if I am looking at the same life but through a kaleidoscope, and a slight turn has given me a whole new array of colors and textures and meaning. I am seeing my life in a whole new way, hence, I am writing a very different book than I had imagined. What a gift that is. I bow to all that is sacred and holy, and say thank you.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm Writing Even When I Look Like I'm Not...

You see, here's the thing. I'm a writer. Writer's work very hard, the problem is, you just can't see it for the most part. Henry thought I should explain, and he's here to help me. We're just up and I look very much like what I am. A writer who just rolled out of bed (and got 4 dogs out and in and fed, and 6 parrots fed and out and kissed, and 2 beta fish fed, and went out to check the garden...) and even through all the morning chores I was writing in a my head. I looked like a normal person. I can assure you I was and am not.

Henry, African Grey Parrot, Dragonfly Cottage Office
Manager, and man of the
house, not to mention manager
of Maitri, the absent-
minded Professor. It's a horrifying
job but some bird or other has to do it.

Henry said, "Ahem, aren't you forgetting something? You look dreadful. Seriously, we need to make a
latté." He knows me well and fears I am about to try to write something, even as simple as answering e-mail, which simply isn't possible without the sacred latté. One shudders at the very thought. So off we go into the kitchen. I am staring dreamily at the kitchen counter/latté corner because I actually cleaned up the kitchen last night, and the branch of yellow roses that broke off the bush and now takes up half my tiny kitchen really does look lovely. I should do the dishes more often.

We seldom ever let anyone see the kitchen. We took this opportunity because everything is so clean. Don't hold your breath for another picture anytime soon. Henry busied himself grinding the beans, and getting the milk out and filling the pitcher, and getting out the latté bowl which is bigger than Texas. My son told me I should just use a wastebasket and have done with it. Others have politely suggested I stick to herb tea to which Henry replied something like, "You don't have to live with her. She's crazy as a loon and even with the pills she takes she's more cuckoo than cocoa puffs without her latté... leave her alone!" All the while he is busy making the latté I am still staring at the roses...

It was a sad, sad thing indeed that a whole branch broke nearly off during a storm, but it makes practically a whole garden in my kitchen. I could hear Henry frothing the milk but I was just mesmerized. I was thinking of metaphors, similes, and favorite quotes about roses and flowers in general. Why, dear Iris Murdoch, God rest her soul, said, "People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with Joy the whole time to have such things about us." I began to wonder if that had something to do with the way that I am, and, as I have an appointment with my therapist on Friday, shall ask her what she thinks then.

Well, I simply couldn't stand it and so I bent over to bury my nose in one beautiful blossom...

... at which point I started to swoon, and Henry yelled, as he reached out a wing to hold me up, "Stop that! I can't froth and prop you up at the same time! Get your nose out of the roses." Well, you don't argue with a bird that makes such grand foam, so I stood upright but then my mind wandered.

I was writing in my head again. I was going all romantic-minded and thinking of Kit Marlowe who said, sometime in the 16th century, "I will make you a bed of roses, and a thousand fragrant posies." I frowned a bit, thinking how no one had ever made me a bed of roses and I'd planted so many (hundreds) I ended up having to have foot surgery (the shovel foot) and that was the beginning of a long history of foot mishaps that led to me being gimpy and falling over for no apparent reason at all every time I got up out of the chair (or nearly). Especially when I am always thinking about everything under the sun except where I'm going, coming up with all these wonderful new twists and turns and prosaic thoughts for the new chapter just ahead. Henry's right to keep an eye on me. The dogs usually just scatter in every direction to get out of my way if I'm up teetering about on these feet.

No, nobody makes me posies either, but I enjoy making my own, like the one I showed you yesterday (or sometime or other)...

... and I'm only showing them to you again because this morning on my early morning foray out with the dogs I gasped as one of my beautiful 'Pat Austin' English roses was in full bloom. She had to come in and join the crowd...

Some dear soul wrote in and asked me if my roses were fragrant. I don't plant any that aren't, as I only plant old-fashioned, antique roses, or my beloved David Austin English Roses (Of course I had to plant the gorgeous 'Colette' French rose, one of the
Meidiland "Romantica" series which is a newer rose but grown like the old roses in size, shape, and fragrance. She is just outside the front cottage door, currently coming into bloom with wisteria dangling above her. My Muse, Colette, whose collected works are my writer's bible, would have heartily approved, I'm quite certain. What a glorious sight, the salmon pink roses and lovely lavender wisteria.). Ahhhh... The ones I've planted here have been in the ground 3-4 years, own root roses (I don't plant any other kind... just think, I've got descendants of roses that grew in Josephine Bonaparte's garden.), and I, ever the serious rosarian, who reads garden books (not to mention food books -- expository, aka M.F.K. Fisher, as well as cookbooks that have a literary bent...) like other people read novels, must take the early morning garden stroll first thing to see just who might have opened, or be in bud, or... Oh Lord! I just remembered something I was thinking this morning while pulling a few weeds outside. I've got to put that into the book! (Scribbles something illegible in a little Moleskine notebook.)

