THIS IS A TRUE LOVE STORY

In the light of a full moon on St Marks, I slept naked, sharing the air with a flowering gardenia. I asked for my life back. I asked for joy, for laughter, for light. On the first of July, I lay in the summertime grasses of Washington Square Park, wrote in my journal, and spoke to the angels: “I am ready to spread my leaves wide, my roots deep, and my wings wide open. The butterfly is shifting in her cocoon and slowly cracking. What colors will my wings be? Who will I join in the air up there?”

A few weeks prior, I had lain in a virgin swimsuit on the sands of the Atlantic, arms spread-eagled and shot to the sky, “Release me from this burden!” I walked the sands of Fire Island collecting shells, dug a hole, drew a large circle and sat squat within it. Subconsciously I was hearkening our souls together, drawing them forth, sewing. Metaphysically, I was already talking to you. I was already yours.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that I met Isaac. I had just published my first book, a ‘Catherine wheel’ of writing as an early mentor called it, and it was being stocked at BookMarc, Marc Jacob’s bookstore in Greenwich village. This was a book I had made almost literally with my own two hands. A reader of my blog lived with the book buyer there and asked if they could stock it. I was giddy when I first walked into it’s luxe rooms and saw my book in the sunshine on a table. 

Two years earlier, I had been connected to Isaac through a mutual friend whilst I was back home in Australia. She lived in the house behind my parents, and made tarot cards. Her name was Kat Black. She had left a deck of cards on my parents front porch, saying that if you need a cup of sugar or a Facebook friend, she was here. We connected online and she suggested a couple of friends to me. One of them was Isaac. I wrote to him with a compliment on his hat. He wrote back sweetly. I told him I was in a relationship. He began reading my blog posts. Occasionally when I was back in the city, he would invite me to his shows on Allen St. I never accepted these invitations, even though I lived just around the corner with another man. What was I supposed to do? Bring him? Go alone, and say hello with a drink in my hand after the show? No, I wouldn’t go. Time flowed on, and I stayed in my small cage with a man I wasn’t sure about.  

One summer in Fire Island we arrived at the beach house we had planned to vacation at, and my boyfriend became so enraged with something I said, that he turned right back around and boarded the ferry back to the city. My friend Julia and I stayed on in spite of him and celebrated her thirtieth birthday there. I made her a cake and we sat on the deck in the sun. She put her hand on the warm grey shingles and said ‘I want a man as sturdy as this house.’ We walked to the beach and I taught young girls how to do handstands in the ocean, how to duck under the waves. I flung my arms wide to the sea and declared my freedom. I drew a large circle in the sand and sat in the middle of it. These were my prayers, my magic, my untangling. 

I rented a room from a couple of college girls right by Tompkins Square Park, above an Australian bakery that sold Lamingtons. There was a mattress on the floor, and I brought a white sheet, my pillow, my two passports and tarot cards. From the corner store one humid evening I bought a gardenia plant and placed it by my bed. I slept naked with the window open and the rain came in through the window making everything curl at the corners. I exhaled deeply during this singular month – the only month I ever paid my own rent in the city. I lived like a monk. I wrote on a blanket in the park across the street, and ate simply, washing my dishes alone in the sparsely decorated kitchen. I longed to have people in my life like the families eating pizza with their kids on the grass, juggling, hanging upside down from the trees. But at least I had my sovereignty. I was free. 

July fourth came around and my ex said he missed me. I packed my duffel bag of clothes and rode my bike from my sisters apartment to the apartment we shared in Chinatown. I pulled into the bike lane of Second Avenue, against the traffic. Before I knew it, a yellow taxi cab swooped in to drop off a passenger and the door flung open. I rode straight into it, and landed in a warm muddy puddle outside an Italian restaurant with white tablecloths. The concerned waiters rushed out with crisp napkins to mop me up. I got back on my bicycle and kept riding. This was a sign, and I did not pay attention to it. 

My relationship kept breaking down. The man said I was ‘bad luck’ one evening and incredulous, I locked myself out on the balcony of our Chinatown apartment. You could see a sliver of the East River between the tenement housing from this balcony, and the sky was the New York purple of summertime twilight. I prayed. For the first time in my life, I prayed honestly and desperately.

“Tell me what to do. Where do I go? I hear you send signs, Universe, and I know I haven’t paid attention to them lately but I need you to send me some signs. I promise I will pay attention this time. I just want to be with someone who is joyful, and funny, and light, and up to big things in the world, and passionate about what they do, and tall, and – someone like Conan O’Brien.”

(Okay – explanation. My little brother Henry and I were Conan fans and would watch his late night shows giggling at his quips and dance moves. I found myself drawn to his free-wheeling energy. The curious electricity that ran through him and his confidence in the solidity of who he is, was very magnetic to me. I wanted someone in my life every day who was like that. )

The summer after I published my book, I went to France for my parent’s 50th and 60th birthdays. I was about to turn 26. While I was in France, Isaac wrote to me out of the blue with mention of a manuscript he wanted me to look at. He had been working on it for twelve years he said, and it was about the cosmology of music. I had been toying with the idea of publishing other people’s work, and was deeply drawn to Buckminster Fuller, Carl Sagan and theories of the universe at the time. I thought, this could work – a business meeting. I’m in the power seat. We can meet for coffee. I didn’t respond immediately. 

Two days passed, and I went to a brocante, a French thrift store full of old furniture from deceased estates in the provinces. My friend had me sit at a dining table he was gushing over. I noticed that the seat I was sitting in had been printed with a tiny repetition of rampant lions. I noticed them at the same time that I noticed the faces of the knights at the front of the high-backed chairs. I bought a leather mini-skirt and a picture of ‘L’Ange Gardien de la Montre’ – the Guardian Angel of Time, and we went home to eat bread and cheese and tomatoes.

