The Wall

I was hiking on a trail new to me in Colorado the other day when coming round a bend was a gorgeous, ninety or so foot granite wall.  I’d gone out on the hike because I sorely needed a break from the devoirs relating to a small business my partner and I are attempting to lift of the ground. Sitting at my desk I had hit a solid wall of, until that moment, unseen and unknown regulations. This was just 72 hours before we were to have launched. The way forward seemed utterly unpassable, I couldn’t think, my circuits were blown. As I did not have the luxury of ‘a night to sleep on it’, I bolted out to the trail in hopes of effecting a mental reset.

Staring at Mother Nature’s granite wall, majestic though it was, seemed only to endorse my inner state. Wall. “Great! Now what?”I took a step…then a few more and it was plainly obvious that the path provided an, albeit narrow, way forward. OK…Keep moving in other words, trust that in doing so one can skirt the so-called obstacle.  Start of a mental reset but my brain again ran away with the tsunami of business tasks I didn’t have a clue how to navigate. I kept walking.

Doing so brought me right up to the slab, where I could begin to take in its complexities.  A chink, a crease, dimple, fissure, vein.  It was not merely a solid, flat slab, it had personality, It had movement, space between the molecules. I was reminded of the time, years ago when I had needed to learn something about rock climbing for a film I was about to do and had been given the privilege of taking several classes with Ranger and world class climber, Bruno Engler up in Banff. My first morning of class, formidable Bruno took me to the base of a magnificent, Rocky Mountain slab. Up until that point in my life walls had been impassable barriers, boundaries, certainly not something to be scaled. Perpendicular space had been inaccessible except on a swing, a ladder or in an airplane.  Once roped in and seeing my incredulity, Bruno showed me the tiniest little crack and invited me to put one toe there, one finger hold on a penny deep ledge and just as he’d promised, up I went.  Defying all laws of rationality, physics, gravity you name it I in fact was able albeit not too gracefully, to climb a wall.

At various points I’ve had the chance to climb a bit more. I don’t have anything close to the strength, mental fortitude nor talent required to be a mountaineer but from terra firma through friends who climb I’ve seen extraordinary acts of grace, of ballet worthy beauty as they’ve traversed their walls. I’ve seen leaps of faith, tremendous acts of courage, resilience and ingenuity. Witnessed the silent black hole of focus it has taken to reach beyond their mental edge. No two climbers alike, they have had to forge their own routes according to their strength, endurance, mental fortitude and physical endowments. Quite something to behold.

Moving forward with that, I thought how many times have any of us come up against a wall of heartache, disappointment or failure?  How many times have we witnessed strangers from afar, friends, even ourselves manage to execute a performance, write that play, even build the bridge, save the tree, endure that loss? On a greater scale, win the war, get to the moon?  OK…walls I guess then are not always what they seem. By forging ahead, holding to the intention, sometimes…let’s say most times… next steps appear.

Reset.  

Back to work.

One regulation at a time.

Breathe.

Step.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

I can never voice enough how grateful I am, how privileged I feel to be a Mom.  My first taste of that best part of life was as a step Mom to two little ones. Five and eleven when they came into my life.  Oh the fun we had and the myriad things they taught me.  Coming from single life, totally unprepared was I for things like shopping for four, not to mention laundry, carpool,  homework, bath time, organizing snacks for games, slumber parties, birthday parties, Halloween costumes, tummy aches, splinters and skinned knees.  Fortunately, they were both flexible and forgiving and above all… loving. In the fullness of time came my own son who now is, unbelievably, 27.  Being on location for a six month stint, we’re not on the same continent at the moment. I don’t know how I’d manage this canyon of separation without the connectivity the virtual highway provides.  Not the same as in person to be sure but atleast, to the degree he allows and life permits, I can stay in the loop somewhere near, I’d like to think, the inside track of his good life. 