Henry is squawking that the
latté was ready and we'd best get on with it -- there's never enough time to get everything done as it is -- so he hopped up on my shoulder, I picked up the latté gingerly as it was hot, and luckily we made it back to my desk without incident and I sat the latté on my little electric warmer which comes in handy as, with my mind wandering here and there, it is nothing to be finishing it 2 hours later, although it tastes best at first, it is nice to keep it warm. I was touched to see that Henry had drawn a heart in the foam with his beak. He knows I've had a hard time lately, what with the broken wrist and ankle in a gargantuan Frankenstein boot up to my knee. He is a sweet bird after all even though he plays curmudgeonly very well.

As Henry took his nip of foam and I was turning on the computer I was remembering one of my favorite ever books on roses, Thomas Christopher's In Search Of Lost Roses. I read it years and years ago, and it was about the Texas Rose Rustlers, a wily old somewhat odd group (I would have fit right in) who went hither and yon to find the old roses before they were gone completely, which included places like roadsides, graveyards, and knocking politely on little old ladies doors to ask if they might have a few cuttings. Without the efforts of those wonderful people, we wouldn't have many of the roses we have today, and whole nurseries are going wild with antique roses now, which are passed down through cuttings. When you get an "own root" rose you are getting a wee slip of a thing at first, or perhaps a bit larger if it's grown on a year or two (It is, for the most part, a rooted cutting.) and people who buy all of their roses at commercial nurseries tend to turn their noses up at them as they carry out their roses to plant, all the modern roses that are planted on some understock or other that won't hold up. Own root roses may be here for centuries. But I digress.

So there I was, sipping my
latté and thinking of such things and the gardens I've planted (Everywhere I've ever lived I've planted roses as well as all manner of perennials and everything under the sun, and cried to leave them, but started all over again. I like to think that I've left something of beauty that will last, and I get right to planting wherever I end up next time.), and how sometime or other in the near future I shall begin on what I'd like to think will be my last garden, the one I can stay put in, and spend the rest of my days planting and fussing over. The cottage I am in now (as I said in the last entry and someone wrote in today to ask, No, the cottage at the top is not my cottage, but my dream cottage, or one like it, but the garden certainly resembles the many gardens I've made...) is laden with roses and there are roses everywhere, and subsequently their drying petals, everywhere here in the cottage.

So, finally, settled in with my
latté, my grey parrot on my shoulder, stacks of books all around me, I sat dreaming my way onto the page. I was laughing a little thinking about hearing the writer Natalie Goldberg say that she used to tell her students that she had incredible muscles, why, she could run the marathon, but, sadly, they couldn't see them. They were, of course, her writing muscles that she was talking about. And yes, they are the most flexible part of my body.

I started going through books and making notes and went all gaa-gaa over Whitman again but thought I'd best not touch The Body Electric that early in the morning and with so little latté in me yet, so I ambled along, thinking old Walt had hit the nail on the head in Song Of Myself when he wrote about "Tramping the perpetual journey..." because truly, that's why writing is to me. It had no beginning, it has no end, for me, writing is just part of who I am, like the skin on my body, the air that I breathe, the animals all around me, coffee spattered books and drips of ink from my fountain pens, and then I thought, Wait! Wait! Even better...

I think writing might best be explained perfectly in a line from Song of Myself, one of my favorite lines ever from Whitman, whom I love so dearly that my copy of his collected poems and writings is dog-earred and falling apart. He wrote ~

"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars..."

Yes. Yes! That's it. Writing is journey-work, and each word on the page a falling star. Did you ever stop to think, really, what an amazing thing a single leaf of grass is? Or a rose petal? Or a parrot on your shoulder having the morning
latté with you. I think of these things. I think of these things all the time.

So if you see me bumbling about in the garden, or staring out the window, or arranging flowers, or eating animal crackers staring off into space, don't think that I'm sitting here doing nothing. You may not be able to see it, but I, too, have strong muscles, and I never stop writing, not even when I cuddle a pug, kiss a parrot's beak, or hold my grandbaby in my arms, I am writing. I couldn't live any other way.

A bird feather just fell out of Whitman, and old, old dried pansies fill the pages of Colette. My books have been my best friends, my writing my anchor, my family and friends my dear loves that keep me going, and my animals, my beloveds, my familiars, who keep me company on the journey. It's okay if you still think I'm just sitting here doing nothing. Henry knows better, and really, thats all that counts...

Warm Regards and Deepest Blessings To All,


P.S. It is now nearly midnight and Coco asked if I'd please turn off the light. She's trying to sleep. One can't keep pugs up or they are grouchy in the morning. I guess I'll go cuddle up with Sampson who is waiting for me in the reading chair, having fallen asleep and snoring. There's just nothing like sitting here at midnight, in a dark, otherwise quiet room, save the snoring of pugs, and clicking of the computer keys. Time to turn this thing off, and let the little ones sleep...