It occurs to me more and more these days that my mental health is dependent on creating quiet space for myself, getting out of the urban landscape I used to love so much, and retreating to the ocean where the main sounds I hear are: the roar of the sea and the chirping of the local birds.
This age we live in is filled with an overwhelming amount of noise, information, static, false information, and an unattractive resurgence of that “me first” attitude. It is frankly exhausting. Even if you don’t turn on your TV or radio, your system becomes permeated with this nervous energy and ends up feeling ragged and annoyed. It’s in the very air that you breathe and thus becomes part of you. So, what to do with all this hyperactivity of the thinking mind? Well, how about digesting more and more news from all kinds of great websites, getting the scoop on the latest disappointment in Congress (the gridlock and the elevation of a conservative judge)), or the latest verbal gaffe by our mentally challenged press secretary in Washington (the small mistake about Hitler and chemical weapons) ? Yes, and one you’ve ingested this information, then what the hell do you do with it?
Well, I pack up my car, including Peaches the dog and both cats, and I head for the beach house in Bodega. Because even though I’m only 1hour and a half from the big noisy city, I feel very far from all the clutter and excitement, and aggravation. I sit at my dining room table by expansive windows that look out onto the rolling waves of the dark blue Pacific, and the meandering little creek filled with little ducks, some geese, and the occasional river otter. I sit at the table and I return to the quiet and thoughtful world of my memoir, poking away at some of its imperfections, paring down some of the excesses of language. I listen to classical music, I hear the waves, and I watch the wacky collection of local birds feeding out on my deck: doves, red wing blackbirds, finches and blue jays and sometimes quail. I become intimate with the mystery of wildlife, in much the same way as I do when I go to Africa and stare at elephants and lions and giraffes. My mind stops craving information, I breathe deeper.
I figured out shortly after returning from the Women’s March in Washington that I am not cut out to be an activist, no matter how strongly I believe in our citizens’ responsibility to participate in their political world, especially when it appears to be highly dysfunctional and frightening. I can write letters, give money, send emails, make phone calls, but I think that is about the extent of my activism. I am very gratified at the increase in political energy that we see now, the mobilizing of so many people young and old who had been quiet and reticent before, and I include them in my meditations on gratitude that have become part of my practice. I simply can’t hit the streets or go to meetings, and because I am 72 and officially an “elder,” I think I have the right to pick and choose how I spend my mental and creative energies.
My book is symbolic for me of the importance of manifesting my thoughts and beliefs in the world in such a way that I hope readers can relate to, can feel a kindred voice. And so I return to her (yes, I see this memoir as distinctly feminine!) to respectfully tend her and get her ready to be published. Every once in a while, the “Angel in the House” – otherwise known as the inner critic – tells me I’m a fool to expect a publisher to take on this quirky little book from an older, unpublished writer. But I think about the pain and suffering of Virginia Woolf who coined the name for this critic and suffered at her hands, and I put my head down and keep persevering. My life is filled with way too many unfinished works, incomplete dreams.
I love my refuge by the ocean in a way I love just a few things, like my children and grandchildren, and my four legged creatures, and my piano, and I relish the peace and wellbeing that comes to me here. When I’m at peace here I feel my heart fill up with love and compassion for all people: I want everyone to find refuge in their lives so that they can navigate our complicated and scary landscape, can find their path of contributing to this amazing world, and discover that at the core of everything we do is love. More than our brilliant ideas, love helps us have authentic, beautiful lives, and without the love, our ideas hardly know where to go…