Browsing Tag

paris

Guest Posts, Mental Health, parenting

All Boys Paint Cows

August 31, 2020
nick

Self-portrait by Nick O’Rourke, age 15

By Miriam Feldman

My husband and I are driving to Paris from the south of France. I am in the passenger seat, writing ideas for a story about our son, on a napkin. Our son, Nick, has schizophrenia.

You see, I am the self-appointed conservator of his legacy. I have no complete poem, painting or song to present. Yet. Scraps of a life, one piled up on the other, form the work of art that is his story. I will continue to document his life and put it into the world for as long as I am here. Perhaps he is stricken, but perhaps he is just too magnificent for this world, a blazing light they don’t have eyes to see. But I see. A mother’s eyes can always see. Super tough, I can look directly at an eclipse without damage. Blindness is not an option.

*

When he was still inside of me, a tiny little tadpole boy swimming around, my husband and I heard his heartbeat for the first time. Back in those days they didn’t do sonograms without a medical reason, so the mystery of an unborn child was a universe of questions. We sat in the doctor’s office as she placed the stethoscope on my belly, and the sound came whooshing through a speaker. It was like the repetitive slap of water on some distant ocean shore. My husband blanched and reached behind him for a chair, then sat down hard. He had to breathe into a paper bag, overwhelmed by the sound of Nick’s beating heart.

Afterwards, we went to a small Ukrainian restaurant to have lunch. I ordered soup. It was particularly delicious, and I tried to figure out why. Staring at the bowl, I noticed the way the carrots had been cut. They weren’t the usual uniform disks, graduating in size from the thick part of the carrot to the tip. They were crazy random shapes, as though the cook had performed a wild cutlery dance, shiny blades flying. There were circles, half-moons, rectangles…little snippets of carrot that defied description. That was why the soup was so good. Something about the constellation of shapes enhanced the flavor, made it more interesting. When something arrives in an unexpected form it holds adventure, interest, mystery.

Nick arrived six months later and filled our world with his own configurations of unexpected stars. Some were beautiful, some had sharp edges that cut.

*

Driving along a grey serpent of highway, we descend into a valley. Immediately, I see the blue and red lights. It is the blue that catches your eye. We are all used to seeing the red, yellow and green of traffic lights, but like the black and white of a police car, blue calls out “calamity!”

“What is going on down there?” I say, sitting taller, my straightest spine. The traffic slows down and I can see people on the median, an upside-down van, personal belongings strewn everywhere.

“Pull over, I need to go there.” My husband knows me well enough not to argue. There would be no way for me to pass and not go see about what I could do. It is how I am wired; I am addicted to trying to help. I need to know I tried. I want to be a hero but I never am. I read about a woman who was electrocuted running into water to help a man stranded in a storm, ignoring the downed power lines lapping creepily at the edges. I thought, “I would have done that.”

Grabbing a water bottle, I open the car door before we have even come to a stop. My husband admonishes, “be careful crossing…” but I am gone.

I can’t decipher the situation at first. First, I see two women attending to…what? Oh, a little dog. “He was thrown from the vehicle,” one says, as she pours water on his head. “I’m trying to cool him off.”

“Do you need more water?” I ask. No, they don’t.

The van is about a hundred feet away from me, several people lean inside, wearing blue latex gloves. Where did they get gloves? The ambulance hasn’t even arrived yet. The air has a very still, artificial feeling as I walk over, through the debris, artifacts of a trip, a life. My foot sinks into a package of mushrooms. I see shoes, papers, a book, an open box of spaghetti that landed like pick-up sticks. A young woman bends over and retrieves a wallet, “Here is his license, now we know his name.” I wish I had been the one to find the wallet. I walk over to the van.

Sound reduces to a muted decibel, wind moves slowly, and I see the two people in the vehicle, roof partially ripped off. I think of an Edward Kienholz installation I saw at the museum in L.A., everything in the whole world shoved into the corner of one room.

Kienholz left detailed instructions when he died in 1994. He was buried, sitting in the front seat of his brown 1940 Packard Coupe, a dollar bill and a deck of cards in his shirt pocket, and the ashes of his dog, Smash, on the seat beside him.

