I rarely read for pleasure during the school year. Usually, I’m juggling, keeping ahead of my students re-reading (most often), three books concurrently. When I read my own selections during the school year, the books are most likely easy, all encompassing reads that I can’t put down. When I pick up a book that really makes me think or isn’t a mindless read– the amount of times I need to put it down makes me lose interest. I usually opt to read smaller works for pleasure during the school year– ones that I can enjoy over a short period of time. So, throughout the year, I accumulate a pile of books I want to read over the summer, when I can take all the time I need to savor them. My pile is like a promise that at summer’s end I will feel more fulfilled, inspired, educated than when the summer first began.
The anticipation of it is marked on the white board in my classroom: 10, 9 , 8, 7, 6… 1 more day until summer.
And, finally– ahhhh– it’s here. The thing about summer is all the possibilities that await. Eight weeks of whatever I want to do until having to even think about the reality of the day and the schedule and the plan and the obligations and the routine.
Summer.: luxuriously looking ahead, like peaking around the corner anticipating a surprise.
It’s waking up when my body tells me to and I’m not dictated by the deafening sound of an alarm. Taking the time to brew my morning coffee and fix a breakfast of assorted, shiny, juicy fruits, inviting my teeth to sink in, then sitting on the back porch with the morning sun squinting my eyes because they are fully awake, while I enjoy my breakfast and the sounds of the birds, and silence.
It’s planting and sowing, dirt under my fingers, as I dig into the cold soil– loosen the roots at the base of the flowers that had been tightly tucked into flats. I free them as I insert them into the hole I dug with my bare hands, pressing the moss and potting soil around them– giving them the security they need to flourish, amidst the symphony of complimenting flowers or herbs or grasses or greens which surround them. I care for them all summer long like children, nourishing them, nurturing them, appreciating their beauty.
It’s taking the time to sit at my computer and write… whatever I want to write: an inspired poem, a reflective blog, or a novel with all the complexities of an imagined world that lives, breathes, and unfolds in my head.
It’s sitting in the lounge by the pool at the right hours of sun to tan my body while I lose myself in an all-encompassing book; then, when I get too hot or find my eyes growing tired, I rise to stand at the foot of the pool, considering for just a moment how the cool water will feel on my skin, refreshing, before diving in. I always swim, at first, to feel the blood flowing and muscles stretching before laying back atop the water, reminiscing of my synchronized swimming days when I danced in the water all summer long.
It’s sauntering at the grocer’s, choosing this vegetable or that, after picking it up in my hand, feeling it’s stage of ripeness, considering how I’d use it in a meal and what to balance with what. It’s returning home, picking the herbs from my garden, turning on a play list which mirrors my mood, only to flutter about the kitchen while cooking my meal into a presentation that makes mouths water.
It’s the sun setting, coolness of the night air, when I look up the stars– linger, and wonder if they are watching me too. The cicadas sing the melody of summer nights and the fireflies light up the darkness descending.
It’s the mojito (crisp rum, bright green mint leaves, a stick of sugar cane) standing on the table in front of me, inviting me to sip, tasting the cold sweetness in my mouth: almost instantaneous relaxation. Across from me, a friend whose conversation I become lost in, one who evokes laughter and responds to my words with the same. We lose track of time and atmosphere, living in the moment.
It’s the sounds of the docks as we approach the boat: bells clanging, seagulls squawking, motors running, waves lapping. Once we are out on the water, it becomes all about the sights… the shore becoming smaller and the water, vaster in our vision, surrounding us. We lose ourselves in the comforting rock of the boat as we drift…
It’s all the pretty colors exploding in the sky. Waiting far away from the launching, to protect us from rogue vessels, we watch the set up, follow the spark as it touches the wick, and it winds in a circular motion up, up, up, until we lose it & and suddenly, it erupts fountains, a majestic tapestry of reds, yellows, oranges, gold, greens, blues, arcing, and then gracefully falling, eventually disappearing into the night sky.
It’s the salt scent that fills the air as we approach our summer sanctuary at theCape. Each year, I open the front door, full of the same eagerness as the first time we vacationed here– 28 years ago. The familiarity flushing a calm through me, unmatched by any other place in the world. We resettle our things before opening the sliding glass doors to the hot sand and the crisp blue bay whose waves rush up to greet us as we stand on the edge of where earth and water meet. Feeling the fawn-colored, granules stick to our tender feet, only to be washed away as we stand up to our ankles letting the undertow sink our feet in. We have arrived.
