Rafting through ten million years of rock layers

 

Months ago, a hiking friend suggested a whitewater rafting adventure down the Gauley, a free flowing river that cuts through ten million years of rock layers in West Virginia. With more than 100 named whitewater rapids in less than 30 miles, it is known as one of the most adventurous whitewater rivers in the east.

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Each September, the Army Corps of Engineers provides a series of twenty-two controlled releases for the express purpose of downriver recreation. Collectively known as “Gauley Season,” these releases – the result of an act of Congress and the first law passed in the US to specifically mandate recreational whitewater dam releases – are scheduled on six successive weekends bringing millions of dollars annually to the local economy. The Gauley attracts paddlers from all over the United States and even overseas. And so, at the beginning of summer, a small group of us booked to do the Lower Gauley in early September.

Coming just two weeks after my mother’s death, however, eleven miles of Class III-IV, V rapids was suddenly the last thing I felt like doing.

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But it turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

The Gauley River, which is likely named after the historic Gaul region in Europe, begins in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and runs through a scenic mountain area used for fishing and hunting by Native Americans for 10,000 years. It eventually flows into the New River, considered by geologists (despite its name) to be one of the five oldest rivers in the world, older than the Appalachian Mountains themselves.

Out on the river, we could feel the age of the area. Looking at the dense green vegetation on the mountains around us, it felt like we were floating back in time. A friend commented he almost expected to see dinosaurs emerge from the foliage onto the shoreline.

Even though the Lower Gauley has fewer and more spread out rapids than the Upper Gauley, a number of the rapids “pose significant challenges.” Fortunately, we had Candace – a fierce and fit, intelligent and experienced river guide at our helm, coaching us through the tricky waters.

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The Lower Gauley run begins with a series of whimsically named rapids – Wood’s Ferry, PJ’s Hole, Canyon Doors, Heaven’s Gate, Upper & Lower Mash, Upper & Lower Staircase, Rollercoaster, Roostertail, and Rattlesnake – and ends with the less whimsical, more candidly descriptive Pure Screaming Hell leading into Purgatory and Hell Hole.

Before calling the paddle sequence of each rapid, Candace gave us careful instructions as to which direction to swim should we find ourselves unexpectedly ejected from the raft.

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After a summer spent taking care of my mother through a rapid downward spiral of health challenges, ending with her death, this run was just the shock I needed to reprogram my entire central nervous system.

And it worked. We paddled hard, we laughed, we got scared, and we got soaked. Water therapy at its best.

Exhausted from the adventure, I fell asleep late that night, at peace and relaxed for the first time in months – the scent of the Gauley still in my hair.

 

photography by Tom Hunnicutt & Kristin Fellows

What’s in a Name?

A few weeks ago, at the suggestion of Mom’s caregivers, I phoned a local funeral home. The funeral director himself answered.

“This is Charles Graves,” he said.

I wondered if I had heard him correctly.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“If I had a nickel…” he said.

Before I had time to fully ponder the irony, he added, “And my cousin’s last name is Burns. He’s a fire chief up in New England.”

These unexpected little bubbles of humor and serendipity – like air pockets in an ocean of grief – have helped me laugh and breathe through some tough days.

I started to pay more attention to the cast of characters around us.

Of the many wonderful RNs taking care of Mom in her last weeks, my favorite was a third shift, well-built ex-Marine. I first met Nick the night he popped his head into her room during what had been a particularly rough evening for me.

“Do you need anything?” he asked me cheerfully.

“No, I think she’s fine for now, thank you,” I replied quietly.

“No,” he said with a smile, “Do you need anything?”

“Well, maybe a glass of water,” I said, surprised at his thoughtfulness. “If it’s no trouble.”

“How about a hug?” he responded.

I nearly cried. But then I caught sight of his name tag and smiled instead – at Nicholas Favorite.

I got the water and a big hug.

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After Mom died, in lieu of a memorial service, I put fresh, colorful flowers on all the tables in the residents’ dining room she so loved, with its vaulted ceiling and large expanse of windows overlooking the gardens.

I phoned her retirement village beforehand to coordinate the arrangements and asked to speak to the head of dining room services.

“Hello,” a cheerful voice answered. “This is Angel!”

Of course it was.

 

Listening to the Pauses…

Last Friday I sat by my mother’s bedside, listening to her breathe. silently counting the lengths of the pauses between breaths.

That I was even there that night was because I had heard another pause, earlier in the day, during a phone conversation I had with my brother.

