Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Choosing a Path

Choosing a Path

I recently heard someone say that whenever he sees an adult wearing braces, he smiles. 
Because of the optimism.  
This made me chuckle, and then it made me think.  
Optimism is a tricky thing these days, even for one as preternaturally prone to the characteristic as I.  So many sharp-clawed enemies of optimism are lurking in the bushes, just waiting to pounce on us as we go whistling along our little cosmic pathways, it’s no wonder some of us have taken to wearing the impenetrable armor of Cynicism.  If malignity and mendacity are thriving at every bend in the road it’s best to be prepared when they jump out in front of you on an otherwise beautiful day.  Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and the cynic is rarely defeated.

Cynicism is a hard armor to pierce.  It comes complete with the weapons of apathy and indifference - reliable opponents of feeling - which, used properly or long enough, can easily render one utterly immune to the worrisome vicissitudes of the day.  Before too long, events that would otherwise push you to your knees barely even merit a cursory glance.  You welcome those who urge you to keep your opinions to yourself, those who tell you one person is useless against the tidal wave of history so don't bother, those who dangle shiny objects in front of your face, luring you to distraction and superficiality.   You soon begin to feel quite comfortable in spite of the restrictions such armor can impose.

For it can be difficult to breathe locked tight inside cynicism. You can’t feel the wind in your hair or the sun on your face.  The armor is frankly so heavy you’ll soon find you can’t even run down a beach or bend over to pick up a child.  You can’t lend a hand to a neighbour and of course you can’t even think about kneeling to pray.   But you’re safe, and isn’t that the point?  You can’t be hurt, or worried.  Nothing keeps you up at night.  Nothing alters your plans.  Nothing is your responsibility or concern.  God is in control and requires absolutely nothing from you.  Everything else is a joke, right? Something for someone else to worry about.  Life is good. 

My mind is a busy place, often full of quips and one-liners that zip through at lightning speed.  Some escape from my mouth before I can grab them back; it’s been a lifelong struggle to fence them in.  If indulged too often, these wry observations can gather as one and push me towards the wide path to cynicism when I’d much rather be heading towards mercy and grace.   The ones on the journey to those better angels are not allowed armor, however.   They must walk that narrow road with open eyes and open, often broken, hearts.  They’re required to look directly at the ones in pain and sorrow, they must stop and help the ones in need.  The weather buffets them;  sometimes the wind blows so strong it’s a struggle to stand.  They must hold the hands of faith and mystery, welcoming both as equals. 
It’s the path I’d rather take.

In the continuation of that journey I went to hear the author, Anne Lamott, speak last week. 
 Her new book, Hallelujah Anyway, is one I highly recommend just now. 
And I love this quote by her:

“It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

painting above by Anna Teasdale

Saturday, April 15, 2017

For Spring: A Book, A Movie, A Sale and A Poem

For Spring:
A Book, A Movie, A Sale and A Poem

Spring has slowly wafted down upon The House of Edward like a feather from the bluebird now sitting in my hemlock tree.  The dawn chorus is symphonic and Edward is constantly distracted on his afternoon walks by the myriad of captivating smells rising up from the wakening ground.  There are more shades of green in the forest that in any artist’s palette.  It is a season of newness - new life, new beauty, new hope - and in the spirit of that newness, I’m tickled to share with you some new discoveries. 
 I hope you enjoy them. 

A Book
Readers have a lot in common with one another.  For instance, we all recognize the thrill that’s felt whenever we close our latest book, because this means we get to choose another.  There’s always a flutter of excitement when we find ourselves in this situation, for whenever we explore a new bookshelf we are actually on an expedition of sorts, every colorful spine we see is a ticket for mental travel.  Do we want a journey to other lands, where everything from the climate to the language is exotic and enthralling?  Perhaps we long to be wooed by a stranger, someone we meet on a train to work, someone with secrets too dark to imagine.  Or maybe we want to follow an amateur detective as she attempts, against all good sense and the advice of her friends, to solve a murder most grotesque.  Occasionally we may long to read through an exceptionally adventurous cookbook, planning dinner parties and Sunday lunches to last us all summer long.  That is the joy, and the delicious responsibility, of selecting a new book; it will take us out of ourselves, anywhere we wish to go.
In my experience it is a rare thing to open a book and be whisked away to someplace entirely unique, high up on the magic carpet of an author’s wild imagination that rises and falls over a story like nothing I’ve ever read before.  This was the experience I had recently reading the new book, Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders.    Outlandish, funny, heartbreaking, frightening, challenging, unsettling - the adjectives I could use to describe this book would most likely be longer than the book itself.  Suffice it to say, I was surprised and awestruck by what I found and it’s stayed with me for weeks. 
You might want to give it a try when you close the one you’re reading now.
Find it HERE 

