May my heart always be open

A year ago today, while in Costa Rica, I learned from a neighbor that Ivan was missing from his apartment and had been acting strangely for days. Eventually a social worker found me and told me he had suffered a manic episode extreme enough to be hospitalized. I had to leave the ship I was on to rush halfway across Costa Rica for a flight to Phoenix to be with him. The drugs he took to keep future episodes at bay sent him on a downward spiral of depression and other health issues that he tried in vain to overcome all of 2022. Now, a year later I am once again in a place of great beauty trying to comprehend what happened, and what it means for my own life.

I am still sifting through my thoughts and don’t quite know what I want to write yet, but tonight, as I wait in Tahiti to join a ship in a few days, I saw this sunset, and an ee cummings poem I hadn’t thought of in years came to mind. I will let him speak for me.

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Tonight I pulled the beautiful sky in this photo over me and smiled. I am going to be fine.


Love the child that holds your hand

“What you seek you shall never find. For when the gods made man, they let death be his lot. Eternal life they withheld. Let your every day be full of joy. Love the child that holds your hand. Let your wife delight in your embrace. For these alone are the concerns of man” -The Epic of Gilgamesh


Leaving the Train

I read a remarkable story the other day. 

A boy had traveled by train with his parents every month to visit his grandparents. Eventually he reached the point where he convinced his parents he was old enough to make the trip alone.  As the train prepared to leave the station, his father slipped something in his pocket, and said, “if you feel frightened or confused, this is for you.”

The trip was different from when the boy had his parents for reassurance.  The train was noisier and more crowded than he remembered, with people looking at him in ways he could not interpret. Scared, and feeling terribly alone, he remembered his dad had put something in his pocket. It was a piece of paper on which he had written five words:

“I’m in the last car.”

We know we have to let our children go, but no matter their age, we always want to be in the last car, watching, in case their life gets too tough to handle on their own.

For 43 years I was on the train with my son Ivan, at first with him in my lap and eventually supporting him from the last car. With great sadness, I am now ready to go public with the news that Ivan and I both left that train on January 1, 2023.  Ivan is gone now, exploring the hereafter with his brother, Adriano, and I am stepping into my future as well, now that we both are free of his suffering. 

I don’t know how long it will be before I write more about this. Just wanted you to know what has happened, and to assure you that although it is pretty lonely and confusing standing on the platform without him,  I am feeling strong and capable of moving forward, and grateful as ever for the blessings of my life, even when they are mixed with pain. Thank you for any loving thoughts you sent Ivan’s and my way.

Ivan Etienne Corona

September 28, 1979- January 1, 2023

Rise in Power, Be Free, Go with my Love


Solstice Light

Victoria is covered with a foot of snow. The streets are brown with slush and today will be treacherous with ice after a solstice-long night of temperatures well below freezing. It’s a good time to stay inside and light candles. 

We don’t live in an era when candles are necessary—unless we forgot new batteries for the flashlights and the power goes out—but they are one of our most potent symbols. Jews are lighting them this week in celebration of a miracle.  We light them to usher Shabbat in and out. Many Christian denominations light them at the altar to begin services.  They are one of the most powerful ways we have to separate ourselves from the mundane and ordinary and enter divine space and time.

Or just inure ourselves to the long, cold dark of winter. Years back, I took the coastal steamer one summer all the way up Norway to the Russian border. Because it was the means of transportation for local people and goods, I had a few hours in several remote towns unvisited by tourists. I spent a fair amount of time poking around hardware stores because I have always been curious about what we now rather inelegantly call “life hacks,” which are on display in what local people buy. I was amazed by the quality and quantity of items relating to setting a beautiful table—runners, mats, tablecloths, and of course candle holders. In a town without tourists to sell sticker-shock Scandinavian brands to, where else is there to shop for beauty but the aisles between the snow shovels and the bins of nails and hinges? Though it was midsummer and only passingly dark at any point, it seemed clear to me what this was about.  Winter is either here or coming in this part of the world. 

