Monday, October 31, 2016

Trick or treat?

So, for those of you not in the know, I am back in Provence.

Remi and I have stayed good friends.

The dogs are, as you can imagine, over the moon to see me again.

And this is all I am really going to say. I hope that you understand.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

With much Love,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It is always the beginning somewhere

I try to be of help. Usually that comes down to walking my Sister's dog and my Mom's, when appropriate. My Sister adopted Lucy in New York City many canine years ago, say 12, and oh was she a troubled child. Now she is "an old lady" and is growing or has grown deaf, we aren't completely sure. So when I mouth, "Do you want to go out?" I use the same downward bulldozer gesture with my palm that merchants used to entice me into their stalls at the souk in Cairo. Her ears pick up and with bright eyes, she stretches her often wobbly hips and follows me to the door, toenails clicking across the kitchen's tile floor.

My Mom adopted Sweetie at the last hour of what was to be a doomed existence. Have I told you of his story before? She had worked late that evening and was looking through Petfinder while sipping a glass of sherry for a possible Golden to replace (without ever replacing) her beloved Emma. Save that instead she found a desperate plea to foster a rescue temporarily, starting that night. Without a home, without a safe place to go to, it was his last day before being put down. Tired though she was, my Mom called the number listed and was met by a kind woman who had driven up from Ohio in the night. What emerged from the car, was not a Golden but a massive pile of orange fur with big bones and Chow lion eyes that are so kind, all my Mom could do was bend down on her knee, open her arms to him and exhale, "Oh, sweetie, come here." And that was that. His loyalty is beyond measure, his gratitude too. I whisper to him that I know the truth, that he is a regal prince who was cast by a witch's spell into a dog's body. And yet there is no better place to be for he is dearly loved. When he was initially scooped up by the pound, he had been following a group of children. That says it all, I think.

I walk the dogs separately, not least because it is beneath Sweetie's dignity to "faire ses besoins" under the sniff of another animal but also because the more minutes I have to walk down the dirt road to the potholed bridge over the twinkling creek and back, the better. It is where I learn. I kick through the pebbles rolling under foot and past the skeletal remains of animals picked clean from predators - this is the countryside, after all. That day's nature comes to me. All I have to do is be moving still enough to take it in. The changes, what is new, what is leaving, what might be. All of this clicks forward the wheels in my brain and springs in my heart and somehow I come back to the big Victorian house a wiser person? Well, no. Better? That word rankles. More me in honesty. How about that?

The nights are cold and the freezing pushes the red up through the veins of the growing oaks all around. Very much of a hurrah and yet the ultimate in letting go to arrive well while perfectly on time.

The deers bathed in golden light on an open field blink back to me in agreement, the red-bellied woodpecker taps his Morse "yes" into the pines, the pin-eyed velvet fur mole chews loudly, zig-zagging through the grasses at my feet. We are right where we are supposed to be. I catch myself nodding a lot. "I am right where I am supposed to be, " I think with relief.

She Let Go

"She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore."

- Reverend Safir Rose

On a windy day, the smallest of leaves blow like a forethought of snow.

But all of this is a mémoire, written at another desk, with other dogs at my feet, familiar strange. In autumn, we always focus on the ending, what is lost or a bet on what can be forgotten and is always the beginning somewhere.


My Dad was a great admirer of Luciano Pavarotti's voice. For years after his passing, I couldn't listen to his arias as it made me cry but I have as of late. Perhaps it is because Toussaint is approaching but I feel like mon père might be watching over me just at present. But then again, there are many who are. I love my family. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learning to drive at 47

I was petrified. Best just to admit it right up front. 

This was a game of the mind and I was already struggling mightily to find my playing pieces let alone anything resembling a strategy. But I knew it was my chance, it had to be done. 

Let me back up a bit.

At the tender age of sixteen, I simply thought that I was far too cool to take Driver's Ed in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, on the edge of Amish country. And then, allez-hop my parents moved us out to Santa Cruz, California where driving was deemed far less urgent than following around a university student named Lawrence who looked remarkably like Julian Sands in A Room with a View. I should have learned to drive. But then I was in New York, where driving is a non-issue save for the wealthy, which I was decidedly not. My joke was that I could catch a cab like nobody's business (even if that involved showing a bit of leg and waving a twenty on New Year's Eve). And then I moved to Paris. And then Arles where everything was in walking distance, then the tiny village was a real problem that I could not drive and my happiness went down as my dependency on Remi went up. Best just to admit that up front too. I paced until I ate myself up from the inside out. But this is a happy story, I digress.

