I remember driving on blustery, gray November days with Emma the hour and a half across New Jersey from Delaware to see Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was Emma’s mother’s sister, my great aunt. She had a little farm in Absecon Heights, just across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. Walking a half mile down the dirt roads through the reedy marshes, to stand on the little wooden dock at water’s edge, a mix of clams, salt and sulfur permeating our senses, and looking due east across the water, we could see the skyline and lights of Brigantine, on the barrier island above Absecon Inlet, north of Atlantic City. As a child, Emma spent all her summers with Aunt Mary, coming down from West Philadelphia.
Aunt Mary kept cats. She needed good mousers. Emma used to dress them up in doll clothes. Kittens, when they first begin to eat solid food, will stand in the middle of their plate, in their food. We had a health care aide who stands in the middle of her food. About to head downstairs, I spotted the bathroom scale in the middle of the staircase. “Not a good place for the scale,” I said. She immediately stopped looking me in the eye, stopped talking to me, and when she informed me on her way out the door that she was changing her schedule for the next morning, even though I had told her twice that I had plans for that morning and that evening and needed her to come as scheduled, she argued with me: “You’re the boss. You’re the boss!” she repeated. Yes, well, of course. “Will you be here tomorrow night?” I asked her. “Do you want me to be here?” she asked. This two-line refrain got monotonous in its repetition without resolution. I cannot hold a reasonable dialog with her. I did not allow her to change her schedule. So, rather than switching morning for evening with our other aide, I had our other aide cover both. This was a pattern with that aide. Otherwise, she was excellent with Emma. Nevertheless, I could not have this attitude in this house. Fortunately, these negative vibrations bounce right off our Victorian-era house. It’s a happy house that has witnessed the vicissitudes of many seasons. I’m in the market for someone who hasn’t got an evil twin. Yesterday, I hired someone who lives nearby and is highly qualified, to start work today. Today she didn’t show up. I can’t reach her on the phone. Our regular Hospice aide came this morning. Happily, an on-call Hospice nurse, a most kind person, with a kind, trainee nurse in tow, drove through the rain, wind and dark tonight to help.
Driving across New Jersey those gray November days, we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Mary made the best stuffing, moist and sagey. Even though Emma, my brother and I have the recipe, we have never been able to duplicate Aunt Mary’s; and, no matter where we go or whose we eat, never have we tasted any as good. Aunt Mary always got a live turkey for Thanksgiving. We’d visit her earlier in the season, see the turkey in the pen, and then eat it on Thanksgiving. Aunt Mary raised chickens, too. In the spring, she’d have a new little pen of fuzzy, yellow baby chicks. When they grew up, they laid brown eggs. The rooster’s crowing woke us at dawn. My brother stuck his finger through the chicken wire surrounding the chicken yard. When the chicken pecked his finger, it hurt, and everybody said, “We told you.” He never did that again. Occasionally, Aunt Mary would go out into the yard, grab a chicken, break off its neck and we’d eat the chicken for dinner. I remember her standing at the sink in the back kitchen of her bungalow boiling the chicken and plucking the feathers. Once, Emma got chased by a chicken with its head cut off. She ran up the steps to the back door and the chicken came right up after her.
Aunt Mary had a framed poem hanging on her bedroom wall opposite her brass bed – Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea, …
I would lie in her bed and read it, wheezing, nearly unable to breathe from asthma from the cats, when I stayed with Aunt Mary for an occasional week during the summers.
In November 1974, my daughter, my dog, Kolia, a friend and I drove from Wilmington, Delaware, to a suburb of Towson, Maryland, near Baltimore, in search of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is my favorite author and kindred spirit, as I mention incessantly in this journal. We set out on a typical November day – chilly; gray; misting rain; a counterpane of wet, golden leaves spread over the damp ground. I was on my way to find the house at La Paix, the estate of architect Bayard Turnbull, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter Scottie had stayed briefly, a quiet place where Scott could write and Zelda receive treatment at nearby prominent psychiatric institutions. I had embarked on a journey to touch Scott’s spirit. We did find a big, empty pillared pale-yellow, stucco house there, but it wasn’t the La Paix house where Scott had stayed. That house had been torn down, I learned later. Maybe I did encounter Scott’s spirit; the place certainly evoked the sense of something. The serenity there, the aroma of the fallen leaves underfoot, the mist in our faces, everything listening as the wind whispered stories through the trees: soft, tranquil, compelling me to write.
As a writer, I must capture thoughts as fleeting as twigs fallen into layers of wet golden leaves on old brick sidewalks before the wind stirs them into unsettled interludes.
