WHAT TO DO?

Dream. In last night’s dream, I was at some kind of gathering and this girl was attempting to work with her therapist who was trying all sorts of complicated stuff that I could see wasn’t doing the trick. In a given moment, I turned to the girl and asked: “What do you want?” She looked ghost-stricken: “What do I want?” “Yes,” I said, “what do you want?”

In the dream, I felt good about having fired such a pointed question. The girl then asked me if she could have a session with me and I said “Fine, this afternoon”. Then I went out into the street, passed a very elegant office building and went in thinking that if one of the elegant offices wasn’t in use I could give her the session there and impress her. While I was talking to the clerk to arrange it, I changed my mind and remembered that I worked really well out of my own apartment.

The scene changed and I was in –apparently- my apartment (didn’t look familiar) and the girl arrived; other people –perhaps her friends- were present to watch. She came with a dog, a puppy, and I had a dog; in the dream there seemed to be several dogs. There was a lot of confusion, bustle and noise that wasn’t allowing me to start the session, so I asked everyone to help get the dogs and ‘children’ (there were little children running around) out of the room.

Somehow, clearing the room wasn’t possible and a lot of time was lost trying to do so. Then when we were about to begin, the girl began talking to someone with long blond hair -apparently her travel agent- who was helping her fill in a Visa form. I insisted she pay attention, but she said she had to fill in the Visa form because she was planning a trip. Then she asked if she would have to pay for the session anyway and I said ‘Of course’, and immediately thought of the example of renting a hotel room and not using it, but having to pay for it anyway. Then I turned and said to her:

“You see: you don’t know what you want.” And with that avouchment, I awoke.

Of course, I am both the therapist and the girl in the dream. I am both asking ‘what I want’ and not knowing ‘what I want’, which in real life leads me to fill the time with ‘friends’ (FB, games, what I call ‘wasting time’), a dog and a trip (Visa) without answering the question. Now that I am reading again (I mean reading literature, real published books), persistently, I see writers who WRITE, and publish (internet is not publishing, its electronic grafitti according to someone I overheard once) and do it well. I see my impossibility and fruitlessness in the writing field. I read: “A writer sits down every day and does it; first drafts are always shitty”… I jot down ideas, begin useless pages that never continue, copy quotes that ‘inspire’ me… and still I do not write, not a book. Actually, I haven’t written anything bookable since I stopped drinking 26 years ago; whatever I have published after that has been just a ‘refrito’ as we say in Mexico: a refrying of things already written before. And my blog, everyday stuff, nothing serious. Therefore if I ask: Do I want to write? I would have to say that it seems not, at least not professionally.

So the question remains: ‘What do I want?’ From the above I can deduce that I want to DO something that gives my life meaning… and whatever that might be, to be valid it would have to be recognized by others… And there’s the “rub” as our old friend, Shakespeare, said.

So it would seem that what I want is to give my today life some meaning (in the eyes of others, of course, and therefore in mine) and playing solitaire in its diverse forms to whittle away the hours is not generally what one is remembered for all through Sin títuloposterity! Like: “Oh, you remember Brianda? She was an A-1 Solitaire player, beat the computer every time! Incredible” or even in the present: “Hi, how is that fantastic game of solitaire going? Still winning? You must come and give us a conference sometime on how you do it. Everyone will be so thrilled. Have you ever considered giving a TED talk?” No, not exactly what playing solitaire gets you, although I do win an uncountable amount of imaginary coins.

My blog sometimes gets me some nice, almost immediate recognition from the one or two people who read it and deign to comment, which is certainly a ‘timely’ improvement over books that take years to write, idem to publish and receive at least half as much negative feedback as positive.

oznorAnd it is obvious that the FB page I started (A GRAIN of SAND) was to be noticed and applauded as the initiator of a world-changing movement (¡Ha!) with millions of followers placing their grain of sand for the betterment of the planet. Sometimes I make myself sick of myself (yes, the repetition is on purpose)! Just yesterday, when I took my morning walk, the world was so absolutely perfect that I could find not one thing do-able to ‘improve’ it. However, I must admit that looking for something to do in that sense made me really appreciate the beauty of the morning washed clean by the night’s rain and sparkling as I had not seen for more than a week.

This morning I gave myself permission to pass over the possibility of picking up multiple pieces of trash in the gutters along my way and actually gifted me with a beautiful, freshcof head of lettuce from the Saturday market. Then, as if this were not enough to make my day, I stopped to chat with an acquaintance who was tending to her flowering red camellia. We exchanged a few platitudes about Nature’s confusion what with the weather seeming like spring when winter was still upon us, and she handed me –over the fence- two lovely camellia buds that she had obviously picked for her own living room. So, admittedly, the world had just made me a better place.

mdeSo the dream is speaking to me, it is telling me to stop and look and answer the question… or perhaps to ask other questions such as: ‘I need to know what I want… is that true?’ Or, as Byron Katie would say, ‘What I want is what is’… How do I know that? Because that is what is… Sometimes I feel like saying: ‘Shut-up, Katie!’

But no, her voice is loud and clear in my e-mail box: “The original stressful thought is the thought of an “I”. Before that thought, there was peace. A thought is born out of nothing and instantly goes back to where it came from. If you look before, between, and after your thoughts, you’ll see that there is only a vast openness. That’s the space of don’t-know. It’s who we really are. It’s the source of everything, it contains everything: life and death, beginning, middle and end.”

But coming back to ME… I am still quite entangled with my “I” that is constantly asking me what I want to do, in the waking and the dreaming worlds. So I say to myself: “Look around: what do other people do?” And I find that they do exactly as I do: carry on with life as best they can and be thankful for having so much that is undeserved.

 

 

 

ARROGANCE, DEPRESSION, THE WHOLE ENCHILADA…

 

It was definitely a stroke of arrogance that made me write out a sign that reads: “WHAT CAN I DO TODAY TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE”, like that, in redcof letters, and pin it on my door to remind me as I leave the apartment that I have a debt with existence and that I can actually do something about it. How do I know it was arrogance? Because immediately after placing said sign in the designated place, I went to Facebook and found a video progressively describing, first the planets, then the stars, then the galaxies, and finally the infinite universes in the MULTIVERSE, which brought tears to my eyes and led me to ‘share’ it under the heading: “…and then there is me…”  (https://www.facebook.com/100008390564556/videos/2053435061612826/).  Did I get the imagesW9SQ371Wmessage and leave well enough alone? You know damn well I didn’t! No! Actually, I completely ignored the message -which in no uncertain terms showed me my actual importance- and began to feel all puffed up and proud of my act of generosity in wanting to do my part in making the world a better place, Me… Yes, the same me.

As a matter of fact, I began feeling so good about it, that there was a moment of euphoria (always a bad sign) during which I convinced myself that my idea was so good it was actually worth sharing. Supposing –the argument in my head went-, just supposing that my little brainstorm was sooo inspiring as to get others to do the same, as to start a movement, as to actually influence the state of affairs of the world. I began to get excited, to feel importantme (yup, same one). So I went back to Facebook and clicked on the ‘create a Facebook page’, images 2or whatever it’s called, button; I thought up a name (A GRAIN of SAND) without imagining that there probably were umpteen pages with that same name and similar purposes already on Facebook; I looked for a photograph of a beach and cut it down to size for the page; and I wrote out what seemed to me to be a purpose (do small acts that better the world and record them on the page). Then I happily ticked off everyone on my “friends” list and asked them to like and join the page. There was a ‘rush’, a ripple of excitement and self-importance as I pushed the fleeting thought of a million followers to the back of my mind (it interfered with my assumed humility) and saw the world being transformed because of my one simple inspiration.

