Joan Didion, the stylish writer.

I’m reading her essays, the work of Joan Didion. The well-known American writer, novelist and journalist, who passed away last month. She was 87 years old and suffered from Parkinson. I heard from her before, but never read her essays or books. Why is it that people have to die first to get noticed — by me?

The reason why my interest in this seemingly mystic, gloomy writer has grown, is the documentary The Centre Will Not Hold (2017) which I saw last week on Netflix. I watched an old lady vividly talking with her hands, like a conductor of an orchestra. Joan looked petit and skinny, wearing lipstick and huge sunglasses. Nevertheless, behind that frailty I saw a fierceness, intelligence, but also humbleness. 

Didion narrates that she went to San Francisco in search of work, convinced that writing was not important work. She began writing at age five, when her mother gave her a journal to start writing down her thoughts. The documentary was directed by her nephew and actor, Griffin Dune, who I recognised from an old Madonna movie. He took me on a journey through her life, her marriage, motherhood (she and her husband adopted a daughter, Quintana Roo), about being a writer, the places where she lived (Sacramento, New York, Malibu beach, Los Angeles). She started at Vogue Magazine by winning a writing contest, and later she wrote a variety of societal, political and personal essays for several American magazines and newspapers. On pictures she had a firm, somewhat tormented look, often with a cigarette in her hand. There was a certain coolness around her, a glamorous touch. 

In one of her essays she writes about her nervous breakdown in the summer of 1968. She felt detached from her environment, fragmented. Amidst her struggle she was the writer and journalist, loved by many, having parties with stars as Warren Beatty, Roman Polanski, Janis Joplin and lots of other creatives and artists. Juicy detail about Harrison Ford, who worked as a carpenter for Didion and her husband.

Her essay on hippydom ‘Slouching towards Bethlehem’ of the late sixties in America reveals another picture. Not much flower power here, but cultural chaos, sexual abuse, disintegration, parents who were more involved with taking trips on LSD than taking care of their kids. In the reportage she even writes about a mother who gave her baby the popular drug. Joan showed us a world of social breakdown in America. At moments uncomfortable to read. The Summer of Love took place in 1967 in Haight-Ashbury, a neighbourhood in San Francisco. That place was the centre of young people who were opposing the establishment and war in Vietnam. I always had the idea the sixties were more happy and playful, but it was a facade masking forlornness, it was a time of resistance without building something new. That’s what you feel throughout her story.

It seemed Joan Didion’s life was legendary. Especially the images of her and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, who was also a writer and novelist, while they overlooked the ocean from their home. However, meanwhile they had problems in their marriage and living near the beach helped Joan to deal with them. They wrote screenplays together, such as the movie A Star is Born (1976).

But then in 2003 loss and grief entered her life when her husband suddenly died and 16 months later her daughter passed away as well. 

She wrote two autobiographical works on these tragical deaths, The Year of Magical Thinking about the loss of her husband and Blue Nights about the death of her only daughter.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”

At the moment I’m reading a collection of her essays translated in Dutch. Her view on the assault and rape of a young white female jogger in Central Park in 1991 and the prosecution of five black young men, reveals a disrupted city where social issues and race have a deadly impact. Within that frail woman, resided a fierceness that found its way out in her sharp observations. 

“Character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. To free us from the expectations of others, to give back to ourselves — there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”

Back to Central America.

You always start to miss something so basic when you don’t have it anymore. You never have problems with it because it’s always there, always working. I’m talking about energy! And then I mean solar energy to do the things which are so basic, such as cooking, washing clothes, charging phone and laptop, that kind of things. 

When these things don’t work well, or not working at all, although there’s plenty of sun, it’s starting to get annoying. It made me grumpy the last week or so. Because I don’t understand why it isn’t working in the midst of summer still. Suddenly you realise how dependent you are of energy. That without, you are also disconnected from the world. I wasn’t online for some days, the batteries were not charging. For some days I had no music, no connection to internet. I told the neighbour though about the problems with the batteries of the solar system. When Dorus will be back tomorrow they can have a look together. Now, I’m charging the devices in a café in the village. I didn’t feel like asking the neighbour, but I know I can and he would be willing to help, but somehow I didn’t…

It’s good to be away for some hours, because since yesterday I’m totally sucked into the book Verloren in de jungle, about two Dutch young women, Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, who were lost in the jungle in Panama in 2014. I still remember when I read about it. We were just living a couple of months on Ibiza when I read the news that they never returned from a hike to the jungle.

