A country of good cheese.

The Greeks take cheese seriously, the mizithra cheese is so delicate and lovely.  I’m going to make Mark some pasta tomorrow with it.  Tonight we had haloumi roasted with figs.  Almost every day we have Greek salad with feta.  Last night I made a ratatouille with fresh mozzarella.  The cheese in this country is very good.

 

We are here early enough in the year that the island is quiet and cool.  There will be many fresh figs in August.  But already the summer jasmine, the night blooming jasmine is opening.

 

We walked around a massive hermitage built like a castle crouched along the bay.  The door was open, but we didn’t go in.  The water is very clear but the salt in it is heavy.  Mark got me goggles today so my eyes wouldn’t look like an alien.  The salt water makes me tired like a bear who has climbed many trees and not eaten enough fish.

 

Before we leave, we will go to the small restaurant by the bay of the windmills where the old lady carefully picks the squash blossoms and stuffs them with rice.  We have many more days.

 

We are awake even when we are asleep, and when we are asleep, we are dreaming.

Published in: on May 26, 2016 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  

End of Days or just ordinary preppers

“I have a gun in my house and in my truck,” my brother-in-law announces at dinner.  “So if anything happens, I’m ready.”  What he has of value is a giant television.  I don’t imagine many people hauling off with that.  What do you have that you are willing to kill for?  A Stradivarius or a one of a kind vintage car?  Is that worth a life?

Americans like the idea of being ready for danger.  If you have a gun in your house, you are the dangerous one in the neighborhood.  Do you picture yourself in your home, shooting out the windows Western style at bad guys who want your food and water?  If these bad guys are really dangerous characters, they would take your gun, shoot you, then make off with your cans of tuna, nuts and raisins.

Being prepared for emergency is a good idea.  Many people in disaster prone areas like New Orleans, California or areas of the Northwest that get snowed in have generators and food and water for days. If you do any camping, as we do, you probably have enough supplies to camp and cook in your back yard.  We have a disaster pack in my car so that, if I couldn’t drive home in an earthquake, I could ditch my car and walk forty miles home.  The backpack is uncomfortable, and when I think of myself walking alongside the fallen 405 toward home, I imagine that it would take a day or two.  I carry old running shoes in the car.

There are religious people who believe in preparing for the End of the World.  I grew up in such a place, in a cult in Southern New Hampshire that was prepping for the Tribulation.  In long sermons on weekends, our leader George would explain that the Russians were going to attack, the Tribulation was coming and the world was ending.  I wasn’t sure whether these would be separate events or would occur simultaneously, but it was best to be prepared.  We had enough food stored up to last through the winter.  We did End of Days training in which we would get up in the middle of the night, roll our belongings into a sleeping bag and disappear into the woods where we would survive for a few days.  We learned to kill and eat animals that were not tasty like squirrels, snakes and raccoons.

Collecting guns as a means to protect yourself has come to seem fringe in a country with many violent deaths due to gunfire.  Considering how long it’s been since we’ve had a war on our own soil, it’s amazing how many people die in this country due to gun fire….  The man who shot up Sandy Hook was a prepper who collected guns.  Many Americans are fans of the Second Amendment which was put into the Constitution during a time when there still was a frontier, cowboys, Native Americans fighting for their lands, border wars with Mexico, and danger of wild animals. Carrying a gun around in your truck, outside of Texas, may make you feel manly, but given the number of accidental deaths due to guns in this country as well as passion killings, it seems hard to understand why so many Americans want to include a gun as a means of preparing for disaster.   Americans love the idea of Clint Eastwood, the idea that you can be ruthless when it matters and that makes you a hero.  When does being ready to kill someone make you a hero?

Americans like guns because of fear, because they like the frontier myth and also because we, as a nation have a tendency toward paranoia, toward an us and them mentality.  Guns enforce the idea that we are right and “they” are wrong.  In all the post apocalyptic movies from The Road to Mad Max, there are wars over resources.  Being prepared for a disaster is buying into the potentiality of the conflict you against nature.  Most of us would agree that once the grid is down, having the ability to survive with your resources until help comes is a good thing.  Where the possibilities get scarier is when you start to imagine the potentiality of man against man.  There’s us.  We have food and toilet paper. There’s them who don’t have food or Charmin.  Ask yourself, do you feel lucky, punk?

I was in Los Angeles during the 1994 earthquake.  Many Mexican Americans remembered the Mexico City earthquake and wisely moved out of their houses for a few days to be sure the aftershocks were over.  They camped at the park near my house and Western Bagel gave them bagels and cream cheese.  I walked by to get bagels, and there were Mexican families spread out on picnic blankets putting schmear on their bagels.  The bagel store wasn’t worried about being robbed.  Over fifty people had died in the the earthquake.  We had survived: we were eating bagels.  The sun was shining through the palm trees.

