READING OLD LETTERS

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AFTER LONG ABSENCE

AFTER LONG ABSENCE

 

I am recussitating this blog after two years of hibernation.  Technology has had me floored, overwhelmed for the last two years, and so I let go of the blogs in order to finish another novel

It’s done!  Now it needs to birth into the world: SUBURBAN SOULS.

 

I am told I will need social media in order to find readers. The prospect is truly nightmarish.  Blogs are frightening enough—putting one’s thoughts out there on the world wide net for all to see, possibly forever and ever.  As for Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and God forbid, Twitter—all this is an introvert’s idea of a modern hell.

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TAROT READING – Maria Espinosa

A HOT NIGHT. Marie comes over and lays out the Celtic Cross for me on the kitchen table.
“Five major arcanas. A star is the first. Magician is second. Queen of cups. Hanged man. Lion. This is a powerful reading. I’ve never seen one this intense.”
I tell her that I feel tranquil.
“Intense can be tranquil.”
We’ve just had dinner. She is one of the few people I know who shares my taste for liver! Corn on the cob. A salad of lettuce with tiny red, gold, and green bell peppers. I show her silver plates, trays, and bowls, beautiful, gleaming silver, that I picked up at a rummage sale.
Marie is full-bodied, blonde, and has a kind, and generous spirit. She looks very attractive tonight in a red shirt and white pants. I am wearing a white Mexican dress and am barefoot. I have recently shorn my dark hair. Now my hair, growing out from near baldness, is white at the edges of my face, while the rest is varying shades of grey and black. The image in the mirror startles me.
Older woman, Maria Espinosa, shearing away the locks of vanity. (Yet secretly, despite my monastic vows I want to attract and seduce.)
A warm summer night. So tranquil. Although Albuquerque is a city it has the ambiance of a small town. After the reading, we walk outside where a few plants struggle to survive in the clay soil, and the locust tree spreads its branches protectively over the yard and its curved stucco wall.
The night air breathes stillness into our bones. A breeze ruffles my short hair, ripples on my bare arms and neck, lifts my skirt. A half full moon. A few faint stars shine in the sky. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks.

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2 YEARS LATER

Still, Albuquerque feels like a foreign country in some ways. So different in atmosphere from the Bay Area, it has a unique richness of culture, of feeling, of history. My house is on a quiet, narrow street.  A good place to write and paint!

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AFTER AUSCHWITZ

Some stories, while engrossing, scarcely leave a ripple in one’s memory.  Others remain vivid.  Such is the case with Brenda Webster’s latest novel, AFTER AUSCHWITZ. It has an aching charm that lingers.  Told through the voice of aging Italian filmmaker, Webster enters the inner and outer worlds of Renzo, who is suffering from the onset of dementia.   With a loving eye, she depicts Renzo’s Rome with its narrow streets, ancient buildings, cafes, local markets, and his world of artist friends. He has returned to the shelter of a woman–a Holocaust survivor and artist–whom he deeply loves but had abandoned. Webster deals with the rich complexities of love, old age, and the unstable nature of memory.  Published by Wings in 2014, this is a hidden gem of a novel!

 

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Albuquerque, July 17, 2013

Midsummer.  Drought and then monsoon. I still feel like a tree that has not yet rooted deeply into the earth.

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writing to forgive

My autobiographical novels LONGING and DYING UNFINISHED began as attempts to understand people whom I both loved and hated as well as to understand who I had been in the past. Writing through the veil of fiction, allowed me to view the world through their eyes as fictitious characters and consequently enabled me to write with greater freedom. Both these novels deal with the reverberations of a mother’s intimacy with her daughter’s husband.
LONGING was written from multiple viewpoints, but mainly through those of Rosa, the daughter, and Antonio, her husband, a charismatic Chilean. Here I dealt harshly with the character of the mother, Eleanor, and over the years she cried out for me to tell her story. DYING UNFINISHED was an attempt to do so. It began purely as Eleanor’s voice. But Rosa’s voice kept intruding And so it became a kind of dialogue..
DYING UNFINISHED opens in the 1950’s with Eleanor riding home to her family on the Long Island Railroad after an illicit tryst in Manhattan. She scribbles bits of poetry in a small green notebook.
“Am I me? Are you really you? Do we only see shadows/ we mistake for the other?”
“She paused. This only a fragment. The root of what she wanted to say eluded her in the way that the sky is obscured by clouds…..What if she did follow her longings?….ah, shades of Madame Bovary….Let her thoughts stream out into the atmosphere, for to formulate them in words was dangerous. So let them dissolve into mist.”
Rosa speaks across time and space:
“When I was little, I used to sit on your lap and try to push your lips into a smile. You would gaze past me, apparently immersed in another world. …I felt your sadness was my fault…in an old photo, you are wearing a silk blouse and pearls…but there is a sad look about you. Something in the eyes. A cold forbearance. …I see you longing for something that isn’t there.”

DYING UNFINISHED was a way of paying homage to my mother, complex as she was, and an attempt to untangle the roots of our difficult relationship. At times the actual physical process of writing led me into unknown territory. The writing, while difficult, led me into compassion and forgiveness.
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MEMORIES OF DANCING, MEXICO, SHAMBHALA MOUNTAIN CENTER

A group of us had walked along a narrow path to a deserted beach near Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which in 1971 was still a village of only several thousand inhabitants. The moon was brilliant, and the ocean glistened with reflected light. Inspired by the moonlight, the waves and the soft sand under my bare feet, I began to dance. As I moved, I was working through problems which felt tangled. These were thoughts for which I could find no words, but which my body moved through as I danced.

