NOT MORE GUNS, NOT LESS GUNS… NO GUNS!

Coincidentally I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver when the Florida school shooting took place killing 17. It was a riveting read about a 17 year old boy who kills 9 people in his school and more so as I longed to understand what goes on in the mind of any young person capable of committing these atrocious acts. In the book, Kevin’s mother (the narrator) also struggles to understand why her son meticulously planned and carried out the murder of 8 school companions and one teacher. I will not spoil the book for anyone who wishes to read it and, in spite of what I considered an unnecessarily gruesome end, it was well worth the read.

As with everyone I know, I was horrified not only by the Florida killings, but with the printed fact that by the 15th of February there had been 18 school shootings in the United States[1]. That’s one shooting every two and a half days, every 36 hours. No, mistake: there are 13 days (weekends and the 1st of January) where there was no school, so it was 18 shootings in 34 days, or a shooting every 1.8 days. As The Guardian states in the note below, there were a couple of accidents, some incidents with no deaths, and two suicides but none the less, there were 18 gun related incidents in schools in the first 34 working days of 2018.

As if this were not bad enough, I then heard President Trump (or The Donald as Obama called him) say that the problem was that schools were gun-free zones (not that kids could buy or get a hold of automatic and semi-automatic weapons) and that the solution was to arm the teachers[2], a proposal that shouldn’t even merit comment, much less consideration, an opinion I voiced to a group of friends during market day in Salies. I was surprised to find that one of the ladies, though claiming that semi and automatic weapons should be banned, considered that having a gun was a necessary defense. This made me think of my father and remember an incident that taught me a lot about guns when I was young.

1920 Sep 25, Laguna de Medina 2First some background. My father was a hunter (the picture on the left depicts him at 18, in Spain, 1920) and, as such, owned a good amount of shotguns which he kept under lock and key in a gun cabinet. Everything I know about guns I learned from him. Even as a child I was taught that you never, EVER, point a gun –even a toy gun, even a water pistol- directly at another person. When I asked my father why he didn’t buy himself a pistol, he said that he had shotguns because they were for hunting; pistols, and most other weapons were for shooting people and he had long ago decided that he never wanted to kill any other human being (he had done his military service during the Rif war in Africa and, from what I have read about it, there were atrocities committed on both sides); that –according to him- was the reason he had not gone back to Spain when the Civil War broke out for he would have been expected –as a member of the Spanish nobility- to lead troops into battle.

When I was around the age of 13, my father began to show me how and how not to handle a shotgun. I was taught that the moment the gun was handed to you, you break it open and check the barrels to see if it is loaded; that you never walk with a loaded gun even if you have it open (his best friend had lost an arm by tripping while walking with an open, loaded gun); that the safety should be on at all times until the moment you plan to shoot your prey. He showed me how to clean a gun after using it, how to aim ahead of a flying prey so that the shot and the bird would cross paths. He took me to shoot skeet at the gun club and let me practice until I was pretty good at it. Then he took me duck 1922 1 (2)hunting, in Acapulco, out at the Lagoon of ‘Tres Palos’ (Three Sticks) where we stood, at the break of dawn, up to the knees in swamp water, hidden by the marsh grasses, waiting for the ducks to fly over. I remember feeling very important to have been included in the hunting expedition (my mother had preferred to stay home in bed and was happy to have me as a stand-in) although I don’t know if I shot any duck on that first time. Neither do I remember how often I went with my father. Actually I only have two clear memories of these experiences: the first, feeling things crawling up my legs from the swampy water (and discovering later that it was nothing more than the air bubbles from my sneakers) and the time I shot and wounded a duck. The poor animal dropped to the water well within my reach and I could see it fluttering helplessly. From watching my father, I knew that it was my obligation to wring the creature’s neck in order to end the suffering I myself had caused it. So I waded out to where the bird lay and took it gently by the head with my right hand. Then, trying not to look into its eyes which were still open and alive and attempting to kill it without causing it harm, I gave it a couple of soft swirls. I can still feel today the warmth of its body, the life still present there. I was heartbroken, I hated myself and I just wanted the damn bird to die so I could stop suffering myself. It did not oblige under the gentleness of my feeble attempts. So after three half-hearted swings and seeing that the duck was still flapping around suffering, I could stand it no longer. I plunged the feathery body into the water and put my heavy cartridge box on top of it so that it finally drowned to death. I realized in that moment that I was not capable of killing an animal and I have never been hunting since.

1951-3 Mexico (4)However, the incident that taught me the truth about guns took place a year of two later. Our house in Mexico City –as most of the houses there- had a flat roof where we hung the laundry and had a storeroom. Late one night, after we had all gone to bed, my father heard footsteps on the roof and realized that someone had managed to climb up there and was walking around. As my mother told the story later, my father grabbed a broomstick and went up to the roof to face the invader. She was laughing and my father was right there eating breakfast so it was obvious the story had a good ending, but I was shocked.

“Why didn’t you take one of your shotguns?” I queried, thinking how ridiculous and helpless a broomstick must have looked to the invader. “Supposing he had had a gun?”

“Well,” my father explained, “if he had had a gun, he obviously would have been more than prepared to use it, something that for me would have been difficult if not impossible; so if I had appeared with a gun he might have shot me right off while I considered the possibility of doing the same. A person who breaks into a house with a gun is prepared to use it; I was not. It was safer to go up without a gun if you know you are probably going to think twice before pulling the trigger.”

I understood perfectly: I couldn’t even wring the neck of a dying duck to stop its suffering! So, I ask myself or anyone else who will listen, how many teachers are prepared to pull out a gun and shoot a student before he sprays everyone in the classroom with automatic fire power? It’s ridiculous! Even if the teacher is trained and manages to extract his/her gun from its concealment, aim at the student and pull the trigger, the possibility of landing a deterring shot before the other responds in kind is minimal. And then we have to think how many teachers would be able to do this and how can we be sure that the classroom to be shot up is one with a gun-toting teacher? My history class was taught by a Miss Hunter who –if I remember correctly- was a small, aged lady with white hair and glasses. I just can’t imagine her pulling out a Smith and Wesson from her girdle and shooting our aspiring high school killer before saying calmly to the class: “Please open your History books to page 347 where we left off last Friday and commence reading, and, Ralph, would you mind removing that trash from the doorway and depositing it in the Principal’s office.”

