Thursday, November 23, 2017

Shifting traditions




I went to church for Thanksgiving. 

Now, that might sound odd to those of you who are aware that I am more spiritual than religious, but I felt a really strong call to go to the Église Saint-Pierre yesterday evening and I listened to it, hurrying across the cobblestones as nights cape draped gently over my shoulders. 

When I walked first through the ornately carved entry, so many centuries old, and then pushed open the padded leather doors in place to protect the silence, I wondered if there would be that rush of relief that I had felt upon my first visit. Or had I been digging into dreaming, willing it so.

Clock-wise I moved from altar to altar. They had been so ornately painted. And now the patina fell away like shards. Yet the beauty pulsed from within. In the far left corner, in the chapel for the church's namesake, a woman sat praying in such stillness that she could have been sleeping. Sleeping peacefully with her God.

A communion.

After spending a few minutes marveling at the gilded nave rising, I turned and nearly ran into a priest with grizzled hair, who avoided my gaze, stepped aside to let me pass so that he could continue on his path towards the Confession box. 

I paused under a statue of Mary Magdalene, barefoot and draped in the simplest of clothing, before heading towards the exit, full-circle. I knocked gently at my heart. Yes, I felt connected again. To family, my own and of the world. I don't know what it is about this space that makes me feel so, but I acknowledged deeply my first springs of Gratitude for this Thanksgiving.

That was last night and admittedly, I had to push a bit to conjure up that feeling today upon waking, alone in my bed. Soon, I will get ready to go to my job - to return at midnight - and it is most likely that I will find out my schedule for December today and how many days I will be working through the holidays. 

Everything is different. But there are other scales that exist besides "Better" or "Worse." With today, and the festive days that lie ahead, I will have to figure out how to shift the traditions of the past so that they sing for me once more. Or anew. Perfection is nothing but a greedy shadow. 

The love that I feel...can take many forms...from having bought a tiny string of Christmas lights after leaving the church...to the yoga that I am about to do for my body and spirit. All thank you's, all a Thanksgiving. 


 

Of course I am extending that Love to you as well. Thank you for your many ideas and emails about the possible blog title change. Please forgive me if I haven't responded. We'll see where things go.


 
 
 



Please be really kind to yourself today and - hopefully! - to those around you too.
Namaste,

Heather



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Sitting in seven




So I have been living in this space for seven years now. Some of you have been too. Seven years. It's a long span of time but of course it has passed so quickly, the beauty and the jagged all together. My heart is full.

Granted, you might be thinking, "Heather, you are baaaarely keeping this thing going." Et vous avez raison. I am not going to dwell on why, we have already crossed that Bridge of Sighs plenty of times together. But even when I am not actually offering up to you my words and photographs - Look! Look! Look! - I am with you still.

So, it is with that trust, strong like a golden wire, that I have a question for you.

Yesterday, I took the train to Arles to see some art. I miss my little town. So I sat on the banks of the Rhone and felt the 2500 years of history flow through me as the sun caressed my cheek. I climbed the worn stone staircases of what is now the Musee Reattu just as the Knights of Malta did and smiled as the floors creaked reassuringly under my feet. 

And I felt at home.

But then I started to do "the rounds," to visit those that I knew before. Every person to a one handled me so delicately, largely with well-intentioned pity. "How are you, Heather? Really? Comment ça va?" All with the same head tilt of concern. I felt so uncomfortable that I could not tell them that actually, I have a job now and my own apartment or that I am starting to make new friends in a different town. That pity hung heavy between us like a veil.

Because, we are not broken. And as beaten as I have felt during this past year, I was always and am still breathing, grateful. The Beauty of this Life is undeniable.

I am not the person I once was. But none of us are.

So I think that it is time to ask the question that has been brewing in me since the very beginning of January, maybe earlier.

If I am not "Lost" and definitely not "Lost in Arles" then who can I be? Because I don't feel Lost anymore. Struggling yes, often even, but not Lost. Everything, everything was and is completely meant to be.

This means that I no longer feel that the title of this blog fits. It is a hollow definition that is one of my last links to the past, but one that is starting to feel more and more like a chain holding me back from where I want to go.

As I am uncertain as to what that might be, I am turning to you. Community is always what I have celebrated on these anniversaries.

I am officially opening up the Suggestion Box for what new title this space may wear. Please feel free to leave a comment below or to email me at robinsonheather (at) yahoo.com if you prefer.




With much Love and Gratitude to you all,
Heather







Monday, October 16, 2017

Waltzing solo




It can be dizzying this rebuilding. I am shine bright proud of myself for simply showing up and advancing without too much complaint. I have been open to meeting new people - willing it, even, calling out to the skies while walking the streets of Avignon, "bring me someone today," optimism filled - and that too takes so much courage. Blowing patiently on the embers. I know it. I have kissed and my lips feel his sweet bruise, still.