“Thank you for writing from France, that sounds like an incredible time, it has truly captured my heart and I often day dream of a sojourn in Paris. I have been doing some research this year on the Magdalene and the history of the Cathars in the south…”

Over the course of the following nights, I walked the streets of Paris with another friend whose loft I was staying in. I was certain I’d wandered the area before. As we strolled, I had a sudden urge to document everything as if it were my last night on Earth. I took out my camera and started taking photos of anything that caught my eye. An old firehouse. The Parisian facade of an apartment building. The Walk/Don’t Walk signals. I took photos of the rainbow colored buildings. The jade river. And on the bonnet of a car, another mysterious, rampant lion.

I slept deeply before returning to Manhattan. I came back to the man I’d been coming and going from for three years. I was lonely a lot of the time. Some evenings I’d climb onto a chair outside and smoke a cigarette, stowing the butts under the table he didn’t like, in a jar with a lid to hide any trace of the evidence. I began living a separated life, in which my tears fell inwardly, and I stored up a great bank of pearlescent hopefulness, wondering, sometimes loudly, whether this was all that there was in store for me.

“Hi Sophie, it is Isaac. I know I sent you some vague thoughts on the musical cosmology; I would very much like to send you the rest of it. However, since as Miles Davis once said, ‘Talking about music is like dancing about architecture’, I would REALLY like you to come to my band’s show tonight.”

I decided to throw a party. It developed quickly, like the negative of a photograph from the lens of my imagination. When Saturday arrived, I made two pavlovas, bought some gin, and awaited the arrival of my guests. That morning, Isaac wrote again, suggesting that we meet at his favorite coffee spot on West Broadway where they “make a mean flat white.” This was the first time I’d heard anyone refer to a flat white since I’d left my home country. In fact, it was the first time I’d had contact with an Australian as interesting as this. I postponed the meeting until Monday.

After multiple glasses of gin and tonic, much laughter, and the hugs of goodbyes, I slept well, dreaming continually before waking to clean the remnants of the night. As I wiped the benches and threw out bottles and beer caps, I wondered what was next for me. When I’d thoroughly exhausted myself, I lay in bed sifting through emails. I chanced upon a letter from Isaac, which in the emotional mist of my parent’s birthdays, I hadn’t fully digested. I watched the footage he’d sent me, a film of he and his brother singing in an old French chateau. Immediately I wanted to see more. The next thing I saw were the early stages of a song called ‘Underneath it All.’ As the camera pulled out, the song went directly to my core. I was pierced open. The music broke open the floodgates in my heart. I began to weep openly as I realized I’d reached the end of my road. “Underneath it all, where do you go from here?” I got chills all over my body, even though it was high summer.

I then found a video of the band on a CBS morning show. When the host introduced the band, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of them before. As they initiated their set, the cameras pulled back, and I noticed a flag draped over the keyboard that Isaac was playing on. How strange, I thought, it’s that very same lion. It was an unmistakable sign. However, like a traveler on a path in the night, I didn’t know what I was heading towards and could only see the road as it appeared from the dark.

Something is occurring in this moment, which is very sacred. Rain mists, sunshine, a sunshower and the scent of wet wood. I am opened. I am awakened. I met the most amazing special soul this morning.

On the morning of August 15th 2011, I pulled on my black jodhpurs, a denim shirt, and tied a bandanna around my neck. I was about to meet Isaac for the first time at the Housing Works Book Cafe. I got on my rickety bike and headed towards Crosby Street. I arrived earlier than I imagined, so I went into the store to leaf through old books. I knew I would know when he got there. Like clockwork, my gaze reached the door just as Isaac’s smiling face appeared within it. His eyes met mine like a tiger through the foliage. I looked away to return the book while he walked towards me, feeling shy, shifted, and ready.

“Hi,” I said. Isaac put his bag down without taking his gaze from mine. He put out his hand, which I shook before greeting him with a kiss on both cheeks in the French style. This new creature felt different to me, and yet I was hugely receptive to his leadership. He moved in a particular way, which I found fascinating. He wore boots, and a leather hat, had cotton bracelets and necklaces, various talismans looped around his wrists and neck.

“Do you want a flat white?” I watched him order, noticed how tall he was. I told him I’d been listening to his band’s music, how much Underneath It All had moved me, and we chatted formally about our hometowns whilst the barista made coffee.

As the next three hours sped by, I felt myself begin to emerge from my hiding place. Isaac was waking me up. He showed me his friend Joseph Peter’s Book of Happiness, a large leather bound book I had trouble wrestling with, it was so large. He presented the curlicue notes he’d written on the Musical Cosmology, many decorated with coffee and candle wax. He spoke of angels and spirit guides, of sweat lodges and sacred geometry. Most magically, his eyes saw me; they saw who I was. Time and space warped, and we were held in a field of energy in which anything and everything could be illuminated.

“It was great to meet you,” I said as I unlocked my bike. He stood in the street as I navigated the curb. I threw my arms wide to say goodbye with a hug. As our chests met, I felt a phenomenal wave of warmth, an exchange of energy that quaked through my every cell. The sky started to open up as I rode home, and I wondered what had just happened. Isaac said he watched me ride away until he couldn’t see me anymore.

Coming back to the apartment, I was split in two. Part of me held Isaac’s gifts close, and stowed them safely on my desk. Part of me wondered what was happening and how to navigate it. A sun shower began, and as I watched the clouds, I wrote to Isaac, thanking him for an incredible meeting. “And look at the sky! Something is happening,” I wrote.

“I love it when there are mixed emotions in the sky,” he wrote back.

“They say in Africa that when there is a sun shower, the leopards are getting married,” I responded.

