What Happens Now …

Here are some profoundly wise words from Toni Morrison:  “This is precisely the time when artists go to work (talking of times of brokenness in our world).  There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.  We speak, we write, we do language.  That is how civilizations heal …  Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom.  Like art.”

In the midst of a Thanksgiving family gathering as we feasted on Bodega Bay crab, I continued to speak my observations, my pain, and my struggles so I could understand how we go forward in a world that feels upended and sad.  There are some sitting around the table that don’t want to hear those words and be reminded once more that America took a very dark turn on November 8. But I have always refused to silence my observations and questions, especially when I see that exploring them gets me closer to understanding the answer to “what next?”  I’ve no wish to be combative, vindictive, or mean spirited, but I do wish to understand.

I was far away, traveling in Japan, when the American people voted to elect Donald Trump, and I felt some solace in the fact that I was at a remove from the massive grief and outbursts of violence that ensued following the election.  This gave me a chance to process in my own way just what had happened, as well as learn what I could from the seemingly gentle, very civilized Japanese culture.  Since coming home I have been reading the editorials and the news and slowly putting the pieces together in my mind.  Thank god for a free press — although I tend to think our media landscape has been tainted to some degree by much of the shallow and untruthful offerings on social media. So I say again, thank god for the authenticity and longevity of the New York Times!

Beyond reading and digesting news, there is more to be done, as Toni suggests.  There is work to be done, and for each of us, the work looks different.  It might look like working on our story or book, or learning Bach – so as to offer up more beauty to the world, or it might look like joining community organizations to promote fair and reasonable ordinances or laws, or returning to teaching young people to write, or writing letters to our senators and congresspeople, taking your meditation practice into the prisons, deciding to become involved in human rights groups, or joining school boards to support a healthy and fair educational system.  Or maybe, it simply involves starting a new painting or writing a poem each morning about one’s direct experience.  Or making a new book of photographic images…  Anything that forces us to be consciously in the moment, with our compassionate, creative brains activated, is what Toni refers to when she talks about “going to work.”

Many people, myself included, who slept comfortably in their self-satisfied bubble before November 8, are now being forced to wake up.  Some will resist, they will continue to rant and grumble and boycott the news, but others of us will try to go to work in our unique way, to make this world we love a better place and to stand up forcefully and bravely for our ideals.  This is where possibility lies.  Throughout human history, people who have been tortured and jailed and made to feel invisible have nevertheless rallied and written or spoken their truth.  Their spirit has prevailed despite horrific circumstances.  Pablo Neruda wrote:  “You can pick all the flowers, but you can’t stop the Spring.”  Yes.

We must look inside and see our spirit, our ideals, our powerful love for fellow beings and this country, and we must be brave enough to let that energy come forth.  No waiting, no wallowing allowed.  Believe in the power of the human heart to effect change.  Please.

What Japan Tells Us

I’m about to leave this country after being here almost three weeks, and I am full of gratitude for the gifts of people and place.

We came here to photograph, to travel the territory, and incidentally we learned about the gentle supremely polite society we entered.  I think being here makes us gentler and kinder ourselves.  Sometimes a shopkeeper will bow to you as he or she gives you your credit card receipt and your package, and immediately your instinct is to bow back to them.  Or at least, it is my instinct.  Everything here is incredibly clean and tidy, and yet when you listen to them speak to one another, the dialogue is all over the place in terms of intonation and rhythm, sometimes sounding sort of crazed.  They are a peaceful AND an animated people.  They don’t wave their hands like the Italians, but they speak in a wild variable series of sounds.  I love listening to these conversations.

I love taking off shoes when I enter a restaurant or a temple or someone’s home.  Why?  Because it gives me pause before I take the next step and enter the new environment.  Again, it is about respect and a gentility that we lack in our daily lives in America.  We were in a museum on Naoshima Island and about to enter a room with Monet’s water lilies displayed, and they required us to take off our shoes to enter.  I did so happily.  I walked in and breathed more fully in the space where Monet’s art lived.  Someone on our trip asked me why we had to take off the shoes here for Monet but not for another room of paintings, and I said that the Japanese had a love affair with Monet and it was an act of respect, of reverence, to take off  your shoes before entering, much the way you shed them when you enter a Buddhist temple.