Today, contemplating this grand and holy adventure of parenting, memories and moments flood my mind and heart.  One such took place two days before his 16th birthday. We were rushing to get out the door for the early morning school run. Our chestnut lab Harley, I guess missed the first cues for this routine departure and so bolted to catch up and jump into her usual seat for the ride. In doing so, however, she inadvertently took me out. I remember hearing her gallop apace from behind me and next thing I knew I was on my ass on the pavement looking at my extended right leg at the end of which was my foot hanging at a sharp right and distinctly unnatural angel. The pain was not immediate but I knew it would be upon me soon. I told Lucius to call 911 and to bring me a blanket as I figured my body would soon be going into some kind of shock. He made the call and returned momentarily with a blanket but also with my mascara. Good man. In short order when the paramedics were with us and I guess because of all the funny angels involved they enlisted Lucius’ help as they lifted me onto the gurney. He was to keep my foot and leg level as they lifted. He did so with utmost focus and then on the brief journey to the hospital had all of us laughing with fart jokes. Good man again. As they were getting me situated his Dad, Loosh my ex-husband appeared. Apparently, Lucius had alerted him to this early morning mishap and Loosh had kindly whisked over. I’ll digress to say that in spite of our divorce, family bonds remained lovingly, seamlessly in place throughout our son’s childhood.

Lucius was young but there, demonstrably, were those early proofs of his ability to lead and to be intuitively empathic.

Another such example had been just a few months before when he and his Dad had been returning from a soccer game that his Dad had perhaps a little over enthusiastically, coached. As they drove back to my house his Dad seemed suddenly confused and drowsy. Lucius insisted they get off the freeway and drive to an emergency room. Loosh reluctantly followed his young son’s directive and a good thing too as he was diagnosed with experiencing a heat stroke.

I think I’ve used up my bragging rights for the day and so turn thoughts to my own Mom, Marshelline Patton. Not for nothing was she a Patton. Marshie, as she was known, was a force of nature, a great beauty with a fearsome tilt into life. Our relationship had bumps but at no time could I nor did I doubt that my sister and I were unconditionally loved by her.

Mom died nine years ago and second only to raising Lucius, being her primary care giver over her last months has been the privilege of my life. We laughed, cried, talked, settled scores and  physically labored together all the while trying to make sense of the concept of death, through her travail. The first time I bathed her, I felt a momentary resistance to touching parts of her body I had never laid hands on before. As if by magic my hands reminded me of the thrill of caring for my baby’s tiny body which in turn connected me to the bank account of love Mom had poured into my own baby body and love showed me the way.  At a later date, nearer the end I sat bedside attempting to spoon feed Mom with a little bit of yogurt.  She was present, to the extent the morphine would allow, I’d not slept in days…we were quite the pair. The thought came that I could not keep this up and again as if by magic I felt Mother’s mother, Mamaw’s arms wrap lovingly around me from behind guiding my hand to feed her dying daughter. There was the thread, the connectivity to infinite Motherlove right when I, when we most needed it.

I felt those two with me again this morning.  I had come to the end of a tube of expensive face goop and the Scottish in me cut it open so as to be sure I had used the last drop. Mom had taught me that when, after she was gone, I had been clearing out her dressing table and I’d found a tube of expensive face goop I’d given her, cut in half. Where I wonder had she learned that? Yes, Mom had been a child of the depression but I imagine she had witnessed Mamaw save and use everything in the home with great economy so as to get by thereby instilling inadvertently a useful core value in her daughter. Connected again.  

Every trial, every joy of parenting informs the soul.  I’m grateful to my maternal ancestors today, for their continuing presence known and unknown in my life.  I joke often to my son when I exasperate him once again to “Wait until you’re a Mother”… for then he will know the wellspring of deepest joy he has given me. Happy Mother’s Day one and all.

TRUST

I’m having a blast right now on tour in the UK for six months with a play. 19 theatres in all, one a week, zig zagging north to south to east to west with a very merry band of fellow thespians. We’re six weeks in now and one of the many things I’m marveling at is the weave that is growing between the seven members of the cast. Besides my partner, who is also in the company, on day one we were all perfect strangers to each other. We shook hands in that sort of formal, nervous way you do on the “first day of school” and dove into reading the script aloud seated around a table for the first time, together.  It is always a thrill to hear the words come off the page that first day, to start to get your mind buzzing around the journey you have embarked upon, the world you will create as an ensemble. 

One of the key things that starts to get built is trust. We will have to trust that each will put in best efforts, that each will support the other in their craft, that we will be there for each other when the other falters (as happens in live theatre), that when we make fools of ourselves artistically (and we do) we will be encouraged to keep trying until we find our grain of truth in the work. Together we learn to trust the playwright’s text, the director’s guidance and vision, to surrender to the process itself. It’s a kind of miracle really how trust evolves and I suppose because especially on a tour of this length we are bound to experience both the best and the worst of each other, from it life long friendships will be built. 