There is something deep in all of us, I suspect, that understands that beauty keeps darkness at bay, that light helps to banish loneliness and isolation. In the long stretch of time between ending my toxic marriage and meeting my great midlife love, Jim, I collected tableware and changed out my table every few days.  For a while I set two places even though I knew one would be unused, mostly because I preferred the way it looked, but admittedly because it represented some future hope of having the right person seated there. Funny, how when Jim died, I went back to doing this, but with only one place because now it was too sad a reminder of the man who wasn’t there.  And, I realize now, it was an important symbol of how I had fully embraced the idea that I, by myself, was enough. 

The lighted candles were part of those tables. They help us weather all variety of storms. 

As often happens when I post here, I think I will write about one thing and end up talking about something else. I thought I was going to write about weather and memory, and if you go back to the opening you will see how it took just three sentences to set the course this post was meant to have.  My jumping off point was going to be how I notice when I think back about my travels, how rarely the weather factors into my memories. Southeast Asia is very hot and humid, but what I remember are the Buddhas and the bustle. Don’t ask me whether I was wearing a parka or a light jacket as I was exploring the Maritimes, or whether it was a day for sandals or shoes and socks in the Canaries. I have to look at my photographs to remember. 

Of course there are exceptions—the sudden torrential rain flooding the streets as I was showing my friend Linda the sights of one of my favourite cities, Riga.  Taking advantage of waterproof boots to splash in puddles in Quebec City with my friend Nancy. Scrambling to put on layers of summer clothes for an unseasonably cold day in Morocco with my friend Jane.  But these are the exceptions. Maybe it’s because I spent most of my life in Southern California, where the weather report is on a continuous loop most of the year, and maybe it’s because I have mostly traveled at the easiest part of the year weather wise, but really it’s just that everything else counts for so much more. 

And so it is today. There’s snow piled in the yard, the paths along my beloved cliffs will be far too icy to risk a walk. And probably all I will remember is the glow of the candle I will set in the window. Blessings of the solstice to you all.

The view from my door before dawn.

Mother Love

I have been thinking a lot these days about what being a mother has meant to me over the four plus decades I have been one.  Motherhood is a complicated state, made even thornier by children’s insistence on being their own flawed foils to their parents’ imperfections. 

Even before my first child was born. I was surprised by the mama lion awakened in me. My now ex-husband and I had been a little ambivalent about parenthood but decided waiting to be absolutely sure was a choice to be childless, since that level of certainty was unlikely. I went off the pill and soon the decision had been made for us by a speedy sperm and a ready egg. But from that moment it was like a complete reordering of everything, physically and emotionally. All ambivalence vanished. I wanted that child ferociously. 

When my son Adriano was born, I felt a depth of love and bonding I hadn’t thought possible. When I got pregnant a second time, I couldn’t imagine in the early stages how I could possibly love anyone as much as the child I already had, but the same ferocity took over, and I learned with Ivan’s arrival how a mother’s love doesn’t get divided but doubles. 

When my children were small, I would without hesitation have sacrificed my life for them. This level of protectiveness remained strong as they navigated their school years and experienced the hurts of a world that didn’t revolve around meeting their desires and needs. But there’s a subtle shift as children become adults. It’s not that the ferocity of the love abates, but that it becomes less one dimensional.  

I was on a tour somewhere on a cruise assignment and while on the bus, the guide somehow got talking about how parents will do anything for their children. He asked the people on the tour if this wasn’t so, and got mostly blank stares. I could see he was utterly disgusted and pulled him aside later to explain that it wasn’t that they were heartless, but that their children were probably in their forties and fifties.  He said that he had meant when their children were small, and totally agreed with their response now that he understood it.

Obviously, somewhere along the way, our thinking about our children changes. There are a lot of ways one could try to explain this, but what seems to make most sense to me is the idea that motherhood (and fatherhood too for involved fathers) has both unconditional and transactional aspects.  With babies, they are scarcely separate.  A baby offers us gurgles, smiles, and excitedly kicking legs and we are repaid for all we do.  Toddlers just have to offer us a bite of their cookie and our hearts go every bit as soggy. 