Many years after that night on the beach I began to practice Tibetan Buddhist shamatha meditation, and I experienced an enormous breakthrough . For years I had been struggling to complete my novel, Longing. I had written four drafts ,but they were brittle. I could not get beneath the surface. After a few weeks—or perhaps months—of intense shamatha practice,I was able to get beneath that frozen surface. Heart and insight began to expand and soften. I threw out the first four drafts, and the fifth became meaty, fluid, and real. It would take four more rewrites to get Longing into its final form, but the fact that meditation practice gave such power hooked me.

Last summer as I meditated inside the Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center, I had a similar kind of illumination. I had been attending a weekthun, a weeklong meditation intensive, sleeping at night in a cabin where I snuggled under layers of blankets, absorbing the beauty of the land, the wilderness, the mountains. All this had prepared me for the Stupa, which emanates a feeling of tremendous brilliance and purity. As I meditated there my mind, often cluttered, anxious, and diffuse in daily life, seemed to transform in an alchemical way.

Thoughts grew so clear. Ideas became objects which I could shift and maneuver inside the luminous space of my mind. Visualizations were lucid. Words, visual art, music, life changing decisions, all could flow more easily in this state.

For me there was a connection between that moonlit night on the beach, meditation practice, and the illuminating experience within the stupa. While the dance and the stupa experience were brief , they fostered creativity y that came from a deeper source in which body, mind, and spirit are connected. Regular meditation practice is far more gradual in its effects, like burning a log after the flame has been lit. For me, the matches igniting the flames were dance and the stupa experience, while meditation is like the burning log which sustains my own writing.
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memories of mexico, writing a first novel, and meditation

A group of us had walked along a narrow path to a deserted beach near Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which in 1971 was still a village of only several thousand inhabitants. The moon was brilliant, and the ocean glistened with reflected light.  Inspired by the moonlight, the waves and the soft sand under my bare feet, I began to dance. As I moved, I was working through problems which felt tangled.  These were thoughts for which I could find no words, but which my body moved through as I danced.

Many years after that night on the beach I began to practice Tibetan Buddhist shamatha meditation, and I experienced an enormous breakthrough .  For years I had been struggling to complete my novel, Longing. I had written four drafts ,but they were brittle. I could not get beneath the surface.  After a few weeks—or perhaps months—of  intense shamatha practice,I was able to get beneath that frozen surface. Heart and insight began to expand and soften.  I threw out the first four drafts, and the fifth became meaty, fluid, and real.  It would take four more rewrites to get Longing into its final form, but the fact that meditation practice gave such power hooked me.

Last summer as I meditated inside the Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center, I had a similar kind of illumination. I had been attending a weekthun, a weeklong meditation intensive, sleeping at night  in a cabin where I snuggled under layers of blankets, absorbing the beauty of the land, the wilderness, the mountains.  All this had prepared me for the Stupa, which emanates a feeling of tremendous brilliance and purity. As I meditated there my mind, often cluttered, anxious, and diffuse in daily life, seemed  to transform in an alchemical way.

Thoughts grew so clear.  Ideas became objects which I could shift and maneuver inside the luminous space of my mind. Visualizations were lucid.  Words, visual art, music, life changing decisions, all could flow more easily in this state.

For me there was a connection between that moonlit night on the beach, meditation practice, and the illuminating experience within the stupa.  While the dance and the stupa experience were brief , they fostered creativity y that came from a deeper source in which body, mind, and spirit are connected.  Regular meditation practice, far more gradual in its effects, is like a log burning after the flame has been lit. For me, the matches igniting the flames were dance and the stupa experience, while meditation  is like the burning log which sustains my own writing.

.

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In Transit

TRANSITIONS           

A year ago like a bird perched momentarily on a roost I was living in an apartment in Walnut Creek, California and going through the final stages of a divorce. This apartment overlooked a swimming pool—closed most of the time I was there—and a parking lot. In the distance were steep hills and, too close, a tall electric grid tower.  It rained a lot, with a sharp, biting cold.

In June I settled in a small Mexican town on the Pacific coast for the better part of a year.  Still in transit. It was in many ways wonderful. I could run out my door in the morning, walk along the beach, and plunge into the ocean.  But I was in temporary quarters, with hard tile floors that were always sandy, no matter how often I swept and grains of sand creeping into my bed, lumpy mattresses, dangling bare light bulbs. Most of my belongings were in a storage unit back in California. Living in a foreign culture had its challenges. Although I speak Spanish with some fluency, it was not enough to join into the culture. The summer was hot, humid, with mosquitos, thunderstorms, floods, electrical outages, and computer crashes—even with a surge protector. The winter was the coldest on record.  I missed libraries. I felt out of touch with the world. I missed home.

In April, I moved to Albuquerque to be near my daughter Carmen. For many years I had wanted to live closer to her. I’m now in a bland apartment inside a gated complex. Its chief virtues are a bathtub—which I missed after so many months of showers—clean wall-to-wall carpet which is great for doing yoga, thick sound insulation, and tranquillity. But then I miss the warmth of the Mexican town. There it was easier to make friends. People would strike up conversations at the market, in cafes, on the beach. There was a sense of community.

Alburquerque spreads out over the desert with miles and miles of broad streets. As I am not within walking distance of any shopping or cultural center, I drive and drive. The spirit of the land is harsh, masculine with the huge sky and the beauty of the stark Sandia mountains to the east.  The city has a tough skin, and only now have I begun to sense a softer interior and the warmth of individuals.

Soon I’ll move into Carmen’s house while she and her partner Jeff explore Florida. Like me, they are filled with wanderlust. I will feed their cats, move in a few pieces of furniture—a desk, a chair, an air mattress—and prepare to move again when they return.   I long to settle somewhere. To create a nest from which I can venture out.  But where?  Where is home?  I don’t yet know.

 

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