“My whole being is rejoicing,” he replied.

The rain and the sun intersect and I feel blessed, blown open, the great doors banging wide – I want to share everything, explain everything, fly with whimsy and intuition. I am marveled by this life, this reality. He who laughs: The philosopher, the romantic. What now, what now? I can hardly ask myself. (From my journal that day.)

I sat on the balcony and wrote in the sun shower. Unfortunately, I was still in a relationship, though it had long been over. The trouble was, I’d been acting like the birds in Parisian markets, flying back into the cage whenever I was let go. This time, however, I knew that my witchcraft had somehow worked, that I had called something in, and that it was not symbiotic with my current life. Something had to go. I took a train to visit my friend in the Hamptons and wrote furiously the whole way. I wrote late into the night and first thing in the morning. I thanked my guides and whatever powers that be for the incredible being that was Isaac now beginning to emerge in my life. I thanked them profusely.

By the end of that week, Isaac and I were writing daily (was it hourly?) sharing everything we could. On the first day, I sent him music. On the second day, we wrote a song together. He told me I’d been dancing in his third eye “like an ancient ibis in some far out costume.” On the third day, I sat with the cicadas and the rain, and told Isaac I needed to learn to fly, and could he please send me courage. On the fourth day, I sat with the sun and the sage and the sound of my friend chanting, and Isaac told me they had been booked to play a show in Montauk.

I felt my chest radiating with energy. Science shows that the electrical field of the heart is about 60 times greater than the electrical activity generated by the brain, so by the time Isaac traveled out onto Long Island with his brother Thorald and partner Ashley, I was vibrating. I could hardly look Isaac in the eye without a massive grin filling my face. We drove to the beach, playing the song we’d just written on the stereo with the windows down. When we got to the ocean, Thorald flapped his wings and flew to the water, with Ashley laughing behind him. As we walked down the boardwalk, Isaac and I took our shoes off and with a gentle hand in the small of my back he had me flying, too.

That night, I watched Isaac sing with a freedom and joy that opened my heart. Later we sat on the edge of a bank of sweet grass and told the Universe we were ready. We lay in a hammock at my friends’ house and I wore Isaac’s coat embroidered with tiny red and white crosses on the sleeves. Our bodies were warm together and I knew I was home at last, in amongst dark trees and the high blue sky, studded with the white ash of star shine.

That weekend, I left my old apartment and the man who didn’t want me to go. I had courage. A week later, Isaac took me to the countryside in Pennsylvania where his brother lives and we decided we would live there too. I had faith. A week later, I moved into Joseph Peter’s ‘Happiness Factory.’ I had joy. A week later, we looked at houses in Pennsylvania. I had trust. A week later, we spoke about rings and the sacred nature of the circle. I had love. A few days later, we bought rings set with gemstones from an Israeli man on Prince Street. That day, we were engaged.

I remember how he looked at me across the mossy fallen log in Montauk, when we sat in the cove and glen alone, in amongst the angels and fallen stars. I fell in, found love, and I made my home there. The days are now figured around how best to be together, how to enjoy life in all its fullness; the luxury of the sun and beach in January, of breakfasts together, of laying deeply in each others embrace, or driving home to our house on the river at night.

Isaac and I were married on January 7th 2012, under a full wolf moon in Pennsylvania. Yoko Ono once wrote, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.” This is the story of how three lions, some witchcraft, and an extraordinary Australian made my dreams come true. This is a true love story.

CHRISTMAS CARDS

It’s the first day of a new year, and like any year, I am astonished that I am getting older. We watched Steven Spielberg’s Hook this evening with our six year old son, and as time passes me by, I remember vividly the little girl inside me. When I was younger I looked just like Maggie in the movie, long hair, five gaps in her teeth, wide eyes and open face. I have hardly changed, really. So it surprises me when I consider my age. 36 this August (!) It all sweeps by so fast. Just as I suspected I am more tired, more jaded, more weatherworn, doing monotonous grown up things, and yet inside of me lives a soul whose essence is so easily touched. Mostly by magic, by childhood films, certain songs, the textures of things, and the way they make me remember.

It was the day before Christmas 2020, and we were all busy writing cards, thinking up meaningful things to write down on paper and hand to each other: keepsakes of love and care. Jules was struggling to think of what to write in a card to his cousin, eleven months younger than he is. My sister-in-law told him, “Jules, I never know what I’m going to write when I start writing a card. You just have to put pen to paper and see where it takes you.”

I realized this is the perfect metaphor for doing anything, and for much of life really. If we think too much about something, it may not even happen at all. You just have to start, and let the momentum carry you. For months we anticipate something in the distant or not too distant future. A holiday. A season. A visit from family. And then the holiday arrives and the season is in full swing and the family comes and it’s so incredibly different from how we imagined. It’s real. It’s now. It’s unfolding in a landscape you are enmeshed in and cannot unmesh yourself from. The trees are buried in snow one morning when you wake up and then we are wading knee deep in the unbelievable white, throwing handfuls of powder and the sun streams through and children are laughing and it doesn’t seem quite real. But it is real. And it’s a fleeting moment. Soon the cold seeps into your boots and your face flushes red with the chill and your body craves something warm to wrap its hands around and shelter. We return inside and that moment that was so real becomes a memory. Another photograph to store in the caverns of my mind, photographs that will become a life lived, a series of stories, a fabric to wrap ourselves in.

He did think of something to write in the end, and we gave our cards on Christmas, watching our loved one’s faces reading something we can’t quite remember having written. Little missives from a moment of heart, put down on paper, and carried on. As life goes by, I treasure these memories the most, and as a writer, the reliving of my best days, again.