The couple in the van look pale, not just their skin, but the entirety of them is a shade lighter than the rest of the world. Arms and legs splayed out stiffly, they look a bit like big dolls. Blue gloves firmly hold a red-soaked towel against the old man’s head. “Hang on, hang on,” someone says. It sounds to me like they are all under water. The woman with the wallet says, “His name is Fred.” The woman in the car moans it is her shoulder that hurts.

There is nothing I can do, nothing for me to contribute. My fingers moving against each other as if I could feel the air at my sides, I just stand there. The old man and woman, vacation careened terribly off-course, will be tended to by other drivers until the professionals get there. I go back to the car.

As we drive away, we pass the ambulance, siren cutting the day, headed up to help Fred and his wife. The radio is playing one of Chopin’s 24 Preludes and mournful piano chords fill the car. My fingers still caressing thin air, I listen. The countryside condenses as we approach the city.

*

An hour after we leave the accident, we reach Paris and our small hotel. I immediately turn on the television, wanting to see the news. Ridiculously, I expect to find out about the crash. I want to know how Fred is doing.

Instead, I am informed that an abandoned, just born, baby has been found in some bushes by a policeman. The anchorman teases the story before commercials, “Stay tuned to see what the officer first said to the baby. It was captured on his bodycam!” They show a second or two of film, two dark hands reaching into the foliage, an infant’s quiet cry, wind sounds, a man’s voice.

I sit on the awful hotel bedspread and wonder if I can bear the sadness his words.

They return with footage of a stocky officer holding the infant and telling her not to worry, that help is coming. But I heard something else during the lead-in, in the moment he pulled her out of the bushes. I had heard the real first thing he’d said, and it was “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry you came in the world like this? I’m sorry you came into a world that is like this? I’m sorry this atrocious thing happened to you?

The news media had missed what he’d really said first. They’d missed the most plaintive, simple and enormous apology ever made.

*

The Sacre-Coeur Basilica at Montmartre in Paris sits on a hill surveying the city. It can be seen from almost anywhere. Standing on the top floor of The Centre Pompidou with my forehead smashed against the glass of a floor to ceiling window, I stare. Far away and across the city, the Basilica seems to be lit by its own sun. The eerie light calls up a memory and I am struck, like a blow to the head, by the fear I’ve forgotten something important. I can’t remember the details, but something happened with Nick up there, a decade ago when we came to Paris to paint, just before he lost his mind. What was it? Straining for the memory, I think of the small black moleskin notebook he brought on the trip. I’d found it, and read it, years later. Just prior to his unspooling, he’d recorded a beautiful, unsettling narrative from the cliff. One foot in our world, one foot in his future world, he’d told us what was happening in arduous, aching cursive.

When was the moment? When was the exact second of the shift?

And then I remember what happened. We’d lost him up there. One moment he was next to us, and then suddenly he was gone.

“Where did Nick go?” I’d asked my husband,

“I don’t know, he was right here.”

We began to look for him. We searched everywhere, the building, the grounds, then back to the building. I remember standing at the top of the endless steps outside and squinting at a group of kids lolling around, thinking he must be with them. I was wearing a slippery crepe skirt and flowered blouse that whipped about my body with the wind. Eventually, he just appeared.

“Where were you?” I asked, my voice strident from worry.

“Right here,” he said, “around.”

From my perch at the Pompidou, I see a crack, a split second of light between the truth and what might have been. I want to dive into that space.

My husband walks up to me, leans against the glass, and I say, “Remember when we lost Nick up there?”

His voice low and measured, he says, “You know, I’ve always thought that was where it happened.”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“I think something took him, up there on that hill, and gave him back to us altered. I think that is where he went crazy.”

This had never occurred to me and immediately I knew it was true.

“That’s pretty woo-woo, even for you, buddy,” I say because the idea is more than my brain can manage and I have to trivialize it in order to continue breathing.

“I know,” my tall and dark husband says, “but I believe it.”

The sun dips behind a menacing cloud and the Basilica darkens. Its luminous stone façade suddenly looks drab, desolate. My husband wanders off to the contemporary collection, I turn to the modernists.

*

When my kids were small, they used to loll around on the floor of their father’s studio with big sheets of butcher paper and paint while he worked. One day Lucy was teasing Nick because he always made cows and he shot back, “All boys paint cows, and anyway, I’m just starting. I’m going to paint a lot of other things.”