I have been here only three weeks and there’s a lot I don’t understand, but I know that there is a peace of mind when you go out into the countryside and sit with farmers and people who make exquisite buckwheat soba noodles, and you eat at their table, and know that life can be a lot simpler than you thought.  Because it is about being in the moment.  Living close to your experience and giving your best effort in doing what you are driven to do.  Taking photographs here was a pleasure because you were always in the moment, and all the sensations were right there in front of you:  the cedars dripping with soft rain, the red maples shouting out in the gray landscape, perfumed incense at the shrine, the sound of water lapping up on a little beach near your hotel, and a mother and child staring at a koi filled pond, oblivious to the crowds around her…

There is so much beauty in this country, it seems, or is it that I’ve been made to exist so much in present time that everything appears curious, interesting, and beautiful? The visual gifts are here, the gentle civilized society is here, the earthy and nourishing food is offered, and all we need to do is be in our moment.

I think I know why people from the West who come here want to stay.  They want that opportunity to find gentle mindfulness and the freedom that is born from that.  They want to be nourished by a civilized society, and feel the weight of centuries of mysterious Buddhist and Shinto practices.  And then, there is always the breathtaking beauty of the misty deep Iya Valley, the rich lineage of serious art handed down over generations, or the lyrical Inland Sea, all of which are enough to keep you enchanted.













A Zen Experience

As I write I am far away from home, in the history-rich city of Kyoto, where the lives of Japanese citizens unfold without the slightest nod, it seems, to what is happening in the United States.  It is refreshing to walk these incredibly clean streets and not feel the vibration of discord that surrounded me at home, to feel separated from the roiling political discord consuming Americans of all sizes and shapes as they make a choice for president.  My daughter and I are on this trip to commemorate our 50th and 70th birthdays respectively, to explore a new landscape and culture, and take pictures of a world where beauty, the aesthetics of daily life, is everywhere.

Yesterday we sat in a tea ceremony at Daitoku-ji temple and we listened to the head monk give a short “zen talk.”  What filled the teahouse that morning was love.  He talked about caring for our bodies and treating them with respect, and about being one with the natural world around us… about the magic of the deep inhale and deep exhale and the straight back!  We are nature and nature is us.  As he talked in Japanese his clear face became animated, he laughed like the Dalai Lama, his voice rose theatrically and then fell, and I could sense the energy moving through his body.  I listened to the Japanese and to the translation offered by our guide, but in a way I didn’t really need the English.  The love of the Buddha’s teachings and of this precious human incarnation was spilling out into the tearoom, wrapping itself around us.  The present moment felt fuller and fuller as he continued talking.  His bald head shone and the beautiful beige silk rakusu hanging down his chest shone brightly against the black robes.  I could see beauty wherever I looked.

We learned the tea ritual, did the requisite bowing and rotating of the tea bowl, then drinking the dense bright green matcha.  While I may not have learned each specific nuance, I got the ritual.  It is about respect and love of what is beautiful and true.  The next time I am called upon to participate, I will carry some of what I learned here.  And a cup of that powdered green potion will never be the same again…

As the master left the little room I realized there were many questions I had wanted to ask him.  I wanted to know about the sewing of his rakusu, about his temple and his students, about his family and the path of being a monk, about just how you whisk the tea to get that foamy top, and the practice of koans, which had always sparked my curiosity.  So much to understand and never enough time, because just as those questions are arising the moment is fleeting.  And then it is gone.  Here now and then gone for good…  Which is why you return again and again to listen and to learn.

My serious daughter gave me me a big warm hug as we prepared to make our way out of the temple.  There was a beautiful spontaneous warmth there and no need to explain.  She had been infused with a zen priest’s love of the truth.  This was a new gift for her, and it made me feel joyous that it happened.  She and I have practiced in different traditions for some time now, but in that cool and beautiful morning air at the temple, we were united by the zen master dressed in black.