When I arrived here on March 1st, I had made a list of goals in my head on the plane. So I wrote them out on a post-it note:

- Exercise
- Meditate
- Cut down Xanax
- Reduce Alcohol
- Study for permit
- Learn to drive
- Keep Writing
- Have Gratitude

It kind of brings tears to my eyes to share that with you because I am looking at the post-it note right now. It is still in front of me on my computer where I put it, so broken. I thought that if I could just do those things that maybe I could find myself again. And do you know, I have done all of those things. Am doing, too, present tense.

My Mom's husband Leonard offered to take me out driving for the first time as he has driven for a living for many years. Part of me is still in that car, his really fancy big boat that glides and yet that day I stopped and started around a high school parking lot, so tenuous and uncertain of the weight guided by my hands. Yet he built me up with praise, saying seeing promise. But I shook my head inwardly, knowing I had to find a professional to teach me. It is so different when you are not only no longer a fearless 16 and are too aware of the power of a vehicle. Shapes loom like monstrous shadows, all is a seeming permanent uncertainty, taunting. I had just come out of a bad full-on collision in January that lead to my world falling away from under my feet. Gun-shy doesn't begin to cover me.

And then I called a cheesily named All-Star Driving School who lined me up with my instructor, Bill Riccobono. Isn't that a great name? He is one of my guardian angels, I think. If guardian angels wear baseball caps and chew on rutabaga while they work. Because from the first lesson he understood that this would be a mental game with me. Within the first hour he asked me to drive around a cul-de-sac backwards and that I could do reasonably well, because I was out of my head, out of my forward motion fear. But the rest? For months, I danced around my commitment. I would meditate before each lesson and still end up covered in sweat by the end of it. At times I would shake, others I would cry. I couldn't lie to him in his little car because he saw anyway. This is a man who has been doing this for some time and has seen the gamut. Somehow, Buddhism came up early on and so he knew to reach me on a more spiritual plane to pull me out of my panic, where we could end our session with a "Namaste."

For financial reasons, I had to stop for a while, then he went on vacation, then I had to take a break around when my friend Ellie passed as I truly wasn't doing well. But I had passed my test for the permit in the spring, having only missed three questions. That buoyed me and it turned out that all of the pauses between lessons helped to build my confidence, to let me get used to the idea that maybe I could drive after all. My Mom did not quite trust me enough to take her car out on the roads so around and around the subdivision we would turn, practicing. Parallel parking, backing into a space. Kind of like me finding my way. 

Months passed as I kept looking at that post-it note with hope and anxiety mixed with a "will I be asked to the dance?" longing in my belly. Finally, it was me who did the asking; I learned to drive. I remember laughing the first time that I kicked it up to 80 mph on the highway and Bill's responding, "All right!" in surprise. I could not have done this without him. He coached me wisely and with the calm assurance that I struggled to find within myself. How incredible it must be to work only with clients who are afraid and yet only to assure. He never made me feel like a fool and so I didn't have to beat myself up for the mistakes that everyone makes. After our last lesson, with my test impending the next day, he told me, "Just go for a drive," and had me promise to send him a photo with my certificate after having passed the driving test. 

I did. 

All morning, my stomach was tight and aching; I had not slept the night before with eyes blinking open at the ceiling. I did my best to breathe and to remind myself of what I have learned in Al-Anon, that all I can do is just show up and do "the next right thing." Bill had promised me that the test giver, L, was a "good man" and he was. Having arrived early, I watched L as he coached a young driver that had not even passed the parking portion of the test so that she could do better next time. I knew that I was again in good hands. 

I got into the rental car, as I don't have one of my own. I adjusted the mirrors and pulled the seat up close under the steering wheel to give me the illusion of being more in control. The day...could not have been more perfect as autumn days go - blue sky overhead, yellow leaves falling - all encouraging me in beauty. L explained the parking maneuveurs although Bill had already been over them with me so many times. I did what I had promised Bill - to take each very, very slowly and yes, that worked. They were not perfect, but nearly so.