*

Sitting on a narrow bench in the Modern Collection (from 1905 to the 1960’s), I think about the day we lost Nick at the Sacre-Coeur. The area under my jaw constricts and saliva begins to pool in my mouth. There is a quickening of the blood as it moves through my veins. My arms crossed tightly across my chest, like armor, I lean forward and stare at the floor.

We were just walking around and then you were gone. We looked and looked for you, we did. Where did you go? Was it a portal? Can we go there now and find you? Please. Or are you in here? Are you at the Pompidou? Is this where you went? Did you go through a door we couldn’t see and just come here? Are you in the big Fernand Leger, in the corner, with the cerulean and the ochre? I would have thought you’d go to a Picasso, NickNack, but did you decide to trick me with a Leger?

Or was it the perfect little interlocking slats of varied woods of the floor, all different colors, that drew you to the Pompidou?

I’m rocking back and forth now with clenched bones holding in the torrent. I don’t want to cry in public, but now I am convinced some bad magic really did happen and it is true that we lost him here in Paris.

So this is what happens if I let the stoppers out? This is what happens if I think about it?  Unbelievable, unyielding pain? Shredding of intestines? The longing, like gravity, for you? Then bring back the stoppers because I can’t live like this.

My husband walks into the gallery, sees me hunched over, sits down and puts a large hand firmly on my back, just between my shoulder blades.

*

It is 11:06 and I am at the desk in our hotel room, looking at the black night outside my window as if it were a painting. I want to believe Nick is sleeping peacefully right now, across oceans. If I could just know that, I would ask for nothing else. I haven’t gotten any texts from his caregivers, so he must be calmer than last night. I want to believe that with all my heart. I want to just slip into sleep and trust that all is well. Oh, I want.

Then, in the window, I can see Nick and his sisters painting in their father’s studio, the plywood floor a medium gray and the walls pure white in order to contain the colors of the paintings with neutrality. Against this palliative backdrop, my children are exuberant, messy, incongruous. Small pots of tempera are pushed to one side. The children lie on their bellies in baggy shorts, no shirts, legs flopping languidly as they move brushes across paper.

And then Nick looks up at me across time and space, as I sit at my computer in the dark. He smiles at me from his childhood, his cherub mouth so young and new, “I told her, Ma, all boys paint cows. I’m going to paint a lot of other things before I’m through.”

Miriam Feldman is a painter, writer, and mother originally from Los Angeles, California. After her son, Nick’s, diagnosis with Schizophrenia more than ten years ago, she began writing to document and explore the ways this new reality affected her relationship with her children, her husband, and herself. Her blog, https://www.miriam-feldman.com, explores issues of motherhood, mental illness and the politics of our mental health system. She holds an MFA in fine art from Otis College of Art and Design. Her paintings are in collections across the United States. She is represented by Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica, Ca. Most recently, she joined Bring Change 2 Mind, Glenn Close’s organization to fight discrimination and educate around mental illness. She is on the Advisory Council and has a monthly blog on the website https://bringchange2mind.org. She is a frequent guest on mental health podcasts including https://player.fm/series/who-lives-like-this/art-and-chaos-with-mimi-feldman and http://www.sheilahamilton.com/category/podcasts/. Find her on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/mimitheriveter/ where she is busy building a community of family and loved ones dealing with serious mental illness. Miriam now resides on a farm in rural Washington State with her husband, Craig. Nick lives in the small town nearby. She splits her time between the farm and Los Angeles, painting, writing, and staying active in the mental health community.

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Guest Posts, writing, Young Voices

The Broken Container

December 13, 2016
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By Raisa Imogen

Last year, I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how to tell that story. Similarly, I don’t know how to tell the story about Trump’s recent election. But there seems to be a strange and shivering thread between the two events. Both violent, painful, chaotic. Yet Paris was somewhat contained. This election is not, the common mantra being: “we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We tell stories to make meaning of trauma, to contain pain so we can better examine it and give it value. But sometimes we are in such distress that the container cracks. We can no longer write or speak in the same way, we can no longer contain the pain or carry it comfortably.

Paris: the cherry glow of sirens, the bitter cold, windows slamming shut, a vacant Eiffel tower. Alternatively: my friend who calmly held my hand, the family member who made a quiche, a café filled with people drinking champagne the next day.

Either it becomes a story of horror and fear, which you’ve already heard, or a story of healing and bravery, which feels mawkish and insincere.

