Salies has been invaded by stuff. It is the annual ‘vide grenier’ which literally means ‘empty the attic’ and would be the French equivalent of a garage sale except here it has become professional. Although some of the participants are individuals or families wanting to get rid of all that stuff that has accumulated over the years, most are merchants who have bought up stuff (from people who have moved, downsized, died, or simply chucked everything out) and now go from town to town offering it during the one or various vide greniers of the year.cof

Some of the professionals are eclectic, laying out everything from doll clothes to old jewelry to electric toasters, from used boots to vintage postcards; others have specialized and fill a table with DVDs or toys or army supplies or porcelain and cristal or old cameras.oznor

Amidst the old stuff there are sometimes antiques; other things have never been used and come from a factory that closed down or a store that went bankrupt, but most wear the mark of time. As I wander between the stalls, the faint odor of clothes kept too long in an attic or a closet or a garage comes to me and the multicolored infinite variety of things fills my vision. I have no need for anything but I do enjoy drifting along between the myriad tables glancing absently here and there while in my mind the word stuff repeats itself endlessly. oznorcof








If I needed something, here would be the place to buy it instead of the supermarket or the mall, and then I could feel good recycling all that enormous amount of stuff we humans have produced and getting something at a dirt cheap price too. But I don’t need anything.


A flowered teacup attracts my attention and I pick it up for a moment. The lady behind the table looks at me and waits. I put it back down having glimpsed –in my mind’s eye- the line of cups hanging from the beam in my kitchen. More stuff. Maybe I’ll take a few of my cups to the déchetterie (waste disposal site) where they will be quickly snapped up by dealers of stuff and perhaps appear at the next vide grenier.cof

Getting rid of all my stuff was what moving to Salies allowed me to do. I sold or gave away everything except a couple of unimportant pieces of furniture (a miniature chest of drawers that served as a medicine cabinet, a small arm chair), a selection of books from my library, one set of dishes and most of my clothes.oznor

The feeling of exhilaration I experienced and the joy of moving into an uncluttered new home has long disappeared under the onslaught of new stuff acquired over the years. Now papers spill over onto cluttered surfaces like mushrooms in a crowded forest; books creep out from bookshelves onto tables and chairs; useless decorations gather on table tops and shelves collecting dust; the closets are full to bursting with clothes, overcoats, tools, towels and every imaginable object that has drifted into my existence without me even realizing.cof cof

Do I really need eleven flower vases? What in the world am I going to do with over thirty ball-point pens garnered from different hotels or events? And the bouquet of different colored magic markers is seldom touched. The seven frying pans hanging from the beam in the kitchen might give the false impression that I cook a lot which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And plants invade every nook and cranny because I can’t resist replanting every voluntary sprout.cof

What do I have seven pairs of scissors for if not just to avoid going from one room to another (and my apartment is tiny) when I need one, or having to look for the pair I just used yesterday and didn’t put back in its place. I have a whole set of new knives I bought because I loved their red handles. They were carefully put away in the closet when I discovered that the knives in my old set (a present from my husband during a trip to New York 30 years ago) cut better and were lighter.cof

There is an apron hanging in the kitchen that I bought because I liked the design and I have never used (great! I will give it to my neighbor on her birthday next week because she cooks every day). I have two pair of binoculars gathering dust, one belonged to my father and another I bought for a trip to the Galapagos and haven’t even looked at since. I have two magnifying glasses and two magnifying mirrors to compensate for failing eyesight which in itself has left a collection of 7 pairs of eyeglasses in a drawer (besides the one for emergencies in every room).cof

Everything has a ‘what if’ or a ‘for when’ or an ‘in case’ attached to its continued existence in my house. Even if I never bought another item in my life, I wouldn’t use all I have. Stuff, it collects like cancer cells occupying space.cof

As I finish my rounds of the vide grenier without –thank goodness- buying anything, I am possessed with an overpowering desire to throw out or give away everything and start all over again. Unfortunately, I know that by the time I get home I will have found other, more pressing matters to dedicate my time to, such as writing this blog post. cof

So stuff collects and I try to ignore it, and the vide grenier will give way to the Marché d’antand where more merchants will sell more stuff, this time made in the old fashioned way our grandparents or perhaps great grandparents knew, back in the days before stuff took over our lives.