Then I realized that –as I was administering the page and inviting everyone to share- I should begin by writing what I had done that day ‘to make the world a better place’. And that was when reality stepped back in. What had I done, precisely, to make the world a better place? Blank… Lamely I wrote that ‘I had started the Facebook page as my oneedf grain of sand’. It sounded so presumptuous! Then I remembered I had picked up some empty beer cans that somebody –probably a group of young men out on the town which in Salies is not very exciting- had left on the lawn of a nearby nursing home, so I noted that down, but instead of the expected feel-good (me… look what I did!!!), I experienced the act as useless. After all, there was undoubtedly someone in charge of the green areas around the nursing home as the grass was cut and the bushes trimmed, so I was just doing what someone else would do when he or she came around. Lamely, I added that my grain of sand that day included smiling at everyone I passed on the street on my way to coffee in the morning. That cinched it. By that time, I was feeling miserable, lower than low. After all, I can smile at people because I have the advantage of living in a small town; if I did that in a big city, like Madrid or Paris, I would probably be considered looney rather than ‘kind’ or plain indecent. I know: I’ve tried it.imagesNQF3S8VV

I clicked ‘Publish’ and saw my lame ‘contribution’ go up on the page and suddenly everything that had inflated, deflated; my chest caved in, my stomach twisted up. Who… just who did I think I was. If I had known how to erase the whole thing I would have in that moment, but the invitation sent out was being responded to by loving people who perhaps didn’t see how ridiculous I was or did and just wanted to make me feel better, and I had no idea how to eliminate everything anyway (I hadn’t even known how to create it adequately and somehow had made a ‘commercial’ page which FB kept asking me to promote). I went to bed that evening feeling lonely and useless and ridiculous, in other words: totally depressed. Nightmares of frustration and despair populated my sleeping hours to the point where it was a relief to wake up.

026 (2)This morning I realized that the only way to make the world a better place today was to take care of myself, so I let myself have a little cry hugging me tightly all the while, finally smiled at my innocence, told myself that the silly FB page would do no one any harm, not even me and set off for my morning coffee with faithful Salomé who –in her dog world- does not suffer from these insane flights of ego (up and down, always up and then down). On the way, what did I see but a little grain of sand for me to add to the world’s beach: the wind –which has continued to blow all day- had swept the black garbage bagcof out of one of the town’s blue waste baskets (light blue is the Béarnaise color and shows up in most of the public fixtures) where I was about to place the poo-bag I had used to clean up after Salomé. I placed the poo-bag on the ground, picked up the black plastic garbage bag –which was empty- and replaced it in the light blue waste basket; cofthen I put the poo-bag inside to weigh it down.

My contribution to making the world a better place, I thought to myself, smiling as I continued my walk noticing at every step how absolutely perfect the world is without me tending to it.

cof

 

XMAS, HOLIDAYS, TRAVEL AND NEW YEAR’S EVE

It is January 1, 2018 and I am sitting in my small apartment in Salies de Béarn thinking about writing this piece to begin the year. I am happy. It is pouring rain, the wind is howling around with a tempest called “Carmen” which will continue all through the week; according to the weather man there is no chance we will see the sun until Sunday (how appropriate!) and today is only Monday. And I am happy and peaceful.

cofTwo days ago (that would be the 30th of December, 2017) I awoke at 9:30 in the morning in the small hotel where I always stay in Madrid. It was a beautiful, sunny day so I decided that, in spite of possible jet-lag, I would make the 6 hour drive home that very day. But there was nocof

jet-lag and the drive was easy, and I even went the extra 10 kilometers to pick up Salomé before heading home.

The no-jet-lag was definitely a surprise, but perhaps I should start at the beginning.

This year my son had invited the whole family to spend Christmas at his house in Lake Tahoe. After enjoying two days in Madrid, where I was treated to the most incredible oznorsunset over the city, I flew to Los Angeles on the 19th of December and spent the night in my son’s house in Malibu; the following day, we (my son, his wife, me, three grandchildren and their little dog) drove in two cars to Lake Tahoe (10 hours); it was snowing when we arrived (delightful). To make a long story short, a couple of days later my daughter and two more grandchildren arrived, one of them with his girlfriend. By that time we were 10; one other grandson –who had to work over Xmas- spent three days with us before returning to L.A. My son’s eldest male offspring arrived on the 25th with his girlfriend making us an even dozen.

IMG-20171224-WA0026Now consider that I spend 99 percent of my time living alone in a small apartment with a dog that doesn’t even bark; I hardly ever put on music and the only sound I hear is when I watch a movie or while talking with someone over Skype. I am my own boss: I eat, play and sleep when I want, what I want and with or without whomever I want. So the idea of spending 9 days with 12 other people –no matter how close to my heart they are- was daunting to say the least. Would I be able to stand it? Would I get irritated? Would I find myself running off to hide in my room most of the time? Were there going to be fights, unpleasantness, criticisms… I admit I was, at moments, a bit frazzled.

However, once there I began to have the time of my life. Yes, at moments the noise levelIMG-20171223-WA0010 was daunting with no one listening and everyone talking at once in voices that got louder and louder as everyone strove to dominate the general mayhem, and occasionally I found myself going hoarse in my effort to get a message across and finally giving up; I admit that –added to this- the constant musical background without which modern generations seem unable to live seemed absolutely unnecessary as it was never actually listened to. (I am tempted to remember that in my days and those of my parents, we put on music and then sat down and actually listened to it without talking. Music constituted an art form to be enjoyed of and by itself. Today, I’m afraid, people appreciate music the way my mother appreciated the Louvre, a museum she went through in less than 15 cofminutes.) The day everyone went skiing and I stayed home alone, my son asked if I wanted him to put on some music for me (he kindly thought that it might make me feel less lonely, as if being alone ever made me feel lonely) and I said “most certainly not!” and proceeded to enjoy the absolute silence.

Except for that one day, I spent every waking moment with the family: helping in the kitchen, making the gravy for the turkey, washing the dishes, playing table games with my grandchildren, shopping for food, petting or walking the dogs, fixing my own breakfast, mixing granola to share with the grandchildren or just sitting and watching and listening to my cofwonderful, beautiful family. I don’t remember a happier Christmas in my whole life, and it wasn’t at all about presents. Yes, presents were given, but somehow they weren’t the center of attention; they were almost like an afterthought. Much more important were the conversations, the hugs, the caresses, the games we played and all the times I got the giggles with one cofgrandchild or another. Everyone participated in the preparation of meals and I loved just being one more cog in the machinery of cooking and cleaning up.

When the moment my departure came, I realized that I would have loved to stay another four or five days until after New Year’s; I feared I would be terribly sad upon leaving. Apart from separating from the family, I had booked myself 26 hours of travel which made the prospect even less promising. But then I did something I had never done, and everything was perfect. I left without leaving. From the moment I stepped into the Uber car for my drive to the Reno airport, I began documenting my trip by taking photos and then sending them by Whatsapp to the family site so that every moment of the trip I was still with them and they were with me.cof

There was the picture of Lake Tahoe from the mountain top as we drove towards Reno; (below which I wrote “I still see you!!”); then cofan image of sprawling Los Angeles right before landing.

In the terminal, where I had a 7 hour layover, the “I Love L.A.” oznorsign over a store in the airport, the moving belt where I waited for my luggage, my suitcase coming down the chute and then the two matching bags standing side by side were all recorded and duly sent. I kept taking pictures and sending the info of my progress coftowards home, and this way, I realized that I hadn’t really left, I could still imagine each member of my family hearing the ‘ding’ of his or her phone, gazing at the screen and connecting with me upon receiving the photo.

My hours in L.A. airport became pictures of what I ate in the VIP lounge, of a hat on a stand outside a store which read: “I can’t Adult today” which was exactly how I was feeling in my playful mood; there were pictures of other coftravelers crossing my path; of a frozen yoghurt I treated myself to in memory of another time when I had shared one at the same stand with my daughter and granddaughter; of me reclining in a comfy chair; of the moving walkway where I cofstrolled back and forth to get my exercise of the day; of the luminous Iberia sign announcing that the flight would leave on time and that boarding was to begin at 8:50p.m. It became a game in which I was the only player and I was having a great time. I knew the other family members would be looking at different moments and soburst felt connected to them even if there made no comments: they were busy still having their own fun. But I was taking them with me at the same time: there was no way I was letting go.

sdrThere is a picture of the people ahead of me going down the jet way onto the plane; and of me in my seat with my feet up, followed by a shot of L.A. lights on takeoff. mde

Then I settled into my usual routine on long flights: supper and then a sleeping pill. I awoke 5 hours later perfectly rested, took a picture of the moon over the wing against a beautiful blue skycof and sent it to the family. Still in touch. I followed with a snapshot of the porthole, wing and a bed of clouds below; and finally of the London landing fieldcof at Heathrow the evening of the 29th as I sat in the plane for over 30 minutes waiting for a slot to disembark and fearing I would miss my connection to Madrid. Finally, after the usual race through Heathrow airport convinced that I would never make it, I sent a photo showing my boarding gate as closed (panic) and then one discovering that they had changed the

 

oznor

gate and my flight to Madrid was delayed. Plenty of time to board. Once more, a selfie of me sitting in my seat for the final leg of the

oznor

journey. By the time we took off, I had been travelling for 24 hours although, by clock time, I would lose a total of 9 hours in the transit. I landed in Madrid an hour and a half later (which by the clock was two hours and a half because of the time difference), picked up cofmy car and drove to the hotel, arriving exactly 27 hours after leaving Tahoe; I was –by then- quite tired. The last two pictures I sent were of a bowl of hot soup I had in the restaurant for supper with the caption: “warm soup for good little girls”, and my hotel room. Then I crashed.