Being on this ride, I’m reflecting now on other areas in my life where trust plays a crucial role. Driving, being a passenger on a plane, using the postal service, serving my family food that I’ve bought at the store, that my dog will not eat my shoe. That one gets broken and of course forgiven because she is so darned cute. On a much more grand scale I trust the air I breathe, that the moon will rise, the seasons change, that ocean waves will continue to be the pulse of the planet.

To be sure trust has been broken too. Ouch. Very rarely I’m happy to say have I experienced that with a person. In more instances I unconsciously believed, naively hoped or presumptuously expected that a certain pattern in life would unfold and when those inevitable disappointments have come it has been difficult to varying degrees to heal that breach. Not tended to, that breach of trust can turn into something bitter, unresolved anger or resentment, fear. We all know that doesn’t work nor turn out well and again I learn that the inner healing work of trust has to be undertaken. 

Amongst the long list of stupid things I’ve done, was parachuting in my 20’s. I had an inner compulsion to do so. Oh the hubris! I mean why would I think I had the right to throw myself out of a perfectly good airplane?? First time I did it, I was a full mile away from the little airport from which our Cessna had taken off.  When I returned, mercifully from a successful jump, they reported that they’d heard me hollering as I returned to terra firma. I believe it. My stomach still flutters when I think of that moment when my jump master, a person I’d met a mere six hours earlier, gave me the nod to let go of the strut. Think I was on an endorphin high for a week after that jump.  Looking back I wondered why I had felt the need to take this hobby on and realized that I had had some whacky notion that I needed to know that I could rely on myself.  Believe me up there if your chute fails to open there is no one to help you but yourself.  Jeez….couldn’t I have found a logical way to test trusting my self? Anyway..I hope your journey to trust is a far wiser way than mine was and if not, happy landings. 

The Butterfly Effect

I’m no scientist, so I have no expectations of ever really understanding the “butterfly effect” but thanks to Wikipedia and its ability to serve up intellectual morsels in bite sized portions, I can atleast get my mind around the idea that it proposes that the tiniest movement, even the flap of a tiny butterfly’s wing, can cause movement that will eventually build to the power of a hurricane. Wiki says, “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions  in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.”  Small changes, small actions in other words, effect big shifts. What interests me about this is that it means everything matters, that every action has a consequence, that everything is connected. Is the same true of the intent behind an action? Let’s say for a moment that it is. A ballerina’s pirouette then, with the intention of creating something artful, magnifies beauty in the world.  A single well placed note augments harmony. A kind word genuinely expressed can empower a movement for social change. 

Looking at my own path I can, in some cases, trace backwards from current day actualities to butterfly effects in the past. One, first look exchanged with a man led to marriage and to our wonderful son. One casual question led to a recording contract. One laugh led to a long running series. Believe me there were “bad” butterfly flaps as well.  A fearful inkling led to near financial ruin. A moment of haste led to a serious fall resulting in broken bones. There are more but I’ll leave it there. You get the idea. Naughty butterfly. 

Here comes the New Year and assuming that life can be propelled forward on ideas, I’m starting to ponder what sorts of butterfly flaps I’d like initiated? The list is long. What thought can I have, can any of us have that could somehow help lead to a betterment of the human condition? Could a moment of awareness or inspiration possibly set in motion a journey to higher ground as relates to our current societal malcontent? What encouragement might lead to empowering a scientist, an artist, a teacher? Call me a Pollyanna but suddenly the horizon seems bright. Change happens. Things shift. Dreams come true. Who knows what good we can, collectively, set into motion? Let’s find out. Think big and happy flapping!

ROOTS


I like to hike in the mountains and when I do one of the things that continually fascinates me are the visible roots of trees. Oft times, they have surfaced in unlikely places as they climb granite walls or seek alternate paths to sustenance. The intricacies of their interwoven tendrils can move sideways as if in a slow motion dance along dirt trails. Tenacity and inventiveness articulate their routes to needed nourishment in order to keep their tree going.  Maybe one of the reasons I’m drawn to their beauty is because they are an important life theme as in: to be rooted, grounded, sustained. Expressions such as “get to the root of a problem”, “grass roots”, “root something out” populate everyday speech.  We all see images of citizens being uprooted due to climate, poverty, war…all the ills we know.  We read reports of farmers abandoning their parched fields when their plants can no longer take root. We hear of whole communities seeking a place to put down new roots. Easier for some than for others. Perhaps to some degree we are all feeling a bit uprooted these days as new normals emerge in a constantly changing world. 