A Movie
It’s almost one year to the day that I was wandering the moors outside Haworth in West Yorkshire.  I’d come for a Brontë pilgrimage, something I had longed to do since I read Jane Eyre at thirteen years old.  (I wrote about this journey in the autumn issue of Faerie Magazine.  You can now download that issue for free HERE. )  Experiencing this land the Brontë sisters knew so intimately was awe-inspiring.  Just standing in their front garden, listening to the rooks in the trees that stand like sentinels over the cemetery and feeling the strong push of the wind roaring down from the moors was akin to stepping inside the pages of their atmospheric novels.  I’ll never forget it.

Feeling so close to the story of the Brontë sisters, I was naturally a bit suspicious when I heard a new version of their lives was being filmed.  They haven’t faired well in the past when this has been attempted.  Having silently wandered the rooms of the Brontë parsonage and walked the moors in their footsteps certainly did not lighten my doubtful concern over this new production.  But how delighted I was when I saw it.  To Walk Invisible is magnificent.  The Songwriter and I watched it in near reverence, so wonderful was the portrayal of the family. 

I was especially fond of the way Emily’s life was illuminated here.  Not much is known about Emily Brontë other than her brilliant writing and because of this a great deal has been invented about her.    It’s true that she took care of the majority of the domestic duties in the household and she did refuse to accompany her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, when they journeyed to London to visit their publishers.  But from these scant facts, Emily has been doomed to be thought of as almost painfully timid, a scared little rabbit content to stay home.  But this has never squared with her masterful writing in Wuthering Heights, a book so dark and dramatic it stunned and shocked the critics.  In this new production, however, Emily is a force to be reckoned with, someone with more than enough soul and grit to fill the pages of that book.  To Walk Invisible is a masterpiece, and you should see it if you haven’t.  
Find it HERE.

A Sale
I am currently making room in my office for some new things to feature in my Etsy Shop.  So, all the beautiful pillows currently there are half off until the end of the month.
Find them HERE
Just use the code EDWARDSPRING

A Poem
April is National Poetry Month here in the states, something that I feel inclined to celebrate with gusto.  To that end, I am attempting to share some of my favorite poems, one each night of April, on my Instagram page.   Truth and wisdom can hide in the lines and verses of poems and I frequently turn to them whenever I find myself in need of comfort.  I’ve been reading them a lot this year.  
Here’s one I recently shared, and one that I love with all my heart.
I hope you find something within it to stick in your pocket.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

*** A note of apology for my recent lack of postings.  I'm currently in the process of writing some new things and find I only have enough brain cells to concentrate on one thing at a time before I go squirrelly.  I'll try to do better.  You can always catch up on Edward and me, as well as all the poems for April, (and come along on my upcoming trip to London!)  at our Instagram page... HERE.***

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids

St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids

Recently I ventured out of my comfort zone to speak to a group of school children about my love of stories and the pleasure one can derive from writing one’s own.  This was the second time I’ve done this, so I knew what to expect and was quite looking forward to the experience.  The kids are delightful and since their teacher has read Edward Speaks at Midnight to them in the past, they are always full of questions about Edward, which I’m always happy to answer.  This year my visit with them happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day so I had the utterly brilliant idea of incorporating the sainted one’s story into my little program.
So when the afternoon rolled around, dressed in a spring green coat, I stood up in front of the class and began to tell them about St. Patrick, starting with what I deemed the most exciting part of his biography:  the snakes.  When great theatricality I told them how he climbed to the top of a hill and cast all the snakes into the sea.  
“And if you go to Ireland today, you’ll not find a single snake,”  I said, triumphantly.

Scores of little eyes stared up at me in disbelief.  There was a pause, then hands shot up all across the room as questions were hurled at me like water balloons.

“Where’d the snakes GO?”
“Did he KILL them?”
“WHY did he kill them?”
“What did the snakes do to HIM?”
“What kind of snakes WERE they?”
“HOW did he make them leave?”
“Couldn’t they SWIM?”
“You mean he just KILLED them?”
“For no REASON?”