I think we dislike narratives which exist in gray, uncertain space. We want them to have logic, to land on one side of a binary — tragedy or comedy, conflict resolved or broken open, a character whose biggest desire is fulfilled or wrenched from them completely. Climax, falling action, resolution.

But trauma, especially when it first occurs, isn’t a neat and tidy narrative. Sometimes there is no narrative at all.

The New Yorker recently featured a piece where sixteen writers weighed in on the election. As my friend Marie Scarles observed, “There are so many different versions of why Trump won, and so many ways for us to imagine the future. Should we pay more attention to poor whites? To Muslims? To women? To LGBTQ? To racists? To immigrants? All seem urgent, but none can be held as the be-all-end-all.”

We are searching for a straightforward answer, an immediate ending so this can be over and done with.

After the election, hunched over my carrel in the library and unable to write, I got a text message from my father: “Trauma turns us into animals, which means story-telling turns off. We revert to fight, flight or shock.” But sometimes, maybe our storytelling tendencies shutting down is a good thing. Maybe it allows us to survive. Narratives can be healing, but they can also be dangerous.

By attending to many different perspectives, perhaps a new story will eventually arise, something both nuanced and messy, something which contains many strands. Perhaps it will be a story of hope, but a particular kind of hope, which Rebecca Solnit describes as, ”an ax you break down doors with in an emergency… [it] should shove you out the door.”

For now, we are living in uncertainty. The story is that there is no story, at least no singular one. Which means there is no singular conflict, no one resolution. I wish I had a coherent story to tell about Paris, but I don’t. For me, the container is still broken open, as it is now for America post-election. This means we must listen to each other, and listen carefully.

raisa-tolchinsky

Raisa Imogen was born in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Chicago, and is currently studying at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her poetry can be found at www.raisaimogen.net and at The Kenyon Review.

 

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Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

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Guest Posts, Travels

Chasing The Other

October 16, 2016
trip

By Rae Pagliarulo

I spotted a payphone on the rainy sidewalk and hurried inside, slamming the Plexiglas door behind me. It felt good to have the persistent drizzle off my face, to give my pounding feet a break from the never-ending avenues. My polka-dotted rubber boots had each sprung a leak, and all day long I had walked in two personal puddles. People walked by the phone booth holding hands under big umbrellas. They laughed as the taxicabs splashed water near their feet, and crossed the labyrinthine streets without looking. Every other person in Paris seemed so effortless, so comfortable. They had woken up here. They knew where everything was – the deli, the convenience store, the pharmacy, and the coffee shop where a friend was waiting. I had no friend waiting. I had a payphone that would charge me forty dollars to make a five-minute call to my mother.

I jammed my debit card into the slot and dialed my mom’s number carefully. After one too many trills, my mother’s voice rankled the receiver, sounding much too far away. I interrupted her cheery greeting with panic. “Mom? Mom, it’s me! Hi!” She screamed into the phone, asking me a ton of questions – how were the Parisian streets? Was the city as beautiful as she’d heard? Did I see the Seine? Did I drink wine, or meet anybody nice, or see the Eiffel Tower, or eat amazing food? Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Grief, Guest Posts

Down The Rabbit Hole Into Paris: Healing After The Death of My Sister.

November 29, 2014

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By Kate Sutton.

I was sleep deprived, having not slept a wink on the plane. It had been an eight hour red eye and although I had tried too sleep, I couldn’t. Thoughts racing through my head. Love, loss, anniversaries. It was all painfully there. A huge hole in my heart that didn’t want to heal.

Part of me hadn’t wanted to go to Paris. But, as I stepped off that plane and breathed in the French air, I was struck with the sudden sense of freedom. It came as a shock. It was a feeling I hadn’t expected.

The last two months had been a calamity of vomiting, drinking, vomiting, drugs, binging, vomiting, blacking out and more bingeing and purging. All in an attempt to forget the emotional pain I was in, which was only made more brutally aware, as I approached the first anniversary of my sister’s death.  Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, travel, Women

Things That Didn’t Happen.

October 21, 2014

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By Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Why not February?

 1)  That day I landed in Paris, alone, no French to pout my lips, anti-gay protests spilled into the streets, shooting rapids of hatred. Queers had to navigate them, no oars. When I walked down Avenue Henri Martin to find an open store, I looked like what I was: an MEC-bedecked North American dyke, shapeless as a continent. Two men radared in. Vitriol tones a language; it hatcheted towards me on streams of spittle. The guy closest shoulder-checked me and I stumbled into a wall, scraping limestone.