It’s watching our grown children, working together, as architects of the greatest sand castle of the summer. They work, often, silently; their rhythms in sync after all these years of honing their craft. There is the water gatherer, the shell collector/designer, and the dumper of the assorted molds of packed sand. Standing back, they admire their work, as I admire my own.
It’s waking up, lazily, still drowsy, to the sights and sounds of the water slapping the shore and the boats of the neighboring yacht club rocking like cradles. And the sun… oh, the morning sun, is the most prominent feature of our summer home. The way it rises in the sky, bright orange and yellow, rising up, casting its morning glow like a promise in front of me.
The arrival of mums at the town nursery is the first indication of summer’s end. They are potted, neatly in rows, awaiting the stage of maturation which makes them appealing for selling. I, of course, will buy these mums, but never before school has begun. I see it as some kind of slap in the face to summer.
And, then, there are the dreaded letters I receive: two of them, one from the principal and one from the superintendent, both welcoming us back to another school year. I know their contents: I stammer to open each of them, sometimes I get so daring as to leave them unopened on the table for days, but they stare at me– a haunting reality of the end of summer’s simplicities.
I did not write this… I came upon it on the Live, Laugh, Love FB Page (link on blogroll) of which I am a subscriber. I’ve read it over and over again trying to figure out where I am in all of this. I think I know, but it’s fluid– on a good day, I’m at one stage; on a bad day, another. I suppose this is part of the PROCESS Kingma refers to. I’m going to write a response to this once I’ve fully thought it through, but I thought it makes sense enough to share/ponder…
“7 Stages of Love – Daphne Rose Kingma in her book The Future of Love
1) Romance: We all know this one. You fall in love. The world looks beautiful, your partner perfect and bliss is an everyday occurrence. You cocoon and spend more time alone than together with friends. You see all the ways you are so alike. Sex is hot and passionate, and you have a love drug high a lot like a dark chocolate buzz. You are with your soul mate, the person of your dreams.
2) Commitment: A pledge is made. This can be to get married; to live together; or simply to be an exclusive monogamous couple, or even just to date. At this stage emotions run the show. You dream of an ideal future and you feel the love.
3) Crisis: Here something happens that upsets the happily-ever-after applecart. This could be a financial struggle, a disagreement about an in-law, a difference of opinion about goals or a fight about something big. This is the first moment where the dream erodes as the once unnoticed differences between you and your loved one are now starkly apparent. As Kingma writes, “The personality is disillusioned and now the work of the soul truly begins.”
4) Ordeal: This is the proverbial power struggle. And it can go on for weeks, months or years. It’s a rut you find depleting yet comfortable. Kingma calls it the “meandering phase of the relationship.” Here, issues keep coming to the surface (usually based on emotional childhood wounding) that never really get resolved. The same fights keep happening. Then you kiss and make up, but on the surface only. Underneath, resentment brews. This ordeal is a journey of intense emotional growth. Exhaustion happens, along with disappointment, hate and envy. As this power struggle rages, partners are faced with a choice, as Kingma writes, “to put the relationship back in a box, stamp their feet, and pound their fists on the wall and demand that it fulfill all their expectations on a psychological level—or they can start to grow.“
5) Chaos: This is the black hole, the dark night, the bottom. All is lost, and you are lost. You feel out of control. Chaos is announced by one of the following behaviors: an affair, fights that don’t end, boredom—or the awareness that you have grown apart and there is no longer a common ground. In this zone, if couples don’t break up they often seek out relationship therapy, which Kingma notes can be an attempt to put things back into the box of the ordeal phase. Here the relationship is truly at a make or break place, and the gift can be equally in the make, or the break. “Chaos,” writes Kingma, “is an invitation to the spiritual level.” Humpty Dumpty is not necessarily better off being put back together again.
6) Surrender: Here, we can awaken. This stage holds the profound promise of something different. Surrender does not mean passivity, where in paralysis you stay in an abusive or truly miserable relationship. What surrender means here is giving up control of outcomes and instead embracing the possibility that an ending can be as healing as a continuation. Writes Kingma, “When you surrender, you give up your expectations, surrender to the process, and give in to what has occurred. It is spiritual because it assumes that a force greater than yourself is guiding the action and will be there to catch you, that you are not alone on the tight rope of your personality without a net.”