I had called to give him an update on where she seemed to be in the pattern of what hospice anticipated might be her last hours. After a summer of unanticipated changes in her health, I was exhausted. I would be better able to help her, I told him, if I could just get a good night’s sleep. Perhaps, I rationalized, she might even be waiting for me to leave her alone.

I waited for what I was sure would be a positive and supportive response from him. But instead, he paused.

He paused for just a beat or two before saying, “Okay.”

I heard his words, but what I listened to was the pause.

It would have been easy to ignore, but instead I let it ruminate in my head.

Late in the afternoon, after hours of listening to my mother labor to breathe, Tom took me out for a much needed good meal, followed by a glass of wine with Zoë and her boyfriend. Afterwards, aware of how much I wanted to go home and sleep, he instead offered to drive me back out to see her. Remembering the momentary pause in the conversation with my brother, I realized my subliminal self had already made the decision. I said yes.

Had I not, I would have missed my mother’s last hour of life and the opportunity to breathe with her … until she had finished breathing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrinkles in Time

When I was ten years old, I believed that I could figure out the answer to any question if I just gave it enough thought.

I said as much to my mother one evening when she came in to say goodnight.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Try something!”

She was quiet for a moment. Then she asked me, “Where does the wind come from?”

During my childhood years when we lived in London, she kept me supplied with a steady stream of thought-provoking books – The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit and A Wrinkle in Time – books to get inside my head and spark my imagination

But no matter how long I thought about it, I couldn’t find in my own mind any understanding for where the wind came from.

Many years later, I had the opportunity to meet Madeleine L’Engle – who wrote A Wrinkle in Time – at her farmhouse in Connecticut when we interviewed her for a documentary we were making on the intersection of creativity and spirituality. Fascinated with the writing process myself, I hung on every word she said.

The stories she read and re-read, she once said in another interview, were usually stories which (in the words of J Alfred Prufrock), ‘dared to disturb the universe‘ – those which asked questions rather than gave answers.

I sat by my mother’s bedside last week, watching her slip in and out of her own wrinkles in time, heartbroken that I was losing her, but grateful for her gift of encouraging me to think and to write.

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And fifty years later, I am still wondering where the wind comes from….

 

 

 

Living with the knowledge of imminent finality…

If there’s been a theme to this summer, it’s been one of suspended animation.

In just six weeks, my mother went from living independently in her own little garden apartment, to assisted living, to skilled nursing, to hospice care – punctuated by three trips to the emergency room and an unexpected surgery.

I find myself holding my breath all the time, anticipating the next phone call, the next emergency, more bad news. Knowing the inevitability of how this will end, it’s been draining living with the knowledge of imminent finality.

So, what to do? How can I reconcile my desires to ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be here now’ and stay positive with my hyper-awareness of this huge pending loss?

I’ve tried the sheer stubbornness of just getting through it with mixed results. But this morning I thought of an alternative path.

Gratitude.

Each time I feel overwhelmed by sadness, I’m going to fight back with gratitude. It will be a fight for sure, but I am well armed with hundreds and thousands of good and fun and happy memories.

Like the time she went shopping for a traditional Swiss long cotton granny gown and came home instead with a pair of zebra-stripped jammies with hot pink trim.

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My Mother, Danish Beer & the Celebration of Life

I’ve noticed that people tend to lower their voices around my mother whenever they mention the word, Hospice – even the regular medical staff at her nursing facility. It’s as if they don’t want to hurt her feelings by admitting they know she’s going to die.

By contrast, my mother’s one-word reaction when I told her was, “Wonderful!” She’s nearly 96 years old and keenly aware that she’s failing rapidly. She’s ready.

We’ve been through the Hospice routine before – with my sister – and I can’t imagine going through the journey of last days without them by our side. Partnering with these good people is like having a circle of the most caring friends possible when you most need it. Who wouldn’t want that?

Bringing Hospice onto your team has many benefits, including the possibilities for small end-of-life parties and celebrations.

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Many years ago, when my sister was living in a Hospice facility in Sarasota, the stress and anxiety of never knowing what to expect as cancer continued to ravage her was getting to me. I broke down in the parking lot during one visit and had to be coaxed inside by a friend. I mopped up my face as best I could as we walked through the front door, and was surprised to hear laughter coming from one of the rooms.

How unusual, I thought.

I was even more surprised when I opened the door to my sister’s room and found a small party going on inside.