Then they were gone, and I still needed oranges.

2)  A week later, Rue de la Pompe, arrondisement 16, outside Casino supermarket. Serrated needles of rain raking sideways. No umbrella, just a thin-wire pull-cart I needed to pile with groceries if I wanted to eat, launder, shampoo.

A Roma girl hunched on the street, no coat, one-shoed, hair divided into oleaginous shanks functioning as eavestroughs. Shoulders heaving. One foot maimed, red, shaped like a soup bone, the socket of a cow’s tibia. A paper begging cup exhausted by rain crumpled under left knee.

Trafficked, I thought, tears and misery the tools of her job. But beyond that: something immediate. Maybe, later, when she was picked up again, the gratitude of Stockholm Syndrome or familial bonds or simple lack of options would keep her in her place, but for now, dropped to the Paris pavement by her pimp or aunt or older brother, she was the picture of all that was wrong and nothing that was right.

My anger in Paris was a simmering thing, small at first, then growing. It was at first the size of the palm of a hand laid against a hot burner, but it flared. It was that worst thing, that touristic thing, impotence with a strangling desire to “help.”

“Madame, ça va?” I said as I pressed soggy pastries, fruit, hidden money into her hands. Nothing that would make it better. Nothing that would buy her options.

What do I want with pastries? her eyes said. Are you kidding me? She was right; I was an asshole in any language.

Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Grief, Guest Posts

Grief Averted in Paris.

October 20, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Jennifer Simpson.

I was lounging in bed listening to “Morning Edition” on my local public radio station. It was April 15. Tax day. But I wasn’t worried about that–I’d filed an extension. And I wasn’t awake enough yet to remember that it was the anniversary of my father’s death eight years earlier, though I’d remembered it in the days before.

When the phone rang I let the machine pick up. I hadn’t had coffee, but the message Joe left was more of a jolt than even the strongest espresso could have offered.

“Hi Jenn, this is Joe. [pause] Everything’s okay [pause] but I just need to update you on a situation about your sister.”

Debby has known Joe and his partner Mike since the 80s when they were in training together to become flight attendants. I’d spent the occasional Thanksgiving with them, shared countless dinners out, and celebrated a couple of monumental birthdays: Debby’s 40th, and more recently, Debby’s 50th.

His voice sounded calm, but Joe never calls me, so I knew something was wrong.

Potentially very wrong. Continue Reading…

Delight, Inspiration

Who Is Your Hemingway?

August 1, 2012
A MovEable Feast.

I want to hang out with Ernest Hemingway. I want to walk with him to the Musee du Luxembourg and then have good things to eat with him.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. ~ Ernest Hemingway to a friend, 1950.

Now, I was not lucky enough to have lived in Paris a young man, Hell, I am not, nor will I ever be, a young man. Or a man period, for that matter.  And I will never be lucky enough to sit down and drink a chilled Algerian wine with Hemingway, or Hem, as his friends called him. Surely we would have been friends. I will never walk with him to Sylvia Beach’s library and discuss words and pictures, whisky and James Joyce. And for that I am truly bereft.

I know he shot himself early one morning over 50 years ago and perhaps that is also another reason I feel the connection as I too have known the dark night of the soul, and the swing of the mood, the blurring of the facts. I know I am idealizing his life but that’s ok. That’s what we do with people we choose to carry with us. We take the magic parts of them and light them up so bright that anything else is unseeable.

But I did just read A Moveable Feast and felt as if I was there in Paris. I imagine it to be so and that is most definitely what he was aiming for and what he was so gifted at. I am sure that is why my friend gave me the book and insisted I read it before I went to Paris. I didn’t. I read it over a few days last week and fell into a reverie, and a slight romance with Hem, and all the usual suspects like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. And a longing to go back to Paris where I just came from.

I found myself wondering how I ended up in the wrong era?

How anytime Hemingway and his friends spoke to one another they said each other’s names often. It makes everything glisten and sound important.

A moveable feast. I love that notion for what it suggests. I have always been prone to nostalgia, perhaps to a fault, carrying my friends with me on slips of paper and photographs, letting them fade a little but never so much that I couldn’t see where they were. Perhaps this explains my love of Facebook. Of connection.

Why should one’s feast be stagnant and confined to one place?