I recently had a birthday and I’ve decided to work metaphorically with the idea of roots during this spin around the sun. Having been somewhat uprooted ourselves over the last 20 months, my partner and I are exploring the idea of what it means and where it might be that we would set down our new roots. Daunting and exciting both as we look afresh at life’s parameters such as we experience them to be. For my roots, words like beauty, efficiency, simplicity, family, light, view and a connection to nature come strongly to mind. Also the desire for the all important dining room table around which we can come together and break bread tugs mightily at my heart. These random concepts feel like the beginning of tendrils that make for good trees. 

I like to think that in direct relation to how deep our roots go, we can grow in equal measure to touch the stars. Standing in front of a majestic forty plus foot pine tree the other day as it swayed and twisted in the wind, whose roots could be up to 75 deep, I felt this viscerally. It seemed to be in communion with the heavens. With that image in mind, our aim is to root in the good, root in the divine and then to watch our tree grow. Hold a good thought, will you? In the meanwhile, I wish you and yours a rootin’ tootin’ good time!

Summer

I’ve been blessed over my lifetime to have been able to enjoy so very many wonderful summers. After the toils of winter and the exuberant pop of springtimes, summers have always felt like a time of celebration.  Many family members have summer birthdays and so memories of celebrations in steamy, sunlit meadows and/or beach picnics with kids and dogs abound. Summer hiking and water adventures have coded endorphins deep into my muscle memory. Summer visions of my own family as they grew up can easily fill daydreams with pastel delights and peels of laughter. Oh the laughter! None of them have been spent, however, emerging from an historic pandemic. How grateful I am that that will be one of this summer’s themes.

I’ve recently returned to the city in which I’d lived the past five years. Having had to exit over a year ago at the start of all of our covid impacted lives, this has been my first opportunity to return.  The days here have been filled with long overdue reunions with treasured friends and colleagues. Plans for the future are being made…for travel, for work. Its great, its fun but I have to say a little unnerving.  I feel a little stiff, unpracticed at social interactions and I think we all feel a bit like bears emerging from hibernation as fresh conversations reconnect synapses. A bit raw too perhaps as our nervous systems reawaken to hearing other people’s thoughts having listened to so much of only our own over these last many months.  

Walking through the park yesterday taking in it’s lacy explosion of green, I wondered if the leaves feel the same way? After all they’ve been through their own hibernation season. Not all fun and games for the leaves. I mean they’re working hard over summer to store all the food they’ll need. The grace of their emerald canopies belie the fact that their industrious photosynthesis process of collecting energy from light, adding water and carbon dioxide in order to convert it to chemical energy is well underway.  

Maybe we should take our cue from them and follow suit by storing essential food for the coming seasons. My usual summer  “to do” list is pretty long with frivolities: have a barbeque, eat a lobster, pick some blueberries, get in the ocean, hike, hike some more, seek vistas, listen to crickets, nap in the sun, sleep under the stars, smell a gardenia, listen to a lot of jazz, sip lemonade, make sun tea, add to the collection of memories with family and friends. But wait…maybe their sum total adds up to more than just frivolities.  Those good times, those sense memories fill a mental bucket that over time have distilled to their essence: beauty and love. Their alchemy births a form of hope, a hope that I’ve drawn on when needed on darker days. A hope that promises that because good days have been lived, they can and will be lived again. 

So on this summer day 2021 as we emerge together back out into the world I wish for you, your own list of summer frivolities and may they sustain you with buoying hope through all your seasons to come.Happy summer!

QUARANTINE

The good news is that my beau and I were offered a film to do together. The bad news is that because it was to shoot in Vancouver, we’d be obliged as per Canadian covid protocol, to quarantine for fourteen days in a hotel room. “Sure”, I thought, “Not a problem.” Mercifully it wasn’t and we’ve now lived to tell the tale but it was interesting for sure.  