Love is what we need, and it comes to us in the most impermanent moments.  Let’s move more slowly now so that we don’t miss any of these gifts — the gift of a perfectly manicured tree leaning one of its branches delicately over your head, the soft warm gray stones to walk on, a small child twirling about in her bright colored kimono, the giant white chrysanthemum greeting you outside the temple, brilliant steaming green tea, and the smile that bursts suddenly from the face of someone we love.

Don’t Know …

The following words came spilling out of my head recently as I was thinking about re-connecting with a dear one in my life.  It all started with:  “there are a lot of things I don’t know”  —


There are a lot of things that I “don’t know”:  

Is anyone but me ever going to read my book?

Will my daughter finally find her own path and freedom from sadness?

Why do we have a maniac running for president in this country?

How can I be comfortable with the profound ignorance and greed in our world?

Why don’t the hummingbirds ever come to my rooftop?

Why can’t I be a good baseball fan?

When is my ankle going to stop hurting?

Why don’t I remember my dreams?

How much longer will I have the loving companionship of Jackson the cat?

Will I ever find the peace that Buddhism promises?

Why do I hate the Blue Angels so?

How is it that loving someone doesn’t guarantee being loved?


There are so many other questions that I don’t have answers for, and during these darker days of fall I hear them echo in my head:


Will I die alone?

Will I ever learn another Goldberg Variation?

Will my book ever be published?

When will I make peace with my body?

Will I ever re-read Anna Karenina?

Will I get to Tibet?

Will I ever fall in love again?

What about craving?

Will I ever sit another month in silence?

Will I ever taste perfect porcini mushrooms again in Italy?


Once you accept the unanswerable nature of our journey through life, you can actually move forward more freely and thoughtfully, because you’re not tripping over the questions you think you should answer.  “Don’t know mind” is one of the great gifts of Buddhism, I think, and after all the decades of striving to figure things out I am SO grateful to simply say, “I don’t know.”  And it’s o.k.  Because life goes on.

People are born, grow up, fall in love, get sick, and ultimately die.  Politicians lust after power, get elected to office, then lose their way, or lose their ideals, and then they are gone.  Animals come into our world to teach us and offer us beauty, and they too grow, get sick and die.  Ideas are born into our consciousness, worked on in solitary, and then come together as a painting, a book, a sonata … they are gazed at, read, and listened to … and then, like everything else, it all goes quiet, because we are impermanent.

I’m off to my little house by the beach to gaze at the ocean during these gray and stormy days, and marvel at its mutability, at our ever changing, watery nature.  Alive for now – just this moment.





Fall’s Message

Fall is coming and with it that melancholy shifting from the bright light into the dark, the toasty warm sun weakening and the brisk golden afternoons coming on…  I love the fall, I am at home here.  There seems to be more texture, more variability as we travel from the carefree joy of summer to the sleepy, reflective darkness of winter and take to knitting and lying under blankets on the couch with our cup of tea.

Back in the 70’s it was all the rage to consult a color specialist who would create for you a special palette that was “your season”.  An eccentric red-haired San Francisco lady named Suzanne became a huge success, and thousands of women from the city and beyond would troop to her salon and seek her wisdom.  After all wasn’t it obvious that we all needed to know what colors to wear or use in decorating our house in order to have a happy and fulfilled life?  All my women friends went, and so did I – despite my proud reputation for being a skeptic.  I’m sure I already knew that fall was my season, and lo and behold, Suzanne confirmed this for me, handing me a palette of beautiful variations on brown, all variety of greens, ochres, and earthy reds.  I was amused, I think, since I had already collected these colors over the years.  I’m happy to say that I didn’t follow the lead of some of my fanatical friends who organized their closets according to their colors!  As I look back on this, I smile at the frivolity and vanity.  But we were in our thirties and proudly defining our femaleness back then, convinced we were in control, with some great end goal to our quest.