And yet, I was not home. The following morning (after sleeping 9 whole hours) I hopped in my car and took off, continuing mysdr

pictorial journal with photos of the fog filled highway, and then the clear skies once leaving the central part of Spain, a photo ofsdr

my luncheon salad and detox juice in a place called Quintalapalla, and finally the picture of little Salomé on the car seat beside me which appears at the beginning of this post, and the sunset from my bedroom window. I was home.

I sent a message of thanks to my family for the wonderful, wonderful holiday and unpacked. Surprisingly enough I have neither suffered from jetlag nor from sadness or solitude. Everything about the trip was so perfect, even the way I ended it; where would sadness fit in? It turns out that nowhere! WHAT A WAY TO END 2017!!!

SPAM AND SPOOF MAIL

I find my spam mail getting more interesting every day. I am either offered sex in varying degrees of extreme -although they have my gender wrong-, bitcoins (a lot of bitcoins) as a fast track to getting stinking rich, or a sure-fire way to avoid funeral expenses by planning ahead (this is getting more and more frequent since I turned 75… maybe somebody is on to me).

I wouldn’t mind the sex spam except they obviously don’t know –or don’t care- that my name is Spanish and that Spanish names ending in “a” pertain to females. Instead of a great ‘suck’ or very liberal Russian ‘ladies’, or totally uninhibited anal sex, they could offer me a delightful dinner date in a nice restaurant with someone tall, dark and handsome; dancing later and then a good snuggle including sex if I was in the mood. That might get my interest, especially the ‘good dinner’ part. Another catcher would be afternoon coffee and ice-cream with a slim, tall, good-looking intellectual who has read my books and finds them incredible and wants nothing more than to talk to me about them before we have sex or instead of sex… depending. That would be a clincher: it is so hard to find a man interested in what a woman does.

As for bitcoins, I admit to liking money or rather, the kind of life-style that money can allow me, but bitcoins??? I had to look them up on Wikipedia for –although I had heard of them- I really had no idea how they worked. Even Wiki was not very helpful: a cryptocurrency? The first decentralized digital currency? “…the system works without a central repository or single administrator. The network is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly through the use of cryptography, without an intermediary…” The transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a blockchain… Ok, you lost me. I still remember the marvel of sticking a plastic card in a box with a screen, punching in a bunch of numbers (including the amount of cash you wanted) and getting a nice wad of bills (euros, dollars, even Mexican pesos) in your greedy little paw: now that is magic! I love it when my purse is heavy with coins and my wallet fat with bills; and, yes, I have done bank transfers where the money never actually materializes but rather is just a series of numbers passing from one supposed ‘account’ to another; and, yes, I know that those numbers on my balance sheet are not actually kept in a box in the bank I use… but still, cryptocurrency? And yes, I am conscious that a 50€ bill is nothing but a worthless piece of paper to which we have attached a belief (that it is valuable), and that is supposedly (but not really) backed up by a metal (gold) to which we have also attached a belief (that it is valuable, more so –say- than tin) and that all these beliefs have no reality to them, but bitcoins… that is going to take some getting used to. So send me spam about how you are going to give me 100€ or 100,000€ because my e-mail was pulled out of a hat, but don’t offer me bitcoins if you want me to read your spam (I won’t read the other either, but you will tempt me).

And funeral expenses… well, let me see. The last time I talked about anything to do with funerals was with my son. He asked me what I wanted done with my ‘remains’ when I died. I didn’t even have to think: “Whatever you need to do with them” I replied. “If you need some kind of ceremony, then that’s fine with me; if not, that’s fine with me also. I… what I consider ‘I’ won’t be there, so whatever you decide to do with the ‘remains’ to make yourself and your sister more comfortable with my parting that is what you should do.” After all, I wasn’t about to ask for an elaborate funeral seeing as my father’s ashes –except a small amount my mother kept in a pouch to be mixed with hers when she died- went to fertilize a tree on a property that I later sold; they did a marvellous job until an extreme frost one spring killed the tree. My mother’s ashes –except for a soup spoonful that went into the pouch- were placed in a large flower pot holding a decorative ficus tree. (This was not a good idea and I do not suggest you do it with my ashes or anyone’s for that matter, because the water that gathers in the dish under the plant… smells awful.) When I moved to France, I gave the tree to a friend; it eventually died after a few years. The small pouch with the remaining parental ashes and a stone to make sure it sank ended up in Lake Tahoe where they had been as newlyweds; the gesture was for me: it gave me any closure I might have still needed.

So much for Spam. Spoof is another matter. I actually enjoy getting Spoof mail, especially from a make-believe Paypal or Amazon. I say I enjoy it because catching the pretenders makes me feel smart and then I get to revenge myself by forwarding the spoof mail to the real Paypal or the real Amazon (both of which have ‘Spoof Departments’ at spoof@paypal.com or spoof@amazon.com ) so they can take care of it. It’s sort of like catching the mouse trying to get into the cheese cabinet: Gotcha!

ME TOO

The Silence BreakersTIME MAGAZINE has named the female whistle-blowers on sexual harassment, sexual assault and/or sexual abuse the Person(s) of the Year and I, for one, am immensely pleased. Reading their stories, beginning with Taylor Swift’s, made me conscious not only of the extent to which some men seem to view women as their own personal prey, but also to the courage that each of these women and the thousands that now stand behind them, needed to come forth. It also made me think of my personal experience in this matter.

I was in 4th grade and one or two of the boys seemed to think I was fair game for their habitual torture, which consisted in lifting girls’ skirts and showing their panties. Suddenly it seemed they had chosen me for their victim and at every chance they got they would sweep by pulling up my skirt and whistling or hooting. I remember feeling embarrassed and helpless (our uniform obliged us to wear skirts). It didn’t occur to me to tell on them (fear of disapproval and rejection was stronger than shame) but I did finally come up with a solution: I began wearing shorts under my skirts so that when they pulled it up, there was nothing to see and that gave me the last laugh. That ended their game, and I don’t remember them ever trying to do it again.1956-8 House in Las Brisas (5)

My second experience of ‘sexual harassment was nowhere as innocent as this. When it happened I was probably younger than any of the women who have spoken out. I was 13 and had just begun to develop breasts –something that I tried to hide as best I could. What happened was during our vacations in Acapulco (Mexico) at a house my father had bought in Las Brisas, overlooking the beautiful bay. My grandparents were visiting. That day, my parents, my grandmother and probably my little brother had gone shopping. I stayed home with my grandfather who I had always loved very much. He was one of the persons I had most fun with and we always played gin rummy when he was visiting (he almost always won as the card shark he was, but occasionally I would win and that would feel wonderful).

I was in our swimming pool just fooling around and my grandfather, who had been sitting in a deck chair sipping a highball, stood up and slipped into the water. For a while he floated on his back while I continued swimming and diving (playing dolphin). Then suddenly, I felt a pair of hands come around me from behind and cup my nascent breasts fondling them roughly. I struggled free, scrambled out of the pool and ran to my bedroom where I locked the door. When my mother came home a while later I was huddled on the floor next to the bed still crying. She asked what had happened.

“Arthur” –I had always called him by his name- “grabbed my breasts and squeezed them,” I blurted out. I think my mother hugged me (I don’t remember and she never was very physical) and what she said was, “Don’t pay any attention to it; it’s not important. Old men get that way sometimes.” When I stopped crying, she added: “And please, don’t tell your grandmother; it would make her feel terrible.”