Published in: on May 24, 2016 at 9:01 am  Leave a Comment  

The sky is full of lemons.

The trees in the yard are full of lemons so we put lemons on everything. On the rocket salad, the arugula, the Greek salad, we put lemons in our lentil soup. Lemons in the tea.

 

The flowers are California flowers.  Bougainvilleas, oleander, night blooming jasmine, honeysuckle. The jasmine makes the whole patio smell sweet.

 

Cats. The island has a lot of stray cats.  We are feeding the two that live in our patio.  Mrs. Pirate Godwin and Baby Godwin. Baby has a small tuft of white hair on his belly, but the rest of him is black.

 

I took in too much salt water yesterday and I feel woozy today.  I am not a dolphin.

 

In my next life maybe.  In this life, a writer.  Among other things. Identities are multiple.

 

The bitter melon is sweet.

When I lie on the patio and look up, the sky is full of lemons.

Published in: on May 24, 2016 at 8:51 am  Leave a Comment  

I can’t write when you’re in the room.

 

Natalie, a novelist we met in Athens, told us that she can’t write with her husband in the room.  She is writing in Athens, her husband is in Bulgaria.  In separate countries, separated by skies, land and waters, they both write, but when they meet?  Too much electricity, movement, the inversion of air/water/clouds makes rain/evaporation/moisture/thunderclouds.  She cannot write.

I like this idea of the presence of another stopping you from writing.  Writing is a creative act, one that’s hard to do at a party, while drunk, while waking or falling asleep.  Percival Everett can write with his kids in the room.  When my daughter was small, I could write, but once her brother arrived, I couldn’t write with the two of them creating a havoc of energy.  Even now, I can’t write when one of them is in the room because they pull my attention, but oddly, I can write when my husband is in the room as long as we are both writing.  Even now, I see him at the other end of the table.  He is deep in thought on the other side of the bougainvillea vase with his laptop, note cards and ten pens and pencils.

 

In all the books on writing, they talk about the many distractions.  Brenda Ueland talks about the distraction of cleaning the house.  I used to laugh about that, but in fact, if the house is a wreck, I tend to clean it up before I write.  Ron Carlson talks about the need to go get coffee or a snack when you should be finishing that chapter.  Do you want to eat or do you want to write?

 

You might think you can write day and night, but sometime, you will have to stop and eat.  Gamers eat chips and gulp down soda while playing.  Young writers might slurp down their Ramen noodles, the breakfast of champions, but writers like us stick to cheese and dried fruit.  On the ferry to Patmos, we tried to remember what we ate in the little house night after night as we wrote away on our manuscripts.  Beyond Greek salads, we couldn’t recall.  That’s a good day writing day.  You wrote well and everything else was hard to remember.

 

 

 

Natalie, a novelist we met in Athens, told us that she can’t write with her husband in the room.  She is writing in Athens, her husband is in Bulgaria.  In separate countries, separated by skies, land and waters, they both write, but when they meet?  Too much electricity, movement, the inversion of air/water/clouds makes rain/evaporation/moisture/thunderclouds.  She cannot write.  I like this idea of the presence of another stopping you from writing.  Writing is a creative act, one that’s hard to do at a party, while drunk, while waking or falling asleep.  Percival Everett can write with his kids in the room.  When my daughter was small, I could write, but once her brother arrived, I couldn’t write with the two of them creating a havoc of energy.  Even now, I can’t write when one of them is in the room because they pull my attention, but oddly, I can write when my husband is in the room as long as we are both writing.  Even now, I see him at the other end of the table.  He is deep in thought on the other side of the bougainvillea vase with his laptop, note cards and ten pens and pencils.

 

In all the books on writing, they talk about the many distractions.  Brenda Ueland talks about the distraction of cleaning the house.  I used to laugh about that, but in fact, if the house is a wreck, I tend to clean it up before I write.  Ron Carlson talks about the need to go get coffee or a snack when you should be finishing that chapter.  Do you want to eat or do you want to write?

 

You might think you can write day and night, but sometime, you will have to stop and eat.  Gamers eat chips and gulp down soda while playing.  Young writers might slurp down their Ramen noodles, the breakfast of champions, but writers like us stick to cheese and dried fruit.  On the ferry to Patmos, we tried to remember what we ate in the little house night after night as we wrote away on our manuscripts.  Beyond Greek salads, we couldn’t recall.  That’s a good day writing day.  You wrote well and everything else was hard to remember.

