My Irish cousin died the other day after a few months of illness. He was 84, a farmer, who farmed the ancestral farm, ReenoGreena, Glandore, County Cork. I met him and his wife, Anne, for the first time twenty years ago on my first visit to Ireland. He was at that time the age I am now. He had one grandson in particular who loved farming as much as he did, and I’m hoping his farming legacy continues through many future generations. For the brief moments I spent with Pat and Anne on my visits, I truly appreciated their down-to-earth demeanor and their ability to see through pretense. My mother was another soul who recognized pretense, and I believe she would have got on with them quite well. How can you not feel comfortable with folks who have no use for lofty pretense?
I watched Pat’s funeral service live-streamed from his parish in Ireland this morning. Normally, I have no use for traditional funeral masses as I have little use for the Catholic Church these days, but this experience surprised me. It was actually a beautiful ceremony. I’ve been to so many services that lack personality and the personal. His was not the case, his daughter Siobhan’s eulogy, even the priest’s words, captured the spirit of my cousin; upon reflection now I can see it soaring amidst the flying buttresses of that church. Although I didn’t know Pat well, I felt a peace and comfort hearing about his life of family, farm, community and church, his absolute faith in the miracle of baler twine and vise-grips as an all-purpose fix-it, not only for hay, but also for trousers in need of a belt or coats with broken zippers. To have lived an entire life, amidst the beauty of a familiar landscape on ancestral lands, surrounded by the stories and the people he shared that life with, ah, what a rich, full life indeed. Who cares about fame and fortune with a life like that? To hear that a local schoolboy, when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, answered with “a Pat Hurley,” fills me with a longing for a life that we Americans know far too little of.
”You can fix anything with baler twine and vise grips, and if you can’t, it’s not worth fixing.”
-Pat Hurley, ReenoGreena
Just made my afternoon pot of tea, and figured I’d try to write a little something. My writing mojo has been fits and starts lately, so I figure best to start where I am to get it going again. And where I am at the moment is parked in the lounge chair again because it’s day 3 of my latest bout with Vertigo. And I’m not talking the Hitchcock movie. The last time I had vertigo, the Epley Maneuvers I did worked almost immediately. This time is taking a bit longer. I tell myself to enjoy the spells when they happen — my friends and I used to sneak into local carnivals, flirt with the carnies and then ride for free on the most terrifying thrill rides — sometimes two or three rounds on the Zipper or the Bullet before the guys would finally give us a break and let us off.It was a blast and the annual county fair was our playground for the duration it was here, so yeah, I tell myself, hey, this Vertigo thing can be just as much fun as those wild rides, yeah? And a heck of a lot safer. (As long as I’m not standing.) Here’s to putting a positive spin on things, right?
September’s French Postcards will be available today – Sunday, September 25th.
Returned home from a few days away yesterday. My dad will be back late from Ireland tomorrow, and today I sweated bullets in his flat, sorting through stuff that’s been lingering in boxes throughout his condo, gathering dust for the six years since my mother died. He has drawers, shelves, his attic — any possible nook imaginable with stuff cram-jammed everywhere. Stuff he’s been holding onto for my sisters, me, grandkids, in the event one of us wants it, or “needs” it. No one’s shown up to claim it, he simply doesn’t have the space to store it, and looking at these dusty boxes and unused home wares all the time…becomes a constant drain whether we’re aware of it or not. Old habits die hard though, he was a supply officer in the Marines, so he’s like the lady with the pocketbook on the old show “The Price is Right,” when the emcee asks for the most obscure thing and some lady in the audience waves that she’s got it. That’s my dad. Before you buy something, ask Dad. He might have it.
