riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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On Flow and Foundation

It’s been a busy month, lots of writing, reading and thinking, the latter mostly about the future. I feel as if on the edge of a precipice, or a bridge, poised to cross over into a new life that is very slowly coming into focus, like a landscape under a receding fog.

Hudson River view

That the future isn’t exactly in focus sometimes scares the living daylights out of me. I don’t do well with unknowns, never have. But the uncomfortableness gives me the chance to practice my new resolve: to have faith, to plan ahead, to be patient (not expect everything to fall into place overnight and then get discouraged when it doesn’t), and, most importantly, to be present and appreciate the Now.

If my posts are becoming redundant with this sentiment, it’s because this period is so intensely about learning to appreciate life again, that is, to feel happiness and joy in the simplest of pleasures, and not just when things are going well. It’s when life isn’t going well that it’s the most challenging to keep that sense of gratitude and inner peace. That is the core of what I’m after, and what I’m trying to practice here, every day.

Oak Hill flats6

It’s funny how life sometimes throws things in your path that are just what you need in the moment. In my monthly book group here, someone recently suggested we read a novel called the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

At first it felt a little daunting (it’s 607 pages of small print), but after a while, I couldn’t put it down. Besides being a great mystery and window into Japanese culture and history, the story felt almost like a philosophical manifesto on “flow”: when life is in flow, when it is out of flow, and when there is no flow at all, like at the bottom of a dry well.

Spring creek

For most of the story, the main character is dealing with several losses, in a state of confusion and passive. He lets things happen to him, instead of making them happen.

But he’s actually not entirely passive. Rather, he is consciously going with the flow… allowing people to come in and out of his life, listening and observing everything closely, not resisting his emotions but allowing them to be, while all the while acknowledging that his emotions aren’t him. He also spends time confronting his greatest fears (and regulating his breathing) in a solitary place, where he sometimes cannot distinguish between his imagination and reality. But by doing these things, he finds his way back to his true self, and regains the necessary strength and self-determination to take action.

Needless to say, I related to it very much.

Oak Hill flats4 Oak Hill flats5

I have written before about how loss shakes our foundation and changes us. It’s not just the loss itself, it’s how we deal with it years later, how we process and are reborn from the devastation. After loss, there is no going back, not to the person we lost, not to the life we used to lead or the person we used to be. And so we struggle to find ourselves again, and regain our footing in the new world, our new future.

This is how I feel about this period in upstate New York. Here, among the mountains, changing seasons, animals, insects, plants and endless creeks, lakes and rivers, I am both regaining my emotional, spiritual and physical foundation, and learning to go with the flow, not in some esoteric way, but literally shifting my approach to life.

I don’t mind that it’s taking some time. It should take time. This is the foundation on which the rest of my life will rest.

Creek feet


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The Alchemist and Your Personal Legend

I’m currently re-reading (for the third time) THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho.

my tattered copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

my tattered copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

If you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s a brief explanation. It’s basically a fable, i.e. a short story with supernatural elements that conveys a moral.

The main character is a young shepherd boy from Spain who goes on a quest to find a treasure and, along the way, encounters mentors, friends and enemies, as well as many obstacles and setbacks, some quite dangerous. He also falls in love and has to overcome his own self-doubts and fears. All of these elements are part of the larger journey of his life, symbolically representing how we can get easily distracted or discouraged from what our heart truly desires. The moral of the story is that each person has a Personal Legend (the thing they were put on this Earth to do), and a person’s only obligation in life is to pursue that Personal Legend.

A friend gave me this book many years ago as I was about to travel abroad for a film festival. I read it again shortly after Kaz died. I’m reading it again now because I’m feeling many of the emotions the shepherd feels in the story. But I believe my “personal legend” is to be a story-teller and the upcoming journey to the east coast is part of that evolution. Writing is the foundation of my soul, the base from which all else springs.

Below are some favorite quotes from The Alchemist. You could spend hours meditating on each one, but as you read through them, think about your own personal legend. Do you know what it is? Are you pursuing it? 

“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being.”

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“There is a force that wants you to realize your Personal Legend.”

“Every search begins with beginners luck and ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”

“Everything in life is an omen… There is a universal language, understood by everybody, but already forgotten.”

“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only one thing and nothing else. And don’t forget the language of omens. And, above all, don’t forget to follow your Personal Legend through to its conclusion.”

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

“The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being.”

“I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.”

“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”

“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

“Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”

“What is the world’s greatest lie?” the little boy asks.
The old man replies, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

“Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.”

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better.”

“Naturally, (your heart) is afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won.”

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So, it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.”

“When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”


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Margaret Mitchell, I Heart You

Margaret Mitchell House plaque

When I visited Georgia a few weeks ago, I spent the few hours I had in Atlanta visiting the former home of Margaret Mitchell, author of a little book called Gone With The Wind. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read Gone With The Wind or seen the movie, don’t read any further.)

