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travel

Slowing down for magic

On a recent evening we were walking on our rural road, my mother and I, when far up ahead we saw a whitetail deer crossing the pavement. A shadow nearby, her newborn fawn, no larger than a cat, born that day or perhaps the night before. We stood still, watching from afar as it followed its mother into the safety of the brush, spindly and unsure and looking wholly exhausted with the world.

We marveled at the deer’s tiny-ness and continued with our walk. We had been too far away to see exactly where they had entered the woods, but we gazed beyond the branches and greenery as we went to see if we could detect a sign of the mother deer and her unbelievably small charge. At one point we stopped completely and stared into the woods, trying to see past the leaves.

We were looking in the wrong place. I touched my mother’s arm to get her attention, because at the exact point we had stopped, a minuscule spotted bundle curled motionless in the tall grass next to the road.

To exhausted to follow, the fawn had lay in that spot, waiting for its mother to return. What reason or energy or strange ultra-accurate unconscious calculation had caused us to stop in that very place, we don’t know. I say it was magic or some earth spirit or higher force saying, look at this. Be connected to this beautiful moment. Stop and look.

There are some writing retreats that focus on craft, on critique, on the expertise of authors.

We stop and look.  

Can you remember the last time? Is it hard for you to remember that time when you were a child and you were bored?

Magic happens at a slow speed. We step outside of our lives so we can slow down.

What can you find? What will you see? It’s waiting to be discovered.

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Take me back to Isla Holbox, please/by Eline van Wieren

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It is a Wednesday afternoon and I’m floating in the ocean. My ears have filled up with water. I can only hear the soft beats of the waves against my eardrums. Every once in a while, a piece of seaweed brushes against my calves. My body isn’t weightless, but I’m being carried.

I once read that believing is like being on a train with heavy bags. Once you’re on the train, there’s no need to keep carrying the bags. You can set them down on the floor or place them in one of the luggage racks. The weight is no longer yours to carry. It would even be kind of weird to keep carrying the weight even though there’s a larger vessel to which it makes no difference whether you carry it or whether you leave it to the floor.

Floating in this ocean, I’ve set my bags down on the floor and everything around me is different shades of blue. My belly moves with the water. The sun has put its warm hands on my face. The school of needlefish have accepted my presence here. They come closer. They swim in my shadow.

The moment is spoiled when I start to think. I think: I could keep doing this forever. I could soak all of this up and hold on to it with clenched fists and take it home with me.

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But it’s not possible to turn your backyard in to a sandbank for your morning walking meditation. No matter how tightly you keep your eyes closed. The birds sing different songs here. There are no iguanas on my front porch. I don’t even have a front porch.

A pelican flies by. The pelicans here are different than the ones I saw in the zoo when I was younger. They were soft pink and sat around all day waiting for their next meal, ignoring the constant stream of families walking by and pointing. The pelicans here are brown with yellow feathers on their head and bright white eyes, diving down beak first into the water sometimes lucky enough to catch fish.

I keep my fists clenched all the way home. All through my eleven-hour flight, the two hour train ride, the last ten minutes on the bus, walking up to the front door, opening the front door, standing in the hallway. I open my hands.  

I think: Come on, Mexico writing retreat fairy dust, sprinkle your magic into my daily life. Bring me daily uninterrupted writing sessions. Give me silent breakfasts during which, while I put another piece of buttery soft mango into my mouth, brilliant sentences spring from my toes, rising all the way up through my body, waiting to be put on a page. Beam Dulcie and Nancy to my kitchen table to whisper positive feedback on my newest piece.

Nothing happens. The straps of my backpack are starting to form little pits in my shoulders. I take a deep breath. I take my backpack of and set it on the floor. I take a shower. I get in to bed, under my ocean blue duvet covers.

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Tea, Tuscany & a Birthday/ by Justine Gilbert

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Early morning, there is a softness to the sky that will later give way to storm or fluffy cloud or perhaps that intense azure ring from edge to edge that is so famous here.  I sit with a cup of tea (most un-Italian) and survey the vista in front of me. Somewhere in my soul, I smile because I am home.

