Dec 29, 2010
We arrived home just in time. My grandmother passed away less than two months later. (Read my response here.) I thank God for the timing of her passing and that she was surrounded by family and loved ones.
After her death, I began meditating on Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore (suggested by my good friend, Kyle) and I have found myself connecting with its imagery. The last three months or so have been a Night Sea Journey. I had been fighting unsuccessfully to stay above water. I was drowning. Then I accepted the advice of Thomas Moore and let myself sink into the dark waters. I imagine myself as a mermaid, intrinsically comfortable with the darkness and the water. I’ve spent the last few weeks writing about mermaids and the strength of fluidity they symbolize to me. This has given me peace about being in the dark.
As we look forward to the New Year, let us be at peace with the darkness. We are safe in the knowledge that this is the season of darkness. The season of light and joy lies just ahead.
Seasons Greetings to you and yours! May the magic of the holidays fill your hearts and homes.
“She loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” ~song lyric of The Slow Poisoner
May 20, 2010
I have lived many lives. In fiction and in my dreams.
I am a Gemini.
I am a Welsh fairie with hair of fire.
I am Native American.
I am a runaway slave.
I am a Chinese immigrant.
I am a Woman Warrior.
I write the Word of God in the native tongue.
I walk through the mountains to protect the children.
I create peace.
In Paris, we visited Shakespeare and Co. in the Latin Quarter, near the awe-inspiring Notre Dame. This famous bookstore is known for its belief in unity and peace. Writers, famous and otherwise, throughout the last century have come to this bookstore. I walked in and fell head over heels in love. It is a quaint shop with hidden treasures in nooks and crannies. Wanderers can still lay their weary heads on small beds among the books in exchange for helping in the bookstore for a few hours.
I bought Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Fifth Book of Peace. I wanted to carry a good friend into the strange land with me. Reading her words, her talkstory, creates a home for me. I feel at home reading about her search for peace.
Kingston had a workshop for peace on June 19th, 1993: “Reflective Writing, Mindfulness, and the War: A Day for Veterans and Their Families.” She writes that June 19th is a “holiday for Chu Ping, whose name mean ‘peace.’ […] The dragon boats race to honor his martyrdom for peace.”
I was born on a Chinese holiday for peace.
* * *
Since arriving in Cogolin, France, we’ve been somewhat living in the 1930’s. We do have electricity (although it went out for a few hours the other morning and I panicked) and running water, we are shut off from most communication.
After being in an information overload for over six years, it has been both calming and frustrating to not be wired to the world. Our cell phone is mostly for local calls and emergencies because it’s so expensive to call abroad. We have a TV, but all of the channels are in French. We don’t have internet. The internet café down the street charges 5 Euros per hour. David and I were accustomed to being on the internet for six to eight hours most days. We read blogs and articles and news feeds. We were up to date. We knew what was going on.
Here, we don’t have NPR or the BBC to connect us with all that’s happening in the world. We don’t have an English speaking or expat community here like we did in Brussels.
It’s pretty quiet in this quaint town. After school, the teenagers ride around on their scooters. The church a block away is a simple medieval building. The town was built on hills and the view overlooking the town, only a steep hike up a few streets, is breathtaking. You can almost see the true blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
We walked the five or so kilometers (which we think is about three miles) to Port Cogolin. I was thrilled to see the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. We stood on the beach and watched storm clouds sweep towards St. Tropez (on the right). I saw a flash of lightning over the water. Then the wind became fierce and blasted sand into our eyes and teeth.
Shut off from the busy, stressful world, we have had a lot of time for meditation and reflection.
We’ve been writing daily in our journals.
I have the presence of quiet in my mind. Fewer panic attacks. I’ve been able to see and think clearly. I’m aware of myself and my worldview. I’m not afraid. I feel confident and at peace.
“If only for once it were still
If the not quite right and the why this
could be muted, and the neighbor’s laughter,
and the static my senses make—
if all of it didn’t keep me from coming awake—
Then in one vast thousandfold thought
I could think you up to where thinking ends.
I could posses you,
even for the brevity of a smile,
to offer you
to all that lives,
-Rainer Marie Rilke, The Book of Hours
* * *
I’ve finished over seventy good pages of my third novel. When I’m finished with this draft, I’ll go back to my second novel and do another revision.
But I’ve felt isolated. Lonely. I miss my family and my friends. I daydream about when we’ll go back to the States. I miss (yeah, I know…) my TV shows and watching movies. I miss being able to call anyone anytime I want to. I miss the internet…a lot.
The town shuts down on Sunday and most of Monday. Every day between 12:30 and 3pm, everything closes. Siesta time. It’s a beautiful concept. A leisurely lunch and cuddle time with your honey or a nap. How divine! I admire the European attitude toward daily life. Things are in perspective here.
It has taken us Americans awhile to get used to this serene lifestyle. We expect shops and places to be open when we want them to be open. We wonder: How does anyone make a living here?
In Port Cogolin, we stumbled upon a nonchalant art gallery. One of the artists, Valerie Hadida (a sculptor and painter), creates these lovely, slightly flawed, waif girls with masses of hair and delicate facial features. She’s captured the humanness and holiness of Girlhood.