It’s hard going through this kind of stuff alone, representing several different lifetimes of a family’s experiences — history, travels, and varied interests — all accoutrements meant to enhance daily living and hopefully spark joy, but joyful use is not happening when it’s in boxes. My parents had lots of cool stuff — vintage and eclectic, collected from years of moving, travel, and my mother’s interior decorating passions. I’m basically curating, anything I keep must be used and cared for — I’m thinking stewardship, not ownership. “Curate!” Such an overused word of late, it sounds rathe “twee” and smug to me sometimes, unless we’re talking art and history, libraries and museums. But I love the word stewardship a lot, much more so than ownership, in relation to the things we own, the land we live on, the spaces we reside in. On so many levels, cultivating stewardship, just makes more sense to me, and is making it easier for me to part with things, as I wonder who their next steward will be.
I sat outside early this morning in our jungle before the steam of the day rolled in around mid-morning, at which point I retreated to the atelier, where I now sit. Haven’t sat here for a week, as I’ve been away, and while I love away, I still haven’t found my go-to spot for my morning retreat when I’m away. This mini-retreat I take every morning is something I have come to need as a non-negotiable self-care (so overused that word is, BUT…it works) tool. However, while EVERY morning is the goal, it is not always the case, and that goes for when I’m home as well as when I’m away. I sometimes wonder how I can tweak it to make it more probable that it can happen consistently every day, but I haven’t yet figured that piece out yet. Of course, the other thing I struggle with is when I get to that headspace in my mini-retreat, I realize how much I love it in that place and never want the time to end. I think this is how some mystics are born. They don’t know they’re mystics. We don’t KNOW they’re mystics, sometimes until long after they’re gone. Then we may call them ancestors. These folks, they finally just plain decide to take a seat, whether on the front porch, under a plum tree, along a dusty road, or on a sidewalk bench; they sit, and watch the world go, with its drifting clouds, the wind rustling leaves with a quiet hush, birdsong nearby, a grasshopper jamboree in the distance, and scurrying people. People who pass by every day and eventually slow down a little because they’re drawn in to this character they see, but don’t see — whenever they walk by. A glance, a few glances, a shy smile, or perhaps a Cheshire-cat smile, or a tentative smile. Slowly whatever barrier between them begins to dissolve as they become curious — about a story. Each other’s story. And so something begins…and we get to fill in the ending…someday…if there is one…because isn’t that the beauty of story? The Never-ending part of it?
Chapter 1 is now available. If you’re interested, email me at email@example.com. This address is only to be used for requesting the five dollar invoice for the chapter, or requesting to be vetted for French Postcards. I will not and can not respond to anything else, including inquiries that aren’t serious.
Be aware that this erotic/satiric/melodramatic story will evolve. There will be occasions when the activity becomes extremely…erm…active, descriptive, vivid scenarios…get the picture? If you enjoy the languid, and lazy unwinding, rather indifferent eroticism of a slow seduction, this may be for you. If you enjoy the pulsating, intense urgency of a stolen moment you’ll never experience again, this may be for you. If you’re wondering, “what’s it all about, Alfie?,” then yes, this may be for you, too. Because, aren’t we all wondering…just what it’s all about?
Yesterday was a good day, beginning with breakfast by a window in the dining room of an old inn, courtesy of the gracious hostess, Amanda, who made an exception and allowed us to sit in a part of the dining room that wasn’t really open. Because she was right. I did help her open a can of worms — as someone else came in after us and also wanted a window table. I probably should have just waited for one of the other window tables to clear, and why I didn’t think of it at the time, I don’t know. It’s not like we have an agenda, or are on a schedule when we come here. I can be a pain-in-the-butt like that. And that leads me to the next good thing. Conversation. The deeper, rawer, could-be-can-be scary kind that turns out all right in the end because we’re listening more from a place of openness rather than our “wounded animal” selves, and we’re hearing it from someone we know in our bones loves us unconditionally, for whatever-the-f$ck reason they do. Those conversations can lead to better self-awareness, perception, and emotional insight, and I like those breakthroughs. There was also porch sitting, watching pre-schoolers lined up waving mini-flags for the Flag Day ceremony at the church across the street, and checking out the swarm of seniors on a bus tour disembarking for lunchtime at the inn. This included bearing witness to the cleverest comb-over you are ever likely to see. It truly was impressive.