At that time I didn’t see the contradiction between me –the victim- not taking it seriously and my grandmother ‘feeling terrible’; I just did what I was told and said nothing. However, not taking it seriously was not in my power; I simply hid what I felt, but I didn’t ever go near my grandfather again, not –at least- until I was 21. Today I can see that the price I paid for that was to lose my grandfather, my love for him and the fun we had together. Today that makes me sad. However, in the long run, I was fortunate because I was able to forgive him before he died.

At 21 I was married and expecting my first child (who would be born within a month). On our way to Massachusetts, my husband and I spent the night at my grandparent’s apartment in Larchmont (N.Y. State). In the morning, I walked into the kitchen. My Scan0009grandmother was cooking something on the stove and my grandfather was sitting at the table, hunched over. I immediately saw how old he had gotten and my heart softened. I came up behind him, leaned over and hugged him for the first time in 8 years. I put my cheek next to his and whispered ‘I love you, Arthur’ and kissed him on the cheek. We left shortly afterwards and I never saw him again: he died one week before my son’s birth.

Years later, when I was studying to become a writer, one of my first stories would recall this childhood incident. I titled it: “A Time for Sunset”. When it was finished, I sent it off to several magazines but they all returned it without comments, so I put it away and forgot about it. Today, I have no idea where it is, perhaps in a folder stashed away in a closet, or maybe it has gotten lost during one of my many moves. No matter; today it is not an issue and I can even believe that he truly thought I wouldn’t notice. I know in my heart he would not have wanted to hurt me, but a man like him –with multiple addictions (alcohol, gambling, women)- was not the ‘master of his soul’.

Today I can look back and understand better because I no longer believe my thoughts, such as ‘he shouldn’t have touched me’ when it was obvious that that was exactly what he did. I do not know what story my grandfather told himself that permitted him to do that to his young granddaughter (perhaps he thought I wouldn’t notice, that I would think he was playing, I can’t know); I only know that it cost him her love and closeness. I do know, however, the story I told myself: in my innocence, I judged him and found him guilty; it was righteous of me, there was no room for forgiveness or even giving him a second chance. If –as probably was the case- he had judged me too innocent to be aware of his intentions, I had judged him too evil to be forgiven. So, in the long run, it was my judgment that cost me my grandfather.

Years later, I had begun working as a translator to earn money –I was still married- and upon finishing my first translation I went to one of my teachers at the University to ask him to look over it for me and help me correct it. He was a known writer in Mexico at that time and he seemed like the perfect candidate to help me do a good job. When he had finished, he asked straight out if I was going to pay him. It hadn’t occurred to me that he would want to be paid and I was taken aback (besides, it was going to be the first money I had ever earned and I didn’t want to share it). He saw my confusion.

“Ok. You can pay me with a kiss, then,” he said, looking me directly in the eye. I felt flustered and uncomfortable, and when he took my arm to pull me towards him, I quickly leaned in, gave him a peck on the cheek and then sprang back and free from his grasp. Standing up, I lamely thanked him for his help, swung around and walked out. Once more, I felt ashamed, in this case because I had acted like such a child never thinking that he would want something in return for helping me. If my thought at the time was that he had been ‘abusive’, I must also see that in thinking he should do my work for free, I was being abusive. So it is interesting how everything turns around perfectly and teaches me the lesson I need to learn.

sex-harass[1]This is not to say that harassment, abuse or any other sexual manipulation of women by men (or of men by women) should be tolerated. Action must be taken and the wrongs righted both for the victim’s and for the perpetrator’s sakes. An abuser allowed to continue cannot love himself, just as a victim who allows the abuse to continue cannot love herself. Yet the judgments of the abuser that the victim holds to be true will –until questioned and understood- stain his or her view of the world. In my own experience, it is not the punishment of the perpetrator that sets us free, but rather the sincere questioning of our own judgments and beliefs.

 

A SPECIAL DAY

oznorActually, the special day began yesterday, precisely at 4:38 in the afternoon. Some people might find it strange that a special day begins with a gold inlay falling out of my top, left molar thanks to a piece of chewing gum that I was… well, chewing on. That was when the luck started: I didn’t swallow the inlay which –give or take a few- is probably around 60 years old. I have my marvelous dentist in Mexico City –Dr. Carlos Cornish who died quite some time ago- to thank for the long life of the inlay, and the chewing gum for the fact that I didn’t swallow it. I extracted the gold piece from the gum and placed it in a small container which I dropped into my purse so as not to forget it in case I could, by some miracle, find a dentist.

So there I sat, in front of my computer, on a Saturday afternoon, with a gaping (if I was to believe my tongue) hole in the second molar from back to front. Saturday afternoon!!!!! The borders of what was left of my tooth seemed terribly fragile and the hollowed out molar was sure to harvest at least half my dinner. What to do?

Internet, of course! What else? I typed “dentist Salies de Béarn” into Google. Four names appeared: 3 in Salies and one in neighboring Sauveterre. The three in Salies advertised opening hours only during the week, but the one in Sauveterre (a mere 10 kms away) had office hours up until 5pm Saturdays! If I hurried I would make it. There was a phone number which I dialed 3 times to no avail. I decided the dentist probably had both hands in someone’s mouth and couldn’t answer so I left a message saying I was coming and explaining as best I could the reason in French (my knowledge of dental terminology was definitely at its lowest point).

I loaded Salomé into the car, inserted the address into my GPS and… nothing. The GPS couldn’t find the street in spite of the fact that Sauveterre is much smaller than Salies. I tried again: same result. Ok, I thought to myself: I’ll drive there and somehow I’ll find the street. Upon turning onto the highway I saw a police car with a manual radar camera and pulled over to ask for directions. The officer seemed disturbed that I was cofinterrupting his possibilities of catching someone speeding, but kindly asked me what I wanted. I wondered if he knew the street in Sauveterre. He pulled out his cell phone and began to look for it and I suddenly remembered that I had downloaded Waze recently even though I had never used it. I opened my own phone, typed in the name of the street and, Eureka, there it was. Thanking the officer, I drove off, Salomé in the seat beside me.

With Waze I immediately arrived at my destination and that was the first gift of losing my filling: I now know how to use Waze. The office was closed, however, and even though I knocked and rang the bell it was obvious internet had lied. I sat back in the car running my tongue for the umpteenth time through the cavern in my tooth and wondering what I was going to do until Monday (I had tried eating a cookie before leaving home and the hole had filled up with dough which convinced me that there was no way I was going to be able to enjoy a meal until the problem was solved).

Once again I went to Google and typed in “Emergency dentist Béarn region”. A site with a phone to call popped up. I phoned. A charming gentleman answered and, upon hearing my request, asked from where in France I was calling. I told him and he said I should call the emergency number: 15, SAMU, an acronym for Urgent Medical Attention Service in French. It seemed that this tooth-thingy was going to be a learning experience through and through. I dialed 15 and a very nice man answered immediately. I explained that I needed the number of a dentist on emergency call. The gentleman said he was sorry but there was no dentist on call for emergencies at that time, but he would give me the number of a doctor on call who could tell me what to do until I could get to a dentist. He gave me the number; I wrote it down and thanked him kindly for his service. Then I called the doctor. He answered immediately and I told him about my tooth.

He was very kind and sounded honestly sorry as he told me that there was nothing he could do. Then he said that I should call 15 again the following morning and ask for a dentist doing emergency service. I thanked him, wondering if it had only been Saturday that there had been no emergency service, and hung up. There was nothing more to do but go home with the hole in my tooth and the filling in my bag. Salomé thought that was a very good idea: it was way past her supper hour by the time we got home.

oznorI drove back thinking I would probably have to wait till Monday and settling into the fact that I would have to eat with great care and spend time cleaning out the gaping hole. I noticed how thankful I was that it wasn’t hurting. I did my best to ignore the hole for the rest of the evening and made sure to empty it of all residues from dinner before going to bed. Then I had a wonderful night’s sleep.