The basic argument against gun control runs to some version of the following: “With gun control, the good people will be forced to give up their guns while the baddies will continue to have them; we will be defenseless”. Nothing is farther from the truth, as my father well understood and showed me with his brave example. If someone armed enters to rob my house, he/she probably does not mean to kill me, just to take what he/she wants and depart. He/she will only shoot me if I threaten to shoot him/her. If, on the other hand, someone wants to kill me, they will undoubtedly do it while I am walking down the street unarmed, or driving by in a car unarmed and not while I am in my own home where I might have a weapon. Therefore, gun control might actually save my life, not put it in danger.

The mostly ‘kids’ who shoot up schools are not hardened criminals; they are usually ordinary –sometimes mentally or emotionally disturbed (not ‘sicko’ as Trump said)- kids. Gun control would make it more difficult for these unfortunates (yes, they are as unfortunate or perhaps more so than the ones they kill) to obtain weapons, especially automatic weapons. It is much more difficult to kill 17 people shooting them one by one, than it is spraying them with a hail of bullets without even having to aim.

As I am not a hunter, personally I have no use for a gun in the house; I know I would be absolutely incapable of using it. I have proof, for when I was kidnapped, many years ago in Mexico City, I found myself trying to figure out a way to escape. One day, the kidnappers left an empty bottle of wine in my room and I thought to myself that I could use it to hit my guard over the head the next time he came in and make a break for it. Immediately I realized I would try to do it gently so as not to hurt him (just like the poor duck) and that would have me ending up as the object of his wrath. Fortunately, the police did the job for me and I was rescued.[3]

So if you ask me –and nobody has- I’d say “not more guns, not less guns, but NO GUNS is the only solution.”

[1] In all, guns have been fired on school property in the US at least 18 times so far this year, according to incidents tracked by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group. In eight of these cases, a gun was fired on school property, but no one was injured. Another two incidents were gun suicides, claiming the lives of one student and one adult on school property. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[2] Some gun rights advocates have pushed to expand gun-carrying in schools further. Andrew McDaniel, a state legislator in Missouri who introduced legislation last year to make it easier to carry guns in schools, told the Guardian that, in rural schools where it might take 20 or 30 minutes for law enforcement to respond to a school shooting in progress, it made sense to have other armed citizens ready to step in. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far

[3] The book I wrote about this incident is called Once días… y algo más and is available on Amazon; the translation into English, Eleven Days, is out of print and 2nd hand copies are quite expensive I believe.

FORGIVENESS, OR WHEN THE UNIVERSE CLOSES A DOOR, IT ALWAYS OPENS A WINDOW

In my last post I spoke of forgiving myself, but recent events have made me think about forgiveness in and of itself. I have come to believe, through personal experience, that the best definition of forgiveness is the one that Byron Katie gives: “Forgiveness is the realization that what you thought happened, didn’t.”

This is true: if I believe someone has done something wrong to me, I can question the belief that they did it to me which invariably leads me to see quite plainly that it had nothing to do with me and it was only I, myself, taking it personally that caused the pain. If someone hits, insults or in some way tries to harm me, I can understand that they are doing the best they can in that moment with what they are believing about me or about themselves (they are striking out against the person they believe me to be, not who I really am). This, of course, doesn’t mean that I will stick around and let them continue abusing me or themselves, but understanding that they are doing the best they can with what they believe in the moment, allows me to see that it has nothing to do with me and therefore there is nothing to forgive.

Voilà an example:

I had quit drinking –let´s say- three months earlier, in other words I still wasn’t emotionally very sober. My mother came over to our house (I was still married then) for supper and she came through the door gaily announcing to my husband: “Fernando, your drinking partner is here because Brianda no longer drinks.” I flew into a red rage MAMA–doubly so, because my husband couldn’t understand what I was so angry about- said a couple of nasty things in a loud voice and stomped off to the bedroom. The thought was: ‘How can she be so cruel’, obviously to me. That scene alone sufficed for years to prove to me how unloving my mother was which, of course, was one of the reasons I was so messed up.

It wasn’t till years later, many years later (after my mother had died, actually), that I questioned that belief, thinking it was time to forgive her. The thought was: she was being cruel. As I viewed the scene, in my mind’s eye, first holding the thought (still rage) and then without the thought (sudden realization and laughter), I saw clearly that her entering announcement had nothing to do with me. It was my mother being her usual flirtatious, playful, man-attracting self that always wanted attention (but only all of it). As I watched the scene play over again and again in my mind’s eye, I felt a wave of love for my mother, a smile spread across my face and a mad desire to run and embrace her took hold of me. I felt so sorry I had treated her badly at that moment. It was then I realized that there was nothing to forgive, there never had been. There was a sadness in my work that day for, when I turned the thought around (I was being cruel to her) I could definitely see that I had been, attacking her directly with every intention of hurting her. But The Work freed me. It freed me to love my mother with all my heart which is my birth right.

Even forgiving myself is understanding that there is nothing to forgive: I can’t know to do any better than I know to do in each moment; when I raged out at my mother, I was still believing all my thoughts. It would be many years before I was freed from this. So when I said in the previous post that I forgave myself, it actually was saying that I1944-1 Poughkeepsie25042014 (2) realized I had done the best I knew how to do with the information I had at the moment and that now, with new information, I would hopefully not repeat the mistake. Slate wiped clean.

So this is what Katie means when she says that forgiveness is understanding that there is nothing to forgive; that we are all, in every moment, doing the best we can with what we believe.

Unfortunately, the person who supposedly (the harm is done, she said, but never specified where or how) suffered the wrong I unwittingly committed, does not feel the same way. For her there is no forgiveness possible. I would not know this for sure (although I suspected it would be so, knowing this person) until yesterday morning when I worked up enough courage to walk into town and enter the café where we gather.

cofAs far as the group went, there was only one person (whom I will call our local Drama Queen because she is always in a state of righteous anger about something somewhere she has found wrong) in the Café and I walked over to say hello. Before I could reach her, she swung around on her barstool and told me she was furious with me because I had fought with the other member of the group and therefore she –the person I had fought with- wouldn’t be coming to the coffee group any more as long as I was there, and therefore the Drama Queen would never see her again. I politely, but firmly, set the story right (I did not fight with her, I made a mistake and she was apparently hurt by it) and told her not to worry, that it would be me quitting the group so the other friend could come. I realized, in that moment, that I had made a decision.

The ironic thing about this scene is that the person whom I hurt and was not going to come to the café any more, can’t stand the Drama Queen who was so bitterly lamenting that she would never see her again (something ridiculous as they live in the same town and if they were friends they could visit each other; but they are not even friends). Anyway, I sat alone and drank my coffee and then left.