I could have been these young girls. I also went to Bocas del Toro, the islands just across the border of Costa Rica, I too crossed the bridge from Costa Rica to Panama and showed my passport on this unusual place where borders ended and started. But I haven’t been to Boquete where they got lost. Over the years many wild stories were told about what happened to the two women. So many contradictions. So much unclearness about the timeline. After two months a few body parts of the women were found in the deep jungle and a bag with their phones and camera in it.

Was it a crime or an accident? I’m reading the book now, and it’s so fascinating, but also so incredibly sad. Two journalists tried to fill the gaps and made sense of all the wild and crazy stories about what could have happened to them and so they did profound research, now 6 years later, although they were not able to travel to Boquete due to the pandemic.

Apparently on the internet you can read wild stories and conspiracy theories about this case, for example that they are still alive and are victims of human trafficking, etc. The two Dutch journalists, Marja West and Jurgen Snoeren did a terrific job to reconstruct the events; sometimes repeating the same too much though and their work would be more complete if they could have traveled to Boquete in Panama.

While I’m reading the book, I think of these two friends, who must have been so afraid and desperate. Why did they walk further and further into the jungle? After taking the path they went (which was a clear, not dangerous hike), the area became wild and dangerous, with rivers, big slippery rocks and heights and bridges made of ropes with deep down the strong current of the rivers. They tried to call the emergency number 911 in Panama several times, even the Dutch 112, but no reach.

Friday night I was reading till it was almost 4 in the night. The clock of the e-reader was the only time I had. I was totally lost in the book. It brought me back to my travels in 2003 to Costa Rica and Panama (Bocas del Toro). I went alone. It must have been horrible for my mum. I was 7 years older than the lost women, but I understand for my mum it must have been difficult, especially because I went alone. It was a very special experience for me, I still can think of Costa Rica sometimes and the islands in Panama, the images blurred though. The green jungle, the banana trees, the tropical birds, the sloths in the trees, the howler monkeys, the racoons on the beach. A paradise!

After more and more time has passed, it has become more of a feeling, how I felt back then when I went on my own to Central America. I felt very excited, but also uncomfortable at times. But back then I was more innocent and I think more of an optimist. Now, for example I understand much more how my mother must have felt when she waved me goodbye at Schiphol Airport; back then I didn’t really think about it. And now with the book Verloren in de jungle a lot of memories of that trip appear to the surface. I wouldn’t have missed my travels to Costa Rica and Panama for the world. I remember that I rented a mountain-bike on Bocas del Toro and that I asked in a shop a nice road to go to. I cycled to some beaches and there were hardly any people. I also met a group of English guys on the boat to Bocas.  They were cool guys and relaxed and I met them again to go on a boat trip together where I witnessed wild dolphins for the first time. The dolphins were swimming next to the boat and jumping out of the water. It was just magical. I felt so happy when I saw these beautiful animals jumping around us. I think I even said to one of the guys that it was the best day of my life or something like that.. On the boat also some American young women were present. We met later that evening for a drink. All the Americans I met during that trip were so self-confident,  extravert, talkative and happy. I hated them for this, because they were so different than I.

Yes, the book also reminds me of the openness you feel when you’re visiting other countries. Open to experiences, to people (even if they are the opposite of you), to your surroundings. Travelling like that is a gift. 

Tomorrow Dorus will come home! After his 8 week bicycle tour of seeing friends and family in the Netherlands and France. I am so happy. The last weeks have been a bit difficult. I am capable to be on my own very well, but life is much better together. Living alone can change you, you worry much more on your own. It’s less fun!

But first I need to turn the compost again (shitty and sweaty).