In the morning, I first armed myself with the necessary vocabulary: molaire, obturation, trou, dente, and then –after breakfast- dialed 15 again. This time a lady answered and when I explained that I needed a dentist for an emergency (after all, it was now Sunday: the special day) she gave me a phone number to call and explained that a recording would tell me the names, the towns and the phone numbers for the dentists that were on duty that morning. She also explained that emergency dental service was only available from 9 to 1 (which was why it had not been available the previous afternoon).

There was no doubt I was learning a lot of ‘how-to’ from a simple loss of a filling; I was beginning to enjoy the adventure. I dialed the ‘magic’ number and listened to the four names rattled off. For the first one, I had trouble understanding the name of the town where he was situated; the second one was in Navarrenx (a town I go to frequently for my osteopath and that is but 30 minutes away); the third was in Biarritz (over 40 minutes away and necessitating the use of the toll highway) and the fourth was all the way to Saint Jean de Luz, over an hour`s drive. As the towns seemed to get progressively farther away from where I live, I decided to try the first one whose name I could not make out, hoping it would be the closest.

I called, the dentist answered and informed that he was in a town 10 minutes outside of Pau, so it would be farther than Navarrenx. I thanked the dentist and explained I preferred going to a town I knew. Then I called Navarrenx.

I had to dial 3 times before getting through, but when I did it turned out the dentist was a woman called Natalie Marin. I have liked everyone I have ever met called ‘Natalie’ so the signs were propitious. Dr. Marin asked if I could be there at 11:45 and I felt such joy that I very enthusiastically cried into the phone: “Of course!” Then she explained very carefully where her office was in Navarrenx and we hung up. cof

I had a dentist appointment; there was a lovely woman dentist that was going to fix my tooth… and it was Sunday!!! What more could anyone want in life? But my special day had just begun. I practically waltzed off to my morning coffee with Salomé in tow and even decided to gift myself a croissant this very special morning. From my coffee friends I learned that “obturation” was not what a filling was called (although it is French and the dentist understood perfectly when I used it, it apparently is too scientific for everyday usage), but rather plombage which having the prefix “plomb” (lead) probably points to the fact that that metal was used to fill teeth in the beginning.

At 11 o’clock on the dot, I danced my way home, climbed into my car and drove lickety-split to Navarrenx for my Sunday morning dental appointment. Although I imagined that the service was going to cost me a pretty penny, I couldn’t have cared less: anything was worth paying to have that hole in my tooth filled in.

Natalie Marin turned out to be a slightly thick bodied lady probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s who had studied dentistry in Belgium. She issued me into a beautifully clean and modernly equipped office with a lovely pale blue dental chair. I opened my bag and took out the filling. She turned it over in her fingers and said: “Ah, c’est un anlai”; it took me a few seconds to realize she was saying “inlay” with a French accent. I laughed and nodded. “And it is about 60 years old” I said.

20150518_152216As I lay back in the comfy blue chair, I noticed a kind of television screen visible only to the patient, where a video of colorful tropical fish swimming amongst bright corals was displayed. “To make your patients relax?” I queried. She nodded, smiled and then gave me the best news yet of the day: “I believe I can replace the original filling perfectly as it isn’t at all damaged.” What joy!!! My 60-year-old filling can go right back into my 75-year-old mouth! Who could ask for more?

With the first slight contact of the drill in the tooth (to clean it) we both knew my molar was very much alive. I had barely said: “Novocain please, I am a coward when it comes to dental work” when she had the needle in my gum and before I knew it everything was asleep and I felt no more pain. She cleaned the tooth, cleaned the filling and –miracle of miracles- my mouth was just as it had been before the mischievous chewing gum. I was so happy that I smiled from ear to… well it was sort of a lopsided smile; you know the kind I’m sure. I told her three times how happy I was.

My joy was such that I couldn’t wait to pay her whatever the cost. I was in for a surprise. She sat at her desk and opened her computer; after consulting something she told me the amount. I couldn’t believe it! I asked her to repeat thinking I had heard wrongly; no, I had heard it right the first time: € 28.73! If she had said €280 I would have paid it gladly, but 28 euros, dental work, on a Sunday no less!!! How in the world do these people live! My lunch was going to cost more than that. I took €30 out of my wallet and when she said she didn’t have change would I prefer to pay with a credit card, I told her it was fine. But no, she got up and went for her purse and found the 1 euro 27 centimes that was missing.oznor

It was barely 12:15 when I climbed back into my car complete (tooth filling and all in less than 30 minutes) and completely ecstatic! My tooth was fixed and I had found the most incredible dentist in the world. ‘Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful’ I said out loud as I drove away. And then, as if the universe had not already given me enough, I came home to a beautiful bouquet of flowers I had recently picked or rather pilfered from the community vegetable gardens where they just wither and die.

DAY-LIGHT SAVING TIME

pexels-photo-301599

Please tell me how to explain to my little schnauzer, Salomé, that we went back to standard time from daylight saving time and it is NOT 8:30 and time for her breakfast, but only 7:30 and barely a decent hour to begin thinking about getting up. At 9 a.m. she wants to go out and pee because her inner clock says 10, but I’m barely beginning to get dressed. All day today has been torture for her, and thus, for me.

At 4 p.m. on the dot, she is poking my leg with her nose while I write this piece, convinced (by her stomach) that it is supper time, which arrives –for her- at 5. I attempt to distract her with a dog biscuit, but she isn’t fooled. Swallowing the treat as fast as possible, she returns to the push-push on my leg gazing imploringly at me with her dark brown eyes. I make her wait till 4:30 and then give in thinking that tomorrow I will push it back to 5. In the spring, when we put the clocks forward, she doesn’t mind at all that her meals are an hour earlier, but getting up at what is for her such an unearthly hour of the morning is confusing to say the least.170px-George-Vernon-Hudson-RSNZ[1]

I explain to her that she can blame Hudson –not the river, but George, the man- who, according to Wikipedia, was a British-born New Zealand entomologist who proposed Daylight Saving Time or DST in a paper presented to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895. Most people then were more like Salomé and preferred their hours just the way they were, thank you very much, so it wasn’t implemented until the German Empire decided to try it out and –along with Austria-Hungary- organized the first nationwide implementation on the 30th of April, 1916 in order to save coal during WWI. I doubt that Hudson heard anything of this –although he was still alive- because he probably was running around the wilds of his country collecting insects for what would eventually be the largest insect collection in New Zealand, today housed in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. He died in 1946 and no longer has to worry about remembering to set his clocks either back or forward depending on the time of year.

20151030_170045Wiki goes on to state that DST clock shifts can complicate “timekeeping and disrupt travel, billing, record keeping, medical devices, heavy equipment and sleep patterns…” and that its usefulness in saving electricity and heating fuels is questionable. It mentions nothing about dogs or other household pets that might think they are being tortured for no justifiable reason.

Hudson was seconded in his idea by Robert Pearce, a Liberal Member of the British Parliament who introduced the first Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in 1908. After some consideration it was discarded and even though the following years saw several other bills they all also failed. So it was left to the Germans during the war to begin what today is Salomé’s torture, with Britain, most of its allies and many European neutrals following suit. Russia and a few other countries waited until the following year, and the United States adopted DST in 1918. However, most countries (except Canada, the UK, France and Ireland) dropped it after the war and brought it back during WW II. Then it became widely adopted, particularly in Europe and North America in the 1970s as a result of the energy crisis.

However, there is no general agreement on the benefits or detriments of DST. Personally, at my age, I have no problem with putting the clock forward, putting it back or leaving it alone other than remembering to do so. Since hearing the Spring Forward/Fall Back20160813_131049 reminder, I no longer have trouble knowing whether we are adding or subtracting an hour from our day. However, if I look at the detrimental effects on health that Wikipedia delights in enumerating, I might side with Salomé in thinking that we humans should leave well enough alone.

Although some benefits due to greater exposure to sunlight seem to be favored by the hour shift, the negative effects include an increased risk of heart attack (10%), sleep disruption and severe effects on seasonal adaptation of the circadian rhythm which can last for weeks. It also has a disruptive effect on sleep for a lot of people. I would have no idea if this is having an effect on me as the hour change comes shortly after my trip home from Mexico from which I am still experiencing a certain amount of jet-lag that is affecting my sleep anyway. Salomé sleeps off and on all day long so it would be difficult to determine if there is any sleep deprivation in her case.