All of this in the end led to some good character and story development for a project I’m working on with my favorite Manimal, and when I can feel like I am not only pleasing myself, but I am also pleasing someone else, well for me, that makes for a very good day.
My words sprawl across the pages of inexpensive, spiral bound sketchbooks. I’m a messy writer, scrawling and scratching and scribbling out words before I finally get a piece the way I want it. And sometimes I just have to let it fly as it is, knowing it’s not gonna be perfect but it’s the best I’ve got in the moment. It’s why I don’t like the precious, pretty journals they sell in bookstores and stationery shops — they intimidate me, the outside already looks like a finished work of art, while inside the blank pages stare back at me daring me to mess them up, and I just can’t. Give me scraggly sketchbooks filled with words spilled across the pages in my sloppy cursive and haphazard printing instead.
There are many interior design styles people share here, from Scandinavian and Japanese austere, breezy California coastal, shabby chic thrifted, and the various accompanying tags #minimalist #coastalliving #cottagecore #grannycore and so on…Ours resembles none of the above. We live in an old house that was never in good shape from the beginning, and while we did what we could with it, there’s always something else to be done. I’ve mentioned the ceiling leak into our sitting room from our upstairs bathroom before, and when we had it repaired last summer, we knew the fix might only be temporary. It lasted a year before the re-patched corroded pipes began leaking again. So this year, we bit the bullet and the bathroom pipes will be totally replaced. Figured we may as well replace the toilet while we’re at it (leak is from sink and tub, not to worry!), so we’ve had the boxes with the replacement toilet and tank sitting in our space, along with the 5 gallon bucket we keep handy for leaks. We’re pretty used to it after it being here for several weeks now, and the boxes make serviceable end tables. The black plastic bucket — it sort of blends in anyway. Meanwhile since the plumber’s going to be here, we’re also going to replace the laundry sink he installed in the kitchen for us last summer when we had to replace that on short notice. The three basin restaurant sink with drain boards arrives today, and the faucet Friday. So that will also join its plumbing compatriots. Not sure when Graham will be available to get to any of it, he’s good about fitting us in where he can. It’s been a stellar year for contractors with no letup in sight, so we are thankful to have a couple who are accommodating. But that’s not all. We started having some air quality problems in our basement and have begun clearing it out. This means we’re spending as little time as possible down there and rather than hanging the clothes on the line we have downstairs (we don’t have a dryer), I now have them hanging across a pole on our front room ceiling. When you live like this for a while as we have, you can’t help but laugh because humor is sometimes all that keeps the curveballs bearable. Bearing that in mind, we’ve dubbed our interior design style a curious blend of Green Acres Core with a Schitts Creek Vibe. It does bring comfort to call it that, and like I’ve said before at least I have beautiful negligees to at least keep up some sort of appearance.
One of my favorite heroines, Zora Neale Hurston wrote the line “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Apparently it’s to do with the flow of creative life, but I can also see how it can apply to the days of our lives, our day to day flow and how we can be cruising along, blissfully unaware, perhaps on autopilot — and then — blindsided. A shattering blow. Friday was like that for my sister’s family. I didn’t see the text until yesterday morning when I went downstairs. Times like these, I want to hit stop motion, press pause, rewind…and return to that sweet spot before the world turned upside down. But I can’t — so I return to the book on tape I’ve been listening to intermittently, Suleika Jaouad’s “Between Two Kingdoms,” — Suleika, a recent college graduate, 23 years old, off beginning her adult life in an exciting city — and bam, hit with a gutting diagnosis. At the moment, our family remains in that in-between space of not knowing and not wanting to think or say what we’re afraid of, hoping and not daring to hope, that place no one wants to be in and everyone wants to stay in if it means living in this eternal moment of possibility just a little bit longer. For the next few days, there will be times we breathe, and times we hold our breath.