WINDOWStrangely, as I walked home, the thought of not going to the café every morning for coffee didn’t weigh me down; on the contrary, I felt lighter. Inside, there was a conviction that the Universe never closes a door without opening a window, and all of a sudden I began looking forward to what might come next. Yes, during the afternoon, I had a couple of down-thoughts (I won’t have the group to buy presents for when I travel any more, and there will be no birthday celebration for me on the 1st of August this year) and a slight feeling of loss swept through my chest thinking of the friend who will not forgive, but on the whole I felt pretty good. During the afternoon, I wrote to the coffee group and explained the situation without going into details, and announced that I would be retiring from the group out of respect for the ‘injured’ party who had been there long before me.

One friend answered, it was the artist and sculptress. She jokingly suggested that instead of a café group we form a restaurant group and invited me to join her and some painter friends for lunch the following day (today). I gratefully accepted, and there it was: new beginnings. Added to that, a dear friend who reads my blog, alerted by the last post, emailed me to let me know she was there if I needed anything. That felt so sweet that grateful tears filled my eyes.

img_5192This morning I went to another café (where the coffee is slightly more expensive but much, much better) and had a jolly conversation with a woman who was visiting from a nearby village (in French!). Then at noon, I met the Artist lady and her friends, spent a delightful two hours and had a delicious lunch. C’est la vie, what to do, that’s life!

MUSICAL COUNTRIES

1943-brianda-1-yr17042014A friend asked me today how I had felt about giving up my American citizenship and if it hadn’t been a hard thing to do. I said “no”, that given my rootless upbringing it made little difference. At nine years old, when I was just beginning to discover that I belonged to something much larger than my immediate family, we moved to Mexico and everything changed. My mother stopped cooking dinner for the family and the children (my brother and I) were served supper in the kitchen by and with the maids who spoke Spanish, a language I still had to learn. The acres and acres of fields and woodlands that surrounded our house in New Canaan became a fenced in garden with nothing but flowers and grass and a few trees. Gone were the vegetable patch and the field with wild blueberries; gone the endless woods and the long walks with my father; gone were the tractor and hay rides in the autumn… as a matter of fact, gone were the spring, the summer, the autumn and especially the winter. Instead, there was a dry season from October to June and a wet one from July through September. There was no snow except on the peaks of the (then) visible volcanos, Iztaccihuatl[1] and Popocatepetl, and img-20160116-wa0000plants generally flowered all year around but never with the magical profusion of a New England spring. Even the school year was then different as at that time, in Mexico, the long vacations were over Christmas (to take advantage of the sunny dry season) and school continued during the summer (when rain made everyone stay indoors anyway)[2].

So, considering that I was only 9 years old, did I adapt and identify with my new Mexican surroundings? Well, not really. I was sent to the American School so that most of my classes were in English and many of my school friends were Americans living in Mexico, many of them temporarily. The Mexicans in school all spoke English, so English continued being my principal language. My parent’s friends came mostly from the American Colony in Mexico, therefore I continued identifying myself as “American”, but a second class one because most of the desired cultural symbols enjoyed by youth my age in the USA were not available in Mexico. I dreamed of Double Bubble and Mars Bars while breaking my teeth on chamuscadas[3], eating Tin Larín[4] and drinking Royal Crown Cola instead of Coke. I listened to American music when I could get the records to play, but never tuned into a Mexican station to hear the local music. I went to American movies when they finally came to Mexico although I didn’t even once go to a Pedro Infante or Jorge Negrete film, and I read every American comic book I could get my hands on and it never even occurred to me memin%20retroto pick up a comic of Memín Pinguin or Kaliman which is what Mexicans were reading at the time. In other words, it was like living on a small and distant island belonging to the US but not really America. Every time I went to the States (as we called it) I felt like a second-class; each visit showed me more how out of real American life I was and how different I was. My cousins would introduce me as their “Mexican” relative and ask me to speak Spanish while they pretended to understand what I was saying and showed off in front of their friends. They had toys I had never heard of, read comic books that weren’t sold in Mexico and shared a common cultural language with their friends that was as foreign to me as Spanish was to them.

And if I was different in the USA, I was much more different in Mexico. There I was a “gringuita”[5] with a coloring that wouldn’t be considered Mexican under any circumstances. Blond, blue-eyed and with a skin that always required a hat lest it turn bright red, I was as foreign as foreign could be. Furthermore, I was confronted 1951-3-mexico-2immediately with something children don’t see much of in the USA: a marked class difference. As a matter of fact, my contact with Mexicans was seldom as friends. The closest were the maids, separated from me by their language, the color of their skin, their age and their maid’s uniforms… in other words, their position in the household. Then there were the lecherous men who made obscene and salacious remarks with words I had never heard before as I walked by. There was the kind gentleman, who had the paper store where I went often to buy paper dolls and crayons and notebooks and pencils, and the girls at the checkout counter in the supermarket (but you never got to know them). There were the sad looking men who put on worn out uniforms and tried to direct the parking in town or at the market. My mother would always get mad at them because “they didn’t help, just blew their whistles but never picked up a bag for you”. They were commonly called “pesómanos” and it was generally expected that you would give them a “peso”[6], but my mother would only give them a 20¢ piece, and I would feel embarrassed and sad for them. When I was old enough, I remember telling her one afternoon that she should give them more: “After all, at least they put on a uniform and come every day; they are not begging on the street,” I said, but she kept on giving them the shameful token. There were construction workers and bus drivers and craftsmen or women and my father’s secretaries 1953-3-churubusco-golf-club-3in the office who were very nice. But they weren’t people you would invite to dinner at your house or whose children would come over to play. A few of my mother’s friends that she played golf with were Mexican, but they all spoke English and I, of course, knew them only slightly as “Mom’s friends”.

We kept our American customs and ate dinner at 8 pm and lunch between 1 and 2pm. Our food was more American style (roast beef, hamburgers, salad, pasta) than Mexican (chiles rellenos, quesadillas or tacos) and the few times I went to visit Mexican families with my parents, I felt strange and out of place; they talked about movies I hadn’t seen, books I hadn’t read, songs I hadn’t heard, just as when I went to the States. It was a neither-here-nor-there existence even though I didn’t realize it at the time because I had my group of school friends who were as second-class-Americans as I was.

When I went away to boarding school, whoever was in charge seemed to sense this ‘apartness’ for they put me on a floor of the house we boarded in with two American girls who also lived in Latin America: one from Columbia and one from Venezuela, who was my roommate. As I look back now, I realize that none of us talked about our countries of residence, nor did we identify as what we would now call ‘ex-pats’, but rather tried to identify with the two American girls that also lived on our floor. In the beginning, I didn’t notice the differences because we were all new to boarding school, but later, when coming back for the second year, after vacation, the summers the American girls had lived had nothing to do with my experience; they had lived things in common which they could share, whereas my experience had been somewhat shocking and definitely not shareable. When they had gotten home for vacation, their friends were also on vacation and soon they were all sharing summer experiences. When I got home for vacation everyone was in school. Even when I did get to see my old friends, they were talking about things that had happened during the school day or week that I had not lived: they had shared experiencesuntitled to which I was foreign. I remember a strange feeling of not belonging, not belonging anywhere. In Mexico I was not a Mexican, I was not even a Mexican-American along with my ex-pat friends; and in the United States, I was an American by passport only.