First up, prior to departure from the US, there were the 15 or more online forms that had to be filled out…all for covid. ” Are you coughing? Are you unusually tired? Have you been around someone with covid?” Really? How would I know? 

As I was filling them out, I kept thinking how dumb this was…more forms, more red tape. I mean who was going to look at all this stuff?  Fair, if you were to call me grumpy. Then there were the five sites that needed to be joined…site for testing, site for info on the hotel in which we were to quarantine, site to show travel plans, etc.  Grumpier still but joined as was required and dotted all the “i’s.”

Soon as I boarded the Air Canada flight the grumpy started to abate.  The flight was far from sold out, passengers not traveling together were spaced apart. The plane crew were gowned, gloved and masked.  Clearly they were taking covid safety very seriously which immediately eased the tension of covid travel worries.  Easy passage to one of the world’s most beautiful airports, Vancouver International, which on past entries had been bustling with activity. This time the airport was, for all intents and purposes, dormant. Only our plane seemed to have landed, shops and restaurants were shuttered and the main lobby had been turned into a covid testing mash unit with a hundred or more cubicles, one to a passenger, staffed by a nurse who administered the required nasal swab. A most unusual but necessary welcome. Oh by the way, every single form we’d filled out had been claimed by a customs officer by the time we exited the airport. So much for my having prejudged them as being superfluous. 

With utmost courtesy, we were then escorted post haste to our airport hotel room. Probably wasn’t, but the door sounded particularly loud as it shut. Three days there til our tests cleared and then we’d be moved to a hotel in town for the remaining 11 days.  Meals would be delivered three times daily. Laundry could not be sent out nor any newspapers delivered. Hard core.  Pals of mine returning to their homes in Shanghai and Sydney respectively have endured the 14 days, now it was our turn. Light, view, connection to nature are crucial to me. I can’t remember a day over the last many years when I have not been able to/chosen to spend some portion of it out of doors.  How, I wondered would I fare being hermetically sealed in? Through the centuries people have endured jail cells, dungeons in shackles, darkened caves…surely we could manage 14 days with hot and cold running water, a loo and room service. Wait, could we?

Turns out, for me anyway, when you cannot go out the only place to go is in…in this case into self to explore what a pal used to call “the infinite space within.”  Love that. I have to admit there was a moment each morning upon rising, when I usually set my sites on the day ahead, when I felt like I was being slammed into a wall…but that quickly gave way to the inner road. Breath, meditation, prayer became the prominent features of the day. Yoga, online pilates mat classes. Time suspended itself in the cocoon and the days passed easily.  There may have been some red wine involved. Just sayin’.

Over the fourteen days I began to daydream about the concept of quarantine. Curious that some of it’s synonyms are “distance, keep out, close off, fence off, put a cordon on.” Sounded awfully like concepts we’ve exhaustively heard bandied about in the news over the last few years. I dug a bit to learn that the word quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta ‘forty’. Forty days…a significant passage of time used for transformations in many religious traditions. Seems to me our sorry world could use some healthy transformations about now. I for one certainly could do with a reset, renew, refresh.

As we emerged we felt, more than anything, a sense of gratitude to the Canadian government for taking the pandemic so seriously. Hadn’t seen that coming. Their restrictions felt more like care than confinement. They’d managed to construct and implement a whole infrastructure of covid awareness. The feeling continued as we witnessed everyone wearing masks and in restaurants where strictly out of doors dining with distanced tables was the norm. Camaraderie, that sense of all being in it together, was tangible. 

Would that it were so in America. We’ve been lax, uncoordinated. We’ve missed a golden opportunity to come together as one against the deadly virus. We have instead been splintered, angry, scared, some of us are in stubborn and ignorant denial, confused and dying.  We’ve missed a moment when we could have, dare say should have dropped the facade of ideological separations, missed the moment to heal divides and embrace the great adversity that could have brought us together when we need it the most. More’s the pity.

If this won’t bring us together, bring us into the awareness that we forevermore exist in a global reality, what will? 

Good Dirt

Mid winter, in anticipation of spring, I like to plant narcissus bulbs. It’s something my Mother used to do and come April, just when the world outside would have turned to brown slush, our home would be filled with sweet fragrances. It was a reminder of life’s promise of change as well as the promise of beauty yet to come.


