the taking of the cookie and tea
And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea. Proust, Marcel, Swann’s Way (see reference below)
I started thinking weeks ago about the choice of my topic today… would I discuss my lifelong battle with what has come to be recognized as Major Depressive Disorder? Or perhaps, the pain of the necessary disassociation with my nuclear family, still trapped in the toxic web of alcoholism and denial? Maybe I’d write about the existential loneliness which characterizes so many global citizens as they search in desperation for community.
But then I thought, it’s all been said before. This time, I want to focus on my abilities, to discuss my recent work cultivating a parallel sense of myself, a self who is just beginning to test the waters of life at age 60. A person striving to find a new way to delicately balance herself as she lives out her days tossed about in this bundle of contradictions which defines life on this delicately fragile planet of ours.
What I am realizing now is that the ‘primordial stuff’ of my essence has been there all along, functioning behind the curtain as the stable grounding force of my identity. It exists in the ability to re-experience or recreate memories of times and places in which I felt the most keen sense of being alive … And it is the intensity of these experiences, the rarified nature of their aliveness, which constitutes the core of who I am. The part of me which perseveres …
I am often quite terrified about sharing here at X. For paranoia and a sense of not belonging have defined almost all of my interactions throughout my life … with school mates, fellow workers, family members, any and all social groups. But you see, in the new me, dwelling on this, on these ‘dis-abilities,’ no longer serves a purpose.
Now, rather, I prefer to risk it all, to present myself with all my flaws and tender spots. For these are the parts of me — my fears, my struggles, my losses and loves — which, when intricately laced together, resonate with my abilities.
Odd, isn’t it, that so much of who I truly am I have already shared with this community?
know the awesome beauty of Stonehenge, the blinding beauty of the sun-soaked Sacré-Cœur as it straddles Montmartre, the Disney-like aura of Old Town Prague when the bridges light up in the evening. I have lived and loved in London and stepped off the plane into the sunshine of a Dublin afternoon to feel the fierceness of my ancestral blood curse through my ‘black’ Irish veins. But I have never melted into a world with an intensity anywhere equivalent to what I experience each time I travel over Mt. Tamalpais and crash through (what my husband and I used to call) ‘the coastal curtain.’ There is just no turning back, no forgetting the sheer spirituality of this immersion.
We move to West Marin in 1982, and so is several years before we arrive in Bolinas.
I still feel in the recesses of my soul that clear day, our car canopied in the bright green overgrowth of overripe tree branches embracing above us … that feeling of déjà vu … I am transported back to 1971, to Pentraeth, a breath of a town on the Welsh Island of Anglesey. It is then that I fall in love.
I quit my full time writing gig in San Francisco, and start working on a book, free-lancing for the Pacific Sun, and pulling in $6 a hour making cheese cakes, slicing bread, and selling pastries at the Bolinas Bay Bakery. Such an mismatched crew we are: the owners, two gay men from San Francisco; the bread baker, a single mom, who arrives at 2 and leaves at 6:30 to wake her 3 kids for school; and the stop-dead-gorgeous, lithe and leggy pastry chef, a fellow New Yorker, with a perpetual tan and an abusive husband, who demands freshly steamed brown rice and veggies every night. From DK GreenRoots: “I carry Bolinas in my DNA” October 2009
Bach-y-Rita believes that the sensory-loaded, two-dimensional sheets, which form our touch receptors and the skin, are ‘data ports,’ capable of creating a picture, thereby substituting for a retina.
The brain decodes these skin sensations and, in turn, reconverts them into pictures. Therefore, the brain is learning or adapting, which signifies its plasticity: It is capable of reorganizing its own sensory perceptual system.
Imagine if we could use mirrors to re-ignite memories of ourselves at a previous time, before a particular health problem damaged our bodies, our psyches, our self concept. What if what is actually involved in our perceptions of ourselves is what scientists are currently referring to as the “best case scenario.”
So my experiment involves a treatment which will manipulate my perception of myself. I’ll need a mirror in which my entire body is visible, and a wide array of sensory triggers which (much like Proust’s madeleine) will transport me back to a time in my life when I was happy, a time before or a time in-between episodes of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
So here is my proposed experiment. Let’s walk in. Thursday HealthSeries: Music, Memory & the ‘Illusory Self’ September 2009
When I finally resurface, I am sure of something I have long suspected in my interactions with Narda: we are both imaginal cells. Separated by some 6000 miles, we both remain awake until the wee hours of the morning, driven by the same blessed unrest: We are both aware that time is of the essence. We are both delicate iron butterflies, hardwired to the same circadian clock, migrating towards the promise of a future, propelled forward by delicate and magnificently powerful light-detecting sensors, which respond to the invisible cue of polarized ultraviolet light. In unison, we dip, Golden Swallow Tails, Spread Wing Skippers, Pacific Checkerspots, side-by-side, hypervigilant, listening through small sonar specks on our wings for the singular sound of a chrysalis’ vibration. DK GreenRoots: “I would rather have a heart opened by wonder than one closed by belief”November 2009
The Great Salt Flats. 7:30 PM. 11 degrees. I’m behind the wheel when the car starts heaving and sputtering. Time just kinda freezes as the MPH gauge moves slower, slower … we’ve run out of gas. We pull to the side of the road into deep darkness. Cell phone service cutting in and out…. I’m underneath a blanket, red gloves, huge white scarf, hat. No idea how much time goes by before up ahead I notice a rear red signal light flash as a vehicle barreling by us slows down and skirts over, maybe 1/16 of a mile ahead of us. An enormous bright white light begins backing towards us. Closer. Closer. Stop. Door swings open. A lean, heavily bundled thirty-something man steps out. “You need some help?” he shouts. DK GreenRoots: The World Without Us December 2009
Black Zanate birds flock in the colorful framboyan trees above Plaza de la Forma as the citizens of Cancun convene to welcome and bless COP16 with a celebration of prayers, songs and short impassioned speeches.
“We need an answer,” says Rodolfo Urapilleta, one of the few volunteers on hand who speaks English. “Tonight we are getting together to pray. I don’t know how but maybe the Lord can do something.”A Blessing for Cancun December 2010
I saw the first pelican of the season last night. It appeared as my eyes swept over the Richardson Bay as an oblong black obelisk bobbing on the water. The moon rising was a slash in the sky, rough edged like a corn of beans jimmied just enough open with a knife for a spoon to sneak through. Being a West Marin woman, the sighting of pelicans is akin to recognizing the smell of your youngest tumbled in a sea of kids at the annual fishermen’s derby.
It’s second skin. Instantaneous. The curve of that beak tore through to the core of me, eliciting a sense of timeless wonder and joy reminiscent of returning to Combray, Aunt Leonie and that tea and madeleine.
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? The Cookie. Proust, M. (1913-27). Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage. pp. 48-51.
Aren’t we always, as humans, engaged in the attempt to recover lost time, to travel back to those moments in our personal histories where we felt safest, most enchanted, most alive?
And isn’t it this ability, this capacity to connect again and again and again with the self, and to recognizable its constancy despite all of time’s diffusions, that in the final analysis defines who we are?