This and other things –sex and alcohol, for example- caused an adolescent crisis during my first year at Barnard College and I refused to go back when the summer was over. I had identified my problem as ‘not belonging’ and decided to delve into growing roots in my country of residence: Mexico. I started by the one thing I knew for sure about my adoptive country: its poverty. I took a course in Social Work envisioning myself as the saving angel of an impoverished population and then threw myself into volunteering at the National Rehabilitation Center. Both places were 100% Mexican, no ‘gringuitas’ other than me. I spoke Spanish all day and began to make Mexican friends. I became a Catholic (I had not been brought up with any religion). I started dating Mexican boys; my old schoolmates were a thing of the past. In the midst of this, I met the man I would marry a year later. He was definitely Mexican, although his family came from the north of Mexico not from Mexico City and did not belong to the same social class as mine. He was also the most handsome and serious young man I had ever dated, so my parents thought it was fine. His father was a doctor and  he himself Fernando Rodríguez circa 1960 (2)was finishing his doctor’s degree. Not one of their customs and habits were anything like those of my family. It was, so to speak, deep-Mexico. I was attracted to the size and closeness of his family although I would soon discover that his father was an alcoholic and went on periodic binges. His mother was extremely overweight (110 kilos) but a kind and simple woman whom I grew to love. His family was warm and close in ways that mine had never been and I felt very welcomed; his father forbade the use of the derogatory term “gringa” around his house from the first time he met me. I began to feel that I was accepted and therefore that I belonged in this family.

My future husband, on the other hand, looked down on his own family and wanted nothing more than to be totally accepted in mine as an equal. So we were the perfect match, each hoping to get what we thought we needed from the family of the other. When we set up house, however, it was much easier for me to organize it the way I was accustomed with American hours and meals and my husband put up no resistance as he found that more ‘refined’.

Two married children and thirty years later we got divorced. In the interim, I had obtained my degree at the National University of Mexico (the UNAM) in Hispanic Language and Literature, had produced 8 books which had been published, was included in the Dictionary of Mexican Writers and felt more Mexican than American to the point that anyone mentioning the fact that they heard a slight American accent when I spoke unamSpanish was a quick recipient of my rage. I had also gone through several years of psychoanalysis and become a recovering alcoholic.

After the divorce, I began working doing subtitles for films my son was distributing; but my main source of income was the rent from the house I had lived in while married, which was my share of our accumulated capital. Seeing as it was the first time I had earned money in my life, I thought it would be a good idea to start doing my American income tax returns so I called a tax lawyer. He immediately asked if we had been married under a regime of ‘community property’. I said that we had.

“Well then, you should have been declaring half of his income as yours from the beginning.”

I was horrified. I had never known what his income was, but rather had been handed whatever money I needed to run the house as I asked for it, so there was very little chance he would tell me now about his earnings. After being told that the only thing I could do was fill out the last three years of income tax returns and hope that no one asked why I hadn’t filled any out before I realized that the task was risky at best and probably impossible anyway because I was not on speaking terms with my ex-husband at the time. mexicoThere was only one thing to do: renounce my American citizenship and become Mexican, and for that, it turned out, I had a slight advantage. As I had left the United States as a child and never legally worked there I did not have a Social Security number or a Taxpayer number or anything that even closely resembled it. Even though there was always the chance that, when they checked my “record”, not finding me would be as damning as having purposely not paid taxes, but I could see no other way to solve the problem. I know that ignorance is not considered innocence under the law, but it sure felt enough like it for me. So I was finally going to make the ‘roots’ I had put down legal.

The first thing I did was begin the paperwork to request Mexican Citizenship. It was long and tedious but finally I was a bonafide Mexican. Passports in hand, I presented myself at the American Consulate in Mexico City. There was a long line reaching out into the patio of women with their babies in their arms waiting to register them as American citizens. I wondered if they knew that these innocents would have to make tax declarations to the United States for the rest of their lives. I walked up to the counter and told the lady behind it that I was there to renounce my American citizenship. I thought she was going to faint.

“One moment,” she muttered, “I have to call the Consul; I have never done that,” and she disappeared into a back office. A thin, short, middle-aged man of indistinct coloring came out and approached me.

“Madame, my colleague tells me you want to renounce your citizenship” –his voice denoted incredulity as his eyes drifted over to the long line of mothers with children in their arms-; “do you realize the gravity of this act? You are aware, aren’t you, that once you do that you will not be able to get it back, you will have to wait, just as any other foreigner to get a new one?” I nodded.

“Can you tell me why you wish to give up your citizenship?” he asked, without taking his widening stare off of me.

“I have just become a Mexican,” I said, trying not to act scared, “and Mexico does not recognize dual citizenship for a naturalized citizen.”

“Oh,” he exclaimed, looking very relieved, “that’s no problem; the United States pays no attention to that; you can keep your citizenship.”

Suddenly, the fear I had felt turned to indignation: “Are you suggesting that I lie to the government of my new country?” I asked looking him straight in the eye. I don’t remember his answer but a few minutes later I had the papers I needed to fill out in order to cut myself loose from the US. It took me over an hour to answer all the questions; it was tedious and terrifying, and I felt as if I were committing a criminal act. I handed in the papers along with my American passport; they said they would get in touch when the answer came back from Washington.

When six months went by and I had heard nothing, I was sure they were investigating. I called the Embassy.

“Oh, no there’s no problem,” they said in response to my question, “it’s just that there is only one person in Washington working in this area and it takes a long time.” Three months later, I finally got the letter of termination of my citizenship along with my stamped and cancelled American passport. two-passports

Was it hard? For a moment I thought so; I had a feeling of orphanhood, but I was seeing a therapist at the time and she smiled: “All they have taken away is a piece of paper; your Americaness, your heritage, your history and your memories, no one can take that away; you are as American today as when you had your passport, just without the papers.” Wisdom is always there in some form or another just when you need it.