Over the last few years, travel has kept me from this ritual but this winter…well, you know…suffice to say that being at home meant I could once again set bulbs up and so I did. Some went into containers with dirt, others into containers with rocks. Pleased with my work, I placed them variously around the house and awaited their certain bloom. Disaster struck, however, when the baby shoots started to come up blighted and the aroma of rot permeated the rooms.  Clearly I’d lost the touch and because seeing, not to mention smelling so immediately what happens when you put the potential for bloom in a toxic, wrong atmosphere I began to wonder about my own atmosphere.  What dirt is my own life planted in? Is it good? Does it blight a bud? Is it conducive to growth? Do we have a choice about the dirt we grow in? Can we make our own? Okay…thanks for coming down that rabbit hole with me…that was the bottom line question…what is the dirt, the atmosphere of thought from which my life springs? Sadly not sure I have an answer but I know I’d like my dirt to have the right nutrients, ones from which I can draw sustainable growth. 
Pondering what first “dirt” was or is for any of us, I guess the answer is the womb. Must’ve been nice. Everything needed at hand, other than the task of growing a body within the time allotted, no deadlines to meet.  I was lucky through my childhood as well to be potted in an atmosphere that was stable, stimulating and very loving. At some point though, it was up to me, up to all of us to create the dirt.  Looking back I can clearly see that I have not always done a good job at that…largely through neglect, squander, hubris but what about now, today? What is the mental atmosphere in which I chose to grow?


Dirt, I’ve just learned, has five components: Water, gas, organic matter, mineral (primary and sub) and microorganisms. Microorganisms are very cool. They host bacteria that have symbiotic nutrient exchanging relationships with plants. Not only bacteria but actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa and viruses. Yuck but I’m going to take comfort in the notion that these “undesireables” (aka so called life mistakes) are essential for soil development.  In fact without them, soil dies.

Close on microorganism’s heels is organic matter…all the dead stuff that gets fed back in, in order to fortify dirt.  Negative and neutral chemicals therein influence soil’s ability to retain nutrients. In other words everything, successes and failures alike get fed back into the dirt as compost serving only, ultimately, to make the mixture more fertile. Phew.

 
I’m going to call the ingredient of gas for my dirt mixture, mental calm…as in unencumbered empty space, a stress free zone, a place from which to imagine unimpeded.  One of the things calm demands is a prevalence of rational thought. Tends to dampen worries, imagined disasters, etc. In the way that deep roots help soil recycle nutrients, going deep during passages of reflection that calm allows for, must surely promote growth. 


Primary minerals, I’ll translate into optimism. A pal used to counsel me to “Carry optimism around in your head like a merry tune.” Lord knows that’s easier to do some days than others but even the effort I have to think provides some of the necessary nutrients. Sub nutrients of optimism are plentiful…resilience, perseverance, hope, joy, etc.  I’d take any one of those to grow a dream with.  Perhaps for you as well but I feel those qualities fuel my willingness to take on new projects, to tackle creative endeavors and their necessary learning curves. 


Water, I’ll give to the key element of a connection to the Greater as guide, true north, reassurance, identity. Some would call that Mother Nature, others might call that God or Spirit…whatever the belief or articulation of same, a connection to what is bigger and unhampered by our day to day challenges of life is a crucial ingredient for my dirt recipe. Water is the great conductor, the assurance of the constancy of change. It purifies, renews and reanimates. It’s flow cuts canyons, moves mountains, reshapes and fortifies.  Water can carry us.

It’s a pretty simple atmosphere recipe really, one from which fragrant blossoms just might bloom. 

The Princess and Me

Growing up, Mom used to go to the Okura Hotel hair salon Saturday afternoons for her weekly coif. The Okura was an elegant hotel directly across the street from the US Embassy in Tokyo, the city where I was raised through the 60’s and into the 70’s. In other words through the height of the Cold War. I can only imagine the number of spies and double agents who had exchanges in it’s storied lobby through that era. I digress. The salon boasted a row of comfy professional chairs each staffed by a stunning, shibui toned kimono garbed stylist. At the far end of the row, was a chair set apart from the others that would be hidden behind a drawn curtain when special customers wanted privacy.  Wafts of punishing perm stink and the delight of aqua net hung heavily in the air. No customer left without a work of lacquered art piled on top of their heads.  Once every six weeks or so Mom would take me with her for a hair cut of my very own. It was always a special treat, very grown up but on a particular early spring Saturday in 1964, my outing to the Okura, a day when the curtain at the end was drawn, turned out to be a very special one. 