DANCER

You know when you decide something and then change your mind? Well, I said I wanted to share mostly poetry on Instagram and keep the personal stuff in my stories but I’m realizing during this socially isolated pandemic that I need the connection, the mothers, the ones moving through the sea with me. First of all, teaching first grade math to your own child is a thing. I’ve learned a whole new level of deep breathing with that. Second of all, I’m really proud of how resourceful Julius has become, fishing cardboard out of the recycling bin and making all kinds of contraptions and crafts guided by his own inspiration. That’s definitely a win. In the midst of all kinds of weird situations this year – I think being resourceful and self-guided is a skill we all need right now. 

I have to admit that I never imagined myself with only one child. I’m the eldest of four, and so as the time stretches on and my only son grows bigger and bigger, I’ve been in the throes of seventeen different kinds of anxiety about when or if or how these other imagined children will get here. For several years we tried to bring them forth without help. Then we found out a structural issue was the problem. Then we had that fixed. Now, because time is a ruthless dancer, we turn to additional help. 

It’s taken immense courage to face the thoughts in my mind that tend towards magical thinking, that somehow I’m not ‘meant’ to have more, by fate or by god or by karma, but I’m also a very creative person. I was thinking this morning that just because someone had a business and it failed, it doesn’t mean that you weren’t ‘meant’ to have a business, by fate or by god or by karma. It means that it didn’t work out that time, that something wasn’t quite right, and nothing about your or your character. When it fails, do you lie in a heap on the floor bemoaning the absence of angels in your life? (ABSOLUTELY says my aching heart) Or do you decide what you want and keep going? At some point, if you know that you really want it, you gather additional help, set up a plan, and follow through with it. 

So in January, we will be taking steps to co-create the family we dream of. We are blessed to have the miracle of medical help to bring these other children into our arms. It has taken me a long time to accept this help, to have the strength to go through the process – Julius was conceived almost effortlessly, and born at home in water with an uncomplicated delivery and gestation. But now I feel that I will understand an entire myriad of motherhood experience: yes, the home birth, natural parenting, cloth diapering kind, but also the journey of loss and hope, the endless waiting, the IVF process, and more.

That connection is important to me. That I do not give up on my dreams is important to me. That no one feels lesser-than due to the ways in which we create our lives, our families, our dreams. That no matter how many times you fall, I fall, we fall, that we continue on with our goals, this is what is important to me.

BEGINNINGS

On Friday we decided to transition our six year old son to homeschool. I couldn’t be more delighted for us all, but especially for him. Relieved, enlivened, he is so much more himself inside of this choice that was as much his own as it was ours. To be honest I’ve always wanted to homeschool, but I’ve never had reason enough to do it. The charter school Jules went to before the pandemic was a thriving hub of community and connection. It was 15 minutes from our house, free of charge, and we enjoyed having six hours every day to ourselves so that we could run our businesses. But that was before something almost invisible and yet deeply disruptive would come and change everything as we knew it.

Since becoming a mother, my life has been about knitting myself back together and finding some semblance of identity, purpose, meaningful work. Then it was about doing that work, and doing quite a lot of it, at quite a breakneck pace. My husband Isaac was often tired and “overwrought.” We squeezed in dates and had dinners with friends, birthday parties and events and conferences and trips to take. We set alarms and got up early and dressed and fed and drove our boy to school. It was all so much. We were exhausted, but life felt full and “normal.” Then in March of 2020 a pandemic took it all away, and in fact we were quite grateful for that relief. Eight months in, and the silver linings are still revealing themselves.

In the summer we bought a house in the woods about two hours north of where we live. We already live in the mountains of Ojai, but the pine forests and the winding blacktop towards them stole our heart and we fell in love with the snow and the scents and the unplugging, all those 6,400 feet above sea level. Our son in particular has fallen deeply for this particular house and all it entails. Before we went to see it in person, Julius had made a dream house out of cardboard (thanks to Jessica Kraus’ prompt @houseinhabit)), and while mine was a white adobe mansion on the Amalfi coast, his was a dark green A-Frame with a red door, a waterfall in the front yard, tall pine trees and “quiet.”

When we saw the A-frame on the mountain we knew it was something very special. We put in an offer and entered into what would become a very long, seventy five day escrow, with papers signed and re-signed, names misspelled and respelled, and a lot of nail biting and waiting around. We hoped it would be ours. In the end, with a wing and a prayer the bank agreed to loan us the money and we received the key the day before my thirty-fifth birthday. We drove up late and slept in the four poster bed before 16 foot windows and two skylights, speechless at the stars peeking through the quiet dense darkness above. It was the best birthday present anyone could ask for.

It’s been two months and two weeks since the key came into our ownership, and every Thursday we go to see her. We have a new routine – a four day work week, a three day weekend. I pack our clothes and whatever fresh food we have in a cooler on Thursday evening and we bundle Jules up in pajamas after dinner. He sleeps in the backseat while we drive on the freeway at night, listening to podcasts, catching up on the details of week, connecting to each other. It’s usually our first proper quiet time of the week, a time when we are excited and together and taking it easy.

We spend the day on Friday running errands, trips to the hardware store, to pick up paint, and flooring, and god knows what else. On the weekend, we work. I make rich stews for dinner and pancakes for breakfast and we eat every meal together at the long wooden table by the long clear windows and nothing else matters. We couldn’t care less about emails, or text messages (there’s no service anyway), or instagram or Pinterest. What matters is when we are having tea next and whether the guest bedroom has been painted. What matters is when we can curl up in front of the fire and watch the new episode of the Great British Baking Show on Friday. What matters is being together, and resting, and working on this beautiful, impossible, life-affirming project.