I say we make more moveable feasts. That maybe we become our own moveable feasts so that when we move, when we pack up the boxes that contain of our lives, we have that feast in us and can spread it out buffet style wherever we go. Ernest Hemingway understood this. Perhaps this is why he wrote. I will never lose you he might have said to his feast over some chicken with his first wife Hadley.

I have my own private feasts.

Wherever I go, there they are. My tribe. I don’t meet strangers anymore as I have said so often, I only meet old friends. My tribe has proven moveable and it never takes long to find them where ever I am. It only revealed itself as this way once I realized that I could take it with me, that it was inside of me. For a long time I believed that my feast was stuck in one place and that place was way beyond my scope of imagination.

What I am saying is this: I am a moveable feast.

He says in the book: When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

There are so many worlds within that one paragraph I could travel to. First of all, the idea that there is no problem except where to be happiest is simply delicious. That my   only concern could be: Where to go hang my heart, where to go sip my Muscadet in the sunshine or eat oysters? Where can I go keep being happy today? 

People: the population that most often causes us pain and suffering and delight. Yes, delight as well, admittedly. That the only thing that could spoil a day was people is quite funny. Nowadays, we are so dialed in. Okay, I am so dialed in. So over-connected.

How to get away from letting things in that don’t belong in my brain or on my calendar or my computer screen is a concern Hem didn’t have back then. He didn’t have to think about shutting down Facebook or texting someone back or tweeting or getting stuck in traffic with other people.

Except for the very few people that were as good as spring itself. I have my own little list, steadily growing in size as I grow in years. It’s more than a few, but hey, I am sure I know more people than Hemingway did by sheer virtue of social media. I am not sure that is a good thing.

I want to spend more time with my list, with my few people that are as good as Spring itself. I want to spend more time with Spring itself. I want to go back to Paris with my pen and my eyes and let them do the work and then take it back with me wherever I go, much as Hemingway attempted to.

Wherever I go I will be home because I will take with me my own moveable feast. I will be on my Awe Tour all the time, taking notes and adding them to my repertoire, which includes: Ernest Hemingway, and my favorite people and memories. Wines that I love and songs too, pictures I took and people I thought I have forgotten but haven’t, books I have read and sentences I remember from where I do not know. And miracles I have been privy to or part of all along the way. Things I am not proud of alongside my greatest accomplishments, the talisman I wear around my neck and a paper scrawled with all the things that would fit on it which bring me wonder. All of these things will be part of my movable feast and as I get older it will grow, and it will shrink, and it may grow again but it will always be movable unless I forget that it is.

And I will never forget.

I will carry Hemingway in my breast pocket or the equivalent of that, maybe on my iPad or Kindle, and I will reach for him if I start to feel like I am being swallowed by nothingness or everythingness or Facebook.

I will pour myself a glass of something red, get a nice pen, and maybe some nice stationery for Hemingway’s sake, and I will neatly write out all the things that are included in my moveable feast. For as long as it takes.

Who and what is in your box? In your own moveable feast?

Who is your Hemingway? Your light post when it gets a little too dark to remember where you have been?

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***For Laura Donnelly

Delight, Inspiration, Manifestation Retreats, Travels

Re-Entry into Awe and Wonder.

July 17, 2012

Confession: I am having the blahs.

I am back from my the retreat I led in Tuscany and my post-retreat vacation in Paris, with an empty feeling like I came back a shell, having left the meat of me somewhere in Monteriggioni, inside the walled city, perhaps eating gelatto or maybe in a field of sunflowers as the light splays down on them in such a way that my eyes burn, not so much with pain, but with an overwhelming sense of wonder.

One of the things I asked my retreat attendees (a fantastic group that I am still pinching myself over) was to carry their journals around them with during the day, whether they were in Siena eating a slice of pizza or in Florence with the ghosts of Ponte Vecchio, long dead but still floating around with their gold and jewels somewhere just above the ether. I asked them to carry their Awe and Wonder Journals and jot down every singe thing that cause them to feel awe or wonder. Whether it was a conversation with someone who didn’t speak a word of English or the way the Tuscan hills looked at 9:30 at night as the sun was going to bed or a piece of Pecorino cheese and the way it lingered in the mouth waiting for the perfect splash of chianti to join it before descending.

It didn’t matter how big or small the things were that they were jotting down. What mattered is that they were paying attention. To the things that made them feel alive, to the things that made them stop and say Wow.