The game of musical nationalities did not end there. When I moved to Spain I decided to get my Spanish citizenship to which I had a right because of my father. I presented all the papers and filled out the request on which I stated that my father had NOT married my mother and I was, therefore, an illegitimate child. This was a lie. My father did marry my 1941-2-lake-tahoe-and-reno20042014-8mother, in Reno Nevada the 13th of June, 1941 and only one hour after they had both obtained “quickie” divorces from their respective spouses. Seeing as she had been a single woman only for the last 60 minutes, my mother apparently had no ID in her maiden name, Cook, and thus was married to my father using her married name, Wasey. Therefore, my mother being Elizabeth Cook while my father married Elizabeth Wasey I could see the difficulty of having to try to explain this to the third level bureaucrat who was going to issue my Spanish birth certificate. So, as I sat in the grey office, in front of the grey representative of the Spanish government who was filling out my papers, I was fully prepared to accept my bastardhood. When she asked if I was sure they were never married, I lied and answered immediately that I was. She then informed me that, as I was an illegitimate child and this would be visible on the birth certificate, I would have to come personally to pick it up.sp-flag

“You cannot even give a power to someone else to do this,” she insisted, “you must come yourself.” I wondered who she was protecting. It couldn’t have been me because if I wanted no one to know, I would have come personally for it even without instructions, and if I didn’t care (which I didn’t) I needed no protection. Then she handed me a piece of paper with a pledge of loyalty written on it.

Do you promise or do you swear to the following” she asked pointing to the paper. I, not up on the difference between one or the other, chose “promise” and read out the words that would henceforth make me loyal to a new country, king and government. Later, I asked someone what the difference was between swearing and promising and was informed that the first was before God and the second before the King. I found it quite amusing that in becoming a citizen of the most Catholic of countries I did so as a bastard and an atheist. So be it.

And, by the way, I religiously pay my Spanish taxes each year and am proud to be a Spanish citizen, but if someone asks me –which sometimes they do- I feel more a citizen of this ONE WORLD. And sometimes, when somebody asks me where I am from, I simply respond: Planet Earth.three-passports

[1] Iztaccihuatl is actually a mountain, only Popocatepetl is a volcano and an active one at that.

[2] Since then, Mexico has adjusted its school calendar to match that of the rest of the western world.

[3] A very hard candy made from burnt caramel and milk.

[4] A chocolate bar with cookie inside.

[5] “Gringo/a” is a pejorative term for Americans; “gringuita” is the diminutive meaning “little gringa”.

[6] At that time about 8 pesos to a dollar.

ONE LESS ITEM ON MY BUCKET LIST

detailed-physical-map-of-greece-with-cities-roads-and-airports-copiaInterestingly enough, I didn’t even realize I had a bucket list until I started checking things off. I guess one of the first, if not the very first, was living in Madrid. When I thought about it before it happened, my response was: “Well, I guess it won’t be in this lifetime.” But, it happened when I least expected. I can’t remember what the second was, but it will come back… or not. The third was going to Machu Picchu; I was certain that I would not do it in this lifetime. I was getting too old to take the altitude and then there was no one to go with until, suddenly, when my son turned 50, it occurred to me that I could give him the trip as a birthday present (birthday present for me too, I guess), so we went to Machu Picchu: me, my son and my lovely daughter-in-law. Once the way to do it was discovered, the fourth item on the list was easy. The Galapagos Islands were seen and enjoyed with the most wonderful company of my daughter, my son and once more his wife.

The latest is Greece. I had no plans to go. Perhaps, I had thought, I could do it for my daughter’s 50th birthday: a sail around the Greek Islands, but while making the plans for that trip, I couldn’t find anything that convinced me, so instead we are going to Tahiti and the Marquis Islands. And then it happened, unexpectedly as with most wonderful 971771e3-ea24-4a00-ba7f-c31cc152191ethings in life. I opened an email from my English friend, Tamara, and it was an invitation to Kalikalos, in Greece, for a workshop of the Byron Katie Work. I had received that invitation several times before because Tamara does this workshop every year, but suddenly something in my body said “yes”, and I immediately wrote my friend an e-mail asking if she would accept me as a helper or staff. She agreed, I got my tickets and on the 25th of August, flew to Thessaloniki via Athens. There we were to meet in a hotel in order to drive to Mount Pelion the following morning.

untitled-hotelThessaloniki overlooks a bay in the Aegean Sea so that evening I sat on the porch of the hotel restaurant enjoying a Greek salad and finding it hard to believe that I was actually in Greece. The night sported a sparkling necklace of multicolored lights adorning the land-face and separating it from the black bodice of the bay. From pool-side speakers Latin-American music permeated the atmosphere mingling with laughter and conversations at other tables. I might have just as well been in Las Brisas, overlooking the Acapulco Bay. Even the gentleness of the waiters and the hotel staff’s willingness to be of service reminded me of Mexico. I wondered if the rest of the trip was also going to be this sweet sliding into nostalgia.

img-20160831-wa0000Tamara arrived just before midnight and I was almost asleep so we didn’t talk that night. The following morning after a satisfying breakfast, we climbed into a small blue Fiat Panda, picked up two lady passengers who were also attending the workshop and set off down the modern highway towards our destination on Mount Pelion, pelion-2a mountain forming a hook-like peninsula between the Pagasetic Gulf and the Aegean Sea on the southeastern rim of Thessaly in central Greece.

20160826_124430After driving past Mount Olympus we continued for hours on a straight motorway bordered by flat terrain, the unaesthetic forms of warehouses and the usual highway clutter; then we suddenly turned off onto a local road, passed the port city of Volos and began to climb. Immediately the landscape gave way to cliffs and lovely white and beige Greek houses huddled in the crevices and clinging to the mountain side like nesting doves. The road narrowed as it curved its way through township after town-greecetownship, each offering its produce for passing tourists: pottery, basket ware, honey and marmalades; hats, beachwear and inflatables bursting with colorful temptation. Then the forest began to thicken and the road seemed to narrow even more, hemmed in by tall trunks and mountain on one side and deep crevices on theimagesve4ywjdh other. Beech, oak, maple and chestnut trees competed with each other for room on the steep slopes, and stretched tall, harvesting their share of Greek sunshine. According to Wikipedia, the Pelion is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in Greece, and after driving up and down it various times, I can confirm that it is indeed beautiful. It is also a very popular tourist attraction, offering hiking trails, stone paths, springs and, of course, incredible coves and beaches, both sandy and pebbly, with the white, white stones that Greece is known for and that tourists like pebblesmyself collect to bring home and sport in our household flower pots. During the winter, the highest peaks gather a good covering of snow and two ski lifts take the enthusiasts up and down. So tourism is the livelihood of many mountain dwellers all year around.