Fitzgerald rendered much guidance on writing and I gobbled up every bit, copied reams of lines from his notebooks and memorized them. He fed me well.
He found it difficult, as I do, to discipline oneself to sit in a room and focus on writing; we believe the world to be going by without us.
When I lived in Redondo Beach, California, I became friends with the son of author and nutritionist Adelle Davis. She had died a few years earlier. “It’s hard to live with a writer,” her son told me during a visit to her modern, environmentally harmonious home in Palos Verdes Estates with its ideal U-shaped kitchen and the glass-enclosed bridge over the swimming pool, that connected the main house with the bedroom section. “Writers don’t have much time for you because they’re busy writing all the time,” he said.
My favorite living writer, Orhan Pamuk, says he becomes irritable when he is deprived of his daily writing time in his room. I do, too. As I age I find it easier to focus on my writing; indeed I crave my time to write. Like an actor who stays in character while making a movie, when away from my writing room, thoughts of what I would write eddy in the corners of my mind, leaves of many colors. It becomes difficult for me to focus fully on anything else until I can sweep them out of my head and onto the page.
My friend R – R-well, I will call him here – emailed me a copy of George Orwell’s 1947 essay, “Why I Write.” You can find this essay readily online.
What a windowpane into my reasons for writing and my writing style Orwell’s essay is. I am grateful to Orwell for his incisive look at varicolored writing forms and why writers write. Orwell writes: All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
As a writer, I am vain, I suppose, in that often I think you are riveted to my storytelling; selfish of my time—irritable because I am kept from my little writing room; and lazy, certainly, in that it’s fun to sit and daydream, listen to the sounds of the words and phrases playing against each other and to see where your characters are running off to with your story. Really, of the latter, I often use my writing as my tree house, a place to escape into, as I do my music – like when I have to deal with an aide who arrives at my door apparently slogging through knee deep mud after a night in the deep forest chopping down trees, in a prelude to abandoning her job altogether. Yes, some irresistible and mysterious demon drives me to write.
I stood outside Sunday, two days ago, with Jetta, our 11-year-old teacup poodle. She can no longer stand much of the time nor walk straight. Her equilibrium is off and she is weak. She falls over and lies on her side. If she can get up again without my lifting her, I praise her: “Oh! See? You rolled over!” This I do because when she was healthy and I would command her to roll over, she’d stand there and look at me as if to say, “Why? That’s a silly trick; pointless, don’t you think? I mean, really, think about it. It’s like when you tell me I have to wait for the turkey until you cook it and then when it’s cooked you say I have to wait until it cools off. Why bother to cook it? Just eat it. That’s far more efficient.” But, now, when she falls over and just has to lie there, she accepts it. She just lies there and I reach down and pick her up and try to stand her on her rubbery legs.
Life involves allowing oneself to release control, to accept and to enter the void. There is not nothing; there is something: see what happens when you come out the other side.
When Jetta and I stood outside that windy Sunday, our wind chimes and the neighbors’ all up and down the block, all different sizes, from the tiniest to the very long tubes, were ringing wildly, an unharmonious tone poem. The sound gave the mystical quality of a hundred Russian church bells.
Bells hand rung in Suzdal, Russia, part of the Golden Ring of Russia. Suzdal dates back to 1024.
It is impossible not to be uplifted into the vibrational frequency of those Russian bells. Bells, you know, have a huge void in the center. The tone of the ringing of the wind chimes lifted me into a kind of acceptance: What ancient mystical stories and truths is the wind telling us through those bells? Recalled for me the sounds of Russian church bells, I have to say that they are the sounds of my soul. I therefore feel compelled to quote from Jane Fonda’s book, Prime Time, “Sooner or later we will come to the edge of all that we cannot control and find life, waiting there for us,” at the door. Fonda continues, “The psychologist Marion Woodman says that with ‘vulnerability lives the humility that allows flesh to soften into the sounds of the soul.’”
Later that day, Tess, our Hospice nurse, unexpectedly brought us a warm, free Thanksgiving dinner prepared by neighbors at our town’s free Thanksgiving dinner at the firehouse. Sweet.
–Samantha Mozart, November 22, 2011
Ringing of Ivan the Great Bell Tower, Moscow (completed 1508)
Kremlin Bells, Moscow, 16 July 2003, 12:00 —
Moscow Kremlin Cathedral Square, Noon-time bells
Russian Orthodox Bell Ringing 7:45 minutes – This one shows beautiful Russian scenery.