I wonder how many things we miss because we feel we have seen it before or simply because we are looking at the wrong things to wake us up. I want more things to stop me in my tracks. I want more things to make me ask questions. I want more things to make me feel connected to something bigger than myself, longer standing than myself, and way beyond what I can ever understand. Those type of things.

Whether it is a a piece of pizza in Rome or a moody sky in Paris. Whether it is the high ceilings at the Ebbio and how they have been there for 800 years or the way the olive oil tasted and how time seems slower there as if it has nowhere to be.

So I asked them to be filled with awe and wonder and to bring their journals around so they wouldn’t forget.

It’s easy to forget. Or to not look in the first place.

One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems (you know my obsession with her) in The Mockingbirds.

It is my favorite story–
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give
 
but their willingness
to be attentive–
 

Their willingness to be attentive!

That’s it, right there. Are you willing to be attentive? To allow yourself more moments of awe and wonder and inspiration and grace?

I came back and feel empty because in some way I believe that is only possible when I am away. That when I am back here, in my normal life, in the real world, I must go back to feeling like the same old me.

Sure, my retreat was a cocoon of love and safety. I got terribly ill, sicker than I can remember being, and despite that, I felt safe and free and happy. I want that back, yes. Sure, the food tasted different and the sky lingered longer than it does here and I didn’t have to deal with emails and bills and traffic and making breakfast and Facebook.

But what I realized there in Tuscany and Paris, and now in hindsight, sitting here with my too strong coffee and feeling nostalgia, as I am prone to feel (is it any wonder I love Facebook?) is that: I can be Italy anywhere. I can be Paris anywhere.

What I mean is: I do not have to escape to feel alive. I do not have to get away to remember the beauty around me or inside of me, to pick up small tokens of beauty wherever I am, on the sidewalk or in a conversation. I simply have to allow it.

I simply have to take out and Awe and Wonder Journal and pay attention.

No I won’t have the same treasures here. I won’t be able to duck into a Parisian cafe in the rain and snap photos of the macarons or take the train and watch buildings speak their stories of defense and heartbreak and disintegration from centuries or eat Brie and actually enjoy it because it does taste different in France and the wine in Italy. The wine in Italy is it’s own treasure.

But, I brought 25 people with me to Italy. I got sicker than I have ever been and they stood by me and not for one moment let me feel as if I was letting them down, or they were disappointed or this was anything other than exactly what they dreamed of.

I did that. I attracted 25 people who got along perfectly as if they chose each other, who laughed together in Italian cities, who stayed up late and painted fingernails and drank Limoncello and wrote in their journals what they would do if they weren’t afraid, who swam in the Mediterranean and then had a picnic with tomatoes and cheese and hard boiled eggs and ate it happily with their hands. There were no cliques, there was no negativity, there was no complaining. I brought these people with me. From here.

So, if that is the case, it would make sense to say that I could bring them anywhere. I could have the same experience here in Santa Monica or in New York City or Mexico or my sofa. It wouldn’t matter.

All I have to do is keep being who I am and the right people will show up.

And then pay attention.

And then be awe.

Be wonder.

**Click here to see some amazing shots on my site of my amazing retreat.

 

Guest Posts

Manifest-Station Message of The Day.

July 16, 2012

Manifest-Station Message of the Day for 7/16/12

Things We Forget #1: Instead of getting caught up in who doesn’t like you, get caught up in who does. Much more interesting.

Remember this amazing, oft overlooked sweet little fact.

Say this to yourself: I choose to get hooked by those I love and who love me.

I choose to surround myself with Yes people rather than No people. Yes!

Since I have the choice, why would I stick a hook in my mouth that would cause me pain? I don’t need to go fishing today.

This applies not only to friendships but to dating and Facebook and anyone you choose to give your energy to.

Tweet me #iChooseLove by clicking here 

hanging with my friend Sami in Paris.

Forgiveness, Travels

Guilt-Away.

July 11, 2012

Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse. 

That’s how Wikipedia defines Guilt.

I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris from Pisa to discover that of the two bottles I had (over)packed in my orange suitcase, the red one cracked and broke in my (over)packed luggage. Mind you, I had missed the actual wine tasting in Tuscany at the winery because I had been ill so someone got them for me per my request because of my FOMO, as my friend Sara Lieberman, author of The Handbags Tale,  calls it.