It is now 6:15 in the evening and there is a little black nose pushing against my thigh to remind me that she believes it is time for my dinner (around 7- 7:15)… which, of course, means that she gets titbits and to lick some of the cooking dishes when there are yummy leftovers. Oh dear… I think Salomé has DST-lag which will probably last for a few days and maybe clear up with my jet-lag.imagesW5OARGBR

 

 

 

I AM SAD

disastersSomeone might say “that’s normal” what with hurricanes, earthquakes, mass killings, threats of nuclear war, global warming, Donald Trump, Brexit and terrorist attacks going on all over. And, if the general goings on were not enough, there is personal stuff too that could make me sad.

For example, I have worked with a girl who suffers from something similar to schizophrenia for over 14 years now; I am very fond of her and have been gifted to have her trust. For a while it seemed as if she was getting better with The Work, but suddenly she began having crises and having to be interned. She had gone through all her family and acquaintances with violent paranoia, but somehow I had been spared. I felt her trust was a gift even though I no longer felt I was helping her. Then suddenly it was my turn. She had been obsessing over a man called David for some time and was desperate because he wouldn’t pay attention to her. Then one day, she accused me of having had sex with him. I told her I didn’t even know him, but she was absolutely convinced I was lying. From there, it progressed as mental illness does and the last time we spoke, she was screaming at me to get out from inside her and stop controlling her imagesWDEQQHBRlife. Her language and rage was such that I had to block her from calling me again. This certainly might have made me sad but, although I felt for her, I understood perfectly how her mind had finally taken over completely and attacked the last person she trusted. If there was a lesson for me in that, it was to contemplate the power of the mind, in case I had ever doubted it.

But that wasn’t what made me sad. The other thing happening in my life was with a friend here in France who had begun leaving negative comments on Facebook on everything I published, and sometimes on my friends’ comments on what I had published. After erasing her comments day after day, I finally got tired and decided to save her the bother of even reading me. The first time ever I de-friended someone on imagesUF6PPOI9Facebook. She obviously realized this the next time she tried to go into my page, and sent me an unpleasant message on my cell phone, so she got blocked there too. If I don’t like what someone writes, I stop reading them but I don’t send them sly remarks suggesting that they are mentally deficient or, at the very least, absolutely wrong. I have no hard feelings about this friend, I just wanted to save her the pain of reading what I write and also I prefer not to be perusing her comments.

So none of this was causing my sadness and sad is not normal for me. The only thing I could identify as niggling at my heart was the Cataluña-Spain situation, but that puzzled me too. Yes, I was reading both my Catalan-Spanish and my non-Catalan Spanish friends on Facebook publishing comments that every time got more angry and violent, but the Catalan situation is not something new to me. About 35 years ago, I met a girl in Mexico and when I asked where she was from she said “Barcelona”. “Oh, you’re Spanish!” I exclaimed, to which she replied dryly: “No, I am Catalan.” Later I would find out that, although my friend was very well read in French Literature, she had no idea whatsoever of Spanish Literature and was very surprised to discover how outstanding they were, especially those of the so-called “Siglos de Oro” (Golden Centuries). When I, myself, untitledmoved to Spain I realized how regionalist the country was, and how people tended to identify with their region more than with Spain as a whole. Cataluña was just the most. So, it could come as no surprise to me that what had been just under the surface for so long should suddenly and violently come to light. However, it seemed that this was the cause of my sadness.

Every time I thought of the conflict or read something on Facebook, I could feel the pressure in my chest and the desire to cry out: “Please, please stop it! Be sensible, negotiate, find a solution amenable to all.” I actually felt depressed, and the more I FIGHTthought about it, the more depressed I got. It wasn’t logical. The conflict has nothing to do with me and doesn’t actually affect me in any way. There was no logical reason why it should be affecting me at all. Why couldn’t I find it (on both sides) as absurd or amusing as the Donald’s goings on? But as incomprehensible as it was, I couldn’t let it go. Even if I stopped reading FB or watching the news, the thought of the conflict was constantly in my head, and the more it was, the sadder I got. Not only was I sad, but also the feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming: there was nothing I could do.

Last night I took Salomé (my little schnauzer) out for her evening walk. It was dark and the moon was full; the night was warm. Yet, I couldn’t get enthusiastic or let myself enjoy the walk. The truth was I felt like crying, so finally I let it come out. Tears came to my eyes and rolled down my cheeks and… suddenly the memory arose: I was about 7 years old or maybe more and my parents were fighting –something they did very often. They 1947-2 Minnie the cat and B's b'day02052014 (2)were yelling at each other, I have no idea what they were saying, but I felt every bit of fear, powerlessness and deep sorrow of that little girl. I knew in that instant what it was that Cataluña-vs-Spain was awakening in me, and the painful belief came to the surface: There is no solution and it will never end. I walked the rest of the way home hugging myself and letting that little girl cry her heart out. By the time I got home, the sadness had gone and I felt light and tired.

I didn’t have to question the belief: time had taken care of that for me. There was a solution, and it did end. I smile today as I remember sooo clearly the last two fights that threatened to frighten me. The next to last was one night when my parents were fighting in the kitchen. I was in the living room but I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard my father yell: “Then I want a divorce.” I snapped to attention. The terrible words I had always feared had been spoken. I waited for my mother to yell back but, suddenly, she answered in the calmest and most determined voice I had ever heard her use: “Don’t be ridiculous,” was all she said, and the fight was over. I think we had dinner together later.

The last fight I remember, I was 13 and was in my room in bed. The light was out and I was going to sleep. My parents were in their bedroom fighting as usual and I wasn’t really paying attention. By that time I had understood that their fights never came to anything worse than my father having to sleep on the couch. Then suddenly I heard a smack! and my mother yelled something and my father laughed; and then again: smack! mother yelling and father laughing. When it happened a third time I was convinced that my father was not only hitting my mother but laughing about it. I leapt out of bed, yanked open the door and ran out into the hall. There, I stopped dead in my tracks. My mother was taking every bit of my father’s clothing out of the closet and throwing it into the hallway (that was the smack!) and yelling that he should get out of her bedroom and my father, standing to one side of the bedroom door so as to be out of the line of fire, was cracking up with laughter. At that moment, I joined in his laughter until my mother calmed down and we both set about helping her put all the clothes back in the closet.

1951 -3 Brianda 9yrsI was never again awakened by a fight between my parents and I am sure they had many, but somehow the frightened seven-year-old has always been inside. The last time she awoke was during my daughter’s divorce when her soon to be ex would make angry threats against her. I remember lying curled on the bed sick with nausea the night before she was to move out, when suddenly the little seven year old girl shared another belief with me: My father is going to kill my mother and then kill himself, was what I heard in my head. In that moment, the nausea disappeared and I realized that there was nothing to fear in the present; it had all been a childhood fear that had lain in the pit of my stomach for all those years.

Now, somehow, the apparent impossibility of a peaceful solution in the Catalan-Spain struggle had awoken yet one more time that frightened, powerless little girl. But as I can now see her and be with her, she got so many hugs last night that this morning she was as happy as could be. All the sadness gone, and just astonished once more in the realization of the extremes produced when everyone is believing what they are thinking.

 

A PIECE’A CAKE

IMG-20150706-WA0001 (2)So, here is the situation. I have coffee every morning in the same café with a group of French friends and since the beginning (about 5 years ago) I let Salomé roam at her will around the café visiting all the tables and receiving caresses and small titbits. Most people seem to love her and ask me politely if they may give her a morsel of the cookie that comes with the coffee or a small piece of croissant. I say yes, always making the sign of a tiny bit with my fingers. Salomé seemed happy, I felt happy and I didn’t see any problem.

However… there is a member of the group I have coffee with –I’ll call him Joe- who began to give her the whole cookie or a really big share of croissant. I asked him not to do it, to just give her a little bit and he reacted as if this were some sort of a game of tease or torture me. What ensued was a struggle (on my part) to try and get this man to understand that so much sugar is not good for the dog and stop giving her what I consider to be too much. I have pleaded, begged, reasoned, lied (I told him she had been diagnosed with diabetes)… used about every trick in the book to get him to lay off, but for some reason –that obviously goes beyond my comprehension- he continues to think this is a fun game (him overfeeding my dog and me trying to get him not to do it). Finally, yesterday, after asking him twice not to give her too much, upon seeing him take a wad of the cake someone had brought to share with the coffee and give it to her, I blew up. I don’t remember having gotten that mad in a long time. I stood up, leashed Salomé and stormed out.