But as children get older, we expect more.  They need to pitch in. They need to be more accountable. This is all on the transactional side. The unconditional love side remains intact. Eventually the parent-child relationship reaches a point where, to use a common trope, the parent won’t reflexively throw him of herself in front of a bus, but rather both parent and child act to help the other—and hopefully both of them—get out of the way. Somewhere along the line, a healthy parent-child relationship starts feeling more like a team. 

This can take a long time to happen. An adolescent sense of entitlement to everything relating to parents can extend even to when the first gray hairs start popping out of the child’s head. Parents can have a hard time letting go of the desire to save their children from stress and hardship, and keep figuratively throwing themselves in front of the bus to keep them from suffering. 

This comes about because that unconditional love aspect of parenthood never changes, but somewhere along the line a healthy transactional side never adequately developed. Unconditional love sends messages that it isn’t right to let a son or daughter go without something we can easily afford to give. It says that when they let us down, we should adjust our attitude about what we asked of them so we can let any negative feelings go. When parents think they are supposed to behave this way, they are confused when it only makes them feel smaller. Love is supposed to make one feel bigger, but unconditional love without a strong and respectful transactional side will almost guarantee the opposite. 

Occasionally I see situations where children bend over backwards to do things for parents to try to earn their love because that love has always felt conditional, and the one-sided transactions never satisfy the parent for long. True, unconditional parental love is a great grounding force and an important asset to a child’s healthy and happy life, but the important thing is that both unconditional and transactional love thrive.

I think children tend to relate only to the parent standing in front of them currently, but the parent sees the child as everything he or she has ever been, from bump, to birth, to today. It isn’t just about who did what for whom recently. Some debts can never be fully paid.  The parents also need to know when to let children just be who they have become and not saddle them with all they ever were.  Any healthy relationship between grownups, is founded by genuine actions to be part of a team that lifts up both sides. Parents and children who can achieve this are fortunate indeed. 


Totally Dark at 5PM

I looked out my window just now and had the thought that when the solstice hits in one month, it will be even worse. The darkness will mount around 4PM, and when I wake up, as usual, around 6am, I will have several hours before dawn makes it fully a new day.

But there’s nothing “worse” about it. It just is what happens this time of year, and the better approach is simply to mark it and move on.  I might view it differently if I lived elsewhere in Canada. I might be switching gears more profoundly to truly winter weather, winter troubles, winter pleasures, but really here in Victoria, it just boils down to shorter days and a need every day for my parka, hat, and (maybe) gloves.  

I will not have Pacific Northwest gray and dark as relentlessly as many here, since I will be gone in January and February, first in Southeast Asia and then in Micronesia, but I am feeling philosophical anyway.

There is good in every season. I had a glorious summer and fall, and now it is time to be smaller, to be more inward, to withdraw a little and just be with myself. I haven’t written anything here for a while because some things about my life are too private and complicated right now to share.  In that sense, I think I started winter very early this year. But every season of mind and spirit has its own benefits to offer.

Though I am not Christian, I think often of the line from the Gospel of John about “having life and having it abundantly.”  As I walk along forest paths turned spongy with this season’s fallen leaves (photo below of my latest walk), i see the vanished green life at the edges of lakes and streams and remember that sometimes to choose life, you have to withdraw, to cocoon, to hibernate.  it is a good thing to seek a cave from time to time, or in my case, to seek a restorative place where I can walk and just let the changing season speak to me.  These are all ways that life chooses itself again and again. And so do I.  Let the days grow shorter. I am ready for the life that waits within this fallow season.


A Is for Atonement (and Apple Watch)

The formal season for reflection and atonement is now over, but I have a piece of unfinished business and a story to tell.

A reservation mix-up in Montreal caused me to change hotels after my first night there, and when I got to my new hotel, I realized I wasn’t wearing my rather new and expensive Apple Watch. A thorough ransacking of my luggage confirmed that I had left it in the last hotel room.  I went to the device finder app and for some reason it said my watch was still at home in Victoria (nope), so that was no help. I called the hotel to ask them to look out for it, and they said it had not been found. 