7) Transformation: Kingma dares to call this the true love phase. Here integration occurs. “The strength you have developed becomes your own. The tragedy you have lived through loses its ability to emotionally derail you. You are now a person who contains emotional and spiritual attributes which before, you did not possess.” At this juncture, you have grown a new you—you can never go back. Self esteem and self-love have landed. You might choose to grow the relationship to a new level, or simply move on because you know that the relationship will not grow you further. Transformation is a stage where you have nothing left to lose.
The reward of this seven stage love journey (though it may take several relationships to get there), is that it potentially gifts us with inner peace and authentic well-being. In Kingma’s words, it leads us to a place of the ‘grace of pure love—no axe to grind, no needs to whimper over or insist on being fulfillfed. Just love. Pure love.’ “
“Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a tiny kingdom, peaceful, prosperous, and rich in romance and tradition. Here in a stately chateau, there lived a widowed gentleman and his little daughter, Cinderella. Although he was a kind and devoted father, and gave his beloved child every luxury and comfort, still he felt she needed a mother’s care. And so he married again, choosing for his second wife a woman of good family with two daughters just Cinderella’s age, by name, Anastasia and Drizella. It was upon the untimely death of this good man, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty, she was grimly determined to forward the interests of her own two awkward daughters. Thus, as time went by, the chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortunes were squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters while Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house. And yet, through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true” (Cinderella).
“Life is not a fairytale,” my husband soberly reminds me. But in my heart, it is not a futile dream.
My royal infatuation began with Cinderella which I watched religiously, year after year: overcoming obstacles, good vs. evil, innocence vs. experience, social status, fairy godmothers– the royalty & happily ever after.
Fast forward to29 July 1981, I assembled my closest friends for a get-together at my home, at5 a.m.to witness the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer– a fairytale, “love affair” I’d been following since the start, collecting photographs and articles (assembled neatly in a scrapbook– to which I would add this day).
I continued to follow Princess Diana, and grow to love what she stood for– a sweet princess unprepared for her role; she was the real life version of who Cinderella would have turned out to be in a sequel, if there had been one. I followed her through her sisterhood with Sarah Ferguson (the original “Fergie”), who refused to conform to the rules of the monarchy. I admired them both, as women, for being convicted to holding their grasp on their identities. In anticipation, I rooted for Diana through the public downfall of her marriage and her simultaneous rise as a humanitarian. A REAL face of the monarchy was shown to me through those years… one whose ending did not always end happily ever after.
In my early years, my love of old films lead me to a brief curiosity of Princess Grace of Monaco– only to learn of her difficulties with Prince Rainier III… another indication that not all things end blissfully.
From these experiences– I read up on the Kennedy’s lives, Ted’s sordid past, Jackie O’s idyllic life, Camelot, Kennedy’s indiscretions, his assassination & later, Bobby’s– America’s version of the royal family, and OH what a checkered past they have had. Solidification that being admired and in the public eye, possessing great wealth and opportunity does not necessarily lead to happiness.
So, my journey to dig deeper continued… first with reading up on all that I could, particularly in regard to Charles & Diana. I read Andrew Morton’s books, I watched the interviews that Diana conducted to learn about what the REAL life of a royal was like.
In 1997, when news broke of Diana’s accident, I had been watching t.v., to which I remained glued into the early hours of the morning when they declared she had, in fact, been killed. I believed it was some Royal conspiracy to do away with her in order to cease the stain she imposed upon the royals with her so-public lifestyle. I remained, curled up in my bed, on the day of her funeral with a box of tissues by my side. My heart went out to those, now motherless, boys as they so regally walked with their father & uncle behind her casket. Though, she wasEngland’s princess, she made the warmth of her spirit felt throughout the world. Not only did I let her into my living room, she seeped into my heart.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to visit Château de Versailles with my friend, Amy. There I learned about the grotesque opulence that went into the design & building of that estate, which took generations to complete. As I walked through the Hall of Mirrors, I learned that room was built solely to show off King Louis XIV’s wealth & that a room, today, would cost what a room lined in diamonds would cost. I also learned that it was an honor to empty the King’s bed pot, that people would line up for the privilege. The paintings of the kings and Marie-Antoinette and the salons dedicated to each of the gods are what most stuck with me, as did the ornate, if not gaudy, decor of the palace.
