Every life writes its own Work of Fiction (anonymous)

1616-1624 ELIZABETH (2)

shakeSPEARE 2In the spring of 1616, William Shakespeare died. He was 52 years old. Although most of his work had already been published in editions of questionable quality, it wasn’t until 1623 that two of his friends and fellow actors finally published a more definitive text called the First Folio. In the preface, Shakespeare was hailed as “not of an age, but for all time”. Today, his complete works are free on Internet and few of us have not been touched by Shakespeare; I for one have so often been amazed at the depth of his knowledge of the human mind and heart as to be convinced that after William, there is nothing new under the sun. So many things that modern psychology has allowed us to see, he already knew. I recently quoted him in relation to my work with the method of Byron Katie: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act II, Scene II) and his phrases have become so commonplace that we no longer remember they came from him. “It’s Greek to me”, “In my mind’s eye”, “Can one desire too much of a good thing”, “Forever and a day”, “But love is blind”, “The world’s mine oyster”, “As good luck would have it”, “He will give the devil his due”, “I’ll not budge an inch”, “I have not slept a wink”, “Out of the jaws of death”, “The game is up” and so forth. Shakespeare is so much a part of our everyday language that it is hard to believe anyone could find fault with him, yet the Puritans did along with theater as a whole. The Puritans, it seems could find fault with almost anything that was entertaining, exciting or just downright distracting except –that is- sex… as long as it was practiced within marriage (and with your partner, of course).

actorsIn part, the problem was that the theater had grown out of a tradition of enacting religious dramas that was popular amongst Catholics so for the Puritans, who rejected every physical representation of the Divine, it would be suspect from the very beginning. Theaters, public houses, halls where music was played and dancing encouraged were all places that invited vice, drunkenness, gambling and prostitution. Above all, they implied having fun, and fun was considered a dire distraction from the building of a better and more moral society, the only worthy goal here on Earth. Preachers complained that their flock could sit through a couple of hours of theatre and then fall asleep during a one hour sermon. Actors were to be “taken as rogues”, and plays were described as being ‘sucked out of the Devil’s teats, to nourish us in idolatry, heathenry and sin’.[1] Amen!

puritan young ladyPuritans, and therefore Elizabeth, were brought up reading the Bible, not Shakespeare; she would have been instructed to take every word of the sacred book literally, never doubting that there were snakes in Paradise as surely as there were in Hadleigh. She was shown to avoid wearing colorful clothing or using adornments of any kind –even buttons- which were considered expressions of self-pride, a dreadful sin in itself. She wasn’t allowed to dance, heaven forbid! and the only music to be heard was in church. If she had ever questioned these Spartan rules, which is very doubtful, her father surely would have explained that these earthy occupations excited the imagination and sometimes the body and could do no good for a young woman entering her adulthood. Elizabeth might have thought that having her imagination excited sounded rather… exciting and that her parents seemed to have a peculiar dread of young girls enjoying themselves. Could it possibly be true that all that seemed delightfully enticing was no more than “a waste of time that spent the soul in frivolous pursuits” as her father, no doubt, had emphatically pointed out.

It must have seemed as if she were allowed but one dream: to meet a worthy man, get married and have her own family. But on the other hand, she would have been severely warned that to look at men on the street or in the market place would give them the impression that she was an ‘easy’ woman, so she should go about her business with modesty and demure and God would arrange what was best for her. And God, it seemed, would take his own good time.

mayflowerIn 1620, Elizabeth turned 18. On the 6th of September of that year, the Mayflower sailed for the New World with 102 passengers and 30 more between officers and crew, but probably no one in Hadleigh heard about it or cared for that matter. It may seem strange for us to think today that such a signal event could be totally ignored at the time but that is how history is: we go about our daily lives ignorant of the fact that someone in the future will either make up a story about how important we were or pass us over entirely.