Springs let loose rivulets that course down the mountainside and are sometimes domesticated by stone-guided streams providing the towns with water offered to passing visitors from public fountains. We stopped at one such source to fill our water bottles with the cold crystalline liquid which is known for its purity. In one of the small towns we lunched on the local fare of stuffed peppers and tomatoes, fried cheese, cucumber salad and steamed local greens similar to kale and fresh spring water.

imagesxznc0q6bMount Pelion took its name from the mythical king Peleus, father of Achilles and became the home of the Centaur, Chiron, tutor of many Greek heroes (Jason, Achilles, Theseus and Heracles). The symbol for Mount Pelion today is the centaur and this image can be found all over.

kissos-3We climbed up to 500 meters above sea level to a lovely little village called Kissos. The center of town consists of three enormous plane trees, a small church, several restaurants, a few shops, a neighborhood supermarket and a pharmacy. Saturday night we were treated to the music from a Greek wedding held under one of the plane trees, to which possibly all the neighbors had been invited, because it went on until 4am. Sunday, it was the voice of the priest and his second in command singing the mass over loudspeakers so that everyone (not in the church) could, or was img_2460obliged to, tune in.

Kalikalos, as our destination was called, was just on the other side of the village, amongst neighboring houses. A large two-story building offers several bedrooms with 2, 3 and 4 beds each, whereas a smaller one houses the kitchen and utility rooms across a stoned terrace where the dining space is located under a thick roofing of kiwi and grape vines. We were between 24 and 26 people staying and eating there, and taking advantage of the different offerings such as Tamara’s kissosworkshop, a facial-lift massage, reflexology and guided hikes up and down the mountainside. We were all invited to make ourselves part of the community by helping in diverse chores throughout our stay: cooking, cleaning, keeping the gardens, etc. This insures that every meal becomes a communal affair with laughter and conversation all the way through. Dinner, which is the main meal, is preceded by forming a circle holding hands and listening while the cook-in-turn announces the evening’s fare and wishes everyone a healthy and happy meal. The clean-up crew gets to serve themselves first so that they may begin their duties as soon as they are finished. Every chore has a ‘focalizer’ and 20160828_140047several ‘helpers’ so the work is done rapidly and efficiently. The community is set up in May and lasts until October (http://www.kalikalos.org/) and is open to all peoples. Our group had visitors from Hungary, Italy, Spain, France, England, Australia, Austria, Chile, the USA and Greece. The cooking was vegan and very tasty; I would have preferred some eggs and cheese, but it was plentiful. On one night we all went out to a restaurant and I ate lamb; it was nothing to write home about. My img_2478favorite –as far as Greek food- was the tzatziki dip, made with yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and sometimes quite spicy. The fried cheese, which somebody raved about, was a bit like eating a tasty breaded piece of rubber, but the veggies were great: aubergine, zucchini, tomatoes and onions… my favorite, and quinoa –no matter how it’s made- I can just die for! All in all I loved Kalikalos and there was something about the whole atmosphere that just invited me tountitled ‘space out’ which I did.

The schedule in Kalikalos is as relaxed as everything else, the morning dedicated to any workshop or organized activity that one has chosen, and the afternoon free for going to the beach or just lazing around. If Kalikalos and the mountain side villages were a delight, the Aegean Sea was beyond my wildest dreams. Now, understand that I have been to many, many beaches in the Caribbean and know what transparent, aqua-colored water looks like, but nothing prepared for the water of the Aegean Sea. It was like looking at liquid glass; it was not only transparent, but also had a crystalline quality to it that made it seem practically unreal. Of all the photos I took, more than 75% are of the water; I just couldn’t get over it, and obviously no matter how good the camera, there is no way to capture what the eye is really appreciating. But here they are anyway:

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This is one Bucket-list item that is definitely going to be repeated!

GENERATION GAP

images berraThe other day I sent my son some quotes –some very funny ones- that I had just discovered were things said by Yogi Berra, the baseball player. My son wrote back: You mean Yogi Bear, don’t you? My son is in his 50s (and that sounds horrible because it puts me 20-some years ahead of him). I wrote back and explained that, no, I did not mean Yogi Bear. He had never heard of Yogi Berra.BEAR

Then today I was at my osteopath’s and I quoted Yogi Berra again. I got the same response: “Do you mean Yogi Bear”, and yes, my osteopath is in his 50s too. This of course dates me!

Now, I do not know if Yogi Bear said cute and memorable things (I’ll have to look him up on internet, and yes he is there because when I typed in “Yogi”, internet also suggested “Bear” as the follow-up. Guessing that the Internet was another youngster in its 50s, I looked it up: the Internet is 47 years old this year).

Yogi_Bear_Yogi_BearYogi Bear made his television debut in 1958; Yogi Berra had made his baseball debut in 1946, and by the time the cartoon character hit the screens, the baseball player was a household name. That would untitledexplain why people in my generation (born in the United States) would have heard of Yogi Berra. According to Wikipedia, Berra sued Bear (Hanna-Barbera Cartoons) for defamation, but Bear cried coincidence and Berra ended up dropping the suit. As Berra quipped afterwards: “Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”, to which Bear would have answered: “I’m smarter than the av-er-age bear!” just so people would know who had won that argument.images9LZ8GY6X

bERRAAnother coincidence, as long as we are on that theme (that is where we are, isn’t it?): both Yogis, Berra and Bear, lived in Parks. Berra lived in baseball parks and Bear lived in ‘Jellystone Park’. So if one day in the 60s you happened to be in the USofA and you said offhand to someone: I’m going to the park to see Yogi, you’d have no idea what image ran through the other’s head!

yogibeardead-1100x600Just how far the Generation Gap can go was proven in September of last year when the Associated Press reported the death of Hanna-Barbera’s animated character, Yogi Bear who, they went on to comment, ‘was also a Hall-Of-Fame catcher with the Yankees’. The headline reads

NEW YORK YANKEE’S HALL OF FAME CATCHER

YOGI BEAR HAS DIED. HE WAS 90

It turns out that the report was a case of mistaken identity; everyone’s favorite pic-a-nic basket-stealing bear is alive and well. But Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, whose name allegedly inspired Yogi Bear (though Hanna-Barbera denied it), has indeed died.

yogiismsYogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else”, and I guess he knew what he was talking about because today everyone thinks he still lives in Jellystone Park and he didn’t even know he was playing there.

 

Berra won three American League Most Valuable Player awards and appeared in fourteen World Series as a player and another five as a manager or a coach. He won thirteen championship rings and holds several Series records. Berra met with numerous roadblocks on his journey to fame, but he overcame them with grit and dedication and went on to become one of the more beloved figures in American sports history. (Society for American Baseball Research)  http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a4d43fa1

A FORK IN THE ROAD

Alice came to a fork in the road.