My affinity with Italy started with my mother, Fiorentina born, a maternal thread that spooled out to my childhood and beyond. It stretched across Italy from Rome to Milan on many journeys, but in recent years, my life settled for a short span of time in this region.  I have learned so much here: the annual cycle of the contadini, the growling of the tractors as they plant and harvest crops, the cacciatore, with their khaki uniforms and loud pops of the shotguns as they fell the pheasant and wild boar, the agriturismo, with their fields that change colour from green spring to beige blanched summer broken by yellow sunflowers and violent red tomatoes, on to the purple of autumn spotted with pumpkins, and sometimes - if we are lucky -  the white coating of a short snowfall in winter that decorates every ancient roof with a magical dusting. 

I have learned it is hard to find work here, and even harder to make that work pay, so that one can live, eat and survive.  If you are not Toscana, you can never be truly one of them, and yet you will be accepted into the community provided you have the economic means to do for others, either by spending or barter or by being a good inquilino. I admire the Tuscan people, they have had few handouts, survived wars and bombing - still they plough on, paying their way and developing ‘un modo da vivere’ that is envied the world over.

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This land, and all the people I met, became my fourth child.  I helped to plant oliveand fruit trees here, my legacy after my death. I helped to restore vegetable plots, I put in a wood burning stove and learned to use a chain saw so that I could slice the dense wood required into manageable chunks to ease the winter cold with a piping hot stufa.  I endured the zanzare - the ever present mosquitoes, the papatachi, the voracious midges, and I watched with fascination as a myriad of lizards moved rapidly, seamlessly from rock to rock, shedding their tails when predators lurked, so that one did not notice their disappearance into the crevices, whilst the ejected limb wriggled in the dust. 

I walked dogs here, down dry river beds and across the beaches at Cecina.  I have laughed and shared a love of Italy and all things Tuscan with new friends under a silk black sky with diamonds, whilst fire flies blinked across the fields. 

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I have loved watching the birds of prey who settle on the telephone poles and then swoop with unerring accuracy to pick out the field mice.  With fascination, I acknowledged small black scorpions standing their ground on the terra cotta tiles, unafraid of a large human foot approaching.  I have seen the deer, turn and bound away in the pine woods, chased by dogs that had no chance of keeping pace and occasionally the ‘irskine’ or ‘porcospino’ that rattled away hurriedly to hide - illegal to hunt, yet they are prized for their meat. They are a remnant of Ancient Rome and its African connections.  I have seen the many migrants, their ebony faces staring into mine, hawking any trinkets they could find to make their way north to Belgium or Germany.

I remember with pity the many caged dogs that reside in the woods, who sit, barking and howling, waiting for a chance to be released into the hunt by their hunter masters. The chickens in coops, the swallows that circle, the rise and fold of the hills making their nest in the barns, the daily chatter of friends in the piazza, the richness of the local wine, oil and food.

I am sixty years old and I am grateful to have had my birthday here, grateful for the friends who travelled an hour from Montecatini Val di Cecina to share it with me.

And last but certainly not least, the warmth and friendship of Wide Open Writing, an adventure in authorship never to be forgotten and hopefully to continue and follow for years to come.

Grateful for having experienced all of this.  Thank you.  Thank you. Thank you.

This post originally appeared on https://teawithjustine.wordpress.com.

 

Born in New York to a mother who was a ballet dancer and a father who was a journalist, I moved to Long Island and then to London at the age of six. I spent many summers in Italy for reasons of my father’s work, and we all lived in Rome for a year.  My family has had an ongoing love affair with Italy. I began writing as soon as I could write and have had a lifelong passion for literature, poetry and the written word. I would call myself a Scribbler. I write because I must. My thoughts come to me in words I press to the page. I became an English teacher and my writing was focussed on school plays, short stories and poetry much of which I shared with my pupils. I have a B.Ed (Hons) from Leeds University (Yorkshire, UK) - the part of the world where the Bronte sisters grew up. I also have an M.Ed in Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia assessment. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a child blossom as they find their creative writing potential, and it has been very fulfilling to be a part of that. I created websites for reading reviews, ran creative writing workshops and competitions, and spent a life encouraging pupils of all ages to write and read.  Three children, two husbands and three dogs filled my personal life (not all at the same time!).  When I wrote my first full length novel at age 54 - set in Tuscany - I opted to upload it on the Kindle site, rather than go the traditional publishing route. My aim being to create a virtual shelf of books to share with friends and family. Indie publishing gives people an outlet for their creativity and I think it’s the best thing about today’s world of literature.   I took early retirement, and moved to Tuscany, where photographing and writing blogs began my focus for annotating an amazing part of the world. I began with  serendipityinitaly.co.uk  and went on to write  hugsfromitaly.wordpress.com , followed by  usachronicles.wordpress.com  when I spent six weeks with family, and subsequently, having left Italy to go back to London, I am currently writing  teawithjustine.wordpress.com   My second novel has been inspired by people I have met, but its completion will be due entirely to WOW, without whose help and guidance, I might have given up. Now I know, in my sixtieth year: Every good book takes the reader on a journey. If you feel you have a book in you, never give up, if a tale is worth telling, it is worth the time to see it through, no matter how long it takes you.  Two Sides of the Coin is due to be uploaded on Amazon Kindle in December under the name of J P Chan Gilbert.

