Books

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I love memoirs.

As I live this crazy life, as I ride the bumps, take the sharp curves, marvel at the beauty, weather the hardships, as I cry and laugh and pause, I wonder and wonder how we all do it, how other people do it, what their triumphs and weaknesses look like.

People’s stories I want to devour.

I am the woman who finds it a great joy to sit at the foot of an elderly person and become the well that they pour their memories into.

Tell me more, tell me more, tell me more I say.

Since January I’ve read 8 memoirs, all written by women. And they have all given me something; They all now live inside of me. Isn’t that the magic of a story, whether fiction or a life, when it embeds itself within you and changes you, shapes you? Makes you look at things differently?

I brought in the new year with What Falls From The Sky.  I love this book, love the space the author imposes upon herself by going a year without internet. In that space she rediscovers her religion. I think of her and that space and try very hard to create some for myself and dream of what will fill mine.

That space is also explored in The Burn Zone, an exploration into how one falls into a cult. Even after pulling herself out, the author’s life is deeply changed with all the meditation the cult leader had her do and encourages the reader to “invite stillness,”  the one thing she took from her horrendous experience that she didn’t want to lose. I have those words written in chalk upon a small blackboard that sits in our living room. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached for my computer only to see those words and I just sit still instead.

From A Life Of Her Own I’ve meditated on the bigness of it all, this human journey, the chapters that veer and the ones that come back around. This memoir showed me that no matter how perfect or successful a life seems we all have our struggles, our deep terrible losses. Such a good reminder in this day of cropped lives that fit so neatly into little boxes.

Inheritance was a profound read to me as an adoptive parent. What makes us who we are? Who creates us? What defines us? What is nature to us, and where does nurture erase, or blur those lines ?

Sick was a page-turner for me. I am now completely terrified of ticks. I also realize how important it is–especially for women–to demand care when you know you need it.

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is a book I desperately didn’t want to end and will probably read again. My goodness how flawed we all are. How deeply we all want to be loved. How random life can be and how “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

I just finished Love You Hard. My God, this book. Another I did not want to end. It’s a tragic and beautiful meditation on love. As the author listens over and over and over again to her husband’s memories as he tries desperately to reassemble his past after a horrific brain trauma, she writes, “The story of his life is now imprinted on my soul.” Just as her story is now imprinted on mine.

And of course I had to read An African Love Story. This memoir sent a deep longing into me to experience Africa in a way I never can. In this expat life we live in bubbles, are dropped in, sealed off,  and as much as we try and make air holes we are still encased, watching from within our own worlds, worlds away from the one we are in.  While it is amazing in its own way, to see the world and live for a moment in time in places I only dreamed of, I would do anything to take a time capsule to spend just one day as Daphne Sheldrick, in the wildest parts of this country, surrounded by elephants. To see and experience Kenya through her eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Pacific Northwest weather

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Dear Spring,

I am going need to you to try a little harder. It was a very long, dark winter and while I appreciate your tenderness, I need you to assert yourself now, please. 

Okay, yes, I did complain about your early arrival last year with a sun that blazed and scorched a bit too soon, so let me apologize. I am sorry.

I will never complain if you coming rolling in like a jet again, because this snail pace is just really getting me down. Yesterday my fingers lost feeling in the cold and really that’s just unnecessary in April. 

Okay, yes, I did go to the beach and yes, it was probably too cold to put my hands in the water, but did I mention it was April already? 

Are you even there, Spring? Hello?

 

Dear garden seeds,

I sometimes get too eager, like a chihuahua that’s caught in a purse, so I understand why you are trapped in mud with no way up to the surface and I am sorry to have put you in that situation. I suppose the laughter at the nursery when I bought you should have tipped me off that I might have been jumping the gun. 

If any of you can make it up, keep trying or at least hang in there during these floods that just will not end. One day there has to be some sun. Doesn’t there? 

 

Dear wind, 

That’s enough now. 