I’m writing this while I’m charging the laptop and my iPhone in the café. They’re almost fully charged. 

Just like myself.

Being lost in the story of the two women, also made me feel a bit lost the last days, without internet connection, no devices – and no music! Nice on one hand. Suddenly you realise you’re never offline for a couple of days. At most one day, but not a whole weekend or more. But being offline for a weekend makes you feel free and it’s important to give yourself that space. Unplug every now and then – with a good book, chocolate and wine. If you have that choice, it liberates.

Con Amor,

Eva 

Image: Angel Silva/Unsplash

Belonging as a Wild Woman.

I just finished a book called “Belonging” by Toko-pa Turner.

The title of the book spoke to me, as the theme belonging is beautiful, tricky and so universal. As humans, we all want to belong. Belong to a group, culture, a partner, place, a home.

Messy

The title spoke to me, because the past two years I spent in transition time without having a place I could call home. For the first time after two years I feel I have a home again. And apparently this is something very important to me, to have a base, a place where I can be myself and build upon. It’s still messy and a lot of times I’m looking for things I can’t find anymore and don’t know where I put them, but we’re getting there. Moving house means always chaos.

The first thing I noticed when I returned to Mallorca after being with my family in the Netherlands, was how I re-connected with nature. The full moon that seemed huge on the early morning I arrived by ferry; the dark-red earth plowed by the farmers some days before; the stars at night; the bleating of sheep; the fresh air; almond trees that just have started to blossom. They made me feel home. Although my heart ached to leave my family, I knew I was home.

Fit in

Some weeks before I walked through Amsterdam with my sis and niece and it made me realize I never truly abandoned this city. Home just knows several places. After these years living in Spain, I still belong here. Home is a place where we are accepted the way we are, with flaws and all. I was, but of course like so many, I also needed to fit in, job-wise. Trees that grow euros, didn’t exist in our city-garden and never will be. Sometimes I felt a stranger in the work I had to do.

The most valuable “asset” I gained by moving to Ibiza and later to Mallorca, is the connection with the natural world, which I didn’t really see before. I couldn’t see before, because I wasn’t aware of this whole world of miracles around me. And I am a part of it! It was on Ibiza that I finally learned that the phases of the moon correspond to my menstrual cycle. I just never thought of that, and nobody told me that before. Ridiculous, right?! 

Wild Woman

I started to read about the archetype of the wild woman, a book named Women Who Run with the Wolves : Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Jungian analyst, author and poet Clarissa Pinkola Estés. 

A Wild Woman lives authentically, with a sense of creativity in all she does. She has the passion and courage to express her self and her ideas freely, even if it feels vulnerable, because she then lives her truth.

To me a Wild Woman is an intuitive, confident, caring, creative woman who lives in tune with herself and above all with nature, free from societal expectations, fully aware of nature’s power and that power that resides in her. I don’t consider myself a wild woman (yet), but I love the idea of her!

On Ibiza I met a few women who are close to Wild Women, mostly living completely free of what society expects from them, but often, like everything on Ibiza is, it was a lot of show too. Not authentic. I know a Dutch lady though, she is in her sixties, caring, free, and does completely what she desires, loves nature and animals and lives totally off-grid in the hills up north. She is true to herself and to others. To me she is a Wild Woman.

Are you a Wild Woman? To stir up the wild woman within, immerse yourself in these 13 quotes.

A Wild Woman feels, and is connected with, the natural world and the animals around her. She plays with dirt, feeds the plants, dances in the rain, plants trees, eats their fruit and honors her belonging to the earth. She is home. And she knows she’d better take care of it.

The book Belonging by Toko-pa Turner shows that belonging isn’t always a place, but a set of skills that we in modern times have lost or forgotten.

To re-find our ties with nature is a way to find belonging in this world.