Born in New York to a mother who was a ballet dancer and a father who was a journalist, I moved to Long Island and then to London at the age of six. I spent many summers in Italy for reasons of my father’s work, and we all lived in Rome for a year.  My family has had an ongoing love affair with Italy. I began writing as soon as I could write and have had a lifelong passion for literature, poetry and the written word. I would call myself a Scribbler. I write because I must. My thoughts come to me in words I press to the page. I became an English teacher and my writing was focussed on school plays, short stories and poetry much of which I shared with my pupils. I have a B.Ed (Hons) from Leeds University (Yorkshire, UK) - the part of the world where the Bronte sisters grew up. I also have an M.Ed in Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia assessment. There is nothing more rewarding that seeing a child blossom as they find their creative writing potential, and it has been very fulfilling to be a part of that. I created websites for reading reviews, ran creative writing workshops and competitions, and spent a life encouraging pupils of all ages to write and read.

Three children, two husbands and three dogs filled my personal life (not all at the same time!).  When I wrote my first full length novel at age 54 - set in Tuscany - I opted to upload it on the Kindle site, rather than go the traditional publishing route. My aim being to create a virtual shelf of books to share with friends and family. Indie publishing gives people an outlet for their creativity and I think it’s the best thing about today’s world of literature. 

I took early retirement, and moved to Tuscany, where photographing and writing blogs began my focus for annotating an amazing part of the world. I began with serendipityinitaly.co.uk and went on to write hugsfromitaly.wordpress.com, followed by usachronicles.wordpress.com when I spent six weeks with family, and subsequently, having left Italy to go back to London, I am currently writing teawithjustine.wordpress.com  My second novel has been inspired by people I have met, but its completion will be due entirely to WOW, without whose help and guidance, I might have given up. Now I know, in my sixtieth year: Every good book takes the reader on a journey. If you feel you have a book in you, never give up, if a tale is worth telling, it is worth the time to see it through, no matter how long it takes you.

Two Sides of the Coin is due to be uploaded on Amazon Kindle in December under the name of J P Chan Gilbert.

The lost baggage of criticism

 

It starts early and it takes seed. It’s the thing that goes on, the thing I can’t control in other people’s heads and barely in my own, the one that tells me, Good Lord, Woman, haven’t you learned how to pack a suitcase yet? The wonderment at somehow convincing myself that squeezing all of the air out of a space would make it easier to carry, when, in fact, it’s like that thing they say about the Earth, how if you squeezed all of the air out of everything then the planet would be the size of a soccer ball but still weigh the same. And sometimes that’s what I carry.

 

But these things are no longer the driver, but simply the screaming kids in the back seat. I long to be elegant, to never clatter my silverware or trip over my own feet, and if there are lessons to be learned from these distractions, I don’t know, but that’s all they are, distractions. Because age is good for something, and that’s knowing that most things are silly and that there are no somedays. That all you really have is to be here now, and some years are more prone to remind you that it’s time to use the good china and the pretty linen and to wear that dress. Big things expand to take up all the space. There’s less room for the small. You’re less prone to be sidelined or slowed down.