This morning, when I arrived at the café, he wasn’t there and I sat with my usual group. I mentioned having gotten mad and said that, as far as I was concerned, Joe was dead. I was hoping he wouldn’t come (he does not come every day and sometimes goes for a week or more without showing up), but as I took the last sip of my coffee he appeared at the door. I said ‘Uh, oh’ and stood up. One lady in the group (who is very fond of Joe) asked me not to go, said he wouldn’t feed Salomé, made all kind of conciliatory gestures on his part, but I was determined not to stay. Joe himself asked if I was leaving because he had arrived and I said ‘yes’; he then asked if I was at least going to say good morning and I said ‘no’. My tone of voice left no doubt as to my feelings towards him. I’d had it: I found the man despicable!

As I walked out, I had the thought: “If you do this you are going to lose”, but I couldn’t go back, so I began my morning walk around town with Salome. It wasn’t long before I began crying. I felt like a little girl and the memory was of exactly the same kind of teasing-torture from some boy or other in primary school. In spite of my tears, I was pleased with myself for having gotten furious. I realized it was ok, I mentally hugged myself and told myself that it was about time I had gotten mad and defended my right to be respected in that way; I understood how childish (and cruel) it was on his part to give a small dog so much sugar just to get a rise out of me. I was very kind to myself and it felt good. By the time I arrived back at my small apartment, I was calm and I knew what I had to do.20150319_103437

I took out a Judge-your-Neighbor worksheet (available on Byron Katie’s page http://www.thework.com) and began filling it out, allowing my mind to revisit the scene of the previous morning as I answered the questions.

The first question is “In this situation, who angers, confuses, saddens or disappoints you, and why?” I closed my eyes and replayed the scene at the table where he broke off a large morsel of the cake and gave it to Salomé right after I had politely begged him not to. That specific scene was the situation and I wrote: “I am furious at Joe because he doesn’t respect my wishes; because he uses Salomé to ‘tease’ me; because he is cruel to my dog; because he is harming my dog.”

By the time I had filled in the first question there was a disturbing realization niggling at the back of my mind, but I wasn’t ready for it yet, so I continued filling out the sheet putting what I wanted Joe to do in that situation; writing out longhand my advice to him in that situation and enumerating what I needed in that situation in order to be happy. Much of what appeared in number 1 reappeared only slightly changed in numbers 2, 3 and 4: I want him to stop feeding Salomé, he should be respectful, I need him to stop playing games with me, etc.

In number 5, where I am asked to make a list of what I thought of Joe in that situation, practically all I could think of was “he’s stupid, stupid, idiot, stupid” but I managed to complete the list with “infantile and disrespectful”.

Question number 6 on the worksheet asks me what it is about that situation that I never want to experiment again and I wrote: “I never again want to have to lose my temper in order to be respected.”

The niggling in the back of my mind was still there because my mind now plays the game of The Work and races ahead of me before I even start questioning. I Ignored the niggling, took a deep breath and decided to give myself some off time before questioning anything. Putting the worksheet aside, I read my e-mails and checked out a few things on Facebook before coming back to it. Then I was ready.

I re-read number 1 and chose the thought that I wanted to start working on: I am furious at Joe because he doesn’t respect my wishes. I removed “I am furious” because The Work does not question my emotions, and asked the first question: Joe doesn’t respect my wishes… Is that true? Closing my eyes and breathing deeply, I replayed the situation (scene) in my mind’s eye: Joe is breaking off a large morsel of cake and giving it to Salomé, laughing and casting a glance my way. My answer appeared. It was Yes, it was true. Once again, I closed my eyes and watched the scene: Joe doesn’t respect my wishes… Can I absolutely know that it’s true that he doesn’t respect my wishes? Again I waited for the answer to rise within me: it was Yes once more. There was no way that I could find Joe respecting my wishes in that scene. Yes was my honest answer.

20120711_103100I went to the 3rd question: How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought that Joe doesn’t respect my wishes? I closed my eyes. I didn’t have to guess. It was all there right before me and my body –as if it were once again in that café watching that man give my dog a large piece of cake- reacted exactly the way it had reacted the morning before: stress, stomach tight, throat closed, shoulders pushed forward, jaw clenched. How did I react? I jumped up, I roughly leashed my dog, I called Joe stupide not quite loud enough for him to hear but feeling the pleasure of the insult in the pit of my stomach. I stormed out of the café. Did it end there? No. All the way home, I was replaying the scene, reliving the fury, submitting my body to the stress of extreme anger over and over again. Between yesterday and today I must have replayed the scene at least fifty times, probably more, each time reliving my anger. That is how I reacted when I believed the thought that Joe doesn’t respect my wishes. There could be no doubt in my mind as to how I reacted because every time I replayed the scene I re-reacted the same way: my body didn’t lie.

So then I went to question 4. I love question 4 but in this situation, found it difficult question to ask. Who would I be without the thought in that same situation? The only reason I asked myself question 4 today was because I wanted to know the truth; I have to live with myself 24 hours of every day and only the truth allows me to do that in peace and gratitude; only the truth allows me to be happy today. So I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and watched the scene play itself out exactly as it had, while removing all thoughts from my mind. Katie says ‘this is meditation’ and meditation is removing thoughts from the mind, so I looked; I allowed my eyes to see, to observe as Joe took the large piece of cake and gave it to Salomé while using my breath to remove the thought, to remove any story that might have appeared in my mind. Without any thought what I saw was a man giving a dog a piece of cake: it wasn’t personal. There was no ‘my dog’, no movie of ‘my dog dying from too much sugar’, no interpretation of ‘disrespect’, just a man giving a dog a piece of cake and my body had no reaction whatsoever. So who I was without the thought was a-woman-watching-a-man-give-a-dog-a-piece-of- cake. You might say it was ‘a piece’a cake!’Salomé en Portugal

It was in that moment that the niggling realization finally surfaced: what I understood was that Joe was giving my dog a piece of cake because she was asking for it. And she was asking for it because I had allowed her to roam freely around the café asking all and sundry for whatever it pleased them to give her. I didn’t like this truth, but I couldn’t deny it and once it had appeared I couldn’t ignore it either: I had seen my part in the ‘problem’, be it large or small, it was my part.

Does that make Joe right and me wrong? Absolutely not! Does it excuse or justify what is probably his stupid ploy to get attention? Of course not! But it does give me the solution, and a solution that had existed from the very beginning if I had not gone to war trying to control another human being’s actions, in other words: trying to control reality. I don’t like the solution, I would have preferred it to be his fault and to have succeeded in controlling him; I would have loved for him to bow to my wishes from the very beginning… but then I would not have had this opportunity to do The Work and learn about my stubbornness in wanting things to be the way I want them to be. I would not have had the opportunity to feel how absolutely rabid I can still get even after so many years of The Work. I would have missed the peace that comes with accepting reality as it is and not as I would have it.

There was still something to be done with this question before I moved on to the next: The Turnarounds. My thought, Joe doesn’t respect my wishes, turned around to:

  1. I don’t respect my wishes. Immediately I found examples. I am not seeing what others are giving Salomé and they could be feeding her just as much as Joe. It is my wish that Salomé not eat a lot of sugar, but she is probably getting too much already by going from table to table during the hour or more that I spend at the café. And I don’t respect my wish to continue with my coffee group by making war with one of its members. I am not respecting my wish to be a kind and respectful member of the community when I let my dog run free and beg from all the tables without asking if this might bother someone (ouch!) My wish is there be no war in the world, and I am making my own war in the café!
  2. I don’t respect Joe’s wishes. Right! He wants to give her the cake and I am not respecting that (this doesn’t mean I will, I just notice); he is trying to be funny and I am not respecting that by laughing (that doesn’t mean I will, I just notice); and yesterday and today I was downright rude (disrespectful) to the man… Oh boy and I notice how disrespectful I was in my mind insulting him up and down for the rest of the day! Oh, yes: it is obvious that Joe doesn’t want a woman telling him what to do in front of everyone else and I am not respecting that: I am not respecting him by making him choose between giving my dog cake and obeying my orders.
  3. Joe does respect my wishes. Hmmm, this was more difficult. Oh found one: Yes, perhaps he could believe he is respecting them because he can’t know what a small amount is in my eyes (this is a bit contrived, but I’ll let it serve). Ok: it is obvious that in letting Salomé roam free I want everyone to like and be kind to her and he is doing that in his way. One day I asked him if he would pay for my coffee and he did, respecting my wish. I always wish I could find more opportunities to do The Work (and free myself) and he respected that wish giving me the perfect opportunity.