Everyone, it seems, had asked her what they could bring her. She told them she wanted a bottle of Jack Daniels, as they didn’t have any in the kitchen there. She may not have realized she gave the same request to so many people, for here everyone was, gathered around her bedside where she was holding court with sparkling eyes, a glass of whiskey in her hand.

Everyone had brought her a bottle of Jack Daniels.

My mother has her own libation of choice – Carlsberg Danish beer.

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– as you can see from just a few of the photos I took of her during our 1600 kilometer travel adventure around Denmark ten years ago.

Yesterday, thanks to permission from Hospice, she had her first beer in six weeks. Her face lit up when it reached her lips. She was so happy she also managed to eat a few bites of pizza and tiramisu. Her smiles of delight created a ripple effect on everyone who came into the room.

And so now – just like her Danish mother before her –

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bottles of Carlsberg are being kept in the fridge, just for her.

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Paint Every Day

The email came through early in the morning with just David’s name in the subject line.

David had been at my house nearly every day for months at a time, crafting a European-style bathroom and other contemporary modifications that I hoped would help turn my tired old Dutch barn-styled home into something more like a Scandinavian farmhouse. But he had not shown up the day before as promised.

Reliable and practical with an appealing amount of orneriness, David wore his clothes until they wore out. He drove an old silver Toyota Tacoma held together by 18 bumper stickers, including one that said “Speeding Kills Bears” and another that just had the word, “artist.”

Much as he tried to hide it, David was also kindhearted and giving. Decades ago, he’d started one of the first organic food markets in San Francisco, riding his bike back and forth to the store each day, often stopping to give food to a few homeless souls huddled up against the weather.

David eschewed all forms of social media and refused even to send or receive text messages. “There’s 60,000 texts ‘out there’ waiting for me, and I’m afraid to even go there now,” he once laughed. But it was unusual for him not to appear on my doorstep when promised.

The last time I saw David was the previous Saturday morning. Piecing together the fragments of that day later with others who knew him, it seems he left my house, ran into a few friends at the local market, went home, painted, opened a bag of chips, poured a beer, turned on the game, and laid down on the floor to ease the ache in his back.

And then, he died.

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The email informed me he died of natural causes, but it was anything but natural to me that someone I was used to seeing every day no longer existed. There must be some mistake, I thought, re-reading it several times.

Not David. Not the fit, strapping man in his 50s with the ironic smile. Not someone so full of life, someone who loved camping with his kids, someone who woke them up to marvel at a particularly spectacular full moon.

My yoga room was his last project. He had recently hung up his tools and was basking in semi-retirement. When I called him to ask if he’d mind coming over to work on it, he left a message that left little doubt he was savoring his new free time: “Whatever you want to do is going to be okay with me – as little or as much as you feel like. I’m actually standing on my little deck, looking out over the mountains, in a t-shirt, drinking a gin & tonic. So there you go, that’s my life.”

How could this feisty and wonderful friend no longer exist?

Go to his house, I thought. He’ll be there and then everything will be okay.

I had never actually been to his home, but I knew which mountain ridge he lived on. I grabbed my keys, got in my car and headed north.

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Recalling fragments of stories he’d told me about his next door neighbors and their homes, I narrowed the possibilities for David’s house down to an old grey 1930s bungalow on the top of the hill – the one surrounded by potted plants, one of which looked like one I’d given him a few years back. There were several vehicles in the gravel driveway, parked in a hurried, disorderly jumble – and I knew when I saw them that it was possible the unthinkable had really happened.

I pulled over in the field next door and stared at the cars and the house for some long moments before something inside me said, Go inside the house.

Anyone who lives around here can tell you that appearing unannounced at the house of a stranger is not something you should do in Appalachia, but by then grief had overwhelmed common sense.

I got out of my car and walked over to the steps leading up to the back porch and what I guessed was the kitchen door. I paused at the top, scared of knocking, scared of intruding, scared of being wrong.

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And then the door opened and I was flooded with relief – for there was David standing in front of me.

And then, between one beat of my heart and the next, I realized it wasn’t David, and the precious relief I had felt for just an instant vanished. It was someone who looked just like David, someone who reached out and folded me into his arms as I broke down in tears.

Glancing around the kitchen, I saw two more David-look-alikes – tall, tongue-tied and helpless, wiping their eyes. David had three brothers and here they all were.

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Just as I knew who they were without being introduced, they all seemed to know who I was. It seemed David had told them about my house projects.

There was an awkward flurry of stories, reminiscences, tears, some shaky laughs and then more tears. Great gaping holes of grief and disbelief surrounded by questions, guesses and fragments of answers.

