Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Business or Pleasure?

Ever since I decided that I was going to go to Europe this spring, I am continually asked, "oh, are you going for business or pleasure?"

Though I have been encouraged to network with various theatre people, I have no intention of making this trip about work...except now that I think about it, there is the consideration of a little thing we like to call "tax deductions." Hmmmmm.

No, it is not really for business....and though, I certainly hope it will be a pleasurable trip, I'm not sure "Pleasure" is the answer either.

In truth, it really feels more like a calling. I feel that I am being CALLED to Europe. Originally it was only the British Isles that sang their siren song, then Paris, my old sweet friend, serenaded me with it's lusty chanson, and now Italy, not to be out-done, has stolen me for at least a week from the clutches of Ireland and Wales, Scotland and England.

But like I said, it was Britain, especially the countrysides and sea shores that caught my ear over a year ago. Though I suspect it had been singing to me for much longer. My last name is Rowe and the Rowes come from Land's End, England, in Cornwall. My first name is Morgan. I am named for the Welsh translation: born by the sea. Those two factors alone make me wonder if the call to go to the celtic shores where King Arthur was born and his sister Morgaine plied her pagan craft was not pre-determined. My parents said that I was to be a Morgan whether I was a boy or a girl, as if they heard the song that connected me to the craggy cliffs of Tintagel and Wales even before I was born.

When I was a kid I loved learning about the kings and queens of England. For a while I knew all about them, who ruled when and how and why. Then, when Princess Di came onto the scene I lost track of a lot of the history and was consumed with the pageantry and spectacle of the very, some would say, "too" modern royal family. I loved Di and Charles, then Will and Harry. After a few years I hated Charles, and felt for Di. Just as Di almost became too human, too fallible, always falling for the wrong men and sounding a bit paranoid, she died. I was devastated. Then my heart broke for Will and Harry. Now, like so many, I have once again found a soft spot for Charles, and even Camilla, happy that two people who adore each other are finally able to live in peace.

The Windsors and their kin have nothing to do with me, of course. But watching their stories unfold over the years has kept me connected and enthralled with a land and a people I deeply want to know better.

It appears that NOW is finally the time to start making that happen.

If you are aware of the financial state of America, you might find yourself asking the same thing I ask myself every other day, "Why now? Really...must it be NOW?" I'm not daft. I know the dollar is week, the euro strong, the pound even stronger. "Why not wait till the dollar rebounds?" I say to myself.

Well, I put off my trip once, because I thought I'd met THE guy. Turned out I was wrong.

Then I put it off because work came in. An actress tries not to turn down the work.

The weak dollar might have convinced me to keep stalling, if it hadn't been for a certain old woman in a brown shingled house and Trader Joe's.

You see, there is a construction site down the road from where I live. This particular building project is quite remarkable: an entire city block is being turned into a large condominium/retail complex, save about 600 square feet where there is a single house. In that house resides an old woman who has lived there 42 years. She refuses to move. She turned down a million bucks, they say, and dug in her heels and has continued to live in her brown shingled house while jackhammers and scaffolding and concrete consumed every bit of her yard. Because of her determination she has become a local hero.

Right around Halloween I started hearing rumors that there is going to be a Trader Joe's in that new complex. I love Trader Joe' it, love it, love it. If I want to go to a Trader Joe's currently, I have to drive fifteen minutes to some neighborhood where parking is scarce and people are plentiful. It is a hassle. But within a few short months, right where that old lady's back yard used to be, on a block that I drive by almost daily, there is going to be a brand new Trader Joe's. Huzzah!

Well, I started thinking about my house and how I was never gonna want to move, not now. I mean my house is in what is fast becoming one of the trendiest parts of Seattle AND there's going to be Trader Joe's three minutes from my back door.

For weeks I drove by that site and cheered on that old lady in the house and sang a little song in my head about how I had the perfect home now because a Trader Joe's was going in down the road.

Then one day right before Christmas it hit me: I was going to end up like that woman who refuses to move. I was going to get so comfortable in my little corner of Ballard, Washington that I never see Cornwall or Edinburgh Castle or the green fields of Northern Ireland, not to mention The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, Victoria Falls, The Galapagos Island, or...or...or....or.....

I bought my ticket the next day. From a removed spot in December, I picked random dates in the Spring, found the cheapest ticket to a major European city (London) and committed myself there and then to leaving the comfort of my little house and to becoming an Adventuress.