And yet I woke up this morning and...I am crying without knowing why. More tears without noise. It started with missing Ben, his arriving just in my half-sleep upon waking and then just waves of longing for my old structure. The stone front steps where I always sat, the books stacked and frequently paged, the comforting illusion of a "forever," being held in the morning after not sleeping well or sleeping deeply, just as the first hello. I thought that I had moved firmly beyond that longing. I truly did.

Grief is so tricky, leaving me shrugging foolish at my youthful misunderstanding. But I know to be patient, to be kind, to go gently. And I remember well how fortunate I am, it isn't that.

It is just waltzing, myself in my arms. That old life. This new one. Turning, turning, turning.

In the dirty laundry buildup, my camera is gathering dust and that scares me. Admittedly, exhaustion clouds my eyes.  Perhaps these mysterious tears have come for rain? There is something of getting ready for what is next, always - trying to create a luxury of space - that is both joyful and truly tiresome.

Can I find the words? Am I just words? Or am I also air and blood and dust of the moon?

This humaness. I take it all and willingly but there are also moments where I just feel a deep need to curl up on time's carpet to rest.

Breathing through, I will get dressed and head outside to seek solace in beauty's kind balm.





*I did. And I feel better. Bought a sandwich for a young homeless kid that I like and food for his dog. Perspective.

To listen to:
 

With love and gratitude,
Heather

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Go gently




Go gently now, my friends.
Glide, if you can, as if parting the waters in a gondola through my beautiful Venezia. 
What love there is in your hearts matters more than you can possibly know.
Can you send it out? 
But also carry it in?
In these challenging times, yes, but always, please be so kind to yourself for it is precisely what you deserve. 
No "good" will come from anything other, only second chances to relearn.
Or a third or a thousandth.
I am letting go of certain old ways because I have no choice and it shines the light of opportunity. 
Still learning, I stumble but then help myself back to standing, even crookedly with a crooked smile, through compassion. 
For that too, I seem to no longer have a choice, even if I still swat at the flies of worry.
To me, it seems as if this is where we are all at, collectively.
And perhaps individually too?
So I see you, I know you. I send you my Love.
Go gently, dear friends. 
We need you now.
This Beauty remains, ever present, in you and around, and yes, it is more than real.





















To listen to in these autumn days:

*I have been carrying around these ideas for a few weeks now, they roll loose in my mind like pebbles in a pocket. They aren't perfect but I don't want perfect anymore. They might sound preachy, but that is only a result of their imperfection. Love is the idea. For me, I am able to connect through Beauty, in all its forms. And I have to search hard to find it some days, as we all do. But I do, eventually, if I look hard enough and easily, when I can do so with an open heart.


Thank you for being here.

With Love from Provence (while still holding dreams of returning to Venice),
Heather


 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Talking to strangers



It started to rain.

At first I tried to ignore the drops that splotched onto my open book like so many childish tears but then I did the natural thing, grabbed my wine glass, stood up and hugged to the wall. No one had seen the storm coming, least of all me, who had gone to Le Violette, my favorite restaurant in Avignon, for the comfort of their hospitality and a taste of my go-to salad, les Dames de Shanghai.

Busboys ran to bring out the massive umbrellas that usually protect this beautiful courtyard from a beating sun. One of the owners - I like her; she is a no-nonsense blond - waved for me to go to find a table inside instead. I had too much of my meal in front of me to be blown about needlessly. 

There were several of us milling about, table hunting through muffled laughter at the surprise of it all. The unexpectedness. Having been a waiter, I knew not to take a table for four but felt shy about sliding into the only "two-top" left as it was next to one already occupied by a gentleman looking at his menu. I slid onto the banquette with a nod. 

Because of the sheer proximity, the details of him popped into focus, one by one. White hair in curls on the top of his head, glasses perched, yet tattoos peeking out from his shirtsleeve, watch hanging loose at his wrist. 

My salad arrived - I am so addicted to it - and as I snapped open the chopsticks he wished me "Bon Appetite" with a slight smile. His cell phone made a ridiculous beep that made me laugh and remark how much we rely on those little machines. A few minutes later, I also offered a "Bon Appetite" to the trio of ladies to my left and then offered him a "I copied you," with a smirk. "I see that," he responded. And that was it; the floodgates of the conversation opened and began to flow.

We talked about everything and easily - including the moving art that was being featured in the Collection Lambert, where Le Violette is perched. He had driven down from his home in Curçuron, in the Luberon, to see it. I appreciated that. After tasting his caramelized travers de porc, he asked me if I wanted to try it. And I really did, it looked fantastic, but refused out of politeness sake as that is something that is simply not done in France, not between strangers, even if we didn't feel like ones. Somehow neither of us took for granted the facility of our exchange but accepted it rather hungrily.

Of course, he wanted to drill me about the state of American politics, everyone does, and shared certain perspectives that made me think that he was of the generation of the soixante-huitards  - from 1968 - when the youth uprising shook Paris. Despite having known success, like many from that generation, he had chosen a less obvious path and then a quieter life had chosen him. He was forced into an early retirement from his company...and then, quite recently, his wife had died from cancer. It was hard for him to say those words aloud and yet he did with dignity. How obvious it was that he loved her so dearly, how she was with him, with us, at the table.