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I had worried about intruding, but the brothers put me right at ease. They all knew so much about me. One brother thanked me for being who I was in David’s life, whatever that was. Moments and more moments passed, who knows how many, before that little voice inside nudged me again and said: Ask to see his studio.

Over our three years of friendship, David had invited me once or twice to come and see his paintings. I didn’t take him up on the offer right away and later, when I asked him a few times to show them to me, he responded that someday he would.
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And now, at this moment, every part of me knew that I needed to see his paintings, even if he wasn’t there. I knew that, despite our hours of conversations, I would not really know who my friend was until I saw his art. I dreaded it, and yet I needed to do it.

Lisa, David’s sister-in-law, led me through rooms filled with a carefree, but very neat mash-up of old family pieces, art, and rescued treasures. It brought back fond memories of friends I’d known in my 20s.

We walked past the kids’ rooms, through the living room, and into his bedroom, where she paused silently for just a moment to touch a pair of David’s paint-splattered heavy-duty work pants hanging on a hook. And then, she led me into his “studio.”

I had to smile when I saw that the man who had teased me about converting my master bath to a yoga studio, had made the master bathroom of his house into an art studio.

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Everything was just as he had left it – a tidy array of art supplies, waiting for him to come back and pick up the brushes again.

I had been nervous to see his art. What if I didn’t like it? But as Lisa began opening drawer after drawer filled with paintings, I caught my breath.

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The color, the spirit, the movement, the life and energy in each painting was astonishing. Where did all of this come from? I thought I knew my friend, but we had only scratched the surface with our exchanges of stories. I had no idea of the magic within.

“He painted on newspapers,” Lisa told me, showing me sheet after sheet of delightful images. “And he painted every day.”

He painted every day.

If she said something after that, I don’t remember, as those four words reverberated over and over in my head.

I was unbearably sad and berated myself wickedly for not having known this vital part of him while he was still living. The more I saw, the more twisted and wrenched with remorse I was for not having seen his art while I could still tell him how much I loved it.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized my feelings would probably not have been that important to him. A true artist, and the son of two artists, David painted – as all artists should – for himself.

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David kept only a small circle of friends. He was a good dad and crazy about his kids, but his spare time was spent creating. As a result of living a life of few distractions, he left behind an incredible body of work.

It’s difficult enough dealing with the sudden disappearance of someone from our lives, but what can make it even harder is what the end of someone’s life reveals to us about ourselves. That I didn’t follow through on his invitation to see his art still sears me to the core with remorse. My guess is that David was most himself when he painted and I missed seeing that. My loss.

With David’s death, an artist vanished leaving no written exchanges, no daily banter on social media, but instead a drawer full of hidden treasures, evidence that he had indeed been present. He was here.

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The lasting wish of the artist, as French poet Paul Eluard once wrote, is to last. David was focused. He painted every day. And his paintings will last on far beyond his life.

It’s sadly ironic that losing David was what it took to help me pull focus on my own work. Still pondering his loss months later, I have come to realize that it is when I write, or capture a scene with my camera that especially moves me, that I most feel myself. It’s these pure moments when, undistracted, I feel a physical creative synergy moving through me and I fully inhabit my body and mind.

And so, I offer this tale as gentle encouragement to all artists. Paint – or photograph or write or whatever it is you do – for those internal fireflies of emotions that glow within you whenever you are happy with your results.

Paint every day.

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David Patrick Joerling

1957-2017

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The Story of My Under the Tuscan Sun House

The moment the photos came up on the screen, I was smitten. I pestered a realtor to show it to me and spent an hour wandering through the rooms and gardens. It had been on the market for a year.

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This will be my Under the Tuscan Sun house, I thought, standing on the sidewalk looking at it. It was in Asheville, not Italy, but that didn’t matter. It was my very own Diane Lane moment.

This is where my grown children will come to stay and friends will come visit, I thought, as happy scenes from the film played out in my head.

There will be parties and gatherings, with wine and delicious food in the gardens. And maybe this is where I will find love.

The amazing thing is that all of it came true.

But first – as in the movie –

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there was a little work to be done on the house.

Ok, maybe a lot of work.

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For the most of that first year, it was just me & the dogs living in what I was now calling “Casa Mia.”

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And then one day, I happened to ask the German architect & gardener across the street if he had any single friends and suddenly, there was Tom– an unexpected and unlikely tale of romance told in my very first post on this blog.