So I should not have been surprised when L gathered his papers and got into the car for the driving portion but I was. "Ok, here we go," I said out loud. And then explained sheepishly that I would probably be talking to myself out loud a bit, coaching style but not to worry. "Of course not," L replied, "those are often the only sane conversations you can have in a day!" And with that, we both laughed and I went for a drive. 

Of course, I asked "L, did I pass?" as soon as we came to our final stop. He made me wait as he went down through the list of "must-have's" very dead-pan until adding, "and make sure that you smile when they take your picture at the DMV so that it doesn't look like a mugshot." I started to cry, I couldn't help it and threw my arms around him sideways, he didn't flinch. "It has been a very long road," I offered. He nodded. 

So I celebrated with my family that night and today I went to get my license. I did my hair and my makeup but still grinned like a chipmunk for the photo, I couldn't help it. This is one of the biggest things that I have done for myself in my life. Not because it was hard but because I was petrified and yet I found my way through. Not to mention that it was a little more than symbolic. As my wise friend Stephen said, "You are taking the wheel of your life." I am. I did. 

I can drive now. I can take myself to wherever life leads me.

At least I know that I can try.


This was a surprisingly hard post for me to write because I feel incredibly vulnerable about this subject and yet don't feel like I could accurately give you the experience of what this meant to me. Usually, I correct and correct each text for hours until I can't stand to look at it anymore but I can't with this one. So, I am giving myself permission to put this out there imperfectly and just let myself be happy.
Thank you, as always, for your incredible support and kindness.

With much Love and Gratitude, Heather

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Running hands on stone

When I think of Provence, does Provence think of me? 

A friend asked a version of that curling question a while back in the comments. I have needed to pose it, inwardly, for necessities sake over and over these past few weeks. And while I am humble enough to know what the only possible answer lying embedded within 2500 years of history could be - a booming God-like "Non" - there are held-tight images glowing strong, still.

I am in Arles and it is the after dinner dog walk. A simple, everyday affair. Ben, Kipling and I are at the Arena but my mind is elsewhere. Unthinkingly, I reach out my hand to the grooves in the columns put into deep relief by the sun, another day done. My eyes flick toward Ben, off-leash and rounding the bend up ahead. Kipling gives a slight tug and continuing on, padding feet quietly with my arm extended, I run my hands across the stone from arch to arch and in so doing touch time without a care. 

This is a memory that I have replayed a hundred times during the past eight months. I don't even know if the moment ever actually existed. It doesn't matter finally. 

As I turn in mind's eye towards those distant crossroads yet again, I try, repeatedly, to explain what hold Provence has on me and this is as close as I can come. I have often leaned on the word "Beauty" - even as an all encompassing filler for when the heart is searching; this blog was named "Lost in Arles" for a reason as I have often said. But there is a deeper sense. "History" nor "Culture" do justice either but rather a nameless sensibility that somehow gathers a yawning insouciant freedom wrestling with the stark shadows of fortified walls (or closed minds), searing heat pushing against a winter Mistral and the possibilities that the Rhône rolls in, brightly reflected with a Van Gogh lilt. 

I can't ever go back to the life that I had as it doesn't exist anymore, I know that now. I accept. 

But what new one awaits for me? And where? Our persona sands off with times passage just like the patina in the stone that I am thinking of today. At least mine does. Cats with nine lives and all that. Yet, there is so much that stands. I tend to forget that part. Do I listen to my heart or my head? Will the words somehow meet in the middle at my throat, allowing me to find the words to speak? 

Fingers reach to touch, to touch...the air and are left grasping. There is a known unknown waiting and it will be just for me.  If Provence ever does think of me, at least it just might admire the willingness, the asking.




 Admittedly, I am especially emotional today. These words were like fishes wriggling through my fingers. There is a very rare Black New Moon tonight and it is a time of planting seeds for the coming six months. And if I don't know what those seeds are? If I have no idea? I am often scared of the blank page awaiting me but tonight I will try to place my trust in the hole where the moon should be.