“Which road do I take?” she asked.

“Where do you want to go?”

responded the Cheshire Cat.

“I don’t know,” Alice answered.

“Then,” said the Cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

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I have been standing at a ‘fork in the road’ for some time now: it is called “Writer’s Block” and, like Alice, my problem is that I do not know where I want to go. The Cheshire Cat would have said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter.” Maybe if he were around I would ask him if he knows which fork I should take to get to Inspiration.imagesSYJXP645

At my feet lies a thick blue folder; it contains the 1500+, A4 sized, single-lined typed pages of information on the male and female lines of my family that has taken me over three years to gather. On my blog there are three “chapters” published, maybe more (haven’t looked recently) under the working title of A Work of Fiction, from an anonymous quote which reads: “Every life writes its own work of fiction”. I have progressed from the early 1600’s to exactly 1624, which was the year Elizabeth Smyth, my 10th Great-grandmother, married Samuel Smith in Hadleigh, Suffolk, England. What followed that marriage and the birth of her first four children should have been terribly exciting and actually easy to write, but imagesIC6G1D80after a few false starts, I came to a dead stop and haven’t been able to write anything since. I seemed to have lost the way to Inspiration.

For a while, I dithered reviewing the material, picking up books I had ordered on Amazon that covered the Great Migration and the early days in New England and making lists of the passengers, their occupations, the villages they came from and so forth. Then I dallied getting involved in a TV series that covered all of 5 seasons with 6 discs and 4 chapters to each season. I sat in front of the computer and played Solitaire; I sat some more and played Bejewelled and sat some more and played Scrabble. I stopped dallying and cleaned a few closets, emptied and refilled drawers, I threw out everything I could find that seemed unused or un-useful and rearranged everything that had been blessed to remain. I washed the dishes any time they piled up in the sink, I made and ate popcorn several times, I watched a dozen movies.

I used Salomé (my little black and silver schnauzer) as an excuse to go for interminable walks. I scoured supermarket shelves and bought enough to fill up the spaces my cleaning-out had left. And still there was nothing but the damn fork in the road. I even FORK 2pretended for a while that a fork in the road is nothing but that: just a fork in the road. Still there was no going forward.

Everything came to a standstill. Even my blog has gone without a post for I know not how long. For a while I tried to convince myself that doing nothing was what I was supposed to do at my age: after all I had earned the right to do that, right? Right? Right?

if time can come to a standstillWell, I guess not, because in spite of the walks and in spite of doing exercise three times a week with my personal trainer, in spite of my morning coffee with friends and my progress in speaking French, in spite of reading through volumes 1 and 2 of the Century trilogy by Ken Follet (in hopes of finding inspiration)and beating the computer’s best player at Scrabble I was not happy.

I could feel the life energy wane and fade as the days passed in passing the time, and yet, the spirit of inspiration visited me not. I had enough material to fill a four Century decalogy and yet every time I sat at the computer, I would plug into a film or a game instead of opening a Word doc and beginning to type. It felt downright dead.

And then it happened: in one of my meanderings through the internet I came across a 220px-Yogi_Berra_1956quote from Yogi Berra. It said, in no uncertain terms: “IF YOU COME TO A FORK IN THE ROAD, TAKE IT,” and I was blown away. During the two days it has taken me to finish the series and decide to go cold-turkey on not starting another one; in the 48 hours it has taken me to limit my game-playing to early morning wake-up hours and just before bed finishing-the-day time, the phrase has repeated imagesLJRK1C4B10 zillion times in my brain: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it”. So that is exactly what I have done!

Hopefully, the quiet time I can now spend sitting in front of the computer, fork in hand, will turn into text some day soon.

INSIDE AND OUT

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“For an answer, go to the place where there is no thought and listen.”-Katie

The world is what it is, it’s neither good nor bad, it’s not happy or sad; it just is. There is no should or shouldn’t. There is no ‘I would rather…’ It’s either cloudy or clear, day or night, rain or shine and neither is better nor worse than the other. In this instant, which is all there is, that is what is… and you are perceiving it, you are the perceiving. Look, witness, be.

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Watch. Be still. Everything changes. By the time you think “now”, it is gone; it is already a story of the past. Remember the saying ‘go-with-the-flow’? That is the only Now: the flow.

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Be still, perceive, let it flow in and out, in and out. Sounds, sensations, colors, shapes. Feel, see, hear, smell. Who? What? Who or what perceives? Close your eyes. Find the Perceiver.

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Did you find it, the perceiver? Good. Now, who did that? Who or what perceived the perceiver? Find that one. Oh, yes… there it is, found it! Fantastic! But… who or what perceived the perceiver of the perceiver?

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Are you beginning to see? Really see? You can never, NOT EVER, see or find the Who or What that you are. The self cannot contemplate the self. The Perceiver can never find the Perceiver. The Perceiver can only perceive what it is not. There is only the possibility of experiencing its presence through what it perceives, through the very act of perceiving.

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Almost 60 years ago, I saw. I was an adolescent. An adolescent knows nothing; an adolescent has so little experience. Perhaps, an adolescent is open to whatever because it knows it does not know and becomes curious. To be curious is to be. So, that night, I turned off all the lights in my room and looked.

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There was still a glow from the street lights. Therefore, I covered my eyes with my hands to shut out all possibility of light. There was no question posed, I was not looking for an answer to anything, there was no goal, spirituality wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary. I have no idea why I did what I did. Curiosity was alive in me. So, I covered my eyes. Then, with the lights off and my hands tightly blocking any glow, I opened my eyes again and looked. Then I saw, I perceived with an intensity that left no doubt. For an instant, I sat in wonder just looking. And then the mind came in and named it: There was absolutely nothing in between the Cosmos inside and the Cosmos outside.

BUTTERFLIES

Of course, by putting it into words, I have turned the pure experience into a thought, but in the instant I experienced it, there was no thought so I knew it to be true.  I told no one about this experience, but I have never forgotten it and that infinite cosmos, inside and out, is a space I can always go to when I believe that reality should be different than it is.

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IN DEFENSE OF SELFISHNESS

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…

And as Byron Katie says: “I did: I hated me, I hated you.” That’s it in a nutshell. Obviously, people have focused on the ‘love thy neighbor’part and selfishness has gotten itself a very bad reputation. It is not right to be selfish. No one wants to be thought of as a selfish person. We all learn that very young. “Share your toys with your brother… don’t be so selfish.” “Don’t take the biggest piece of images6AN1O7XXcake, that’s selfish of you.” “You never think of anyone else… you’re so selfish.”