A lot has been written about Gone With The Wind and not all of it pleasant, primarily because it’s full of racial stereotypes and takes a nostalgic look at the Old South, a subregion of the American South that included the States represented in the original thirteen American colonies (Virgina, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) [Wikepedia].

The Old South was deeply attached to – financially, culturally and emotionally – the institution of slavery. The reality is those were the good old days for millions of White men and women who were born into that world. We could spend all day arguing about the merit (or lack thereof) of this point of view, but that’s not the point of this post.

This post is about a work of historical romance fiction that was published in 1936, won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, and contained one of the strongest and controversial literary heroines ever, Scarlett O’Hara.

It may seem strange, but when my late husband died I thought of Scarlett. I thought of her often actually, for a number of reasons.

First, she was twice widowed. Second, she was hell on wheels to live with. If we’re being honest, she was a bitch, especially early on. Immature. Selfish. Stubborn. Rude. Opinionated. Jealous. Resentful. Angry. Manipulative. Mean. The list goes on.

She had a conflicted view of herself in relation to the “angels” in her midst, women who could do no wrong in her eyes… her mother Miss Ellen and her best friend/nemesis Melanie (Hamilton) Wilkes.

She lost a helluva lot at an early age: her parents, her home (for a while), her world, her husbands, her child, and her love.

She was a survivor and incredibly shrewd. The girl knew how to use what she had to get what she wanted, and she never gave up.

And in the end, right as she’s having an epiphany about what an idiot she’s been for so long, the love of her life walks out on her.

I related to all of it.

I remember thinking of the last scene, Scarlett on the stairs, sobbing, proclaiming her determination to overcome this crushing heartbreak by going home to Tara… and wondering, “What happened after that? How did she pull herself together? What did she do at Tara? Where’s my ‘Tara’?”

Ironically, for as much as I love the book (and movie), I knew absolutely nothing about its author Margaret Mitchell. I didn’t know her mother died when she was 19 years old, or that she herself had been widowed once, and divorced, before marrying her third and final husband. I didn’t know she wrote Gone With The Wind after suffering a severe ankle injury that kept her relatively immobile for a few years. I didn’t know it took her three years to write the 1037 page book, and she never wrote another afterwards. I didn’t know the first section she wrote was the last chapter, the only house she ever bought was for her housekeeper (Margaret rented apartments her entire adult life), and she was an avid Red Cross volunteer during WWII.

I didn’t know that she died at the age of 48 years old, four days after being hit by a speeding car while jaywalking in Atlanta.

I recently came across the letter Margaret’s mother, president of the Atlanta Woman’s Suffrage League, wrote to her on the eve of her own death from a flu pandemic. Margaret was en route to see her, but didn’t reach her her in time to say goodbye. This was the letter her brother handed her at the train station.

Margaret Mitchell, 19 years old

 

January 23, 1919

Dear Margaret,

I have been thinking of you all day long. Yesterday you received a letter saying I am sick. I expect your father drew the situation with a strong hand and dark colors and I hope I am not as sick as he thought. I have pneumonia in one lung and were it not for flu complications, I would have had more than a fair chance of recovery. But Mrs. Riley had pneumonia in both lungs and is now well and strong. We shall hope for the best but remember, dear, that if I go now it is the best time for me to go.

I should have liked a few more years of life, but if I had had those it may have been that I should have lived too long. Waste no sympathy on me. However little it seems to you I got out of life, I have held in my hands all that the world can give. I have had a happy childhood and married the man I wanted. I had children who loved me, as I have loved them. I have been able to give what will put them on the high road to mental, moral, and perhaps financial success, were I going to give them nothing else.

I expect to see you again, but if I do not I must warn you of one mistake a woman of your temperament might fall into. Give of yourself with both hands and overflowing heart, but give only the excess after you have lived your own life. This is badly put. What I mean is that your life and energies belong first to yourself, your husband and your children. Anything left over after you have served these, give and give generously, but be sure there is no stinting of attention at home. Your father loves you dearly, but do not let the thought of being with him keep you from marrying if you wish to do so. He has lived his life; live yours as best you can. Both of my children have loved me so much that there is no need to dwell on it. You have done all you can for me and have given me the greatest love that children can give to parents. Care for your father when he is old, as I cared for my mother. But never let his or anyone else’s life interfere with your real life. Goodbye, darling, and if you see me no more then it may be best that you remember me as I was in New York.

Your Loving Mother

The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

Gone With The Wind was published 17 years later.

What struck me the most about the Margaret Mitchell house was its size. From the outside it looks like a comfortable home. But Margaret and her husband lived in a tiny apartment on the first floor. Their entire living space could have fit into most modern living room/dining room areas. To think that such an epic story was typed on a small typewriter in such cramped quarters over the course of three years. It just goes to show that imagination knows no bounds and is arguably the truest form of survival.

Margaret Mitchell's desk

Margaret Mitchell’s desk