Our dream is that this house will be a gathering place, a place of respite, and reconnecting. In a time when all that we value and cherish has been up for review, the things that matter so easily remain behind. When life gave us a pandemic, we pivoted and knelt – thank you for the reminder that my family is what is most important, thank you for the reminder that our health is the utmost sacrament, thank you for the reminder that the things we were doing less of were in fact the things we wanted to do more of. Reading, being together, walks in nature, building a home, creating meaning, making, writing, living. We bought our first record player, and have filled the house with discovering from an antique store an hour from the house. Appliances arrive (“I’ve never bought an oven before”) and we have workers building walls and making spaces for each of our extended family members. It all feels very grown up. For once, I suppose, we are pouring our energy into this place, this home, this healing space, so that we all may remember more of who we are, who we want to be with, and how we want our lives to unfurl.

Julius’ homeschooling adventure feels like another special layer to this year. The four day work week, the three day weekend, the house, the connection. No matter how this year ends, I’m just so grateful we have turned water into wine, and that it tastes so much sweeter than I ever imagined.

STOWING

I’ve started to wonder where the fountain pen went. The one that Patti used to sign my copy of Just Kids. The one she handed back to me, saying nice pen, admiring the weight of it in her fingers as she sat at a table in New York near our apartment sometime in 2011. It broke a few years ago and I stowed it away in a yellow envelope in a box under a staircase somewhere, thinking I would someday send it away to be fixed. It seems this might be a good metaphor for the way I have stowed many precious things aside, writing included, tucking them away for later days, even when the weight of it feels so good in my hands and the memories still captivate.  

It was an outrageously expensive fountain pen given to me by an opera singer friend one afternoon in Manhattan after performing the lead role in Hamlet. “You’re a writer. You need a good pen!” It is black and green, with a gold nib and a swan on the cap. You dip the nib into a pot of ink and twist the built in cartridge which vacuums the black within. We chose scented (licorice) ink at the pen store to go with it, and then walked through Central Park in the sun. At the time I dreamed of sweeping stages at the Metropolitan Opera House, of finding a job seating people before the shows began at The Lincoln Center. I absorbed the energy of the drama, the magic, the stories – on every street corner and cherry tree branch in the city. I kept photographs of the opera houses by my desk and fantasized about the children’s books I would write becoming theater performances, the way Maurice Sendak’s The Night Kitchen had, too.

Ten years later, I am exactly where I imagined I might be. A homemaker, a mother, a business woman, a whirlwind of activity wearing me down each day. It’s surreal to feel into this. I am thirty five now and responsible for the wellbeing and satiation of a six year old boy, and many countertops. Somehow I still feel like a child myself. “My family is special because we are builders” my son wrote for his homework the other day. We are builders. We create. We dream. We build. We pay mortgages. And in spite of that, or maybe because of that, we are all still children inside. 

I tuck our boy into his bunk bed with the duvet that smells like juice and laundry, having soothed many owies and hurts from sun up to sun down. He woke up in tears this morning, crawling into my bed after a bad dream in which I had died. Splinters and stubbed toes and broken glass and falling and scraping, so many Bandaids – the relentless push of motherhood is exhausting and stressful, though of course immensely meaningful. 

When I lived in New York I worked as a nanny for two years, though I never wrote about it, thinking it was not worthy of documentation. I was exhausted from giving everything to the two girls in my stead, carrying a four year old around the East Village, or riding scooters with her and her seven year old sister to the bus stop. My afternoons were spent fixing dinners, playing at the edge of the bathtub with mermaid dolls, dressing and brushing teeth and reading books and answering questions and finally turning lights out. 

Though I would count down the final minutes after sundown when I could cash in and leave for my boyfriend, my favorite part of our days was when they would ask me before bed to tell them “a story from my imagination.” I cannot recall any of these stories exactly but each and every time, the marvelous cacophony that emerged from the recesses of my subconscious filled my cup as well as theirs. In the darkness, with only my mind and a ridiculous nonsensical, whimsical story emerging, I was free and in connection. This dichotomy – sovereignty plus mystery – gave me life. 

I suppose that’s what I miss about sitting down at the end of the day and putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, even though when I lived in New York it was never a chore. I was summoned to the laptop, to the page, to the keys. I felt an infusion, an urgency, a sense of spilling over, and I would know to sit down and let it come. I think a lot of people perhaps confuse this feeling with anxiety or an overcrowded mind. Or motherhood. But I tend to like painting with words, and reading about other peoples lives, not to mention writing about my own, so I suppose that’s why I find myself drawn here. Curious. Called. 

At this time of night the unusual silence of my house is very soothing. I can hear the cicadas outside in the distance. I have fed myself and three other dependents (the child, the dog and the sourdough), stacked the dishwasher, checked to see if we’re out of Rinse-Aid, washed some knives and wiped down thousand dollar countertops. I made a Spanish omelette for dinner earlier, having peered into the refrigerator at 7:20pm and coming up short, remembering one other late night dinner I can’t ever forget. It’s uncanny how often I crave this particular potato and egg dish that in fact, the opera singers wife, a ballet dancer, had made for me once at her house in Ealing Broadway after a long day dancing.

I remember how she chopped the potatoes and whisked the eggs, her beautiful Spanish accent, the chorizo, and the way we ate it at their time worn wooden table in the olive tiled kitchen of their house. I was barely twenty at the time and she was in her prime, breathlessly enthusiastic just like her husband, always smiling, radiating, overflowing. 

In homage to her, I found potatoes and eggs, a brown onion. Salty sheeps milk feta, a tomato from the garden. I remember her using her skillet and thinking how fancy it felt, when really a skillet is older than time itself. My son was falling about the kitchen chairs reading a book while I chopped the potatoes and played some Spanish guitar music. Instantly, we were transported. Simplicity. History. Skill and tradition. The potato omelette cooks in the skillet until you slide a plate over the top and flip the whole thing over, before sliding it back in to brown evenly. I had forgotten this part but can see why I remembered this dish, and the impressive way a ballerina had made it for me. 