 

You learn that you can’t avoid the dark, and in fact, it’s long past time to seek it out. You learn that sometimes pain is least painful when you crawl inside it, become it, to find the smallest origin of it and expand inside of it until it bursts. To look under the bed and say, hello, monster, come out and play. You begin to see the beauty in the whole, to understand that painters seek the right kind of light not for the light itself but for the play of light and dark together.

 

You begin to dust off that heavy trunk in the corner that carries the carefully folded and preserved statements and lessons passed along for the sake of safety or good intention or not such good intention, the collection of proclamations, yellowed and frayed but very carefully kept, the ways you still convince yourself you’re not enough just as you are. You begin to unfold them and see them as silliness, too. Maybe you actually find something in there that can be spun into silk.

 

You invite the shadow on the other side of the mirror to laugh with you, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but you see it for what it is. You cry for the ones who won’t be convinced but then you let it go. You see the falseness and have no patience for it and maybe now that you’ve unfolded some parchment from the trunk and it’s not so heavy anymore, you start to let your impatience show a little more. You stop hiding your crazy. You start seeing through the veil. You start seeing more clearly what is real, what is life, what is love.

 

 

Wake Up, Dulcie

Something about being in another country with mostly people you don’t know and maybe a few people you do know.  And you don’t speak the language.  And the pace is different than your regular one, time has shifted by six hours and you eat meat and cheese and tomatoes for breakfast.  You eat dinner until 11 or 12 at night.  You talk more than you ever talk and you write more than you ever write.

 

That’s what the simplest parts of me noticed about being in Tuscany at a writing retreat.  Doing different things and doing them in a different place and even doing the regular things differently, that they grate against the part of me that feels most at ease and most comfortable when it does the same thing over and over again.  When it kind of snoozes along and doesn’t make a fuss.

 

It’s the part of me that plays solitaire on my computer.  It sets up my coffee the night before.  It puts the car on cruise control and says The Serenity Prayer and tries to buy the same underwear I bought the last time because they fit and they didn’t wear out too fast.  It knows where most of the Starbucks are and orders the same thing every time when I go there.

 

I’m not unhappy with this part of me, in fact, I’m grateful that somewhere in my forties I got okay with creating some routines and rituals and that I could appreciate and feel more solid as a result of.

 

But I have needed something more.

 

And this trip was just the ticket.  It began as a writing retreat that I would lead with several partners in Tuscany, a trip that would hopefully reboot my own writing practice after a year of slogging through the aftermath of an awful accident that included missing last year’s retreat.  

 

The retreat was a beauty.  The farm where we went is cinema material, rolling hills and vineyards and olive groves.  Warm Italian food and breezes and people – Sebastian and his son Malcom, the owners and their staff - gracious and kind and generous.  The weather, deep heat with a thunderstorm coming on schedule to help us celebrate Mary Shelley’s birthday.  

 

The writer’s who came brought their hearts with them and I brought mine.  We sat in circles and wrote from our senses – poetry and songs and eulogies and essays and epitaphs, memoirs and short stories and plays – we listened to ourselves and we listened to each other.

 

And somewhere in there, somewhere in the stirring and the boiling, the writer in me began talking again.  When we asked what she wanted the others to know about her she answered, “…that I am a therapist by profession and a writer by choice, that I am a mother, that my parents are gone and I am both lighter and lost-er as a result…” and when asked what she didn’t want others to know about her she wrote, “… I don’t want you to know how angry I have been this past year, how envious I have been of other people’s ease and simplicity of pleasures, how dumbed down I have felt without my own …”.  She talked and she wrote and she read and she listened.

It was really good to be in her company.  I had missed her.

 

We are such interesting creatures, us humans.  We both encompass all possibility and we can slog about in circles, doing the same thing over and over and over, seeking comfort while looking around to see what’s changing.  In this way, I am no different, especially when things are hard.  I, like most everyone, reach into that old bag of tricks to soothe myself to sleep.

 

But I also like to be awake.  And Tuscany woke me up.  This morning it woke me up early, 4am actually, still on Italy time.  It said, “Wake Up, come on, it’s time to get up, hey what’s for breakfast, I’m hungry, what do you want to do today, I wonder what time sunrise is now, bring the coffee over here and get back under the covers and let’s write something before the day has a chance to grab hold”.

 

So I did.

 

Thank you, Tuscany.