I mumbled and stuttered in my feeble attempt to defend poor St. Patrick’s now so obvious cruelty to snakes but couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  The questions kept coming and it was clear I was losing my grip on the reins of my little performance.  Glancing over at the teacher for help I saw she was giggling, so I knew I was on my own.  I briefly entertained the notion of smiling, nodding and backing out of the room to run to my car, drive to the airport and board a plane to someplace sandy and warm where handsome pool boys would bring me colorful drinks with little paper umbrellas bobbing up and down inside them while I sat by the sea with my eyes closed. 

It took a good few minutes to settle everybody down and I’m sorry to say I eventually fell back on that strategy so well-known and beloved by parents everywhere:  I made things up.  Before I was through, these snakes were the most vicious, evil creatures God ever made and St. Patrick simply had no choice but to shoo them all into the waves.  As to precisely how he did it?  Believe me, you don’t want to know.

Later that afternoon I met Walt and his Mom on my walk with Edward and Apple.  Walt is probably my biggest fan; he’s certainly my favourite.  He often meets us mid-walk to tell me what about his Little League games, or what he’s doing in school, or where he’s been on holiday.  He’ll tell me about reading “Edward’s book” again and he’ll laugh about “Apple talking about chipmunks and cheese”, all the while petting both dogs like the old friends they are.  Walt is a curious fellow so I felt it was a good idea to share my St. Patrick experience with his mother - so obviously an expert on the minds of little ones - in the hopes of finding out just where I’d gone wrong.

“Well that’s easy,” she said with a laugh.  “You mentioned snakes.” 
  And when Walt was out of earshot, she added, 
“Next time, just do what I do.  Make stuff up!”

So, it turns out I didn’t do so badly after all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One More Time: How Do You Feel?

This week the US House of Representatives will vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, something the Republicans of this body have been anxious to do since is was put into effect in 2013.  The anticipated changes to our healthcare system here in the states, a system far from perfect, are sobering.  While Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, astonishingly calls this new plan "an act of mercy", 24 million Americans brace to lose their healthcare over the next ten years.  
In light of this, I thought it might be interesting to revisit an essay I wrote in the autumn of 2013  when I was just home from a visit to the UK where The Songwriter took an unfortunate tumble on the Isle of Mull, broke his ankle, and landed us squarely in the middle of the National Health Service of Great Britain.  
If these proposed changes to our health care system here in the US are of concern to you, or if you have some concern over the proposed new budget released last week  - a budget that completely eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities and  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as drastically defunding the Environmental Protection Agency - then I urge you to contact your representatives.  You can find their contact information at http://www.house.gov/representatives/
xoxo, P
How Do You Feel?
Like many others around the world, I was fascinated by the opening ceremonies of last year’s London Olympics.  The sheep, the supermodels, the Queen’s doppelganger parachuting in alongside the illustrious James Bond - all were memorable sights to be sure.  The only portion of the program which seemed perhaps a bit odd to an American’s eye was the proud tribute to the National Health Service, complete with hundreds of real nurses and doctors dancing amongst giant beds in a replica of a ward in London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  As it is customary for a host nation to celebrate what they are most proud of in their opening ceremonies - to showcase their values, and honour what they hold dear - the message was clear, and as director Danny Boyle himself stated following the production, free universal healthcare is “an amazing thing to celebrate”.
When I left for my September trip to the UK, I certainly never dreamed I would return home with an empirical opinion about the National Health Service of Britain.  However, when your husband breaks his ankle in three places on the hills of the Isle of Mull, there is no time to consider the politics of universal health care.  You simply put your trust in the system and pray for the best.  And here’s the truth.  The care he received was superlative.  From the tiny hospital on Mull, through three ambulance rides and three emergency rooms, with nurses and doctors from hospital wards to operating theatres - at every turn in the road he was treated with the utmost competence, professionalism, and kindness.  No prima donna he, our surgeon was highly skilled, forthcoming, clear, and amazingly accessible.
  The first sign that we had entered a different system from the one we are accustomed to here in the States was the question I was asked at the first reception desk I encountered.  Instead of our usual, “how do you plan to pay for this?”, I heard, “how is your husband feeling?”.  This attitude was pervasive throughout his surgery and hospital stay.  I have been in emergency rooms in the US when my father was having a stroke and, even in that dire situation, before anything was done for him we were queried incessantly about his ability to pay for any treatment he might require.  Clearly, Great Britain ran on a different system.  
Our family has been fortunate in that we have been consistently able to pay for our health insurance, (which I assure you, is no small feat for the self-employed American) and we have enjoyed excellent medical care.  However, we have many friends who earn their living in the arts and who quite simply could never afford the astronomical cost of health insurance in this country.  They live in constant concern that an illness or injury may visit their door.  Their six year old may take a bad fall on the playground, a cold may turn out to be something worse.  Entire savings can easily be wiped out, bankruptcies can occur, houses can be lost, with even one serious illness.  One artist friend, recently hospitalised for two days with high blood pressure, was visited bedside by a lady on staff inquiring how she was planning to pay for her stay.  The entire bill for those two days was over ten thousand dollars and included a bill from that questioning lady herself. Clearly, our system doesn’t work for everybody. 
One would think, one could hope, that our elected officials might find it prudent to manage to work together in an effort to address this problem, but when our plane landed back here in the States we were met with a Congress willing to shut down the entire government in a petulantly political attempt to block revisions to the health care status quo.  The Affordable Health Care act is a law that has already been passed and still they hold the country at ransom in an effort to repeal or block it.  I am grateful for a President who had the guts to try and change what is clearly not working and while the new law may not be perfect, it is a recourse our friends without health insurance thankfully now possess. It is humiliatingly painful to see those who refuse to even try to help make it work, or make it better.  In my own state, our governor is simply ignoring it completely.  The health care of a nation is an issue that should transcend politics.  To hold it hostage is a slap in the face to those in need.
Perhaps I shall be assailed for these opinions.  It is true that my experience with the NHS in Britain, though serious, was brief, and there are no doubt plenty of British citizens with critical views on aspects of their system of which I am unaware.  It is also true that the so-called American Dream marches hand-in-hand with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “make your own way” philosophy and anything that hints of a variation in that creedo is, by some, suspect.  But I believe the prevailing question of, “how can you pay”, instead of “how do you feel” creates an atmosphere that moves insidiously throughout the soul of a nation, too easily turning the sick and the needy into “deadbeats” and “shirkers” and eventually stripping away our compassion, our humanity, our greatness.  I am embarrassed that my country, the richest nation in the world, is ranked thirty-eighth in health care.  Now, after my experience in Great Britain, I have seen another way and know that changes are possible.  If only we can find the courage to make them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Emma Watson, Fairies and Books: A Reading List for an Early Spring

