2015: The year we stand on stars


It’s a new year. It’s the year I’ll turn 64. The Beatles’ song has played in my head often these past few months. I think back to when I heard it for the first time. I had just turned sixteen. I was at a party with a boy named Keith I’d had a crush on, for a year or so, and now I was finally going out with him. To be honest, he was a lot less interesting in real life than I had built him up to be in my mind. Isn’t that often the case? And he never appreciated how stunningly my mother dressed me; including the night he took me to the party where we heard Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. If I was a disappointment to him as well, well, he can write that in his blog. I will say this in his defense: he was very beautiful to look at, and he could play practically any piece of music on the piano that he heard for the first time, even though (if I recall rightly, though I may be wrong in this) he couldn’t read sheet music.

On a side note, my mother had made me a cream-coloured outfit of silk sari fabric embroidered with real gold. It was a two-piece outfit consisting of a pair of “bloomers,” very short, with a pleated frill at their hem, and a sleeveless empire waist top that touched the frill so that it appeared to be part of the top, until you looked closely and saw the bloomers peeking out from beneath. The whole outfit was exquisite, and, these days, looking back at photographs of me around that age I wasn’t far off from exquisite, either–though this was largely because of how my mother dressed me.

Now I’ll be sixty-four in a few months. Lennon and McCartney were in their twenties when they wrote their song. I expect they couldn’t imagine any more than I could back then, turning sixty-four.

I remember at my twenty-first birthday party talking with a client of my mother’s, the travel writer and journalist Barbara Wace, who was sixty-four at the time. Her mother had died recently, she told me, adding, she felt too young to have lost her mother. (I was too young to understand.)

Miss Wace lived at the top of a building on Fleet Street that took many, many steps to reach it. I climbed those many steps at different times, when she invited me for lunch. I didn’t know then how valuable those meetings were. I was still in my lost and confused years (which stretched into my life until only a few years ago). If I had known then that what I really wanted to be was a writer, rather than simply knowing as I had from childhood that I could write, I would have been very attentive to everything Miss Wace told me about life, her writing, and the world at large. And I would have sought her advice. But I didn’t. And, now, here I am, about to turn sixty-four myself in a few months, without it. And without the advice of so many great and legendary people I met, through my parents, through my education, and long after. All I can think of is this:

I will be sixty-four this year, but I stand on stars billions of years old that still illuminate the earth at night. I am, in their eyes, a very young, young ‘un; I am a new arrival in their Nursery.

On the title of this post: the year we stand on stars. It’s adapted from a line of Carly Simon’s Let the River Run. When I was contemplating inspiration for this coming year, I thought of how much I love this song, the hope of possibility in it, and of Emily Dickinson’s poem I Dwell in Possibility. I read the lyrics of the song for the first time today, and knew what this year for me will be:

We the great and small
stand on a star
and blaze a trail of desire
through the dark’ning dawn.

2015: The Year We Stand on Stars

A tribute to my parents



Christie’s invited me to write an introduction to the sale catalogue of my father’s art from my collection, which goes on the block next Tuesday, 18th March; coincidentally, my mother’s centenary birthday.

It was surprisingly easy to write. Although after I had sent in the final draft that would go to the printers I felt highly emotional, and continue to feel as if everything that was kept hidden is finally rising to the surface. For so long, my mother was the invisible person in my father’s history. To know that at last she is visible to the world at large has also made me visible in some strange way, which could not have been predicted beforehand.

The essay, together with a second, poignant essay by biographer and essayist Maria Aurora Couto, who knew my mother, can be found by clicking this link. tribute





Self-doubt Is a Passing Cloud

The first time I confronted the nature of self-doubt to “rid” myself of it, once and for all, was on my first meditation retreat with my teacher in the winter of 1995, in the godforsaken town of Bodhgaya, in the poorest state in India, where the Buddha is said to have awakened under the Bodhi tree. I wanted to understand, in spite of mind blowing experiences of mystical revelation some months earlier, which had convinced me of the nature of Reality, why I continued to suffer the pain of self-doubt. Instead of giving me a solution I could carry around like a comfort blanket, my teacher said, What if you feel doubt the rest of your life?

Although I nodded my head, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So, instead of letting in what my teacher had said, I continued to put all my energy into overcoming existential and self-doubt, by using my mind to talk myself out of it. It never worked. Except very occasionally as a temporary denial of doubt’s quite real existence.

One day, in 2011, when I was quite ill and couldn’t think clearly enough to read or write, I watched old clips of J.K. Rowling interviews. In her interview with Oprah, she spoke briefly but clearly about believing in her ability to tell a story. And that got me thinking in a completely different direction from the one in which I’d been travelling.

What my teacher had said 16 years earlier came back to me and slowly I began to understand. There would always be a part of me that would doubt. That part of me would never change because that is its nature. Just as it is the nature of a cloud to carry precipitation. At the same time, there would always be a part of me that remains constant and never doubts, because that is its nature. The worst, unimaginable storm clouds will never alter the nature of the sky.

I saw in a fundamental way I could never be the nature of cloud (or self-doubt). For a cloud eventually passes. But Sky, having gone nowhere, remains.

Wide Open Sky

Write the story you really believe in. I really mean really believe in. Not the one you think you should write, or the one you think you would like to write, or the one someone told you would be good to write, or the one that’s currently trending the market. Or any other variable of the above.

Write the story you really, truly, cross your heart and hope to die, believe in. The one you’ve been waiting to read your whole life. The one you would have loved to read at the reader age for which it’s written, and that you’d love to read now.

It may take a bit of searching; don’t despair. If you start with something and then discover down the road it’s not the story you really believe in, don’t despair. If you find your heart breaking, don’t despair. If you feel blocked, don’t despair. Finding the story you are meant to write can take awhile. It can feel like trying to chisel through rock solid ice. Don’t despair. We’ve convinced ourselves it’s not right to trust in what we truly believe. But if you can find a way to do just that–listen only to that small still voice inside that whispers nothing but inspiration from your imagination and let go of the rest–you will find, in quite a miraculous way, you are no longer a prisoner of perfection syndrome; and self-doubt is nothing more than a cloud passing over the face of a wide open sky.

Being in the World

Risk is absolutely important in becoming a master. In fact, in acquiring any skills at all. Because you have to leave the rules behind and stop doing what one generally does…doing the standard things. You have to push out into your own experience of the world. You have to do something that the rules don’t tell you to do so that you can start to learn to get tuned into the particular features of the situation. – Being in the World (documentary)


About plan B…

Jane Spigarelli, my beautiful friend who passed away last September, was always trying to teach me the importance of having a Plan B. The idea of a Plan B never crossed my mother’s mind, or if it did, she never taught me to have one. So, until I met Jane, the idea of a Plan B never occurred to me. But once, during her illness, Jane asked me to post this song on a blog which kept us informed of her treatments and remissions and meetings with remarkable people. Strangely, I had planned to post it to her on the exact day she requested it. I know. It’s not even a bad example of a Plan B…what can I say?

27 April 2013. Someone told me privately they didn’t understand why I wrote this post. In part, it was because I love this song and loved that my friend Jane requested it the day I had planned to post it to her. And, in part, because creativity (being diametrically opposed to cancer…though cancer can be perversely creative) has a singular direction which is relentless in its pursuit of fulfillment. This second part is how I always thought of and saw my parents. They never stopped following the direction of their inspiration until it was realized. No Plan B for them. Ever. And for my friend, Jane, in the end, there was no Plan B for her, either.