I found myself obsessed by the works of Philippa Gregory, especially The Other Boleyn Girl & The Boleyn Inheritance. While fiction, they are based on much research of the Tudor Monarchy. King Henry VIII is arguably the most fascinating of the royals.
Assigning The Other Boleyn Girl as summer reading for my British Literature students gave me the format to delve into the Tudor Dynasty in addition to gaining the insight of its connectedness to so many other works in my curriculum. When The Constant Princess was published, I attended a book talk with Philippa Gregory, who spoke of her experiences as a consultant for the film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl which provided her the opportunity to meet the royal family. The way she told her story, with humor, particularly in regards to Elizabeth & Charles, softened the bitter taste for them that I had acquired in light of the Diana incidents, and Charles’ subsequent marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles.
In 2005, my first tour toEnglandincluded witnessing the change of the guard at Buckingham Palace– something that sent chills through me to see in person. That year, we also touredLeedsCastle, one of King Henry VIII’s summer retreats andWarwickCastle, which Madame Tussaud’s Wax Works represents the Victorian Era in tribute to QueenVictoriaandPrince Albert.
A return tour in 2011 took us toWindsorCastlewhere we also witnessed the change of the guard. The guards were so close, we could touch them, but we didn’t dare. I swear I saw the Queen walking her dogs in the gardens– though I can’t be sure it was her, in my mind it will always be. This trip also gave us the opportunity to visit The Tower of London which housed a host of the Royals, in addition to the crowned jewels. We visited Westminster Abbey, the church where many of the royals took their coronation, exactly one week prior to the next world renowned celebration of the wedding of Prince William to his fiancé, Kate Middleton. They were placing decorations of trees and garland and hiding cameras in them. Outside of the church, stadium seating had already been placed, in anticipation of the guests who could not fit inside the church. News cameras and reporters already flooded the outside of the church, capturing footage of the set-up. Will and Kate memorabilia could be found in any store, and, of course, I indulged myself in some (for my one-day grandchildren).
A week after our return to the states, just as I had done 30 years prior, I awoke at 5:00, roused my daughter, and, together, we watched the next King of England betroth the Princess of Wales in yet another fairytale extravaganza. Will and Kate seemed to restore what had been lost with Diana’s death.
On my wedding anniversary, my husband took me to MGM Grande to see the Diana, Celebration exhibit, chronicling her life & works, put together by her sons and her brother. So many photographs, artifacts, and her iconic wardrobe was there, in addition to the original copies of the eulogies from her funeral. What struck me the most was two-fold, one was the zest she had for life, living, helping & educating others. For all the heart-ache she endured, she had an amazing amount of compassion and love to give– which will long be her legacy. Second, was the volumes of evidence of the lives she touched through the journals that had been compiled from the outpouring of sympathy over her death. Cases upon cases of scrapbooks– a testimony that, while she was a short-lived royal, both literally and figuratively, she had just as strong an influence on the world as those who surpassed her by years.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: River Pageant commences on 3 June 2012. People lining the River Thames as a parade of boats heralding the 60th anniversary of her reign pass by. It reminds me of Edward Rutherford’s London, commemorating the inception ofLondon to present day in an historical fiction novel where he weaves real life events and people, filling in the gaps. Ironically, just Friday (1 June 2012), my class paid homage to this novel in a London Alive Festival where they brought to life various aspects of the eras of London’s history including the Battle of Hastings, The Cutty Sark, Gin Lane, Dog’s Head, the Druids, various Trading Companies, Shakespeare’s Othello, British tea shops and pubs, the Festival of the Yuletide, the Monarchy, the Reformation, and the British Museum.
Queen Elizabeth, the second longest reigning monarch, second to Queen Victoria’s reign of nearly 64 years, stands on her Yacht Britannia, dressed in her white suit and hat, waving to the crowds amidst the rain, quite appropriately- traditional English weather.
Despite the death of her father, the grueling obstacles placed before her by a wicked step mother, enforced & outnumbered by two evil step sisters, Cinderella emerges — rising above, with her Prince Charming at her side. While Fairytales and Royalty are not immune to the realities of life, they symbolically represent the ideals we strive to achieve — and there is nothing wrong with trying!