I never want to become so seduced by the convenience of a Trader Joe's that I sit at home and only dream of seeing the world!

Lately, though, I have had my faltering moments, wee fractures in my resolve when the time, money, logistics of the trip get me frazzled and undone. In fact, the closer I get to my departure date the more I find myself thinking about the woman in the house and how cozy she must be tucked into the same bed she's know for years and years; I wake up and think how comfy my pillows are, how perfectly snuggly my cat feels curled on my feet. I wonder if I shall have one good nights sleep the whole time I am in Europe.

It is at moments like these that another stranger comes to my rescue. About a month ago when I had seriously been considering cutting my trip down to a "reasonable" length, I was telling my chiropractor all the pros and cons of taking the trip I'd originally planned as we walked out of my appointment. My doc, who is quite a traveler herself, said, "oh, just do it." At which point, this very tired female voice that I did not recognize, piped in from the waiting room, "yeah, do it for the rest of us who can't."

So, that's what I'm "going for"....not for "business", but for me, so I can finally heed the Siren call, and for that woman in the waiting room. I truly wish that she could travel too, and hopefully she will. Till then, I'm honored and humbled and excited to travel for those who can't. In fact, it will be my pleasure. I see it clearly now, it will be my pleasure indeed!

Plus, it turns out that that little old lady in the tiny brown house, well, she saw the world, lived in England for years, speaks seven languages. No wonder she is happy holding down her fort, she saw what she needed to see. So maybe someday I'll settle into my fort, but not yet, not just yet.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Eiffel Tower, Picture Perfect

I am a child from a marriage born in the sixties. My parents, depression era-babies, had run away years before from their prim mid-west upbringings and fully emerged themselves in the sexual revolution. By the time I came along in 1969 they were each on their third spouse. When I was turning three they were trying to avoid another divorce, so they rented a small apartment in their favorite city, Paris, and took the family for the summer.

The Polaroids from that vacation are fascinating, mainly because we resemble a normal family: my mom's three teenage kids from her first marriage, my dad, whose other kids are in NYC living with their mom, and me, the adored, precocious, ray of hope. We seem to be happily living the fantasy of being affluent carefree Europeans. This perception is corroborated by the stories everyone tells from that time, and the almost mythic stature Paris itself has always held in all our hearts.

The pictures show my two brothers sporting long hair and bell-bottom corduroys, laughing. My sister and I are loving each other. My parents look suave, and in their element. My mom is tall and svelte and obviously at the height of her feminine powers. In fact, my mom told me that in Paris she and my dad would play a game adding up how many imaginary conquests they made during the day….a conquest being a look with a passing stranger that made it very clear that they both liked what they saw. My mom won the challenge most days, despite my dad's legendary gift with the ladies.

Actually there is no reason for me to think that they weren't acting on these looks with strangers….my parents were trying to live the quintessential 1960's free-love lifestyle after all. Among the photos from that summer there are many family friends who flew over for short visits. I have learned through the years that most of those visitors shared romantic trysts with one or other of my folks.

Looking at those photos I always find myself wondering where everyone was with each other when those pictures were taken, whose heart was breaking, secretly. My parent's marriage would be mostly over in a mere two years, and many lovers later. Though they technically stayed married for 20 more years, hurting each other.

I have three memories from that summer. In one I am in the kitchen of our apartment, I see my mom, I see the window and I see another child, it is a little party of some kind. Another time, I remember waking up alone after a horrible nightmare underneath a desk having curled up in the nook where someone’s legs would go. The third takes place at the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is a war memorial and underneath the curve of that arch is a small hole in the pavement, and down in that hole is a flame that burns eternally for the "unknown" soldier….this is where I learned about death, that there was even such a thing as death. I couldn't light a match till I was 21-fire equals death.

When I was 12 my dad, his girlfriend, her daughter and I did one of those see-Europe-in-two-weeks kind of trips. When we got to Paris my dad kept waiting for me to recognize something from that long ago summer. Nothing did it….I mean, I knew I'd seen the Louvre before, but I didn't KNOW it, in my bones. Several days went by, we were in and out of metro stops, frantically seeing the sights.

One destination in particular, one metro stop, my dad was especially jazzed about, but he wouldn't say why. We got off the train and my dad was truly tickled as we followed him up the stairs, out into the city. He led us around the corner of the station…up some more steps…and Boom…there the Eiffel Tower stood, in all it's glory, straight ahead, looking like a living picture postcard….My father was beside himself with glee as I took it in. I could tell he wanted me to remember this spot from before. But he was also pleased that it was an utter surprise. Mostly it felt like he was giving me the actual Eiffel Tower, for my very own. And though I was suitably impressed, I did not remember being there before.