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After many years of post-marriage singledom, I was delighted to be in this new phase of life. We had the house to ourselves.

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And then the phone rang. It was my son. “Mom, my roommate situation’s not working out. Can I move back in for awhile?” Sure.

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A couple of months later, the phone rang again. This time it was my daughter, calling from Seattle. “Mama, I think I might like to move back to Asheville. Can I live with you until I find a job and a place of my own?” Of course.

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The third call came from my 92 year-old mother in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Honey, I don’t think I can live on my own anymore. Can I move in with you?”

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Well, why not?!

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Family was coming and going, staying, cooking and eating. The house filled up with love and laughter, food and moments together.

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And there were also parties and gatherings of friends….

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“What are you thinking?” Frances (Diane Lane) asks Martini, the handsome Italian realtor, during a gathering at her home at end of the film, Under the Tuscan Sun.

“I think you got your wish,” Martini replies.

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“You’re right,” Frances says, looking around at the people laughing and chattering, eating and drinking.

“I got my wish. I got everything I asked for.”

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What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain. The house protects the dreamer. Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game.

It’s such a surprise.

Frances Mayes

 

The Dreams of a Child…

It was something I’d put off for years, and it would likely take even more years to accomplish, but it couldn’t be avoided any longer – I had to clear out the cellar.

I was tempted to toss everything into the bin and just be done with it. But then I thought, what if there’s something hidden in all these boxes I haven’t looked at in years that I might actually want?

And so it began, the process of putting on gloves and opening up box after box of old papers, letters, magazines, photographs and, for lack of a better word, stuff – as in the stuffing, the inner guts of what filled my cellar.

I hauled a few boxes out onto my front porch and began. Almost everything went right into the bin, but when I came across an old scrapbook of postcards I had put together when I was just eight or nine years old, I paused a moment to look at it. I hadn’t opened it up since I was a kid.

It was old and musty and I never liked the cover anyway. One quick look, I thought, then toss it.

Between sips of tea, I went through the pages. Childish handwriting labeled the countries — Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Spane, Greece, Floridia, Africa & America.

I didn’t remember many of the postcards, much less how they came to me – but I come from a family of travelers, so the collection wasn’t a total surprise.

Take the postcards from Denmark, for example. My Danish grandparents lived in Copenhagen and we visited them there, spending a few days on Skagen, a very cold beach in northern Denmark.

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Then there were a couple from Paris, where I would live for a summer, ten years later, working as a au pair, or nanny. I whizzed around the Arc de Triomphe, beautifully lit up, very late one night, clinging to a friend on the back of a motorcycle.

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I kept turning the pages.

There were postcards from Zurich, which I explored briefly in my twenties, en route to a week of skiing with friends …

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… and from Italy, where I would spend time during two different careers –

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several days wandering around Venice for textile design in the 80s, and then again a decade later to other parts of Italy to shoot a documentary film.

A forgotten postcard from my sister who was hitchhiking in Greece one summer – I was in Athens just last year, for my nephew’s wedding.

And on and on….

The more pages I turned, the stranger it got. I caught my breath, slowly realizing that I had been to almost every single place (except Ireland and the Philippines) that I had pasted a postcard from as a little girl. It was eerie how prophetic this scrapbook turned out to be, despite sitting in the darkest corners of my homes for so many years, neglected. As if it was just quietly waiting….

I kept going. There were postcards from Mount Vernon in the collection –

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I don’t remember them at all. And as a kid growing up in London, I would not even have known what Mt Vernon was at that age – and yet I ended up living in the Mt Vernon area for several of my married-with-kids  years.

As to the postcard of the pounding surf in Coastal Carolina?

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The kids and I enjoyed a number of holidays on the beaches of North Carolina when they were little …

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… and Zoë returned there to attend the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

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And there were postcards of birds and other exotic animals from Africa where my cousins lived at the time, and where I would spend a few weeks researching a book on my grandmother’s life, many years later.

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How very strange that a simple postcard collection became a sort of childish vision board – an illustrated map of many of the very places I would travel to over the coming decades.

And also a prediction, I soon realized, of where I would end up living in my 50s.

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Apart from “Floridia,” (where both my mother and sister would eventually settle for ten years), this is the only American state included in the scrapbook.

There’s no writing on the back, I have no idea how they got there or who might have sent them to me.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I took a break from the mustiness and memories and went inside for a bite to eat.

Later that afternoon, a torn fragment of an article slipped out from another pile I was going through. I held it up to see what it was. It seemed to be part of a book review — not the whole thing, just part of it.