mayflower stormElizabeth, apparently in no hurry to wed, sat out the year without a beau. The Mayflower, on the other hand, hurried to its destination arriving around the middle of November after a gruelling journey. They had been lucky: only two passengers had died during the crossing. They were not, however, to fare as well during their first winter which turned out to be an extremely harsh one. Obliged to sit it out aboard the ship, the 100 surviving passengers found themselves decimated by disease; a combination of pneumonia, scurvy and tuberculosis left only 54 passengers and 15 crew members tomayflower 2 disembark the following spring. Those are numbers; they sound dire, but they don’t tell us anything about the families that made the voyage, about the mothers that watched their children die and could do nothing about it, of the children who lost their parents, of the men who stood helpless as their wives succumbed to disease or starvation. Numbers don’t speak of pain or sacrifice; they are just finger-counts of tragedy. And even more sad, the names of those that died were not remembered as the new settlers founded the future Nation.

At the end of March, 1631, the survivors left the Mayflower and set about establishing their Colony, the first in New England that managed to last over a year. They called it Plymouth Colony. They were aided by a native called Tisquantum and whom they named, Squanto. He allegedly had been taken back to the Old World several times (against his will) and had learned to speak English; thanks to him the new settlers learned how to plant maize and other staples and were therefore able to survive. (The story of the Pilgrims and Squanto is told in a miniseries titled Saints and Strangers, available on iTunes).

Meanwhile, back in Hadleigh where none of these goings on between the Indians and the Pilgrims had any relevance, it seemed that marrying Elizabeth and getting her out of sin’s way was more difficult than anyone had expected. 1621, 1622 and 1623 went by without any results. Whether it was Elizabeth or her parents who were being picky, we can’t know, but they all must have been getting nervous about Elizabeth’s chance of fulfilling the most significant aspect of her womanhood -having children- within the holy bounds of matrimony. Apparently, many young English ladies were not actually as prudish as they have been made out to be, and would arrive at the wedding date sporting a tell-tale roundness.

puritan clothingIt must have been sometime between the end of 1623 and the beginning of 1624 when Elizabeth Smyth met Samuel Smyth from Whatfield, a somewhat smaller village lying some two miles north of Hadleigh. If these two young lovers had lived in Spain where children kept both parents names, their offspring would have been Smyth and Smyth, and heaven forbid any of them should also have married a Smith of whom there were myriads, much to the dismay of future genealogists. Fortunately, they lived in England, so Miss Elizabeth Smyth became Mrs Elizabeth Smyth without even having to change her signature.

fellmongerSamuel Smyth, like his father before him, was a fellmonger, a dealer in hides and sheepskins which he prepared for tanning. Exactly when Elizabeth began to notice him, or him her is not known at all and much less for sure. They might have seen each other in the Hadleigh marketplace or in church, or strolling along High Street, and perhaps Samuel, after seeing la belle Elizabeth spoke to his father who in turn would speak to Elizabeth’s father who in turn would speak to his wife who would in turn speak to her, or the other way around, but what is known for certain, without the smallest doubt and absolutely, is that by May of 1624 they knew each other quite well. I will refrain from wondering if this levity St margaretsof morals was passed down through the generations for I consider that each generation is responsible for its own, shall we say, de-generation.

Be it as it may, the wedding was set for the 6th of October, 1624, in Saint Margaret’s church in Whatfield. Upon contemplating the usual wedding attire in Puritan times, one wonders if the bride’s dress was purposely puritan wedding dress“full”, so to speak, in order to cover any untimely fullness there might be underneath. However that may be, in Elizabeth’s case appearances were kept, at least until the following year when little Samuel was born on February 7th, just four months after the ceremony.

From that date on, Elizabeth’s life fell into the routine that every housewife has known since time immemorial: making babies (the fun part), having babies, changing diapers, washing and ironing the clothes, setting and cleaning the table, making the meals, sweeping, dusting… etc., etc., etc.