NUBES Y DIENTES DE LEÓN (AMARGÓN) 004 (2)Yesterday and last night Nature put on quite a show. There were high alert storm warnings for this area and around 8:30, when I took Salomé out for a walk, we had a thunderstorm, and I mean a thunderstorm, such as I had never experienced before: no rain, no wind, no lightening; just one peal of thunder after another as if all the thunder in the world had gathered for an evening melee. It was a crazy drum festival, a heavenly jazz session with only percussion instruments. Each peal of thunder was different from the previous one; some seemed to compete in intensity, others in length. I thought Salomé would be frightened but she wasn’t and we had a fascinating walk to the rumble-rumble of the clouded sky. Sometimes one clash of thunder would seem to fade into the following one as if they played together; other times there would be a brief space in between drumrolls

Then lightening had its turn around 3 a.m. when the skies lit up like a faulty Christmas connection with one bolt after another crackling loudly across the darkness. It was an awesome spectacle and this time Salomé did get frightened and readily climbed into bed with me, hiding her head under the sheet. With the lightening (the thunder, which images2HA81KGGseemed to have spent itself earlier, was absent) came the rain, torrents of water and high winds lashing out against the window which I had only just closed. It was a formidable exhibit of the forces of Nature and I watched, fascinated, as the flashes lit up the night sky again and again for over 15 minutes. Then it was over and Salomé and I curled up for a good night’s sleep.

This morning when I awoke there was sunshine pouring through my living-room window that opens to the East. For a moment, I thought that yesterday’s fracas had spent Mother Nature’s fury and we would have sun all day, but I was wrong. To the West menacing black clouds gathered and crept forward towards Salies. I picked up my umbrella and stuffed Salomé’s little red raincoat into my bag before setting off for the morning coffee.oznor

Sure enough, no sooner had we settled down at our table under the awning of Rose’s Café, than the clouds opened up. It was a good rain, not torrential and without wind, thunder or lightening, but steady small drops that promised to replenish the water table gently. It lasted the better part of an hour and then the blue opened up again over Salies and it wasn’t long before the sun came through.

I was delighted. This meant I could do my morning walk with Salomé and enjoy the cofbeauty of my surroundings after the rain. The air was cool but the sun on my back was warm as we set off. And I was right: everything sparkled and the atmosphere had been washed clean; every minuscule drop of water on every leaf and stem gleamed with solar energy suspended in the briefness of its existence. Pools of water on the pavement oznorreflected what lay above turning the ground into a spaceless sky, an infinite chasm reflecting the world downwards. I could have sworn the flowers were singing with their whispered voices as we strolled by.

Everyone seemed happy and we all wished each other a very good day as we passed. I hung my umbrella on a fence in order to photograph another occupant of the sidewalk, one that often –or perhaps always- comes out after the rain, and then forgot my absolutely useless umbrella until almost arriving home; I had to turn back and recover it which made my walk a bit longer, and definitely put the tired Salomé out of sorts. oznor

I was almost home, smiling and singing softly to myself, when a couple of fighter jets streaked across the sky above, out-racing their thunderous roar and leaving it to trail menacingly behind. I froze in my tracks and watched as the black metal birds disappeared into a distant cloud. It made me wonder…imagesRB2ZTKICEpilogue: Today I realized that I had forgotten to add the picture of the little creature that comes out after the rain, so here it is (above).


Jeff Foster, in one of his posts said “You can’t make others happy, but you can inspire others by living your own happiness more fully. (…) Sometimes you have to be more selfish to be truly selfless; so selfish that you devote your life to burning as brightly as possible, inspiring others rather than trying to fix them.”