And on it, these words were underlined:

The dreams of a child become the journeys of a woman.

Loosing the Muses… A tale of Heartbreak, Irony and Reinvention

Mom and I had plans to go to the movies together that night.

I arrived to pick her up right on time, but when she opened her door, I noticed her face had a strange expression on it.

“Just a minute,” she said, turning her back on me. She returned a moment later, with a newspaper clipping in her hand, her face a study in anxiety.

Wondering what news could possibly take the place of ‘hello,’ I scanned the torn fragment she handed me.

And then my heart just stopped.

It was a New York Times review of the book I had been working on for several years – a psychological non-fiction study of muses and their relationships with artists. A New York Times book review of my book! I had dreamed of this very moment many times.

Only, in my dreams, the review always had my name on it, not someone else’s. And definitely not an author who, up until that point, had only written novels.

I’d been sold out.

I was crushed, devastated, breathless…. my dream, my breakthrough project, my years of research and work – and there it was, with someone else’s name on it.

The book was a unique take on a rather obscure topic, could someone else have had the same idea?

In the days to come, I received phone calls and emails from friends around the country who were well aware of what I’d been working on, and who were all wondering – hey, isn’t that your book?

I spent three long days walking along the Potomac River trying to catch my breath, trying to reconstruct what could possibly have happened. My Washington, DC-based agent had sent my book proposal to an editor in New York for a second opinion. The editor’s harsh and skeptical critique left me unable to write much of anything for almost two years. I realized now that she must have liked the concept and my outline enough, however, to pass it along to someone else – someone with a recognizable name.

Through bitter tears of frustration, I berated myself for being too thin-skinned and not continuing to work on the book I believed in, despite the criticisms. It was my concept, inspired by my own circumstances, I should have kept going. It felt like someone had taken my autobiography and put their own name on it.

All of this happened 17 years ago, back in 2000 – the year that fell between the year my sister died and the year the twin towers in New York City were struck by planes, forever changing the world. I was broke and single, trying to get by as a freelancer in the capricious and challenging world of film and television, while raising two kids.

Reading my journal from that year – a journal of hope and dreams, a journal of aspirations and frustrations – I want to reach out to 2000 Kristin, who seems now like a little sister to me, and tell her not to give up.

2017 Kristin wants to whisper in the ear of 2000 Kristin and say, “Don’t let this experience jade you. You are resilient! You will soon create a new and better book project. You will continue to make a living in film and television for many years to come. You will blossom into a professional photographer and travel to Belize, Barcelona, New Orleans, Iceland, Mexico and Greece. You will spend Christmas in Finland with your son who is a university student there. You will have adventures in Geneva, Copenhagen and the Pacific Northwest with your daughter. You will move to Asheville and live in the mountains. Your kids will be fine, and you will find love again.”

But at the time, the hardships kept coming. A beloved uncle and mentor, who had been a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. My own father’s health began to falter. The IRS was hounding me. The bills mounted up with no steady work in sight.

But the kids were fine and somehow I kept going.

And then one day, a former client rang with a question about a film I had written and co-produced for him the previous year. Once we caught up on that, he asked me how things were going.

Under normal circumstances, I would never have ‘unloaded’ my miseries upon a client. But times were anything but normal. I admitted I was having some trouble finding work and wasn’t sure how or if I could even make it through the next month.

“May I offer some advice?” he asked gently.

Here was a self-made, multi-millionaire offering me advice, maybe even a grant for a new film, I thought hopefully. I hesitated only a second before responding.

“Sure!” I said, curious to hear whatever he had to say.

He chuckled softly. (Had I said something funny?!)

And his suggestion came as a great surprise.

“Kristin, let go, and let God,” he said simply.

That’s it?! I wanted to scream. How’s that going to pay the bills? I’m not a church-going person and his words offered neither consolation nor inspiration. So I thanked him politely and ended the call as quickly as possible, disappointed and feeling even more adrift and alone than before.

But those five little words continued to resonate in my mind throughout the evening and by the time I was ready for bed, I thought to myself – oh, what the hell? It’s not like you have any other options right now. Give yourself a night off from the worries and pressures of being in charge. And so, I let go.

The following morning, the phone rang again. It was Dr Bill Baker, the general manager of WNET, the New York City PBS station.

“Kristin!” he said, skipping the usual pleasantries. “I have a project I want you on right away. Are you available? It’s called, The Face: Jesus in Art!