After Samuel was born in 1625, the Smyths had a girl whom they named Elizabeth (my 9th Great Grandmother) in January of 1627; in October of the following year, Mary was born and then it wasn’t until four years later, in 1632, that Elizabeth had her fourth child, Philip, on the 25th of November. There might have been miscarriages or early deaths in between, but no record has been kept, and we can presume that life was going well for the young couple.

witchesYet all was not conjugal bliss and family; there was “double, double toil and trouble,” in more than just Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as the Century of the General Crisis became each year more worthy of its name.








[1] O’Connell M, The Idolatrous Eye, OUP, 2000, p. 14 as quoted in http://www.pricejb.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/Britgrad/Puritanism%20and%20the%20Theatre.htm )



How-to-loveMeet my Best Friend and my own True Love. She is someone (or something) that has been with me from the moment of my conception and will continue with me until dust do us part. She is less than a heartbeat away and nearer than the breath that joins us. She has been there during every single experience, both conscious and unconscious, and she lets me know the instant anything goes wrong (when a finger gets too close to the fire or a toe meets a table leg, or my mind is conjuring up a terrifying nightmare).

She began minuscule and has progressed to what a normal sized human fema1942-2 Julian + Brianda are born21042014 (3)le should look like, and soon –if not already- she will begin the opposite process until once more becoming minuscule and disappearing. I know that you’ve guessed by now that I am talking about My Body. Hmmm, is it mine? Perhaps, in the sense that a rented car is ‘mine’ as long as I have the use of it and then goes back to being agency property when I am through. Therefore, it is my ‘Best Friend and own True Love’ 1943-1 Brianda 1 yr18042014on loan.

I have not always been friendly with My Body; as a matter of fact I have treated her downright awfully more times than I please to remember. I hated her when I was a little girl around 6 or 7 because she wouldn’t obey anyone: not me, not my mother, not my father and not even the doctor or the camp counsellor. Every night I would order her to stay dry till morning and every night she would wake me with a chilly puddle of pee under my bottom. I was six years old, for heaven’s sake! I hadn’t used diapers for years and suddenly I couldn’t spend the night at a friend’s house without her mother being told I would need a rubber sheet on my bed. It was humiliating! And there was nothing I could do about it. My Body had decided –for a reason that will always remain a mystery- to begin wetting the bed again and it seemed that nothing would make her stop. She wet the beds in all her friends’ houses; she wet the bed in summer camp1944-1 Poughkeepsie25042014 (2) (and was made to wash her own sheets); she wet the beds in every hotel she stayed in and even in her grandmother’s house when we slept over. My Body turned 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 and continued wetting the bed. We moved to Mexico and turned 11 and she still insisted on emptying her bladder as soon as deep sleep moved in.

And then the miracle happened: my mother found a doctor (more like a sadistic torturer, than a man of the medical profession) who said he could cure My Body of its insane obsession. He handed my mother a small square pad (about15ins x 15ins) crisscrossed with wires and connected to 1947-2 Minnie the cat and B's b'day02052014 (2)an alarm clock that would wake the dead, and a set of instructions of how to plug the whole thing into the lights in the room. That night My Body was introduced to its executioner. Of course, by that time she had been peeing in bed almost every night for about 5 years and I didn’t think there was anything that could stop her. We were both in for a surprise.

At the first DROP of urine, the wired pad went into action: it1951 -3 Brianda 9yrs gave My Body an electric shock that sprang her out of sleep and convinced her that if she continued in that direction she would be electrocuted; it set off the alarm that woke my parents in another bedroom and probably the neighbors, and all the lights in the room went on.

Needless to say, that happened twice and the problem was solved. My Body was headstrong but not stupid.

1951-3 Mexico (6)However, five years at the mercy of My Body’s shameless behavior had taught me not only a total mistrust of the traitor, but also that I was completely powerless over her: she was going to do what she was going to do whether I liked it or not. That meant future endless torture especially in my teen years: an oversized bottom half with an undersized top endowment; pimples always in very visible places and right when there was a big dance or party to be attended; a frame made for a taller woman thanks to one leg that insisted on growing faster and had to be stopped; a nose that in boarding school earned me the 1957 - 2 Acapulco and Xmas (3)nickname of Dome; a mother that was to me the most beautiful and perfect woman ever created; and a grandmother that said “round eyes, round nose, round face” every time she looked at me and, when I was 18, suggested I have my nose fixed (by that time I was arrogant enough to respond: “It gives me personality” and not do it).