Beyond the rich beauty of its palette, and the amazing red and yellow crackling leaves, fall represents a time of  transformation, of moving from action and creation and interaction into reflection, pause, and rest.  I’m sitting now on my couch covered by a white blanket and my body is struggling to breathe normally, my bones are aching, and I hunger for sleep.  My annual bad cold has arrived.  I’m not as interested in how I caught it as I am in viewing it as a message from the universe to slow the journey down.  These are the words of an older woman.  When you’re in your 30’s and 40’s, you look down that long road ahead of you and don’t consider the notion of pausing.  Then you age and fall back into the habit of driving yourself to achieve, and the body’s truth comes through loud and clear.  Time to stop and rest.

This year I have traveled a bit – to New York to the Galapagos, and a handful of meditation retreats – I wouldn’t say it’s an inordinate amount of activity; I have worked many long hours tweaking the manuscript of my memoir to get it ready for publication – sitting at a desk isn’t exactly hard labor, is it?   In November I will travel to a place I’ve never been:  Japan.  A joint adventure with my oldest daughter, a chance to view this exotic, mysterious, zen-like culture through the lens of a camera.  Going that far is daunting, but, hey, I’m a world traveler — that’s what I keep saying in my bio statements to editors.  And as such, I must continue to trek.  AND…. I sit right now trying to imagine a 14 hour airplane ride, marching up stone steps to old temples, getting on and off trains with way too much luggage, trying to absorb all that comes my way, and my body tells me “enough already.”  Rest now.  In fact, rest when you need to.  But do I know how?  There must really be an art to resting, one that I haven’t yet mastered.

I can rest just fine when it’s dark at night, the cat and dog are on my bed, and I know it’s time to sleep, but what about those other times?  Those times when we could replenish ourselves by sitting with an afghan and a good book in late afternoon.  This is my idea of what true rest looks like…   I have so many books piled on the surfaces in my house, waiting to be chosen by me, and just becoming aware of that is far from restful. I sometimes feel plagued by attention deficit…  I start one book, then veer off to another … and another.  Oh, and I need to read up on Japan, so I pick from my pile of travel books.  And then in the midst of the distraction, I remember that I haven’t planned anything for Thanksgiving.  Or I think of the remaining pages of the book that must be polished to perfection…

But what about the great new memoir(S) that are right here waiting?  Two titles are provocative to say the least — The Inventors, and The Love of Impermanent Things.  Lovely simple titles for books which are undoubtedly layered and complex.  You see how I’m leading myself to the trough to partake?  Excuse me now while I sign off and pick one of these books …  Perhaps in the following blog I’ll have something to say about that restful experience.



What Would You Miss When You Die?

When I sat the Creativity Retreat at Spirit Rock, our writing teacher posed this question to our writing group, and I wasn’t able to answer it then.  There were members of our group who found the topic exploitative and off-putting, then there were those that in a quasi smart-ass way said things like, well when you’re dead you’re gone and so there’s no possibility for feeling (or missing) anything.  I saw then that it was a deep and interesting query into what we value about our lives.  Here are some of my treasures:

Hummingbirds …their brilliant and speedy perseverance in life, they’re a “flash of lightening in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream…”  They are pure beauty and heart and joy.

And speaking of beauty and heart — my children & my grandchildren … These  beautiful young women have been my teachers, my truth tellers, and beloved and feisty companions on this journey, and five grandchildren (and one “great” grandson) have reminded me that we can be ageless, timeless, and that there’s play in our life until we decide that there’s not.

My Cats, whose slinky graceful furred bodies remind me they are little wild animals; they grace my home with their beauty, inscrutability, and intelligence.  They have been with me in this life since the very beginning – green and golden eyes flashing, paws playing, and cries in the night that tell me they’re looking for safety.

Elephants … the gray behemoths that march softly across the land in Africa try relentlessly to keep their families together … they are wise and loving animals carrying a vast memory, whose lives are threatened by greed and hatred, and somehow they just keep marching on.  Looking into the feathered eyes of an elephant changed my life forever some years ago, made me realize I was being seen.