FOMO= Fear Of Missing Out. I just had to have Italian wine! I couldn’t possibly leave Tuscany without chianti, could I?

I sat on the floor of the airport in my long white dress and new Italian boots as I opened the case to check the damage. Immediately glass and red wine exploded everywhere. People stared. I didn’t care. My clothes were drenched in red wine!

My new clothes.

My white clothes.

My silk.

My gifts. 

My white bras.

I was upset, naturally, but I actually sort of laughed. My number one rule is: If you fall you must laugh.

Or tried to laugh, despite having no actual voice from being sick. At this point I had been sick ten days and I knew that I was being tested in some way.

Ok, I thought, it’s just stuff. Just stuff. Things and stuff. And broken glass.

Needless to say, I was frustrated because I hadn’t listened to my intuition which strongly whispered to me as I packed in Tuscany: Jen, give those bottles of wine away as a gift. You do not have room. Plus, it’s dangerous putting wine in your suitcase. Plus, if one was to break you know it will be the red one. 

I ignored my intuition and it came back laughing at me. Wearing a burgundy and chianti broken-glass colored shade, it snickered at me for being such a fool.

Arriving at the Le Bristol, the fanciest hotel I have ever set foot in, I immediately ask the concierge if they can take the clothes to their in-house dry cleaner. They assure me in lovely French accents that red wine is very hard to remove but they will do their best. 

Merci.

As a side note, I am traveling with my childhood babysitter who I was reunited with after her only son was killed at age 19 in a drunk driving accident in Northern California.

This put my dilemma in a file called IRRELEVANT very quickly.

I let it go.

It’s just stuff. Stuff and things. 

The dry cleaners got almost all the wine out for a small (big) fortune and I was happy. But non-attached. I had made peace with the wine and the wine debacle.

The few stains that remain will remind me of this trip, this moment in the not-so-straight line of my life.

As I was looking for ways to get red wine out I stumbled across Wine-Away. 

So I invented something called Guilt-Away.

Would you like a bottle? Or a case?

As I led my retreat in Italy with 25 people I got very ill. Sicker than I have been in years. So sick that I couldn’t speak. So sick that at one point I really thought I was dying. That kind of sick.

At first, the guilt I felt was insurmountable. How could I have brought all these people here and let them down? How could I let this happen?

My brain goes to the path of guilt because it is the path of least resistance. Just like our bodies take the path of least resistance, so do our brains. I have spent many years of my life felling guilty, which is a dirty broken thing that presses into the corners of your soul like a sky in December descending for the day. The last words I spoke to my father before he died where “I hate you” so naturally I have spent much of my life feeling as if I caused his death, or at the very least, should be punished.

So here I was in Italy with that same familiar pull of guilt. So heavy, it weighs down your boat and sinks you before you can even get out to sea and observe the horizon in the distance to allow you some clarity. Once you get to the bottom it is too late; you have sunk and everything looks cloudy and muddy and water gets in your eyes and up your nose and you can’t breathe.

You get the picture.

As I sat on the cold airport floor in Paris I realized that along with Wine-Away I would like to always carry Guilt-Away so whether wine spills or Guilt starts to call me, I have my defense. I will spray it away like it never existed. Maybe there will be a slight remnant but it will be so faint that it will just be a memory rather than a reality.

State the facts, speak the truth. 

(Iyanla Vanzant taught me that. Memorize it.)

Fact: I got very very sick. Very very very sick.

Truth: My retreat had an amazing time and Kylee Lehe (who I have been mentoring) taught 3 beautiful classes and was given an opportunity to really rise to the occasion. I had been overworking and was run down.

Story: I should feel bad because I got sick and let everyone down. They had a miserable time because I couldn’t babysit them. I was boring.

Things always go wrong.

I got sick because I was being punished.

Guilt-Away: I take my bottle of Guilt-Away and rid myself of any of the story. The story is what keeps us stuck in the dry Desert of Guilt with no water or air.

I can breathe again now.

I am sitting in my hotel room in Paris and using my Guilt-Away to clean up any remorse I have over not feeling 100% and being able to go out and explore. Any guilt I have at sitting here and staring out the French windows. Any guilt I have about doing anything other than what I am doing at this very moment.

What will you use your Guilt-Away for? Share below anything you need Guilt-Away to remove or clean up.