Emma Watson, Fairies and Books
A Reading List for an Early Spring

Having always been suspicious of anything too popular, I came to the Harry Potter books rather late.  The fourth one was being published before I was convinced to open the first.  A mere few chapters in and I was happy to admit, in this case, my suspicions were unfounded; these were wonderful stories, more than worthy of their magical reputation.  I tore threw the first four with glee and joined the ranks of children and adults alike who waited impatiently for each new book to be published.  Even today I’m a little envious of anyone, young or old, who’s not yet read the Potter books.  What a treat awaits them.
Had I been younger, I would have found a serious heroine in Hermione Granger, the smart, bookish Gryffindor girl who possesses bravery and brains in equal measure.  And when I saw the films, I have no doubt Emma Watson, the young actress who played Hermione, would have been utterly fascinating to me.  Watching Ms. Watson grow up through those films was a treat, even more so when one sees the young woman she’s become today.  Fame is so often a dastardly gift, one that once given, cannot be returned.  To bestow it on a child is dangerous indeed and we’ve witnessed so many go off the rails into thickets of trouble from which no exit can ever be found.  But Emma Watson appears to have been much like the character she played:  level-headed, whip smart and bookish.  A new generation of little girls is about to discover her as Belle in the new Beauty and the Beast.  How lucky they are.

Delightfully,  Emma Watson has of late been acting in the role of Book Fairy,  dropping of copies of her favourite books - in subways, on park benches - for people to find and take with them.  She includes a personal note in each book she leaves lying around and she encourages the reader to leave it in a public place when they’re finished for others to find.   She was lately in Paris, placing copies of Maya Angelou’s, Mom and Me and Mom,  alongside the statue of Gertrude Stein. 
 I have to admit, I just love that.

So, in the spirit of Emma and Hermione, here's a baker's dozen  books that I’ve recently read, along with a few that are working their way up to the top of my stack to be read, just in time for this oh, so early Spring.  As usual, just click on the book to see more.
Hopefully you’ll find something here 
that peaks your interest.

All the best, 

The Chateau
by William Maxwell

Anything is Possible
by Elizabeth Strout

Foreign Affairs
by Alison Lurie

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders

How They Decorated
by P. Gaye Tapp

A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles

The Photo Ark
by Joel Sartore

The Dark Flood Rises
by Margaret Drabble

The Givenness of Things
by Marilynne Robinson

America's Original Sin
by Jim Wallis

by The Fan Brothers

Monday, February 27, 2017

All That Sunshine

All That Sunshine.