I was still hopeful, and I went about my day trying not to let self-recrimination ruin it. That was hard to do. I have been careless so much in the last year or two, losing more than one phone, and walking away from jackets, bags, etc..  I am not careful about checking spaces I have vacated, and I can’t seem to break the habit.  Yes, I check hotel rooms pretty thoroughly but obviously not carefully enough. I am a failure at protecting my possessions, I am getting senile, I can’t justify buying expensive things, I am just not anywhere near the responsible person I want to be—all this was going through my mind. 

Then, for some reason, in the afternoon the app updated and said the watch was indeed still at the address of the hotel.  At that point I was out of town, and when I returned I headed straight there. To my surprise, just before I got there, the app said the watch was somewhere else, about a kilometer away. 

I went back to my new hotel and called to tell the other one that they indeed did have the watch and now it was gone.  The clerk and I agreed that it was quite suspicious. The housekeeping staff would have been on site until roughly the time the watch left the premises. The most logical conclusion was that someone had found it and taken it home.  

The manager got involved and it was starting to look ugly, because I said that for something that valuable, with the appearance  of theft, I felt I had to file a police report.  It also was starting to look as if they might have to deal with a thief in a position of trust. Everyone was very unhappy. I was thinking at that point that I would rather have lost the watch than be getting into the spiral of accusations and mistrust I sensed was coming. 

Then the manager stopped returning my calls.  Were they circling the wagons?  Were they on the verge of resolving this with an employee and just not ready to say anything yet?  I didn’t know. In my new hotel I found my experience of the housekeepers colored by the belief that the last one had not been honest. Ugly, indeed. 

It stood that way for another day, when I called again and was told that the watch had been found in a pile of dirty sheets.  Of course, I thought, the person who took it brought it back and ditched it. Maybe they showed it to someone who told her these watches have tracking devices and to get rid of it fast.  Anyway, I could come pick it up. I was relieved not just to have it back but because I wasn’t going to be responsible for doing harm to whoever had taken it. Even if it had been stolen, life is hard, and I didn’t want to get anyone fired who was already struggling to survive.  

So that is the story as experienced by Laurel. Now I will tell you the true story of the watch. Apparently it was caught up in the bedding when I left the room. The housekeeper had not seen it when she collected the sheets and had thrown it in the laundry. In the afternoon, coincidentally, right at the time the shift ended, it was headed to the laundry service.  That was where Its location changed to, not at someone’s home. 

But it gets better. Apparently the watch got associated with the laundry of another hotel, and it had taken the better part of a day’s dogged search for my old hotel, the laundry company and the misidentified hotel to all come together and realize where the watch needed to go. While I am thinking terrible thoughts, all those people were coming together to help a total stranger get her property back. 

All this was happening in the last few days of the High Holidays, meant to be a time of reflection about our shortcomings and resolutions to be a better person in the coming year. I am still processing the story of the watch in these terms. In Hebrew the word Teshuvah is often translated as repentance, but its more literal meaning is return. Return to a time before we went astray. Return to a simpler understanding of the connection between behavior and principles. Regrounding. A chance to be new again. 

I don’t think I was a bad person to think my watch was stolen. I think it was reasonable to draw that conclusion. But I was wrong when I said to the hotel manager that there really didn’t seem to be any other way it added up.  There indeed was, and it is a reminder that we can choose between thoughts that reaffirm our faith in humankind, or that undermine it. I chose the latter and for a few days I suffered needlessly and could not be my best self. 

I could say that what happened reaffirmed my faith in humankind, but that makes it about other people and in the spirit of Teshuvah, I want it to be about me. Where is my opportunity for return in this experience?  

I can return to compassion by remembering that every person I meet has a story, and try harder to have their story be better as a result of crossing paths with me. i can do better at this.   I can return to greater confidence that most people are trying to live their best lives, and thus are doing their best to be trustworthy and honest. I can do better at this too So what if I daily see exceptions?  I daily see proof as well. It’s there in every one of the people who got my watch back, including—and here I can return to assuming the best in people—the housekeeper who never stole it in the first place. 



