Monday, May 23, 2011

A Room with a View

I can sit here and look at my aunt's garden for hours. Her dining table, which is where I have set up my computer, looks out onto her patio and the garden beyond. It's early summer here, so the roses and peonies are in bloom; violet irises and lavender-coloured clematis, which creep their way up and along a wooden trelis. There are large trees at the back of the garden which sweep and swoop in the breeze, and a little ornate bird bath, into which all sorts of birds splash around with gay abandon. A couple of days ago, a giant, pale pink poppy opened and soon others will follow. Like I said, I could look at her garden for hours.

I remember in E.M. Forster's "A Room with a View" being amused by the fuss at the beginning of the movie (saw the film before I read the book) over Lucy and her chaperone's not being given a room with a view at their little pensione in Italy. There was one helluva kerfuffle (and that's when Lucy ended up meeting George, her love to be) over the fact that they had been promised a room with a view - a promise which had been reneged on.

But now I understand what all the commotion was about. A view is everything. It's what liberates us from the smallness of the spaces we inhabit (both physically and mentally). A view is full of possibilities for lives going on out there - where there's room to move and to breathe. Everyday, I look at at my aunt's view and it both calms and inspires me.

There was a house my sister and I lived in, as adults, in Jamaica with our father. It was a tiny house with only two bedrooms. But it had two magnificent silk cotton trees in the front garden (I actually angled my bed and kept the curtains open, so that when I opened my eyes in the morning, I did so to the dappled green light of the silk cottons) and a wonderful view across the valley on the other side of the house. This was probably the first house I can remember my father not having a room called his "study" in, because the room didn't exist. So he set up his work place on the dining table. My sister and I set up his computer so it faced the kitchen, he changed the whole arrangement so that he could work at his computer and look out at the view across the valley. Again, I was both amused and a little irritated by the kerfuffle. "What difference does it make?" I thought. But now I know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Slowing Down....

I remember. I was about sixteen, and Daddy had taken me out on the Lisa for a sail. It would have been unusual for just the two of us to be sailing, but I can't remember anyone else being on the boat. And even though the Lisa didn't have an engine, we had grown so adept at sailing in and out of the mooring that it presented little challenge.

It was to be a short sail. Dad always checked the tides in the newspapers before we left, so today we would sail in the gulf towards Port of Spain, rather than west towards Gasparee, because the currents would have been against us in both directions (death to a boat without an engine). And considering it was just the two of us, we would probably have been under mainsail alone: more manageable for the two of us.

It was a quiet afternoon. The sky was slightly overcast and it was cool. The wind was just strong enough for the Lisa to enjoy - no chop in the sea, and for her, a little lean. Dad was at the tiller, and I was sitting in the cockpit - quiet, just looking out and listening to the sound of the wind.

He said to me then, "One of the things I like about you is that you can appreciate silence." I smiled when he said that. It was nice to get such a compliment from him. And what he said was true. I understood then how to be still; how to enjoy beauty and nature and the sometimes solitude of such things. Although I had very close friends at high school and university, I was fine just on my own too. Fine to be a little different, quirky even. I was someone who could happily be in a room full of people, and just as happily be in a room on by myself.

But somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to be still; to enjoy the silence. I think, for me, the perpetual motion started in earnest in 2007. I was in England at the time, working on a project, and a quasi-love-affair had gone so horribly wrong I stood up in the bathroom one night and chopped all my hair off, just to be sure that I was still there, underneath, somewhere. I think that's when I started to run, really. Partly, it was to dodge the bullet that he was. But also because I thought, if I can move fast enough, I'll be able to outrun this thing which I brought on myself - which had been, every step of the way, my choosing. I thought if I moved fast enough, I could forget just how reckless I had been with myself.

And the moving just got faster. The following year, my mother broke her hip. This amazonian woman who could rearrange an entire house by herself fell at Gatwick airport and couldn't get up. And in a way that so epitomises my mother, she told the doctor at the hospital to which she had been taken, with a fair amount of surprise, "But I don't know why I have been brought here; I'm fine." To which he responded, "Yes Madam, you're perfectly fine, except that you can't walk."

My godmother, Auntie Gay, described to me a few years ago that she fell down the steps at her house one day, and unknowingly broke her leg. She was in pain, so she found an old broom, turned it over so it formed a crutch, and walked around propped on it for the next couple of weeks. You see, it hadn't occurred to her that something might actually be wrong. That she needed to stop, to take care of herself. How could it be? We (and I include myself in this) are people who forge ahead, regardless. The important thing here is the forward momentum. Good grief, I come from a family of pioneers - people who were missionaries in China at the turn of the century, and who started sheep stations in New Zealand. Facing adversity and moving on in spite of it is part of my tribal memory!

The way I ate had become the ultimate metaphor for how I was living. I had become a food gobbler - someone who just shovels food in their mouths with little regard for the hours of preparation or the flavour; as though the food were simply something to be consumed quickly so that the next activity could commence. And so I would start on the next thing: washing the clothes, taking the clothes off the line, watching TV, chatting to a friend on the phone, having dinner parties for 20 people for which I would start doing the cooking 2 hours before people were due to arrive, doing whatever it was that simply HAD to be done right then, right after I'd finished eating. It's no wonder I developed acid reflux! I wasn't giving my stomach enough time to digest my food, far less my brain to digest my day to day life. In truth, I imagined myself invincible. In much the same way as I imagined my father and my sister and mother. I was genuinely shocked that my mother broke her hip and needed help. And I still haven't been able to get over the fact that the colossus that was my father has fallen forever.

And so, for what has seemed like years, I would go from one crappy situation to another to another. Of course, there has been a lot of joy in my life too, but I started to see the glass as half empty - when I'd always been the kind of person who would see it half full. For goodness sake - I am an independent television producer in Trinidad and Tobago. I better bloody well be an optimist! I described it to my friend as a crisis cycle - that somehow, for too long now, I had been barreling from crisis to crisis without pause - no moment to reflect or catch my breath. Because to reflect would mean stopping; to acknowledge that things have been going wrong; to grieve; to allow the tears to come without worrying about when they would stop. To allow myself to feel sad for a day, or a week, or weeks even. But that's not really allowed, is it? What we're sold everyday is this idea that continual happiness is within our reach and what's more, that we are obliged to be reaching for it. Well how do you appreciate, or even notice, the happiness unless you have been sad.

So now, I have stopped. My body forced me to. For the first time in years, I have time on my hands (not forever, just for the next few weeks). And I have no big plans, no agendas, no things that I simply HAVE to do. And it feels real nice. Strange, but nice. I've no idea what the next few weeks will bring, but I'm hoping for some peace. I know I'm lucky, I have people in my life who will allow me to stop. And I am glad for them. Just like I'm glad for this time. Let's see what it brings.

The photos are of me taking a walk on a sunny day. No particular destination, and no frenetic pace. Just a walk in the sunshine among the trees. It was lovely.