I am a clay sculpture on the coast of the Mediterranean.
* * *
As an empathic writer, it is a healing process to be alone with my writing. I draw from my memories, experiences, and emotions to create a world, from whence there was none.
Sometimes I have difficulty separating how I feel from the people around me. I feel what they are feeling. I dream what they are dreaming. It is good for my writing. I am able to create layered characters.
But my soul needs silence. It craves release. It strives for balance.
I know what I want to do with my stories. I want to create a home for others. I want to offer a drink of water for the soul. A place to lay one’s head and rest. I want lovers, strangers, and castaways to read my stories and find a place to belong.
The words of Rilke, born in Prague, and Kingston, an American girl born of Chinese illegal immigrants, have been churning the water of my mind. Like the angel’s finger stirring the pool, they have given me the signs that I needed. I see the ripples and I’m ready to dive in.
Apr 19, 2010
“Not all those who wander are lost.” J. R. R. Tolkien
We’ve spent much of the last two weeks getting lost. Of course. We make one wrong turn down a cobblestone street and find ourselves in a labyrinth of French and Dutch-named streets. If we are wandering without a destination, we cannot get lost. It is only when we are keeping to some schedule, especially before we figured out how to get a European cell phone and couldn’t call to say we would be late, that we find ourselves panicking and frustrated. We spread open the map and argue about which direction is north.
But if we are not worried about here or there, right or wrong, then we are free to wander pleasantly through the alleys. We see every detail. We see the smiling baby waving at us and the grandmother eating an ice cream cone. Here is our destination. Always. Here is where we are supposed to be.
David and I had been reading The Tao of Pooh over and over again like a mantra for the last nine months. In preparation for the transformative journey, we knew that the biggest threat was the need to be in control. I am guilty of this sin every day. I hungrily seek control over every situation. I want to know what is going to happen. I don’t like surprises or accidents. I am solid like the stones that I continue to trip over.
When I was fourteen, I learned how to ride a horse. Well, not exactly a horse. It was a pony. A big pony named Lady, which she was not. Lady hadn’t been ridden much and was not trained very well. I learned how to ride at the same time as learning how to train. The most important thing I learned about horseback riding was how to listen with my body. If I felt what the Lady was doing, I would know when she was afraid. I would feel when she was about to run me into a low-hanging tree branch. I could move with her if I was relaxed and aware.
It was my first lesson in listening. Being aware. Going with the natural flow of things. I didn’t need to be in control because control was an illusion anyways. But I could be at peace because I would be soft and pliable. I would be like a dirt path instead of a cobblestone sidewalk.
Couchsurfing.com has provided us with the means to live in this way. The members are all people who are welcoming and open to connecting with others. The generosity and hospitality is reminiscent to those hippie followers of Jesus in the Book of Acts. All for One and One for All. Couchsurfing.com is about giving others a home, a place to relax when one is traveling. This lifestyle rings true with me.
One of our fellow couchsurfers said it simply. She’s a French-speaking Belgian with a very good knowledge of English. In her favorite bar near Place Flagey, a dark place where a gnome on the counter grins at you when you order your Kriek, she told us that her new word to live by was: Easy. If something is too difficult, you need to stop. Listen. Breathe. Life is easy when you learn how to let go. Be more like Winnie the Pooh.
Letting go is a process. It can take many forms. David finds that he lets go of much while he’s boxing or working out. I let go when I walk through a quiet park and feel the tree branches above my head. Both of us find this place of letting go through the process of creation. All anger, frustration, stress, and heartache are transformed with each movement of the paintbrush or key stroke.
The calm of this lifestyle has created a place—a room of my own—where characters begin breathing and moving. I am free of the daily grind, the mundane stress of work, work, work. Meaningless work where every minute counted only towards paying bills.
Here, I am free to play god. I can write without distraction. I disappear into the background. I am the cobalt sky, the crooked sidewalk, the illuminated lamppost. I am free to pour past failures and dark conflict into the characters, bringing the story to life.
Yesterday, we rode the elevator to the top of Parking Garage 58, just steps away from St. Catherine’s. It is the best free view of
On top of the parking garage, I imagined how Jesus felt when the devil took him to a high place. Like Jesus, the devil tempts us with his twisted offering. “All this could be yours…if only…” That “if only” binds us in chains of sleepless nights and mental exhaustion. We think that if only we had that perfect career, that perfect marriage, that perfect outfit, we would have it all. But it already is ours and the devil has nothing to offer. When you don’t own anything, you have everything. When you give it all away, it is all yours.
Of course, I am still afraid. But I have been in the presence of freedom. When our hosts gave us—strangers with tattoos and piercings—keys to their lovely apartment. “Come and go as you please.” We were given the gift of trust. I am still afraid but fear has an enemy. I will not let fear keep me caged. It may feel against my nature to let go, but letting go is what my nature truly yearns for.
Couchsurfing.com is part of this redemptive process: the letting go of that which is not important. We find healing and restoration in the simple sharing of blankets and towels, early morning hellos, and the offering of much-needed coffee.
In this place of vulnerability, we are not lost. We are home.
(For photos, check out my other blog or facebook.)
Apr 16, 2010
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