The Ocean … waves roll in forever, as the shimmering ocean changes from shades of gray to brilliant blue in the sun, and the pelicans and gulls and plovers celebrate the bounty of life the ocean delivers.  The ocean makes me think of dire adventures at sea, of great love stories, journeys to faraway places, and of our terrible human vulnerability.  When I inhale the ocean’s salt air, I think of my sad mother who also was in love with the sea, and remember that eons of time ago I came from the sea.

Buddhas – I have many Buddhas in many sizes in my home, and they are all smiling at me, and reminding me that I am safe, I am present, that I have the capacity to be free from suffering.   Buddhas from Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, China, and Japan… they seem to stand as witnesses and places for me to rest in peace.

Italy – I grew from a child to a young woman here, and the warm, chaotic, and stunning culture that is Italy still tugs at my heart.  What they do, mostly they do it beautifully.  I am grateful.  As I am for Florence’s Carmine church, or Venice’s Accademia Bridge when the sun is setting, or the Cinqueterre’s cozy villages that smell of fresh seafood and suntan oil.  There’s the music of the the language that rolls off my tongue with delight when they call me “signora.”  And then .. there’s the pasta with perfect parmigiano.

JS Bach – My fingers have been striving to play his music all my life, and I am happiest when I listen to Glenn Gould’s piano, the choir singing the St. Matthew Passion, or my own awkward attempts to render the tricky Goldberg Variations.  Bach has reminded me of a divine order, of the fact that one can spin out into space with  infinite variations only to be able to find the way home easily.  When I started to get to know Bach, I knew he’d be in my life for the duration, laying down the order and safety of his beautiful notes.

Friends – Ah, how do you talk about friends?  It’s sort of like talking about God.  Where are the words?  I’ve had one friend for over 60 years and she and I dream each other back to ourselves, other friends who have rescued me when I was hurt, who have laughed when I told a story, who have been able to just be a loving witness to this strange adventure we’re all on.  Friends are the jewels that sparkle in our lives, who remind us how rich the journey is.

Artichokes – My favorite food, with its perfect pointed thistle shape and nasty thorns, and nutty heart that doesn’t even need the melted butter.  I have eaten these all my life, have taught people how to eat them, and I keep wanting to know just who figured out they were actually a food?  They are green and perfect.

Another perfect green:  the San Francisco wild parrot, who is a local hero that streaks over the city screeching with joy at life.  They were once tended by a guy who was homeless and who then became the St. Francis of parrots; they spread their wings to settle in different neighborhoods in the city and captivate people’s hearts.  Their wild green splashed with crimson red on the face remind us of wildness and endurance.  Hooray for the parrots!

Standing by the water’s edge with my dog … I will miss this.  Peaches and I have become comrades in this life, pals, and for both of us the smell of the salt air fills us with pleasure, we want to laugh and twirl around.  She is my little white and tan best friend.  She prances, she dances, I just walk slowly, feeling the placement of my feet on the ground, and my wild heart beating.

There are old books I love to hold, and my mother’s crazy and messy abstract paintings I never tire of looking at…  There are lit candles by the Buddha and on the dining room table, a generous glass of blood red Pinot Noir waiting for me, and there are the pages of my stories trying to find their place in the world, and my Venetian glass necklaces that sparkle and wink.  There is the Bodega house by the beach that faces the sunset every night and holds me safe, and a glossy and very old black baby grand piano on White Street that my grandmother gave me long ago.  Treasures all…

Yes, there have been many along the way, and the more I stop and look and listen, the more of them I expect to see.  It is the holding of these treasures that helps us with the dark anger and suffering we all face every day.  I have a hunch we are supposed to witness rather than just glide through this life with blinders on.  What do you think?




Holding Our Losses

The Buddha teaches us that we are bound to lose everything that we love and are attached to.  And since choosing not to love appears to be a pretty dismal option, we humans are looking at a parade of losses as we march down the path.