Being selfish and being polite were absolute opposites. I remember being taught early on that, when at the table, if you wanted seconds you had to wait to make sure no one else wanted that last piece of whatever. That usually meant that your father ate it… “So it wouldn’t go to waste”, and you were left with a mouth full of saliva trying not to drool down the front of your dress. No matter if you would have made damn sure it didn’t go to waste; it would have been selfish if you had asked for that last piece of whatever.

Somewhere along the line, being unselfish came to mean ‘always doing what the other person wants, never voicing your own needs, thinking always of the other first, second and lastly’. I did it as best I could, I did it through 30 years of marriage, and I resented it beyond all measure. I did it because I wanted to be loved, I did it because I wanted to do it right, I did it because I expected you to do the same for me, every reason I had for being unselfish was selfish. Big laugh. I actually thought that if I took care of you, you would take care of me… and guess who got taken care of!images2

Then a funny thing happened. I ended up in AA (when you don’t ask yourself what you want, having another drink is as good an activity as any other) and there I was told that most, if not all, of my problems came from Ego, that I was egotistical (read: self-centered, selfish, egocentric, egomaniacal, self-interested, self-seeking, self-absorbed, narcissistic, vain, conceited, self-important, etc) and that I had to fight against the ego. I was told that in order not to be selfish, I had do service for the group, and it was suggested (by the group leader who just happened to be a man) that I should do the imagesZY83PZAYcafeteria (which meant, market for the coffee service, make sure everything was washed up and put away after each meeting and serve coffee to newcomers). Somehow, this sounded just like what I had done during all the years of my marriage and finally, I balked.

“I’ll tell you what” I snapped back; “Seeing as I have been doing cafeteria for at least 30 years, I’ll be leader of the group and you can do the cafeteria.” Needless to say, I didn’t do the cafeteria and neither did he.

But that for me was a moment of change. I began by thinking that AA had been founded byimagesMW1CDPO8 (2) men and that the program had been made for men based on a religion that was basically paternalistic. Men, with women taking care of them, beginning with Mother, then Wife, then Daughter, had developed quite an ego. Women, I believed then, had not developed an “ego” (at least, I thought that I hadn’t), we had not learned to say: I, I, I, me, me, me. So I set about developing my own ego (I was 50, mind you) which in my mind was: learning how to be selfish.

I began by asking myself what I wanted: where I wanted to go, what I wanted to eat, who I wanted to be with. In the beginning, all I heard was: Oh, I don’t care or I have no idea, or imagesOOQT3JW5whatever you want. What I discovered was that I didn’t even know what my wants and desires, my likes and dislikes were. I didn’t have the habit of asking myself anything! I was accustomed to ask other people: Where do you want to go? What movie do you want to see? What would you like to eat? But… ah yes, there was a big BUT… I expected other people to think of me first, know instinctively what I wanted, and choose for me. Now if that’s not a Lose-Lose proposal, I’ve never seen one! Fastlane to frustration!

It’s not easy, however, learning what you like and don’t like when you have never done it, so I began very slowly.

Him: Do you want to go to the movies tonight?

Me: Hmmm (silence while I wait for movement inside; inside says: need more info)…1 dose What movie were you thinking of?

Him: Oh, what about… (usually a Bang-Bang, rip-um-up, knock-um-down, blood and gore sort of film).

Me: (long pause while my mind goes over the mental images of intestines splattered all over the screen)…No, I don’t particularly want to go to that one. What about (read title of latest romantic comedy, historical drama, biopic etc.)

untitled 3After about a week or so during which I really checked with myself every time there was a choice, I discovered that I did have likes and dislikes and that some of them were very definite. I also found that when I knew what I wanted it wasn’t so hard to get it for myself or to convince the other to give it to me. I also found that when I had satisfied myself  with what I had chosen one time, it was easier and felt better letting the other person have what they wanted the next.

For a while, I practiced being selfish in everything: I got up at the time I wanted to get up, went to bed idem, prepared the meals I felt like eating, decided to eat out –and where- imageswhen the whim hit me; watched the movies I enjoyed, left the room and went to read a book elsewhere if I didn’t… I was unflinchingly selfish in every possible way, determined to grow a good (male) ego before facing the inevitable chore of undoing it.

Interestingly enough, the more selfish I became the more unselfishly I could act. When I really didn’t care what we ate or what movie we watched or which restaurant we went to, my “whatever you want” was absolutely sincere and I was happy with the other’s choice. I found myself asking the other person where he or she would like to go and weighing their answer against my own desires. If mine were stronger, I learned how to present them as an option I would really prefer without naysaying the other’s choice. I realized that I was willing to negotiate more (me today, you tomorrow or vice-sharing (3)versa).

Something that had always been hard and angry inside began to relax and I started seeing the world as a kinder place and myself as a person capable of making her own choices.

One day, someone said something in an AA meeting that really explained my apparently profound transformation. Speaking of love, he said: “You can’t give anyone else that which you can’t give to yourself”. By then I knew that ‘love’ means care and attention and that was what, in the name of unselfishness, I hadn’t been giving myself during the first 50 years of my life. It wasn’t until I learned how to be selfish that I began to understand that my wants and my desires were my responsibility, and voicing them was my imagesHB8APTB2prerogative. Being responsible for my wants and likes and giving them to myself whenever possible, also opened me to the unexpected pleasure of being unselfish whenever I felt like it, something that suddenly was much more frequent than before.

Perhaps it is a question of using other terms. Perhaps what before had seemed to be unselfishness had simply been SELF-LESSNESS. What seemed now to be selfishness could simply be seen as SELF-FULLNESS. Before I had been Self-less and now I was Self-full: therefore I had something to give. Having discovered that I had a choice, that choice was mine to give to someone else if it gave me pleasure to do so; and in doing that I had also made and given myself my own choice (which was to give the other his or her choice). Wow, it was a WIN-WIN situation through and through.

It was a long and sometimes difficult path, but I finally knew I had arrived one Sunday when the family had gathered at my house for lunch. I cooked, and served and ate the meal with them and then, while they sat around the table chatting and savoring their glasses of wine, I stood up and announced that I was going to an AA meeting.

My son looked at me and exclaimed: “Gosh, Mother, you’ve become so selfish”.

Freedom1 (3)I stood for a moment looking into his eyes and then a very wide smile crept over my face.

“Yes, I have, haven’t I” I exclaimed. “Isn’t it wonderful?!” And waving goodbye, I turned towards the door, leaving them to mull that over as they sipped the rest of their wine.

A WORK OF FICTION 6

Every life writes its own Work of Fiction (anonymous)

1616-1624 ELIZABETH (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

MY OWN TRUE LOVE

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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