 

 

Published in: on May 23, 2016 at 11:40 am  Leave a Comment  

We slept when the sun rose.

After we landed in London, the world turned upside down or I turned inside out.  After 30 hours, like Lazarus, I crawled out of my cave and emerged into the wet rain of a London afternoon. I walked to the train station with Mark. At Heathrow, I ate eggs and felt sorted by the time we boarded the plane to Athens.

A bus ride to Syntagma where the Congressional Palace crouches over the square and beggars and pigeons sleep in the dark passageways.  In every city now, the homeless wait. When we wake, we have yogurt and honey on the terrace looking out at the Acropolis and I sneak Mark’s bread to sparrows.   We walk the city, go to the Acropolis, but don’t pay 40 EU to go in.  Athens has many shops, some with wonderful cotton clothes and jewelry, others with kitsch; it’s a thicket of shopping.  We walked through the Athens Gardens, the long lavender walk of jacaranda shedding onto the sidewalk, the ponds of turtles.

At the Acropolis Museum, Joan Breton Connelly discussed her book The Parthenon Enigma, and afterward we found Greek food with Adrianne Kalfapolou and Natalie Bakopoulos who wrote The Green Shore.

At the harbor thousands of Syrians live in a tent city.  The women and children wait and the young Syrian men churn with the waiting.  I run through the camp to the window to pick up our tickets.  The boat to Patmos was full of moon and watched Athens disappear and across the dark sea we wicket and flit and then at 3 am we’re in Patmos the island crowding up close to the ferry.

We can’t sleep; we sit up on the wall where the lemon tree is full of fruit and the jasmine is just blooming in the cool morning air.  Tucked under the wall the cat waits for someone with food and we comply. We walk to the bakery for bread and I eat apricots.  We sleep after we’ve made sure the sun is rising.

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/12/virgin-sacrifice-and-the-meaning-of-the-parthenon.html

Published in: on May 21, 2016 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  

When we said “in sickness and in health,” what we meant was I’ll bring you tea if you get a cold

As a young girl, I read everything I could about Florence Nightingale who made nursing seem like a noble profession.   I was certain that being a nurse was a high calling.   In fact, the three professions women were encouraged toward for years, the helping professions, nursing, social work and teaching, may be high callings, but with low pay, while the three professions men are encouraged toward—finance, law and medicine, come with high pay. In pictures, Nightingale often wore a hat or a scarf, and I tried wearing a scarf on my head as practice.  I imagined myself working with soldiers during the Crimean War. I wanted to be a nurse, so I got a job at a nursing home as an eighteen year old.  Seven weeks later, I took a job planting tomato seedlings.  As it turned out, I preferred seedlings to health care.  Every bedpan made me vomit, every bandage gave me the creeps; the antiseptic smell left me with chills, and when I was called on to care for someone, I defaulted to story telling.

 

Still, I knew that if my beloved needed me, I would rise to the occasion. I pictured myself leaning over a couch, pouring tea and honey.  Getting toast and butter.  Perhaps with a wet cloth, I’d rub his forehead and then hand him the cloth to bathe whatever other bits needed attention.   I’d play music and slice pears. Quiet sunlight would pour into the living room, and my beloved and I would enjoy an intimate kiss while he recovered.  In these scenarios, my husband was already semi-recovered and lying on the couch.  The real illness part where you can’t move from the bed, well, I preferred not to think about that.  I hoped it would be blessedly short.

 

We were both very healthy when we got married as were all four kids.  When I said, “In sickness and in health,” I was thinking health and sure, I’ll be there for you when you get a cold, a flu, maybe even a broken leg.   Beyond that, I didn’t think at all.  For a long time, we all stayed healthy.  Nobody broke any limbs. Nobody came down with any serious illnesses.  None of us went to the hospital except to visit friends.  We were blessed as a family with a full share of health points.

 

That is why we were all stunned when my husband fell.  He was out walking the dogs when he collapsed.  He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and ended up needing open heart surgery the following week.  At first they said it was probably just high blood pressure, he’d be sent home.  I was on the tarmac at JFK when I heard he needed surgery.   My son came home, my daughter flew in.  We stood around at the hospital and stared at each other.  My husband had been an avid cyclist when I’d met him and had become more of a walker and hiker.  It made no sense that he’d been born with a faulty heart valve.  He had surgery on Wednesday, and he came home Monday.  He was making staff calls two weeks later and he went back to the office in a little over a month.  So he didn’t exactly try my patience.  My son was there to help drive him for INR testing.  But it shocked the central nervous system of our marriage for us to reverse roles.  For me to take on caretaking. He had always been the nurturer.  What hadn’t sunk in about long marriage wasn’t just that you might really get sick, need major surgery, have mental illness or long term pain.  It’s that your roles might reverse.