Thinking again of my heroic grandmother and her reflections at the end of her life about losing too many of her compatriots and how lonely that felt, I have to admit that as I survey the 60’s, now gone, and the 70’s, stretching uncertainly out in front of me, I feel more and more the pain of people being taken from my world. I recently lost two friends, one after a valiant battle against cancer, and the other following a routine surgery to fix her knee.  Sometimes death surprises us by showing up in camouflage, and sometimes it looks pretty old and familiar, like a comfortable sweater that tells a life story.

There are so many other losses that spill into my mind:  my loyal and devout Golden Retriever Francesca who stayed by my side for over 15 years, a dear old friend called Charlie who I traveled laughed and traveled with, who taught me that drinking red wine didn’t have to kill you off (in fact, he lived to be 95), Robin Williams who left such a deep dark hole in our world when he hanged himself, my quirky cats Reiko, Little Noise, and Pawsuta, who all filled my life with beauty and wisdom, my tragic mother who drowned her self loathing in booze, my fragile and quiet father whose heart was always frail and who died too young, my giant of a grandmother who exited this life with dignity and courage, and who gave me most of the tools I now possess for leading a helpful and conscious life.  There are friends, too, who have traveled on, moved away, and left a tear in the fabric. I cast my mind back, and I see that there are many more departures of the four legged and two legged beings, and as I touch each loss, I notice a quivering and aching in the heart, and I understand how fragile this human life really is.

There are larger losses, too, and they are more terrifying … those of civility and human kindness … as we see racism and fear raise their ugly heads during these months of politicizing.  How deep and how far back do the roots of this terror go?  The culture as a whole is suffering from deep and traumatic losses, that seem to emanate on the one hand from that dark day in September fifteen years ago when three planes came out of the sky to crash and burn; and on the other hand, the roots of our fear reach farther back to the time when our country was torn apart by the hatred born of greed and slavery.  So cruel and blind and deep is this legacy that, instead of our people banding together to understand one other and mend the wounds, many in the population have been tragically splitting away from one another in fear and judgment.  Soon we will be called upon to cast votes to choose a leader who can serve all the complex human needs in this country, and there is anger and insult and mendacity in the air, and a sense that the noble purposes of being a responsible citizen are lost to us.  Sad, sad, sad.

The losing of one’s dear animals and family and friends, if we honor those passings, will help to expand our human heart, so it may experience more love, compassion, and communion with others.  This is what happens if we attend to our grief, speak it out, spread it around.  It must not be shrouded in the darkness, but must be given the light of day.  We are all creatures of darkness and light, sadness and great joy…

The path is there, but it is uncertain.  Our time here not guaranteed.  We must hold in our hearts all those who are dear to us, even those who have gone on to the next adventure in the great beyond.  We are all part of one another, and it is, in the end, all about love, isn’t it?


Grandmother Speaks from the Other Side

My darling granddaughter —

When I spoke of going on my new “adventure” in the afterlife, I didn’t realize it would be as lonely as life had become for me in the world of the living at 89.  Still I knew it was time to go.  My long life of struggle against pain and loss needed to come to a close…

In my horribly burned skin, as I struggled with the worst pain of my life, I looked back on the arc of my life, and what I saw was a dedication to rise above hatred, ignorance, and darkness, a need to give back, and in the end an understanding that I had run out of strength to carry on.  This happens to all of us.

My father whom I adored from the very beginning taught me to develop the qualities of hard work and decency and generosity.  Work was everything to him.  When he lost my mother and I contracted infantile paralysis at two, he turned away, and plunged into his work as a lawyer and later politician.  My father was the symbol of everything I dreamed of becoming:  educated, hardworking, kind, and righteous in his opinions.  He taught me never to give up.  Goldie whom he hired to take care of me taught me compassion and gentleness. She bathed me and held me and looked affectionately into my deformed face, trying hard to take the place of my mother Sallie, knowing it to be an impossibility.  And over the years, I kept looking into her pale sweet face trying to find my mother…

I worked hard in school, practiced the piano with great seriousness, and always watched my table manners, in the hopes that my father’s face would soften toward me, that he would tell me more about my mother, but he kept himself locked away.  He didn’t know how to talk about the pain and loss.  So our Charleston house on Hazel Street was a place of shadows and darkness, the spirit of my mother Sallie Ingelsby wandering endlessly through the halls.  This is what it felt like when I was little.