Somewhere along that narrow and unblessed path, I convinced myself that I was not and never would be pretty, so I decided to be intelligent instead. Anyone who has read this blog knows 1960-2 Brianda's Graduation (2)where that led me and I am not going into it again!

So I grew up, got married and had children all the time thinking My Body was so far from attractive that she didn’t even deserve to have her pictures in the family albums; instead they went into a drawer where they stayed for as long as I was married, and during all the time my children were growing up and getting married themselves. It wasn’t until after my divorce, when I was living alone, that I discovered all those pictures from so long ago, and began to see just how attractive that Body had been before. It was then that I 1965-1 MANOLO ARRIVES IN MEXICO02052014 (3)realized that if I didn’t start appreciating the beauty that she did have, instead of thinking she should have a different kind of 1962 -3 Church weddingbeauty, more like her mother’s for instance, I would some day in the future look back and realize how attractive I had been at that moment. It was then I knew that I had to accept My Body for what it was and make the best of it.

That was the day all the photographs of My Body, from my teens up until the moment I had divorced, came out of the drawer. I taped them up all over my dressing-room doors and walls and under each photograph I put a quality I wanted to believe that Body had represented at some moment: friendliness, generosity, patience (very little), 2001 Aug 11 Brianda marries Fernando 217042014helpfulness, honesty, kindness, etc. And every day I would stand in my dressing-room contemplating the pictures of My Body and finding her more and more acceptable. I did not, however, love her.

It was Salomé who taught me that. I loved my little dog from the very start. It didn`t matter if she was clean or dirty, perfumed or smelling doggy, asleep or awake, interested or bored… I adored her; I loved every inch of her hairy little body, each perky ear, her black little nose and her white whiskers, and I could gaze forever into her deep black  eyes. And then one day while I was cuddling her (against her will, mind you, she hates to be cuddled) I suddenly found myself wondering why I didn’t Betty 90 años en cumpletreat My Body at least half as lovingly as I treated my dog’s body. How could I love her body and not mine, when her body never even looked for mine unless she wanted something, and mine had been at my beck and call every second of every day since the beginning of my time? I understood the injustice I had committed and I looked down at My Body for the first time with tenderness, the same kind of tenderness that Salomé’s body had awakened in me.

Suddenly I felt such gratitude to have a Body that had taken such a beating and still was healthy; a Body that never had any trouble sleeping, that had cooperated and lost weight under the strenuous diets I had subjected it too (gaining it back, of course, because I would then feed it all the stuff it didn’t need), a Body that needed so little medicine to be able to count the times I had taken aspirin… in other words a FANTASTIC Body! A Body worth living for, a Body worth loving.P1100838

So today, as I work on my 74th year, and My Body produces the normal aches and pains from use, I understand her, I treat her with love and respect, I give her the exercise she needs, the rest she needs, the love and fun she needs and, occasionally, the ice-cream she doesn’t need. And every time there is something new, an umpteenth wrinkle, a new ache, an uninvited roll around the waist, another vein that shows blue on the legs, a painful cramp in my toes, I think of Salomé and ask myself: Would I stop loving my little dog just because she was getting old? And such a wave of tenderness DSC_2566flows over me that I smile and hug My Body, and tell her that she’s doing fine, that we’re doing just fine.

And, now, seeing as the evening has drawn to a close, and my True Love is feeling a bit fatigued, and Salomé is already in her bed happily snoring away, I think I’ll end this contemplation here, and trot off to bed with my own Body. What a delight it is to sleep every night in the arms of my one True Love and Dear Friend who will be with me forever and ever, till dust do us part.

(The Featured Image: is taken com the Blog of Shirley Maya: shirleymaya.com)