My hair cut complete and Mother’s coif yet underway, the proprietress who was usually far too busy to even say hello to a mere 8 year old approached and asked if I wanted to meet a princess? In hushed tones, she explained that the Queen of Saudi Arabia was behind the drawn curtain and she, like Mom, had brought her daughter along. With Mother’s permission I gladly accepted to be taken behind the curtain. 

Seated in the salon chair was a rather voluminous woman, elegant but dour I’d say and beside her in white organza, white tights and little girl pumps was her daughter.  I think we were each as surprised as the other to clap eyes on, in her case a mere civilian, in mine a fairytale princess. We were equally alien life forms to each other.

I have no recollection of what we said to through the translator on hand…pleasantries I suppose of how old we were? That I loved her dress…but the upshot after our Mothers spoke, was that the Princess would come to our house the following day for a play date.  

You cannot imagine the spit and polishing that went on, the raking of leaves, ironing and fretting from the moment we got home until the hour of Princess Faisal’s arrival.  I dressed my dollies for the occasion, put ribbons on the doggies, tea and cookies would be served. At the ready a good hour before she was to arrive I stood in nervous anticipation on the porch overlooking the driveway awaiting her arrival.  

With unrest brewing in Saudi Arabia, King Faisal my parents were informed by a US Embassy staff member who had somehow been made aware of this impending visit, had sent his first wife and their two daughters to Tokyo as a safety precaution.  (The King was indeed assassinated several years later.) They had been ensconced at the Okura for three months when we met. 

At last I could hear a car coming across the driveway gravel…not one but three shiny black sedans pulled to a stop below me.  Out poured black suited bodyguards from the first and third cars. Some scattered around the property, three stood guard at the middle car. After what seemed an interminable wait, the Princess emerged from her car. I bolted down the stairs to greet her and her entourage.  When she stepped across our threshold the body guards had discretely disappeared. It was only Mother and I who greeted Princess Faisal and her translator. I’m not sure my feet were even on the ground at that point.  She was shy, modest even, poised and curious. Her large black eyes took in my world through what lens I cannot  begin to imagine.  To her, our home must have looked like a pauper’s cottage. 

Tea was served and Mother excused herself leaving just the three of us, if you don’t count my dressed up dollies, to our “playdate.”  I don’t recall much of what we did together.  I remember asking her if she could sing a song she liked. She declined to do so explaining that she was not permitted to sing without her father’s permission. As she did so she held up the hand painted, diamond encrusted porcelain pendant to show me the portrait of her father that hung around her neck.  I remember in that rendering that he had a kindly face.  Over our month of knowing one another, on another playdate we daringly sat on the teeter totter in the back yard.  That was the only time I recall seeing her laugh and with abandon too. The Queen kindly permitted me to visit them at their sprawling Okura suite.  On one of these visits, the Queen told me they were to return soon to the Kingdom and asked if I might take an interest in going with them for a visit? She knew ofcourse that I would have to ask my parents but looking back now, I think how very modern it was of her to have first mentioned the possibility to me. Surely the instantaneous glee on my face had been an answer even before I’d blurted out an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Things now moved very quickly. They were to leave in only a few days. I was certain my parents would accept this once in a life time invitation. I was already, mentally, packing my bag. To my utter dismay ,however, my parents forbad me to go.  Only later did I learn that they had sought counsel from the US Embassy on my possible travel. The Embassy had emphatically advised that I not go…stating that they could not ensure I would be seen nor heard from again were I to go.

Furious with my parents in only the way a spoiled eight year old can be, I stealed myself to bid adieu to my Princess, to my friend. Early the following evening, I was taken one last time to their suite. Things were bustling…papers, bags, body guards readying for what I’m sure was to be a private jet back to the Kingdom. Amidst this, the Queen was her serene self and taking me by the hand guided me for the first time into her private room. There on the floor, against the wall was a medium sized, wooden chest. She pointed to it and instructed the translator to open it and for me to choose three items contained therein as a remembrance. The heavy lid lifted to reveal a combination of loose jewels and gold coins that filled the casket to the brim. Sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds..the lot.  The Queen stood over my left shoulder as I knelt down to make my selection.  Not wanting to appear too greedy, darn, I selected two gold coins. She asked if I was sure. I said “Yes” and the treasure chest was closed shut. I cannot imagine that twice in my life I will see such glittered bounty.