I haven’t written here since I “finished” my novel. I added quotation marks because it isn’t finished until the publisher says it’s too late to change anything, but a few weeks ago I reached the point where I couldn’t see how to make it any better. That is what I guess any writer would recognize as “temporary finishing,” although already I am tinkering again.  

That tinkering is taking place only in my head. I left a few days ago on a cruise assignment in Alaska on Seabourn Odyssey, and as always happens, being on a ship is such a radical departure from the rhythms and requirements of life ashore that I no longer even pretend I will get anything done except what is expected of me (nailing the talks, socializing with guests, and that’s about it).  

Yesterday I opened the file for my novel, just to make sure I brought the most current one.  I stared at the words and it was like being on the outside looking at a foreign world. I shut it without reading even a page. 

I am not sure I ever went directly to a cruise after finishing such a momentous undertaking as a novel, although the prep for talks is quite a bit of work every time. I guess for that reason I should have expected to be in a bit of a daze.  Add to that the fact that this is familiar territory not just from past cruises but from my life on Vancouver Island. A cruise usually is a journey into the new and different, but here it feels more like a continuation, a new vantage point from the water of familiar landscapes of rocky shores and timbered slopes. Nothing ho hum about it, to be sure, but a little different from waking up in Barcelona or Singapore, where one is jolted into recognition that this is definitely not home and energized by the desire to go do something about it. 

We are anchored briefly this morning in a secluded coastal area so that guests can go off kayaking and exploring by zodiac (photo of them returning below) before we move on to our next port. It is a surprisingly warm and blessedly sunny day, and I have been sitting outside with just a light sweater and shell jacket feeling a pleasant nip on my face that reminds me we are coming into fall. The water is calm and teal colored except where the wisps of breeze turn it sparkling silver.  Seals are cavorting off the stern and seabirds are circling to see what the fishing excitement might be. Zodiacs are coming and going, happy voices carrying across the water.

About an hour ago a pair of humpback whales showed up very near the ship. They are, of course, one of the things the guests have traveled this far to see, and that many have hopped onto little excursion boats to go out to find. And there they were! The slick, grey backs arched as the sound of their huge white exhalations reverberated across the water, with majestic Mount St Elias in the background. You

can see a little of the back of one whale in the photo below, but mostly I just watched rather than thinking i needed to document.
I took deep cleansing breaths along with them, and it seemed as if I was exhaling for the first time in months. Letting everything go. Returning from the fog into a clear and pristine present. I can just breathe again for a while, just be, and it feels wonderful. 


What It’s Like to Finish a Novel

Finishing a book is one of the most befuddling experiences in life. I have just experienced it for the seventh time (five published and one unpublished books, plus this new one), and it is always the same. 

Regardless of my vows to keep my life balanced, by the end I have failed utterly, as always. I still exercised, but less, still had human contact, but less, still took care of business, but less. But even a minimum of an hour a day on each of these leaves a whole lot of hours every day to be obsessive, especially considering that the “get up and get back to your book” alarm in my head was going off around 5AM. 

In some ways it’s the same as the tail end of any long stretch of concerted mental effort, knowing you must be exhausted but being too wired to feel it. The exhaustion shows up in weird ways, like disorientation even in familiar surroundings. I walked into a plexiglass wall a few days back and still have the tender forehead to show for it, though the lump and bruise have faded. The other day I decided not to go on a new hike with a group because I would have to drive on a highway to get there, and I didn’t trust myself to pay adequate attention to the road.

The late Sharon Kay Penman, an author much admired by historical novelists, once said at a conference, “While you’re writing about the past, don’t forget to live in the present.”  She knew how hard that can be.  My characters are more concrete to me than my own body, more real to me than the people in my life. It is an extraordinary state to be in, and I am not complaining. It is a privilege to be able to go into another world. It’s the coming out that’s hard. 