We enjoyed this late night dinner for two, and the recipe that emerged from my memory – the evocative music, the cicadas and the sense that I can be whoever I choose from now on. What freedom. What tension. What life. My son sleeps quietly and while I sit in the candlelight with this endless white page, I am the opera fan, the New York muse, the ballerina’s friend, mother, wife, and the woman with the beautiful, heavy pen.

‘I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.’

– Frida Kahlo 

14 MONTHS

*Trigger warning*

My nephew was fourteen months old when he died in January. He was born with global brain damage, and though brief, his life touched us all in ways we could never have imagined. It feels strange now that he’s not here, a dream almost. These are the words I read at his memorial on February 7th 2020:

I consider it a great honor to have been the first responder after Ashley and Jack’s experience two weeks ago. With the two brothers (our husbands) at sea in an ancient and archetypal kind of togetherness, unable to return, forced to ponder the expanse of the horizon while the unthinkable was happening back at home, it was very powerful to be show up at Ashley’s side at 1pm on the 25th of January 2020. 

We were two mothers alongside five year old Julius and four year old Willow, navigating the landscape of this ephemeral, mysterious, but so very real portal at the end of a life, together. 

We were a mother bathing a baby, who had recently taken his last breath in the comfort of the arms and home he knew and loved. We were a mother comforting a daughter and a mother comforting a son. We were a mother driving to the supermarket to pick up as many flowers as we could manage, and arranging them just so around Jack’s so very still and peaceful body. 

We were mother’s making snacks, answering questions, making phone calls and doing the dishes. We were mothers and we are mothers. Standing brave and square at the edge of a doorway as we said goodbye to our kin.  

The honor that it is to have been able to stand in service to you, my dear sister Ashley, both after your birth, bringing an endless supply of turmeric porridge to the NICU, and during this similar portal, has been one of the great privileges of my life. To stand in the vulnerability of this very real moment together and provide strength, calm and a sense of clarity, made that afternoon, it seemed, somehow a very heartfelt and peaceful one as we did the most difficult thing a mother could ever do. 

I have witnessed other women say hello and then goodbye to their babies, and what I have learned from their grief if this. It is holy. It is a holy kind of opening in the fabric of existence – a reminder that what we take so much for granted can change in an instant.  That these beings who were with us for but a flicker in time are in fact more ancient than we know. They had brief lives, but they are bigger than those lives now. 

They come to teach us, to clear us, to excavate the solid matter in our hearts, minds and spirits and to make us pliable and strong, heart fueled and heart felt, after heart broken.

In the weeks since, I am absolutely astonished at the miracle that life is. I raise my hand and cannot believe that I can do that, and even that I have a hand. That I have a voice, that my brain can think thoughts and express a soul with language Jack’s life showed me how much of a gift existence really is, and also, the gift that death is, too. That we must take nothing – NOTHING – for granted, and use our God given grace with unyielding precision in service of the highest good. 

Here is a poem I wrote in the days after Jack’s birth.

On the other side of life ⁣

is a door so finite ⁣

the angels cannot ⁣

walk through it. ⁣

You are sewn into ⁣

the earth by the ⁣

thread of your breath, ⁣

and when it unravels ⁣

– death. ⁣

As long as you are living,⁣

choose this life. ⁣

Every second is a gift, ⁣

precious and irretrievable⁣

as ash that scatters on water. ⁣

So tell me this – you angels ⁣

still living. What will you miss ⁣

at the end of this rift? ⁣

And what from the silt⁣

will you sift? ⁣

THE SILENCE

I am speechless, silent, in awe. When I stop for a moment, my overwhelm becomes a clear message to return to the silence. The gravity of this moment in history presses in on me, and I am focused on the silver lining, deeply aware of the blanketing dark, and the transformation that is happening. I have often wondered what it would take for us to unite as a global family – this is it. I have often wondered what it was like for our ancestors – this is it. I have often wondered what we were capable of – this is it.

Left with the searing flame of awareness, all that there is to do is be still, and simple, and observe. To practice what every mystic has for centuries upon centuries. We are all in this together, forced gently to stare into our own inner abyss, and find what we’ve been looking for all along. There is no need to make sense of anything. We cannot run anymore. We are left only with ourselves, and our flaming, inner life. Have you noticed how rich it is? Have you noticed that your fully expressed joy, radiance and presence is what’s missing from your life?

There is love in the silence.

I’ll meet you there.

AUSTRALIA

I grew up on the pristine and raw west coast of Australia. I left when I was twenty three, over 12 years ago, for New York. Today, the rich and diverse habitat of so many creatures, spirits and people is burning in a way I never imagined. 23 million acres are counting – including a fire the size of Manhattan. When I was young, climate change was a vague possibility we would have to face maybe someday one day. Today, for my five year old, it is a very real reality we must navigate with courage and conviction.

Friends write to me from Australia sharing the truth that wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks are being completely razed to the ground (Kangaroo Island), while ecologists worry that the loss of insects and other key players in natural ecosystems will be eliminated, along with the important roles (like pollination) that they play. Other news I am hearing is that the nation does not have enough resources to fight these ever increasing fires – and that they need help from the world. Navy ships are picking up hundreds of people who have fled to beaches in search of shelter. I have seen footage of kangaroos fleeing smokey landscapes by the hundreds, wallabies licking their burnt paws and koalas guzzling water offered by cyclists, and it breaks my heart. These gentle, innocent creatures need our help. We did this. We can help make it better.