In having told my story - and I tell it patly now, "16 years in France traveling the world as a...then he...now I..." - he had understood why I was here, also dining alone, knowing no one in a new town. Although I had already taken a second glass of wine to stretch out the lunch, I did not want dessert, even though I had ordered him to get the cheesecake, mandatory. So a decision had to be made.

Maybe I am wrong, but I think that not that long ago, perhaps I would have tried to...push something into being, grasping. But there had been no flirting, the difference in our ages and our respective tenderhearted conditions denying that opportunity. That wasn't this experience. I asked for my check and still we were laughing and sharing non-stop. With an inhale I announced, "Well, I am going to go..." and stood up. 

"Comment vous appelez-vous?
"Michel," he answered and extended his hand, I took it to shake but held it. 
"Je m'appelle Heather...It seems like we are both at a time of rebuilding our lives, aren't we?" 
"We are, c'est vrai." 
"I wish you well as you continue forward." 
"And I to you." 
Both of our eyes were shining, locked with gratitude, pure. I released his hand and smiled again while turning to go.
"Au revoir."
"Au revoir."

 







Le Violette

Collection Lambert
5 rue Violette
84000 Avignon
Tel. 04 90 16 56 20
Open 11am-6pm
Closed Monday



*PS. I have had this post in my head for two weeks now, but waited to go back to take some photos to illustrate it and the wonderfulness that is Le Violette. I told the manager/owner about my intentions to write about my experience. She remembered the day well and said that Michel had spoken to her about our meeting after I had left and what it had meant him. 

I will keep repeating it, but there is so much beauty available to us. All the time...

Thank you for being here,
Heather

 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Coming up for air



Hello. 

Well, the fact that I am starting to get search dog emails tells me that it is time to check in with this amazing community to explain the reason for my silence. And for those of you who reached out, please know that I am deeply, deeply moved by such gestures, especially in this time of transition. One where, admittedly, I have been wrestling with the chimera of loneliness quite a lot. 

I am in Avignon, la Cité des Pâpes, currently working a two-month contract that will continue through October. Such temporary contracts, or CDDs, are very common in France. They give the employer a means of "trying out" someone before committing to the far more binding permanent contract, the elusive CDI (which one needs in order to, say, buy a car on credit or rent an apartment). What this means for me is that I am on an island of seeming-security in the midst of a strong current. And it has been interesting to observe the ugly head of perfectionism rearing its head as a result. I have been pushing myself hard to advance - for there is much to learn - and judging myself harshly when I "fail." All of these modes of being are ones that I thought that I had left behind long ago, but they are apparently very old stories that still need to be brought to light. Hopefully, with kindness. 


There have been some gifts along the way, the most important of which is that my friend Anthony's Mom is renting me a beautiful studio (see above to understand how perfect this is) that I will be able to stay in if my contract is extended. My ex has been kind enough to let me store some of my possessions in the old house and helped me to move a few carefully chosen items to Avignon last week. That was a hard day. While I had long since made my peace with the end of our 15-year relationship and had disconnected from that beautiful home, saying au revoir to Kipling, whom I will no longer be seeing on a regular basis, was brutal. I am crying to think on it, and how much I miss him, so I will move on...

The idea all along was for me to purposefully not try to launch into a third career yet (nor have I, realistically, regained the self-confidence to start my own business but am getting there) but rather to get what my Sister and I used to call "a job-job" back in our acting days that would support me while I could continue to be creative, which is where my heart is and has always been. However, the reality is that I am too exhausted from working such long hours and so have not been able to keep that part of my spirit as active as I would like, save for the occasional short bursts on Instagram (@lostinarles). In time, my wish is that I will build up strength so that I can put down the words and take the photographs on a more regular basis. Or I will have to find another solution. I woke up this morning with a very clear thought in my head: "my life cannot be only this." In France, they call it "métro, boulot, dodo" or "commute, work, sleep" (then repeat). 


Last night was a rare evening off and I walked and walked the streets of Avignon. The light was splendid golden, that September sun fading creating long shadows as the crowds passed in silhouette. It is a city and I have again passed into anonymity, something long since forgotten after so many years of living in the Provençal village and Arles. I listened to jazz in front of the Palais des Pâpes, then wandered through the vernissage of an exhibition in the magnificent Palais de Roure, tenuously clutching my rosé in a plastic cup while watching the old families of this grand town air kiss. It was pleasant. Afterwards, I lit all the candles in my studio, put on some beautiful music and found myself staring off into space, thinking and letting the feelings come up of all that has changed, of all that is in motion. 

I am still coming up for air, rising and rising. And then sometimes falling back. Not drowned or flying but still here, breathing in my bones; filled with longing but also grateful. I am not sure what is next. But none of us do.


One step, then the next, then the next...

It is all we can do. With all that is going on in the world, I am hyper aware that this is just my story. But I feel how it essential it is to try and remain open to the beauty and the good. 


Thank you for being here,
With love from Avignon,
Heather