It was time now to say goodbye. My parents had arrived to collect me and to say their goodbyes. I wonder now what the look was, what the silent exchange of primal understanding between two mothers was in that moment? Princess Faisal and I hugged each other, probably for the first time knowing we would likely not see one another again. My parents and I exited the suite, I in pouty mourning. 

Years later my parents told me that the US Embassy had informed them that I was in grave danger of being kidnapped that night and so in an abundance of caution, they had posted MP’s at all the Okura exits. My folks had been coached on what to do, what would happen should an emergency arise. My loving parents had taken the brunt of my disappointment not wanting to complicate a fairytale memory with world politics in a heady time.

I wonder sometimes what life the Princess has led? What sort of education she was afforded, how many children she has, what heart aches she has had to heal from? I wonder if she remembers her time with a little American girl on the teeter totter?  I wonder if we will ever meet again? 

2021

Out with the rat, in with the ox. “Year of” that is as here comes the New Year.  I wonder again what intentions to set for the coming trip around the sun? What goals matter, what vision quest, what resolutions, what dismissals? Dismissals I’m finding are so much easier at this stage of life. I pretty much say what I want, when I want, to whom I want and on occasion, let silence do its work. It’s not a perfect plan but it is one of the liberations of advancing in life that I’ve adopted. It is also a two way street.  For the most part I’ve come to cherish my friends’ blunt speak. Here’s an example. Me: “Do I look fat in this?” S/He: “Yup.” Me: “I can do a cartwheel!” He: “Nope. Not so much.”

Resolutions, goals…those can be more difficult to deal with. Where do you start the process of articulating them, of distilling their essence? One possibility is to follow the Japanese New Year’s tradition of tidying things up. Over December bills are paid, the house is cleaned, what needs tossing gets tossed, what issues can be faced are dealt with. Space in every sense of the word is cleared for the new. As the shift approaches trashy novels are put aside for deeper thoughts, deeper readings. The fridge is stocked for a clean diet. 

On New Year’s Eve day itself, ablutions be they hot spring soaks, cold plunges and the like are performed. Restored and reset perhaps that can be the place from which to discern goals. 

Resolutions though admirable are unrealistic for me. At least on cue at the stroke of the new year. Too ill disciplined, so rather than set my self up for failure I simply don’t make them. I know, chicken.  I do, however, set intentions. In the event putting them into writing helps manifest them, I’ll attempt to do so here and ask you to bear witness. 

First I need to take stock and clear out the old rat year. A recent NY Times article prompted its readers to sum up the year in one word. Mine was “tumultuous.” What with the closures of all nature, covid mortalities compounding the numbers of deaths, fiscal/political uncertainties I’m sure it has been a year of profound losses for all of us. I’d been living in NY, doing a play..all that ended. Concerts for the year cancelled. Six friends gone. Because my immediate family members have all remained healthy, because we have roofs over our heads, because my son is happy, because I have a remarkable life partner, my tumult falls I’m infinitely grateful to say into the realm of inconvenient and sad. The life that was, however, cannot be returned to. A new chapter has to be envisioned and built with considerations of what our new world looks like. 

I’ve read articles recently about corporations adjusting business models to accommodate consumers who, during the pandemic, have discovered that they’re happier with less. That’s cool. Less stuff, less noise. I’d like to incorporate that into the new year. 

Since we know now that a pandemic can happen, some consideration of this needs to go into being prepared should it happen again. 

Time is more precious now. I should use it more judiciously. 

Have adventures. 

So, my intention (gulp) for this new year will be about building the new normal, about building the new nest wherever that may be, about home and putting down roots from which adventures can be taken. My goal is for home to become a petrie dish for germinating the possible. I intend for this new chapter to be created to nurture health, to welcome family and friends, to be fertile ground for the expression of music and art.

Whatever our collective intentions and goals, perhaps we can all draw on our inner oxen over the coming twelve months to help accomplish what we’ve set out to do. Ox have qualities linked to physical and mental strength. They’re known to be hard workers and according to a Chinese zodiac blog, they are patient builders of their projects and dreams. So, goodbye Rat and all its mischief. Bring on the Ox. Let’s get to work.