On our last day in Paris we were descending into another metro station, one we hadn't been in yet and all of a sudden my senses stood on end. The smell, the stunning orange tiles of the station walls, the sound of the approaching train, they all conspired and suddenly I remembered in my very cells that I had been there before, when I was three, with my family, who loved me, who loved each other. I started to cry as we walked down into the station. I'm starting to cry as I sit here now.

I was in Paris one other time as a relative youngster…as an exchange student when I was 14. There is a funny picture of me at the Arc de Triomphe, meant to recreate a picture taken of me in the same spot when I was two. I am clearly miserable and hating my tour guide (that's another story). I've framed those two pictures together…along with a third….taken the last time I went to Paris in April of 2004.

My father had died on April 9 2003 after a relatively brief battle with liver cancer. By then my family was so divided that two of my Mom's kids were no longer speaking to my dad for very good reasons and his other kids were threatening to contest his will before he was even dead. I, myself, had had a somewhat-to-very strained relationship with him for the last 13 years of his life. The sexual revolution had taken it's toll on my dad. Over the years, he lost track of some of the most basic abilities in terms of care-taking the people in his life who loved him and who looked to him not just for financial security, but for emotional support and safety. He was not a man to put other peoples emotional needs before his own, and that had cost him.

Come March of 2004, almost a year after my step-mom and I had held his hands while he took his last breath, I still had my dad’s ashes on my mantle and was eager to find them a permanent resting place. With the anniversary of his death fast approaching, it suddenly occurred to me: Paris…on the Seine…on April 9th.

Terrified of flying, I turned to my boyfriend at the time, a man I'll call Andy, to hold my hand on the journey. I rented a flat for 2 weeks, bought tickets, bought some traveling clothes, and set off.

I could go on and on about this trip. It is fresh in my memory, and perhaps sometime I will tell you just that story, just the beginning, middle, and end of that funny little trip….which was really quite huge. Highlights might include walking so much that my arches fell, and when I came home I had to toss out all my shoes. Or I might tell you about how my boyfriend was so commitment phobic that he refused to hold my hand as we walked those sexy Parisian streets for fear that people might know we were a couple. Though, I'll have you know I was so ahead of him on the "conquest" game, that I could have been holding hands with someone had I really put my mind to it.

But, like I said, that's kind of another story. Or is it? I mean there I was in Paris, only a few years younger than my parents had been when they first went together. Andy and I were wandering the same streets, seeing things that hadn't changed in centuries much less since my parents had been there. Like them we were scouring the streets for the perfect place to eat each night, often taking three hours from the time we decided we were hungry till we settled on the perfect spot, drinking wine, flirting with the locals, falling in love with the city, if not with each other.

And then there is that…. Such angst, such bewilderment that the city could not make us whole in love…if Paris couldn't do it….scary it took another year for us to break up.

I was really learning to love the city as an adult, as my parents must have loved it. I felt its heart. And, with Andy, I felt my heart break. I felt the urge to love and touch and drink, and eat, and take in the all of it, and I felt the heartbreak of being with someone who couldn't love me the way that I wanted to be loved….something my parents must have known when they were there, with each other AND all those other lovers.

So, I was, in a way, seeing Paris through the tainted eyes of my parents, recreating their dysfunction, understanding their lusts, appetites, and heartbreaks first hand. Feeling some bond re-form with my dad as I felI in love with his favorite city, I found myself yearning to take Andy to that metro stop my father had taken us to when I was 12. I wanted to give Andy that postcard perfect picture of the Eiffel Tower, just like my dad had done for so many others over the years. However I couldn't find the station; I had even begun to think that I'd dreamt it up.

By the time April 9th arrived, I was miserable, but determined to give my Dad a send-off that celebrated those parts of him that I could get behind, namely the unmitigated joy he felt in the city of lights, and the pleasure he had introducing so many of us to it. To commemorate the day I decided that Andy and I would walk the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe (I wanted that third picture). On the way we would take a detour to Café Laduree for lunch and the best Vanilla Tea in the WORLD. Then I wanted to take my dad to the Eiffel Tower one last time. Somewhere along the way we added an evening concert at Sainte Chappelle into the schedule, after which I would scatter my dad's ashes in the shadow of Notre Dame on the end of the island so that he could watch the boats and lovers go by forever.