I copy his words here because they are mine and he has said it so well. When I took off –just as my children were having their children- to live my own life I was consciously being selfish; I consciously took the decision to reach out for my own happiness rather than staying around and being a grandmother to their children. I did it out of love, love for me and love for them. Somewhere along the line I had learned that if I sacrificed myself for them, I would hand them the bill later on.  My guiding thought was: ‘If I want my children to be happy, I have to show them the way; this is the greatest gift I can give them and the most precious inheritance.’ I truly believed that then and have continued to believe it till now. Life has yet to show me I was wrong.

Today my two children are together, in Mexico (my son has flown down from Los Angeles), battling for the inheritance their father left them, which would have given them a nice amount of money if things had gone differently. Things didn’t, and what ensued is much too complicated to explain. Suffice to say it has caused them a great amount of anger, frustration and –in my son’s case- a large amount of money in lawyer’s fees. I do not know what the outcome of their struggle will be; they don’t either. But I sat here this morning contemplating the possibility of sending a wish to the Universe for things to go well, and then I realized I couldn’t possibly know what would be the best for them, for my children, so I simply turned it over knowing the Universe will give them what is best for them… but only always. Reality is kinder than my thoughts about reality –as Byron Katie says- but only 100% of the time.oznor

I don’t know why my two children are going through this at the midpoint in their lives (both are in their 50’s) but I do know that only good can come of it. I was 50 -well, 49 about to turn 50- when my life did a complete flip-flop that set me on the path I call “my second life”, so different from my first that the memories of that time seem to belong to a completely different person. In that first life, I searched for love everywhere wanting so desperately to be happy. Then that life died and, although I survived physically, everything I had believed I knew in those first 50 years was washed clean and I had to start learning all over again from scratch.

A few of the first things I learned were put very simply in Twelve Step meetings which became my new birthing family: “You can’t give anybody that which you cannot give yourself”; “God’s will is that you be you; if He had wanted you to be Mother Theresa of Calcutta, he would have made you Mother Theresa of Calcutta;” “you cannot control anything out there and when you try to your life becomes ungovernable.”

Recently, someone sent me a Ted Talk by Anita Moorjani where she explains her near-death experience (NDE). After listening to her, I bought her book on Kindle. Her story states over and over again in every way possible, that it was only one realization that made her come back to life and that cured her cancer: that she was here to love herself above all else. This sounds selfish and self-centered unless you put it the way Byron Katie does: “I am 100% responsible for myself”. That means I am responsible for taking care of myself, but also that I am responsible for loving myself: there is no one else that can do that; it is my job.

It took me a long time; I had no idea what it meant to love myself. Having spent my whole life thinking that I knew what love was and that I had felt it for others, I came to realize that what I had thought was love (physical attraction, passion, neediness, actually selfishness like in ‘be mine only’ ‘give me’ ‘love me’ ‘don’t leave me’, etc), all those confusing and sometimes painful emotions, had nothing to do with love. Eventually, I would understand that love is actually Being Present, Paying Attention and Responding: in other words, being Responsible.

oznorMy first lesson was learning to listen to me, something I (as a Leo) had always wanted everyone else to do. This was not an easy chore because –although I had demanded many things of others- I had never actually tried to listen to myself, so it took time and patience. I had to sit quietly, I had to ask myself and then wait. “Brianda, what do you want?” My first discovery was that I had no idea what I really wanted. It was like being with a small child who hasn’t a clue of what choices she has and therefore cannot answer the question. I had to be patient with myself and I had to try things out to see if they fit.

I would ask myself: Do I want to go for a walk now or would I feel happier reading a book? Then I would wait. I would check inside, first imagining walking and then imagining reading a book and waiting for my body to tell me which activity it actually would enjoy more in that moment. This was new. I had never really connected to my body before, much less known I could trust it to inform me of my needs, likes and dislikes. I had lived from the neck up, inhabiting a mind which became every day more obsessed, addicted and crazy. But my body –I would discover- knew exactly what it liked and didn’t like, what food it craved, what movies it wanted to see or not see, what people it wanted to be with.