Memories

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My son and I found this piece of bark on one of our long beach walks. It is completely whole, round, having fallen off and come apart from a tree without breaking. I imagine the log tossed in waves, smashed against rocks, water massaging and tearing at the bark little by little until it unhinged itself and floated back to shore. 

I’ve been thinking a good deal about memories now that the time for our next move is coming nearer and nearer. How we always have to start over, reinvent, find our footing, find our lives again and again and again. How this island that has been a stadium cry will become but a whisper. 

Moving from country to country, continent to continent, I have memories that have left me, others that have burrowed into my skin. I have felt like I was shedding each time, with each move, letting go of yet more things, saying goodbye to smiles that have touched my heart, and wanting so much to carry some of what I found with me, to not forget. 

Maybe it’s not a shedding we do when we choose to let go of something or have something taken from our hands.  Maybe the things we take off from, the people we leave behind, the lives we turn away from, the things lost, stolen, found are still there in the ocean of our life completely whole, surrounding us closer than we think, waiting for us to gather them up, piece by piece, slide ourselves right back inside of them. 

Maybe, even if we don’t find them again, it’s enough to know they are still there, floating by, perhaps to even catch a glimpse of, so that we can smile and wave and say, oh yes, I remember that so well. 

“But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.”  –Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

Pieces of me

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Who am I? 

Who are you? 

Who are we? 

A dearest of my heart, a dear dear friend who knows all of my secrets (shhhhhh) told me today I seem so strong in these posts. 

Am I this strong woman on the mountainside? 

Am I the scared woman under the bed in Uganda? 

I am all of that.

I am all of this.

I am all of me.

I am the woman you see at the store with a smile on her face and a longing in her heart.

I am the child with a dream to make it somewhere, somehow, some way. 

I am the mother happily sacrificing it all for her children.

I am the artist in search of expression.

I am the person reaching out my hand to lift you up. 

I am me.

I am all of me.

I am happyI am sadI am contentI am restless. 

I am so very alive…

….and full….

And searching and living and loving and laughing and crying and yes yes yes, hide me under the bed, perch me on a mountain, let me live it all. I am no longer afraid of much these days because I am so busy embracing wonder. 

How lucky we are to be weak, to be strong. To need help, and then to give it. 

Be all of you. 

” But the time came when I understood that I could no longer deceive myself, that I am alive, and cannot be blamed because God made me so, that I want to love and to live.”

–Anna Karenina, Tolstoy 

 

 

The Unraveling

Uganda was familiar yet so much had changed. It still remains running in my blood, when I look at my daughter I am there, she wraps the county around me so I can still smell it and feel it, even long for it. I see in her the people I knew for 4 years, the people on the street, in the shops, walking along the road. I see them all when I look at her. And miss them.

How lucky I am to have lived in the country my daughter is from for 4 years. To know that part of her.

The city is choking. Day after day I found myself unable to breathe. When the rains came it was perfection and I loved it and then the dry would come and with each minute, day, week, month, as the moisture left the air turned brown, then grey, then dark.

My daughter started to get asthma.

My son seemed pale.

The dry season slammed us.

I started to pull in, worry. Shut myself up. Wait for the rain.

And in that waiting…

…there was the horrible food poisoning that laid my son and I down for weeks.

…the middle of the night emergency room run where no doctor was available.

…the yellow fever outbreak running through the villages coming closer to the city.

And then the election.

The president of Uganda, Museveni, was running again, his  86th term (or there about) and word was his main competitor was not going to let the election be “stolen” again.

I was hanging on when I heard phones might be shut off. I was hanging on when I was assured the UN would evacuate us if need be. I was hanging on.

And then my dear English friend who raised her children all over Africa, my dear friend who thought nothing of being in a car in the worst neighborhood without a cell phone, my dear friend who seemed to have no fear said, “Oh no, but darling you must evacuate. It’s not going to be pretty.” And then she left.

That’s when I heard the opposition was planning to burn the city down.

By the day of the election, with most of my friends gone, I was no longer hanging on.

Me, to my husband, “But how will we get out if we need to?”

Husband, “Don’t worry, we will.”

Me, “But if the city is on fire how will we get to the airport?”