 

I have friends who have taken care of sick and dying parents, spouses and siblings for years.  Loved ones with dementia, brain injury, chronic fatigue, aphasia; that caring can go on for decades.  My husband’s recovery was brief.  It was months before he wanted to cook; he was not supposed to use sharp knives, but finally, he was back.  When I was caring for him, I had to remember to do my own life stuff and his too, to remember that he had to focus on his own recovery.   Part of the apparatus that keeps us emotionally buoyant is health, so I had to have enough trapeze energy for both of us.

 

When we said, “In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer,” what we meant was we’ll be together, even if the DNA of our marriage changes, even if the roles flip orthe rules change.  We’re still committed to us.  There’s you; there’s me and there’s this other entity: Us.  Us has its own swirl of energy in the world, its own music.  It’s a dance, sometimes you follow, sometimes you lead.  Sometimes you’re dancing so slowly, your movement is imperceptible. Other times you’re like flashes of light, like the way stars moved when the galaxies were first formed.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-gale/when-we-said-in-sickness-_b_9976414.html

Published in: on May 16, 2016 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

The moment when it all seemed possible.

There was a moment when it all seemed possible.

That was a long time ago when I was very young.

Then there was a moment when it seemed far away.

There was a moment where I didn’t know what “it” was.

There was a moment when I had no idea what I had wanted.

There was a moment when all I felt was want.

There was a moment when I couldn’t make it happen, all I wanted to do was sleep.

And there was this moment when I go off to figure it out.

What do I want? What can I do to make it all work? What can I do to live with compassion and integrity? How can I make the world a better place and myself a better person?

There was a moment when it all seemed possible.

Published in: on May 15, 2016 at 9:15 pm  Comments (1)  

What makes life complicated?

Your life is more or less complicated based on the number of people with whom you are friends and the number of people you know. In Greece there are many hermitages, and it would seem that life in a hermitage would be pretty simple.  You swim in the ocean.  You go to the market for fish, bread, tomatoes, and onions.  You make yourself meals and you swim and presumably you do some contemplative work—you read, and think.  No one is going to ask you for anything.  No is disappointed with you if you don’t do something right.

 

Having friends is a good thing.  Doing one’s work well is a good thing.   We are going to Greece and while we are there, life will be simple.  We will eat tomato cucumber salad.  We will write and swim.

 

When we started the press, I thought it would be like having a family, the authors and the working on the press.  I am amazed every day at the hard working Red Hen staff.  Life is complicated and wonderful, and I am ready to think for a bit.

Published in: on May 14, 2016 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

The sea is rising.

I hear a sound.

An odd sound.

The sound of my orange yoga mat being used as a scratching post by Thomas.

I hear a strange tapping on the roof like fingers.

That’s the bougainvillea getting ready to lift my roof shingles peer underneath, let rain in.

The scuffling outside? That’s the squirrels eating the cat food.

Sound brings change.

That’s the ocean coming over the barrier.

That’s the river rising.

The continents shifting.

The light falling.

There are things you cannot change.

We must focus on what we can change.

Published in: on May 13, 2016 at 6:07 am  Leave a Comment  

The cat is on the skylight.

The cat is on the skylight.

One of us is in the air.

The other cat in the living room.

One of us is grinding away at writing.

The cat on the roof only sees sky.

One of us is on book tour, sailing the silver seas.

The cat in the living room is writhing in agony.  He sees the cat on the skylight.

When you’re out promoting a book, you can hardly hear because there’s so much noise.

The cat in the living room is losing his mind.  That other cat is on the skylight! What about that? Up there in the air and the birds and the light pouring on him. Unacceptable. All the cat in the living room can think about is this. I’m in the living room. I’m not on the skylight. I. I. I.

The cat on the skylight is just at the sky stage.  Later, he’ll be in the living room. Later he’ll be in the basement. Later he’ll be in the attic. Later he’ll be chasing squirrels. Later he’ll be cooking dinner. Later he’ll be making love to his cat wife/wives.

The cat in the living room can’t see any of this.  All he can see is himself in the living room and he believes this moment will last forever.

Some friendships last your whole life.  But many friendships end. The part of your life when you are writing a book ends. The book tour ends. The teaching semester. Then something new begins. Eventually you are on the skylight too.  Up there in all that air.

Published in: on May 10, 2016 at 6:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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