My car was pointed towards Scotland
 but I had a stop to make first….

The sky was grey the day I visited Brampton, with a watery light that diluted all colour and threatened to suck the magic from the sight I’d come to see.  Walking down the little lane, I pulled my collar up against the damp wind that whistled round the corners of St. Martin’s Church, pausing briefly to look up at my destination and steady my breath.  I could hardly wait to step inside.  

Every one of us has a favourite artist, even if we are not aware of it yet.  You may think art isn’t something that speaks to your soul, Rembrants and Picassos fly past you on posters and in textbooks with nary a flicker of meaning.  But then one day you happen upon a painting - in a book perhaps or, if you’re very fortunate, in a gallery - and you are transfixed, you feel yourself almost physically drawn inside, each brush stroke paints brand-new colours onto your soul and you are a little bit changed, a little bit wiser in ways you cannot articulate and you suddenly want, no, you need, to know everything about this artist, to see everything this genius has done.  For myself, I have many artists about whom I feel this way.  Two near the top of my list are Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris and on this drab, dreary day in the village of Brampton, they were waiting for me inside St. Martin’s Church.  

St. Martin’s was built in 1878 by the noted Pre-Raphaelite architect, Philip Webb.  Edward Burne-Jones was commissioned to design its stained glass windows and these windows were fashioned by William Morris.  I reached for the handle of the old wooden door to the church and turned it, almost giddy with anticipation.  

But the door remained shut.  I tried again, and again.  But it was obviously locked.  How could this be?  Looking around I spied a little church bazaar off to the right and headed there at a clip.  Inside I found a coterie of church ladies busily at work.
“I’ve come to see the windows”, I said, in what I hoped was not a voice of impatience.  

“It’s locked?”, came the reply from one of the more elderly ladies.  She was frowning.

“It is, sorry.”

The little clutch of ladies, whose faces had been softly friendly a moment before, now resembled a semi-circle of dried fruit - lips pursed, eyes narrowed.  “Well, you’ll have to go to the vicar and get the key.  He’s across the street in his house, getting packed, I suppose.”   


Answers came in a torrent of mutters and sighs with even an eye roll or two.  They leaned toward me in conspiratorial stance.  “Oh yes!”  “All packed.”  “He’s leaving us, you see.”  “With not a replacement in sight.”  “Got a new post.”  “Down in sunny Cornwall.”  “Good for him, isn’t it?”

They were still clucking and ruffling as I tip-toed out and headed cross the street to the vicar’s stone cottage.  Rapping on the door I stepped back as it was suddenly thrown open.   “Hullo!! Who are you, now?”   I stared up into a round face as bright and open as a sunbeam.   

As the soon-to-be wayward vicar bustled around his cottage, all topsy turvy with cases and boxes,  I found myself grinning.  Rarely have I seen a happier man.  “You’re off to Cornwall, I gather.”  

“Yes!  I cannot wait.  Just imagine all that sunshine.  I tell you, I have never looked forward to anything more.  Yes, I know I’m rather unpopular here for taking the post and leaving.  Oh, you heard, did you?  But it can’t be helped.  I need to leave, I really do.  So I’m off first thing in the morning.  Here’s the keys.  Enjoy the windows.  They really are spectacular.”   I wished him well and with keys in hand I made my way back to the church. 

He was right, the windows were spectacular.  But as I wandered around in the glorious gaze of their ecclesiastical light and artistry, my heart singing with joy, I could not get the vicar off my mind.  No matter his obvious delight in a decision well made, I knew it could not have been an easy one to make.  It’s never easy to choose the health of your own soul over the protestations of those you’ve once held close or respected.  It’s often a matter of following the Truth against a crashing sea of disapproval from those utterly certain of their holy correctness.  It’s hard and if you’re not very careful, it can be soul-crushing. 

Seasons have passed and still that vicar’s face floats up before me in troubled times.   I recall the peace of his sunny countenance and it gives me courage to stand up for what I know is right even in the midst of stern, often hateful, disapproval.  I watch, horrified, as those whom I once respected head towards the cliffside of hatred and bigotry, blinkered and afraid, and I cannot stem the flow of tears. My soul quivers.  But there is a light that shines on my path and I cannot help but follow.  I breathe deeply and recall the words of the former vicar of St. Martin’s Church in Brampton….. 
“Just imagine all that sunshine.” 

Just a reminder:
See more of my travels, more of Edward, of books, of gardens
of bits and bobs of various and sundry...