For instance, one day the memory of how, as a young girl, I had loved coloring with crayons came to me and I felt my body respond with what seemed like excitement. My mind immediately said ‘but Brianda, you are a writer, an intellectual: what are you going to do with a coloring book and crayons at your age?’ But my body didn’t seem to give a damn about my mind’s opinion; it was already visualizing an enormous box of crayons, one with 48 different colors (there had only been boxes with 6 and later 12 colors when I was a girl), so I got myself up, went to the store and bought myself a big box of crayons and several coloring books.

And so it went. If someone invited me to their house or a party, was I really interested in going? I had to learn how to say ‘no’.  Did I want to see that movie, go to that restaurant or eat that food? Was I more interested in sitting around the table with my family on Sundays or going to an AA meeting (one Sunday, when I excused myself to go to the meeting, my son said “Mom, you’re getting awfully selfish,” to which I responded: “Yes, isn’t that wonderful!”)?

cofAnd listening to myself was only the beginning. Liking myself came second, and learning that it was all right if not everyone liked me as long as I liked myself. I came to see that my need to be liked by others was actually the long road to trying to like myself (the hidden belief being that if everyone liked me I would finally be able to feel I was ok). I decided to take the short cut and start with me. I dragged age-old photos of myself from the drawer where they were hidden (I hadn’t included them in the family albums because I didn’t like the way I looked) and pasted them all around my dressing room. Under each photo I stuck a piece of paper where I had written a quality that I could admire in myself (honesty, loyalty, generosity, etc.) and every morning while I was dressing I would look at the pictures and allow my body to feel acceptance and even love. It wasn’t long before I realized how beautiful I had actually been when I was younger, and started to feel sorry that I hadn’t known and appreciated it at the time. From there it was easy to see that when I reached 80 I would look back on my 50-year-old self as gorgeous and feel sorry for having missed it. I decided then and there not to miss another moment of my own beauty, notwithstanding extra pounds, wrinkles or bad-hair days. I was helped in this task by a very special teacher: my little dog. Supposing I loved, took care of and caressed my own body just the way I do hers? I asked myself: Am I going to stop loving her if she gets old, or goes blind, grows fat or loses her hair? If not, then why would I not treat my own body with the same love and care for as long as it lasts? Today, I mentally get on my knees to this precious body that survived my almost killing it with cigarettes, alcohol and misery, and has now carried me well into my 70’s as healthy and sturdy as ever.

With what are known as “negative” emotions, it was the same. Whenever I felt embarrassed or inadequate, sad or frustrated, lonely or bored instead of looking to others or the circumstances to find a culprit, I would stop and go inside. What I discovered was that the feeling had nothing to do with others or the situation and everything to do with my own judgment of myself and my circumstances. So I would ask myself what I was doing or believing that was causing the discomfort. I often discovered that what was making me uncomfortable was that I wanted something from somebody else (or from life itself) and that was making me unhappy with what I had (or was) at the moment. If I was being critical or judgmental of someone else or of my own life, that oznorcriticism or judgment made me dislike myself or my circumstances.

Little by little I began to realize that nothing I did or felt had anything to do with anyone or anything else: it was all me. Of course, some years later when I discovered The Work of Byron Katie and began to use the questions to undo my painful beliefs, it all became clear and much easier, and I at long last experienced real freedom and real joy as a way of being in the world.

So back to the beginning: Today my children are facing their own midlife battles, one of them being the fight to claim their father’s inheritance. I have no idea of what the outcome will be or what effect it will have on their futures. I only know I trust the Universe and am convinced that there are no mistakes… ever. And I know that if there were any way I could give them that trust, I gladly would, but it is something that each of us has to learn for ourselves by walking the walk. And for me, this learning is what life is about.WIN_20160731_155612 (3)