By late afternoon on the 9th we had walked the Champs-Élysées, lunched in style, taken whimsical photos at the Arc de Triomphe, and all the time my dad sat comfortably in my purse.

But then we hit a wall…the day was growing short, and there was too much to accomplish. I really wanted to go up in the Eiffel Tower, but we thought we might miss our concert if we did. Andy was trying to be a good sport about that, though the concert was really his passion, his idea. So I said, "let's at least walk over to the Eiffel Tower which I remember a friend saying was a fun walk from the Arc de Triomphe, and we'll see what happens."

So we started walking, I was flirting with French men along the way, in that secret "I want to see you naked" sort of way, though I was feeling a little shy about this, seeing as how my father was tagging along in my purse. Then Andy and I crossed this street where we seemed to hit the end of the road, well before the Eiffel Tower. Instead of being able to continue down the street we'd been meandering on, we ran smack into a largish metro station, so I instinctually turned right, went to the edge of the building, took a left, went up some steps and BOOM: There was the Eiffel Tower-picture perfect.

And standing next to me, as real as the marble below my feet, was my dad, grinning from ear to ear.

And it hit me, “I have not brought my dad one last time to see the Eiffel Tower, he has brought me”.

And he was happy.

And for the first time on the trip, so was I.

Well, after that Andy and I did go to the concert, and I sat with my dad, afterwards, on the edge of the Seine under a willow tree---perhaps the very willow tree he stole a cutting from 20 years ago and transplanted to Virginia—and I said goodbye to him, and though it would take a year, I also began to let go of the dysfunctional belief that I could not really be loved the way I wanted to be loved.

Several months later I would pick up a DVD of some super 8 home movies that I had discovered in my dad's house. One reel is from that long ago, third-birthday summer. On it there are silent, moving images of my mom and dad being sauve for the camera, my dad and my brothers riding mopeds in the park, my mother showing me a roadside attraction, and me dancing with two twin girls I'd befriended in some chateau garden.

Then there is this: while standing on a marble outlook my brothers and sister, along with two family friends, goof off for my father who is holding the camera. Suddenly my dad pans to the left and, BOOM: The Eiffel Tower, picture perfect.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Where All Our Journeys Begin

I have this thing about water...can't get enough of to be in the ocean, in the bath, in the rain, waterfalls make me crazy.  The sound of water~nuts about it.  Water lapping on the shore, gently or violently and rain on the roof, falling softly or in downpours.  I had a babysitter once who would put me to bed and then take a shower...the bathroom was on the other side of the wall from where I laid my head...and it calmed me right down and carried me gently off to sleep.  Genius.

The house I grew up in, in Virginia was on the Lafayette river, a pretty to look at, nasty to swim in tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was okay that we couldn't swim in the river, cuz we were lucky enough to have a pool to cool off in in the blazing August heat, and around the pool was a deck that sort of went out over the bank of the river.  Under that deck was my special hiding place....I'd climb through holly and brush, and go under the deck to the very edge of the river and sit and contemplate life and the loneliness of childhood.  But even though I was a lonely kid there was something about being by the water's edge that was always soothing, something that made the world make sense.

Recently I've found a place here in Seattle that I can go and sit near the water's edge...a place that always feels like it is just mine, well mine and Toby the dog's.  These days I don't so much contemplate loneliness per se, but my journey from those melancholy days sitting by the Lafayette River to my current state of place and mind living in the Pacific Northwest and really falling in love, for the first time with my own life, and I think about my gratitude for the friends and family that I have and in this, as in all things, water and the land it meets is still a great teacher, a great soother of my soul.

Why?  It has to do with this...I love the simple way water laps upon the shore, meeting and retreating, caressing and then giving the shore it's gentle space to catch it's breath.  And as the water ceaselessly makes a kind of love to the sand and rocks, kissing the feet of water birds and eager humans, the sand stretches up to meet fertile soil, and out of that soil grows giant trees and flowering bushes which make oxygen for us all to breath while at the same time giving shelter and food to countless critters and shade to many more.  And it is this order, this natural order that makes sense to me...and I think that living well could be as simple as remembering that we are all connected, we all share the same air, the same sunshine, the same deep well, and if we lived like the trees and soil and sand and water, gently caressing and nurturing and loving those beings who grace the shores of our life we might just have a chance at being happy.