The turnarounds are thoughts too so they are no more true or false than the original, but they can also be indications of how I can better lead a peaceful and happy life (which is all I want in the long run) so I will take them into consideration. This is a grand opportunity to take a good look at where I am not respecting myself and where I am not respecting others and to remedy that to the best of my ability. It is a chance to see where I am not respecting Salomé (her needs which are my responsibility) and remedy that. I do this for me, only for me; because it makes me feel good, it gives me peace, it makes me love myself and therefore others.

Thanks to doing only one thought on this worksheet, I have looked at the reasons that I let Salomé run loose in the café. They are the usual ones and don’t surprise me one bit: It gets me attention; I like being seen as the owner of such a cute little dog; love my dog, love me; I fool myself thinking that I am making her happy but if I had never let her loose she wouldn’t know the difference… In other words: I, I, me, me, I, me! Nothing whatever to do with Salomé’s happiness or wellbeing.

Someone might be asking themselves if all this apparent guilt and self-blaming is really good for me, but I have to say that I am not feeling in the least bit guilty because my actions were (and always will be) completely innocent. I just believed what I was thinking and as long as I believe what I think, I have to act in accordance with that. I am not to blame for believing what I believe in each moment. However, today I am responsible for doing The Work with thoughts that produce war or pain or suffering of any kind in me.

With The Work I see what it was that I was thinking that made me act in the way I did; so now I have the power to change what was causing the problem in the first place: my thought that another person should change to make me happy. There can be no self-blaming or guilt: quite the contrary, I am filled with love for myself for being so clear and so brave. I love my mind for participating in this game called The Work which I do only for my own freedom and happiness. And I love my body for being my faithful ally in this Work and showing me always when I go to war with reality by manifesting the feelings that wake me up.

And what do I do with the rest of the worksheet that I so carefully filled out? Well, I continue to go through each thought one by one. I can take my time. A worksheet can last me a day, a week, a month, a lifetime and reveal every single problem that I am causing in my life by believing my thoughts.

In the end, I can turn numbers 2, 3 and 4 around to myself and find the path to my own freedom and happiness. For instance, number 3 –the should’s– says: Joe should be respectful, he should understand that he is doing harm to Salomé, he should stop trying to play games with me, turns around to I should be respectful (of Joe, of Salomé, of the group I belong to, of the people in the café, etc); I should understand that I am doing harm to Salomé by letting her roam the café begging for goodies and overeating; I should stop playing games with me (believing I have no part in the problem), I should stop playing games with Joe (continuing the push-me-pull-you of tease/control) and I should stop playing games with myself (thinking I do something for Salomé’s pleasure that I am actually doing for myself, like letting her run free).

Eventually The Work is done: It’s a piece‘a cake!P1010581[1]

 

 

SHAMBALA WARRIORS

685402     “And you know that we are so interwoven in the web of life that even the smallest act,      with clear intention, has repercussions through the whole web beyond your capacity to see. But that’s a little cool; maybe even a little abstract. You need the heat of the compassion – the interplay between compassion and wisdom.” http://newstoryhub.com/2017/09/joanna-macy-on-the-relevance-of-the-shambhala-warrior-prophecy-for-our-time/

Someone shared the Shambala Warrior Prophecy on Facebook and this part of it seemed to me to hold the key to all the world’s problems. When I look at the size of the ‘problems’, they seem so large that they produce a feeling of helplessness. But I’ve taken to asking- “What can I do?”- and waiting for the answer. It always comes. It might be making a donation, or buying a product to help a foundation; sometimes it is changing a habit (not buying any more water in plastic bottles, for example), others responding to a community request like the day I went to help a local team pick up cigarette butts around town.

Occasionally, it might be picking up somebody else’s dog poo (I always carry extra poo imagesM841JRMDbags), or the empty bottles and plastic cups found on my walk to coffee and putting them in the bin. It is not much, but I think of ants: each one does its best, puts the effort it can into a small piece of the job and they build cities that marvel us (https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/ants-natures-secret-power/). Each bee brings but a small amount of honey back to the hive, but between them all they produce enough to feed the next generation of bees and a whole lot of human beings besides. And, if it is the imagesAA3REBX8bees you are worried about just type ‘how can I help save the bees’ into google and you’ll get a ton of ways (http://www.queenofthesun.com/get-involved/10-things-you-can-do-to-help-bees/).

So yes, I do believe that a small act has repercussions, that the beating of a butterfly’s wings on this side of the globe might cause a hurricane on the other side. I may never see these repercussions or even know of them, but today it fills my heart with hope to notice people doing small things to change what is ailing the planet or humanity and this shows me the way. I can’t imagesVGRXVOCIclean up the ocean; I can’t even clean up Salies. But I can pick up one plastic bottle and put it in the recycling bin; I can pick up a piece of carton and put it in the paper bin.

And as far as cleaning the ocean, it seems that a 16 year old boy –Boyan Slat- came up with an idea that is actually being tested and is going to go into operation sometime next year (https://www.theoceancleanup.com/updates/). And then there is 4Ocean (https://4ocean.com/) which to date has removed 92,892 pounds of garbage from the ocean; if you donate, they send you a bracelet made from the plastic that has been ocean projectremoved. So the next time you are on the beach, why not pick up some trash and put it in a bin? Every piece you pick up is one more piece that won’t be washed away by the next high tide. And that is just the oceans.

Maybe it is air quality you worry about. Well type that into Google and up come a dozen or more things every single one of us can do to help. Will it actually make a difference if I walk or bike when everyone else is going in cars? I don’t know, but it is the contribution I can make and it feels good to make it. Good for my health too (https://sk.lung.ca/protect-your-lungs/air-quality/10-easy-steps-cleaner-air).

If you type “Save the rainforest” into Google, tons of associations working on just that are available for you to donate. Maybe it isn’t the rainforest, but just planting a tree in your garden is a contribution to the air we breathe. There is I Give Trees (Rainforest ECO,rainforest Enterprises https://rainforesteco.wordpress.com/about-us/) started by Alana Lea who –through crowdfunding campaigns- manages to buy organic trees from small rural associations in Brazil and give them back to the people who live in the degraded rainforest. It just takes one person with an idea.

LORENAInterested in helping children, type it into Google and lavish in all the possibilities (https://www.children.org/make-a-difference). I have been sponsoring two children (Lorena and Milton) through ImageKhanimambo in Mozambique and get regular reports on their progress in school (https://fundacionkhanimambo.org/la-fundacion/) plus photos and information on the activities of the organization.

A drop in the bucket, but drop by drop, the bucket fills up. Every time I am confronted with information about the enormity of a problem we are facing, it is another opportunity to ask: “What can I do?” And there is always something. Yes, I would prefer to go off and work with Doctors without Borders, but I understand that, at my age, I would be more of a hindrance than a help, so I send money when I can, I pick up dog poo and plastic around Salies, I do The Work over Skype for free when someone can’t pay (it lessens suffering on this planet) and I serve in an association that provides food for families with low incomes in the Salies area. And, yes, I do it for me: it makes me feel good, it makes me feel useful; it feels like giving back something of all that life has given me. My friend, Carlos Nagel from Tucson, says it better: “Helping others is the rent I pay for my stay on Earth” appears at the bottom of every e-mail he sends.

But above all, I do my part by not adding more stress and worry to the world, torturing myself with problems I cannot solve. If the answer to my question (What can I do?) is “Nothing”. I figure it is not my problem and immediately stop worrying about it. If worrying solved anything the world would be paradise today.

arthSo if you are worried about the state of our planet, our oceans, our rainforests or just the world in general, do something. You might think that your contribution is so small it won’t make a difference, but remember the ants and carry your fragment of leaf for the rest of the human colony (https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/ants-natures-secret-power/).