If like me you feel helpless and stirred, wanting to help and not knowing how, the best places to donate are:

Salvation Army salvationarmy.org.au has deployed its emergency service teams to evacuation centres in NSW and Queensland to provide food and water, along with emotional and practical support to emergency services personnel and people who have been displaced by the fires. They are hoping to raise $3m for their emergency appeal.

Riverina Police: Donations for animals (fodder etc) can be offered by contacting a central number at 1800 814 647

This is the donation link for the port Macquarie koala hospital: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-thirsty-koalas-devastated-by-recent-fires

Thank you for the care in your heart – for any ounce of love and support you can offer to those in pain, in fear, or displaced during this time. It really does make a difference. We must find what is good and true and beautiful within us, to help heal the scarred and hurting places in ourselves and the planet. Thank you. I love you.

THE WHALE SONG INSIDE

As I begin the act of reclaiming my voice, the voice I have heard like whale song under the water all these years, I am stopping. Stopping the incessantly ego driven checking of statistics – do they like me? Are they interested? Is there someone who is receiving my words and do I look okay? The thing I love about a blog – and by now it feels quite old fashioned to be writing a blog – is that I feel safe from being judged by what I (or my house, or my child, or my outfits) look like. You can judge me all you like for my words, and if you don’t like reading them, move along. It won’t hurt my feelings. Because my blog, like my beloved Big Long Open Gash of 2008-14, isn’t measured or compared by likes, by followers, or by any thing other than your eyes. People find it, find something for themselves, or not, and then carry on with their wild and beautiful lives. And the jewel for me? I don’t do this for any one particular person out there. I am doing this for me. I am learning, like all great spiritual teachings tell us, that what we seek is not out there, but in here.

So. I begin again. This writing business. This wringing my heart out and letting the drips fall from my fingertips onto the keyboard. I have so much to tell you. I have so little time before my eyelids start closing and my head begins aching. I am a mother now. I get tired early, much earlier than I used to.

I suppose I feel the person I am writing this to, is the same person I was writing my first blog to (the words of which were immortalized in my second book Heart of Bold), and so I feel like I am writing a letter to a person who I haven’t spoken to for a very, very long time. But then again, I realize a lot of you are visiting my words for the first time and we are meeting here like strangers, but I am telling you everything all at once.

It’s been ten years since I began that first blog, and coincidentally since I moved to America. America. It had this beautiful lustre to me. A kind of glowing beacon from my homeland of Australia. The wild west, the Malboro man, the glittering skies of New York, the purple mountain majesties. I have been here ten years in fact, eleven in January, and as any inhabitant of a country they once dreamed about and now live within, I feel I am a little more worn and weathered for having lived here so long. My fantasies and mind movies have been been experienced, the trails trodden, the ideas in 3D grasped and pulled towards me. Living inside of it, I don’t see it like I used to. And my god I longed for America like nothing else. I know why though, I met my beloved here. Our hearts called us together. My life was to begin here. Who knows where it will end?

But back to being a mother. I really didn’t know how much it would challenge me. They don’t tell you that part in the movies. The part of me it has challenged the most is the writer part. The creative part. The freewheeling part. I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert speak today on Oprah’s Super Soul and learned that Joseph Campbell, when asked to give examples of a female hero’s journey, said they do not exist. When his students pressed him why, he said it’s because the Hero’s Journey is ‘the process by which a broken person becomes whole, and a woman doesn’t need to take that journey because she’s not broken. She has no emotional issues, and is perfectly whole as is – it has to be that way because she is the divine life giver of the planet, she has one job and one job only, and that is to have babies.’ (paraphrased)

Of course this information is very stirring. Elizabeth went on to say that it’s no wonder women of our generation feel crazy and full of fear. We don’t have 30,000 years of myth behind us (!!!) 30,000 years of stories of heroes doing their most magical and brave deeds, sailing around the world and conquering dragons. We don’t have Odysseus, and Moses, and Gilgamesh or David and Goliath, or any of those role models. We have …. a few women of the last century who have stepped outside of the normalized roles and gone on to live what their heart tells them. No wonder we feel uncertain about stepping out onto this new path. We are the first generation who has felt free enough to do so.

For me, I am struggling with finding role models of women who had multiple children, and had successful creative careers that they had autonomy over. I know of women who had successful creative careers but were managed by men, I know of women who had one child or no children and had successful creative careers of their own design. But where are the women I need? I have spent the last five years fighting for my autonomy back, fighting for a moment to breathe, and think, and see clearly, and tune in, as well as building a business that I, and my family if needs be, can stand on. I have also dealt with what feels like more than my fair share of shame. I notice I went silent when I had a miscarriage in 2013. I went silent recently while struggling with fertility issues. I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that I may not have any more children, and yet a part of me wants to do whatever it takes to have more children, and yet is afraid of what it will do to my newfound autonomy. Because for some reason I have chosen to be a creative person – a poet, an author, as well as a business woman – an entrepreneur, and a mother. My goodness, no wonder I am tired, and it feels like I’m falling apart at the seams.

No matter how much I do about the house, attempting to hold it all together, picking up yet another paper aeroplane or washing yet another dish, there is something that calls me back to writing. Something that tells me I need to be here, putting words on paper and into the world somehow. Why I don’t know, but it is a call I can’t refuse anymore because the pain of living with the incessant call is worse that just sitting down and writing. I don’t know what’s going to come out, but I’ll sure as hell try to let it.

The whale song inside calls me to this. It is my hero’s journey. It is my struggle, my sacred pilgrimage, the gifts from which I am impelled, compelled, to give back to the world. I have no choice, it seems. Or rather, I have a choice, and yet the choice to resist is making me unwell, depressed, weepy, flat, uninspired. Resisting the call, I wither and die. Answering it, and hearing that ancient whale song inside, I am reborn. Made anew. Breathing deeply again. No matter how heavy my eyelids are right now, I know I have made the right choice. The choice to live with what is, to not resist, and to show up on the page. No matter what.