Alienated

Toko-pa Turner writes poetry with Belonging. This deep fragment at nearly the end of the book is truly spot on:

“Reflecting on our present-day relationship with nature, you could say that we are collectively and chronically disoriented. I believe a great deal of the lostness we feel as a culture is a result of how alienated from the natural world we’ve become. Not only are we disconnected from nature, but aneasthetized to the enormity of that loss. Many people don’t even realize what is missing because they’ve never known it, but underneath our preoccupations with getting ahead and being accepted, there is a deep well of pain: our unbelonging to the earth herself.

Of course, we can never truly be separated from the natural world because, like every other living being, we are quite literally expressions of the earth. But in the grandness of what we as a species have created and called civilization, we have come to think of ourselves as conquerors of the wild.

Forgetting, in some pandemic amnesia, the true origins that make any of it possible. Our consciousness is so disconnected from the web of life that we have come to think of the earth’s generosities as our own resources to privatize and commodify for profit. We are so enamoured with the construction of our own endless, narrow tunnels of productivity that we have become alienated from the very body that supports and sustains us.” 

Con Amor,

Eva

Photo by Christopher Campbell/Unsplash

When You’re Struggling, Remember these “Eat, Pray, Love” Words by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I can sense the restlessness that drives many of us these days. A restlessness I’m familiar with. Moving to a new place on a new island, working on new projects within a pandemic world, and moving house again, to a tiny, basic, off-grid home in development, don’t make 2020 a particularly easy ride.

There’s insecurity and chaos after so many people lost their livelihoods as a result of the pandemic and who are facing troubled times right now. Although you can’t lose a job you don’t have — it’s another way of saying that I don’t have a “real job” –  I can sense the restlessness that drives many of us these days.

A restlessness I’m familiar with. Moving to a new place on a new island, working on new projects within a pandemic world, and moving house again, to a tiny, basic, off-grid home in development, don’t make 2020 a particularly easy ride. 

I didn’t fully realize it until recently, but these past eight months have been a bit of a struggle, mostly with myself. More than before I see obstacles on the road. Every thing I do, feels like an effort and somehow I need time in the morning before I can start the day with a positive mindset. During these last months I wanted to cry and let my water run free, just to let it all out, but I just couldn’t. 

Several times I felt tears burning in my throat, but I couldn’t release them. Then the other day, all of a sudden, I started sobbing and, finally, I could let my bottled up tears go. The strange thing is, I didn’t even know why. I couldn’t explain to my partner what was going on and somehow without words he knew that I only needed his firm, loving arms around me. 

Then I sobbed because of “everything”: my mother who lives alone while I’m living in another country and I can’t support her. My dad who passed away many years ago and who I miss so much. The fear something bad happens to my partner. Family members, who are ill. Our suffering planet. People’s greed that destroy the natural world. Hunger. The exploitation of animals. Refugee men, women and children, who are living miserable lives in refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece. I have read urgent, poignant stories about this crisis; it’s complete darkness without the tiniest sparkle of light and hope to a better future. Really, these stories leave you with a heavy heart in your comfortable home.

Remember Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’?  I thought, this must be the book that would lift me up from my melancholia. I was about to finish this soul-searching story when a gripping paragraph caught my attention and its writer – she’s so funny too – just poured me a warm cup of comforting tea. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s words I read something that needs to be saved to let them be a guidance on gloomy days.

“They (Zen Buddhists) say that an oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which it all begins, the seed which holds all the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. 

But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well — the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity. 

In this respect, say the Zens, it is the oak tree that creates the very acorn from which it was born. 

I think about the woman I have become lately, about the life that I am now living, and about how much I always wanted to be this person and live this life, liberated from the farce of pretending to be anyone other than myself. 

I think of everything I endured before getting here and wonder if it was me – I mean, this happy and balanced me, who is now dozing on the deck of this small Indonesian fishing boat — who pulled the other, younger, more confused and more struggling me forward during all those hard years. 

The younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: “Yes – grow!  Change! Evolve! Come and meet me here, where I already exist in wholeness and maturity! I need you to grow into me!” 

And maybe it was this present and fully actualized me, who was hovering four years ago over that young married sobbing girl on the bathroom floor and maybe it was this me, who whispered lovingly into that desperate girl’s ear, “Go back to bed, Liz..” Knowing already that everything would be OK, that everything would eventually bring us together here.”