The choices I made as I grew up and moved away from Charleston were informed by my need to become strong, caring, self sufficient, to develop my mind to the fullest, and by my continuing search for someone trustworthy to love.  I always carried my mother’s portrait, and as I looked into the fading photograph, I tried to find the loving heart I never knew.  I imagined that by perfecting myself and becoming the model person, I might become seen by my mother…

Marriage didn’t give me a great deal — in those days it wasn’t supposed to really — and my two sons confounded me in their foreignness.  I am afraid I wasn’t a very good mother.  But much later when you were born at the end of the war, I felt an immediate surging of love and affection inside.  You were the daughter I had never had, and I promised myself to love and watch over you always.

I hope what I have said is helpful to you now.  Remember that you know a lot more of me than you realize…  I feel honored you want to tell my story.  And I’m always with you — never forget that.




Pondering the story of Lavinia…

Dear Grandmother:

I am sitting here at my beach house feeling that longing I often get when contemplating the ocean’s vastness and the loved ones I have lost.  I am ready to write a new book now, I want to tell your life story, and so I must ask you what you’d like the world to know about you…

To me, you were a hero, a bodhisattva, and a stand-in for an absent mother.  From the beginning you withstood great loss and pain:  never cradled by your own mother, watching your own gentle face sink and change form from a strange paralysis, a marriage of convenience when you turned away from love, and a myriad of physical assaults ending in total blindness.  I remember that when that door to sight was closed, you expressed rage at your irrevocable helplessness for the first and last time.  You taught me table manners, curiosity of mind, generosity toward all those less fortunate, you taught me dominoes and hearts, and the love of adventure in far away places and speaking a foreign language… I sat at your table and grew up into a marvelously civilized young girl.  Did I ever tell you how grateful I was for all you gave to me?  The largest gift of all was your love — you sat on my bed at night and read the Greek myths, held my little hand in yours, and then left the nightlight on.  You made me feel safe.

If you were to write your own story, what would you want known about your life?  Perhaps the devotion you had for your stern father and your beloved nanny Goldie who attempted the unspeakable task of imparting a mother’s love to you, the gratitude you had for the loving black servants in your home in Charleston, and the piano your father encouraged you to play.  Yes, the piano. You gave yourself to that, didn’t you, practicing energetically not only because that was expected, but also because you needed to express beauty — your unique beauty.  Would you like the world to know that you rejected true love because embracing a married man was socially unacceptable, and then you married a safe and chilly business man because that was what was expected?  You never admitted this, but I knew. Eventually I came to mirror a few of your choices… Turns out you were scared of intense romantic love – remember that you told me “passion is messy”?  I didn’t believe you then, but I think do now.  Messy and beautiful.

You loved one son more than the other and in the end he broke your heart.  But most people didn’t know that.  Motherhood was hard for you, and besides you were expected to have a nanny, and then there was grandfather’s belt…  Young boys were hit, humiliated, and you could do little to stop it.  Yours was a patriarchal world.  I always saw you as the tough matriarch who could weather everything for the sake of the family’s survival: heart attacks, cancer, and a deeply disappointed heart.  Did you see yourself as a survivor?  How did you do this?

Please tell me more.  Tell me what you’d like me to say about you.

Still missing you deeply after all these years,



My grandmother Lavinia who helped to shape my young life died in 1988, and while I can still hear the quality of her gentle intelligent voice, feel her delicate gnarled hands, and remember the scent of her body lotion, I have lost many of her stories.  I hope my invitation to the grandmother who lives inside me will bring forth some of the moving stories of her long life, so that I can offer them to the world.  Let’s wait and see what shows up…  This is the least I can do for a woman who saved my life.