THE REVOLUTIONARY ACT OF LIKING MYSELF

It isn’t too often that I feel this way. Especially these last few years. Content. Without need to prove. Whole, grateful, living inside of my own self, not comparing myself to anybody else. To be honest, there is nobody right now that I would rather be, than me. And that is a beautiful thing. It’s taken me half my life to get to this state of mind, this previously foreign yet exotic land as yet unmapped in the terrain of my being. I remember it starting around age 15. The comparison, the self loathing furrowing inward, deeper and deeper. Carving into my heart. I’m not enough. Not enough. Not enough.

Perhaps it’s what age does to a woman, beautifying inwardly those ragged wounds as the wind howls around us, softening the sails of the boat and making them seaworthy. What I mean is, my heart is a weary sailor, and yet after so many years of sailing, I stand weatherworn and proud on the bow. Conqueror of my own pain. Not conqueror of the seas – that would be a foolish soul who believed that is anything but impossible, but victorious at least for a moment – alive – after a dark and terrifying storm.

I could tell you all of the ways I was hurting last year. I could tell you all of the ways I am healed. And yet all I want to say is that life has a way of smoothing the edges, curling back the sharp edges of the paper and softening it all. My hard edges have been worn away. My ego – it remains, but my god it’s not the ego of before. I was 23 when I began writing my blog, exactly 11 years ago, and there is a massive difference between a woman of that age and a woman of mine. The main distinction being that I am a woman.

I was a young woman then, a girl, lusty and wild, erratic and emotional. My goodness I was a force of nature. A tempest, a swarm of bees, an orchid by the lagoon and that dark, dark sea. I have been all of it. Marriage, pregnancy, miscarriage, birth, motherhood, moving yet again, and so many more mountains, they have shaped me. Altered me. I have raged against the mirage of my romantic memories. Longing to be back there …. romanticizing those days in New York, those words that would spill out across the page without me. Romanticizing the kind of life I led, the kind of woman I was.

What a funny thing memory is, and our perceptions of ourselves among them. I could tell you a dozen stories of the misery I was in! The longing! The heart break! The suffering! The eternally meagre bank account! Meeting Isaac lifted me up out of the emotional squalor I was dancing in. A 25 year old dancing in a canoe on her own – that was me when he met me. I didn’t know where I was going only that all I had was this one small canoe of myself, my energy, my few books, clothes, passport, tarot cards. I didn’t have much really. But my heart was a wild animal of delight and I couldn’t wait to embrace the future I knew was unraveling before me.

Little did I know that death would touch me, too. A beating heart would join my own in the darkness of my womb – and then disappear seven weeks later. I remember seeing that tiny beating heart, a seven week old embryo, and instantly becoming parents in that hospital in Mount Gambier, Australia. It was another sixteen months before our son would join us and another chapter began. More upheaval. More soul reckoning.

I hardly recognized myself as a mother. Weren’t there any breaks during this job? What had happened to my energy? My joie de vivre, my lust for life, my lustre? There were too many things to do. Mainly, I was haunted by the mountain of reclamation that stood before me. I didn’t want to have to climb it. I knew it would take a long time, and I kind of wished I could just step back through a doorway with my son and be myself again.

But I wasn’t that woman any longer. Just like the little sister who never returned to our lives after becoming the supermodel that she is, my old self was dead. I longed for that old self like someone who had just passed. I grieved her. I held my fists against the sky cursing God or the angels for taking her away from me. I lamented her absence. I tried to woo her back, like a seance or a creepy science experiment. I wanted to resurrect her but I could. not. do. it. She was gone. She is dead.

Her words live on and her spirit lives on inside me. My maiden self. My pre-motherhood lifetime. I know that one day this me will die away too. Renew, rebirth, revise herself. Perhaps with the birth of a second child? Perhaps simply with time? I think I mourned the loss of that particular maiden me because I found her so quixotic, so entrancing, so fun to be inside of. She was, is, a vixen of the night and a fiery sword, a poisonous flower and a medicinal balm. She knows how to drain the poison from her fingers and to transform it into light, into medicine, into sight. Henry Miller taught her that. The first shaman of the alphabet to enter my psyche. I miss him too.

But like all books and authors, it’s easy to visit them any time we need. A book is magic like that – it’s an invisible train to a destination beyond time and space. A portal into the gentle hands of another. For what is writing but holding out our hands in a cup and inviting others to drink from it? We don’t write to write only, we write to be read. We write as an offering to the angels, as an offering to humanity, a plea to connect, deeper, deeper, deeper. To have our thoughts met and understood and received. To be known. We write to be known.

For years as a mother I have resisted calling myself a writer. I have added disclaimers and denied and apologized. But the truth is, I am and always will be, a writer. In an age of Instagram and Amazon, I am still and always will be an old fashioned romantic who prefers pen and paper to a touch screen. I want the scent of copal and the simplicity of watercolors. I want slow and simple. My my my, how delightful it is to be simple. And so this brings me back to my original statement before I went on this walkabout journey past the cactuses of my brain. I am truly content. Amazingly, I don’t know when I have been able to honestly speak this kind of grace and happiness. What more could I ask for?

More of the same thing. I feel so deeply fed, supported, loved and in touch with who I really am, the God essence… It’s a beautiful thing. Heaven knows I was not here last year. Thankfully the stormy seas have calmed and I am a weatherworn sailor who has seen more than she bargained for. The storms are something I could never have forced upon myself, nor did I originally ask for anything like those waves. But I could never take them back. Life is sweeter after so many years of salt water.