Husband, “The UN will get us to the airport.”

Me, “BUT THE ROAD WILL BE ON FIRE AND THERE IS NO OTHER ROAD!”

Now I know my husband would have never let us be in a dangerous situation, but I no longer heard him. I had let go and 8 years of wandering came flooding out of me….

And then we heard the gun shots.  The walkie talkie comes on to tell of riots. The government shuts off all social media. We hear the opposition has been arrested, the streets are filled with soldiers, more riots, an occasional yell pierces through the deep silence and I felt adrift and lost and terrified! I ran to my bedroom and crawled under the bed and called my neighbor who was thankfully still there. Through sobs I told her I needed to know there was a way out. She told me she had the Irish ambassadors helicopter as her escape plan and no matter what the children and I would be on it if need be. She promised not to leave me behind. I will never forget her kindness. Those words soothed me, saved me and buffered me as we stayed by the walkie talkie and listened to it all unfold, my heart pounding in my chest while I clung to my children.

There were no fires.

The riots were very small.

I can safely assume no one else crawled under their beds with fear.

But it was clear that I needed a break. It was clear there was something more going on. It was all too much, too wonderful, too scary, too full of adventure, too much chaos to find a new center after I’d left all I’d known so very long ago.

I needed a break. I needed to go home. I needed clean air, and good food, and to just catch my breath, to feel connected. I needed to rest.

I could have never imagined when we made that choice  for me to come back that I would end up not at home, but in another country, alone on a mountainside, on a tiny island with my 2 children and nothing else and it would be nothing like rest, there would be snowstorms and power outages, my husband a million continents away. I would be more cut off than I’d ever been, more isolated and more vulnerable than I thought possible, and that it would prove to be the best and most wonderful 2 years of my life.

From concrete to vines to mountains to sea

Summer is here. Storms hang in corners; windows are now perpetually open, as mosquitoes rest on my pillow waiting for me to sleep so that they can have their feast. I thought we’d left bed nets behind in Uganda, but this past week we found ourselves hanging them above and around our bed in Rome, so that once again night holds us in webs.

Construction is also in flower, and every corner and every window barrages the world around it with hammering and drilling, which pound and pierce into my every pore. My husband used to tease me that I didn’t know the world existed beyond the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was as if I had a string that could only go so far, a tension cord, which would swing me back if it became too taught, too far away. But then we moved to Uganda, and as I’ve written it wasn’t easy, but slowly, without me even noticing it, I surrendered to silence filled with birds, and insects, and freedom. I remember going back to NY last summer and for the first time in my life found myself cowering and reeling back from the intense noise being hurled at me. That same feeling has sadly been felt by our daughter here. For seven months now she’s walked with her hands over her ears and asks me why it has to be this way. Yesterday she actually said, “Mommy, Rome is too loud. I think we need to leave soon and find a quieter home.” And then today, while walking her to school we took a different route, longer, but through a nicer street. For one moment the traffic calmed and my 4 year-old daughter stopped me and said, “Mommy, listen. It’s quiet. That’s so nice.” And then, of course, the light turned green and we braced ourselves again.

I write all this as I start to pack to leave the city for the summer. Yes, there will be concrete and steel and noise along the way, but mostly it will be vines and mountains and sea. I look forward to watching my daughter drop her hands back down to her sides, while my husband spreads his soul and being as far as the horizon can take him.

I won’t be writing as much. A good deal of the journey is as far away from technology as we can get. But I will try and post some stories and pictures along the way. I wish everyone a very happy summer.

Here are some shots of the Ugandan sky, which opened me up and spread me out so that apartments in cities can no longer contain, or sustain me.

 

The Sabine Hills

Just a 45 minute drive from Rome, you can climb up into the sky. Below you are cherry trees, olive trees, and apple trees, that you can stop and pick from along the way. As we drove back to the city, smog and noise welcoming us at the gate, it took all we had to not turn around and go back. We live in cities for work, for opportunity, connection, but I am starting to think it’s not worth losing the stars. I asked my husband last night if the next stop can be right under them.