I guess I still have to meet my older me, the balanced woman who navigates on trust, the already-existent oak tree. 

Or could it be, she did arrive the other day and whispers to me: “You are growing. You will get there. You are resilient. If you feel bad, don’t fight it. Cry if you want to, life isn’t about being happy all the time. Life is about living every single moment. Life is about growing; through happy and sad times. Be with your grief. Don’t feel ashamed for your tears and the mountains you need to climb that feel too high for you right now. Do it step by step. Don’t be afraid. Trust. Everything will be OK.”

Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for planting this seed!

Con Amor,

Eva

Let’s Go Home. Unbreak Our Broken Relationship with Animals.

If there’s one sentiment, one state of being, one need, that prevents us from learning and growing, it’s comfort. The modern human is addicted to comfort. That makes the fight against climate change and racial injustice so hard. Comfort, it’s the synonym for chicken soup. 

At the moment I’m reading ‘Eating Animals’, a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, published 10 years ago. It’s a compelling and important book. At moments uncomfortable and shocking. Last night I was reading about the life of a modern chicken and turkey, from birth to the moment they go on transport to the slaughterhouses — packed with thousands on a truck — to the process of arriving and machines cutting their throats open and ‘kill-floor’ employers, not seldom underpaid immigrants, prepare the flesh for the consumers market. 

You may be thinking, why I’m doing this to myself? I’m reading about these animal lives, because I want to know. I don’t have to be persuaded to become vegetarian or vegan, I’m home already — home is my compassionate place.

Learning about factory farming is just as uncomfortable as learning about racism and white privilege, ‘hot’ conversations these days. Actually we don’t want to know, we’d rather keep things comfortable, often that’s the way things always have been.  

Factory farming — raising animals for human consumption — also the quilt-soothing animal friendly and organic certificated labels, it’s eating tortured flesh. I remember when I still lived in Amsterdam and I cycled through the city, waiting for a green traffic light, and stickers saying “Animal-friendly meat doesn’t exist” were glued to the stoplights. I remember I found them annoying, because at that time I ate organic meat, cage-free chicken meat, and free-range eggs and believed it were ethical alternatives. I thought I was doing the right thing. The most chance to consume ‘animal-friendly’ meat though, is meat that comes from small family farms which have become a curiosity these days. Most chance to ‘happy cattle-life’ meat is in the hands of small farmers, who see the animals as more than only capital.

The life of a modern sheep, cow, bird or pig, it’s a dark pit to descend to and most people don’t want to go there. They maybe know more than they admit, but mouths only open to taste the flesh and close again. Thoughts wander into obliviousness. It could be too painful. The secret doors, they rather keep them closed to walk away from what happens behind them. The way humans treat animals, it’s one of the blind spots we have. And it’s an ugly one. 

I’m halfway the book now and I don’t feel Foer is preaching. On the contrary, he mentions facts, based on lots of research material, interviews with farmers and owners and employees of slaughterhouses and even some undercover-actions in poultry farms with a female animal activist, as his requests of a farm visit were kept unanswered or denied. Foer wrote the book, a fine mix of arguments, science and storytelling, as he became a father and wanted to write a book on where our food — meat, fish and eggs — comes from. He writes about American factory farming, but it’s very much applicable to the European agricultural industry as well. We know ‘big pharma’. Well, we also know ‘big agriculture’.

As I said, I’m home. Food for me is plant-based, with occasionally an egg from the neighbour’s chickens and some raw honey from the bees of our landlord’s friends in Asturias.

Surprisingly, there are people, even one of my favourite writers, Roxane van Iperen, who claims that eating plant-based is elitist, too expensive for ‘normal people’. I can tell you that’s nonsense. I’m living proof of the contrary.

‘If you eat meat and fish, you should read this book. Even if you don’t, you should. It might bring the beginning of a change of heart about all living things’ ~ Joanna Lumley 

Con Amor,

Eva

Opinion article – spot on – by Jonathan Safran Foer in New York Times. Read this!

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