I look around and wonder, “so, what do I do now?”  I have enough neglected business and errands to fill my days for a while. Every day I’ve been pushing forward on my calendar all the phone calls I should have already taken care of, the appointments and reservations I need to make or cancel because the ground is always shifting underfoot whether I’m paying attention or not.  it’s been so long since I pulled out the cleanser that the bathroom and kitchen are an embarrassment to myself.  The problem is, I don’t want to do any of it. I have been in this amazing place of my own creation and I don’t want to come back to boring things. 

Dealing with strangers is the hardest part. I have a few friends who have done a wonderful job of not letting me float off the planet, but I reach a point where I can’t shop for groceries because I would have to speak. The spell gets broken by every little mundanity, and I don’t want to do that.

In a way, this state is much like fresh grief, when being alive doesn’t seem real. I offer this only as a means by which you might glimpse this state, and hope you don’t read too much into the analogy. Maybe in a sense I am grieving the end of something big and important. I don’t deny that. But really, it’s more of the reverse. I have gained something huge—a completed book!  My life is bigger because it now has this in it. I will find my way back to a normal that doesn’t feel at all impoverished, but enriched. 

I know this befuddlement is brief and fleeting. Unlike grief, I will “get over it.” I’m going to fill this day with healthy goodness and maybe even make a few boring phone calls, solve a few nagging problems, and possibly get the toothpaste splatter out of my sink. 

Or maybe that can all wait. The sun is shining, and I’m meeting a friend this morning. The world is offering its welcome, and I am going to stop writing this and step out the front door, letting all my senses remember that I am still here.

What i did today The dahlias at Butchart Gardens were like a fireworks show just for me.

Tod Inlet August 2022

i have a lot of favorite places in the area around Victoria. I have gone more times than I can count to Elk/Beaver Lake, Thetis Lake, Witty’s Lagoon, Swan Lake, Mystic Vale, and Island View Park, to name a few, but there’s one that is in a category all its own. it may sound macabre, but I have anointed Tod Inlet as the ’hold my memorial service and scatter my ashes here” favorite.

I have been getting up (without alarm) around 5 and working until 10 or 11 on my new novel, at which point I am worthless to do more for a while. For the last few weeks I have used that as the marker at which I go to the gym to swim and work out, or go for an amble along the shore or in the forest.  

Today i finished the heavy duty revision and am down to tweaks and line edits This is such a huge marker point that I decided to go do a forest bath at Tod Inlet. Remembering a promise I make to myself but have always forgotten to this point, I took a picnic lunch. In the final stages of writing a book, the fridge is in pathetic shape, and what I had today was the rest of a precooked chicken, some snap peas from a farmer’s market a few days back, and the last little bit of a bag wine. Perfect! Off I went!

The path to Tod Inlet changes so much over the seasons.  At this point, the rushing stream has become a trickle so the woods are silent except for the occasional bird. As I walked along, I thanked the forest for being there for me and realized that wasn’t right.  I tried again and thanked the forest for reminding me that I was part of it, and part of everything. 

 I ate my lunch, and I swear that chicken was far more tender and the pea pods far less past their prime than they would have been at my kitchen table. The solitary wasp that showed up though it was pretty good too.

A dragonfly hovered, and as happens so often, I thought of a poem. ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,” I thought to myself and had a good laugh imagining how a book editor would react to that line. “That repetitive K F K F/ D F D F alliteration is annoying—can you rephrase?” Ah, the difference between poetry and prose!

The ground had that look and smell I remember from campgrounds in my childhood—dry dirt and small stones, a little parched yellow grass at the edges. Memories hovered at the edges of my mind but never quite broke through. 

The bushes were rife with climbing wild sweet peas. Once when I was in France I saw sweet peas at a florist and was shocked that they cost more than roses.  When I asked why, the clerk told me it was because they were “tres raffines.” Very refined?  The seeds even a child can grow? I thought of that today as they flourished in the wild. I suppose everything in nature is refined  if what we mean is perfectly suited to its place, which is definitely not in a florist shop. You can see them along the bank here

Today was a funny mix of juxtapositions of meaning and being, but it makes sense. Finishing a book is like surfacing, and I suppose it should come as no surprise that today dragonflies have editors and sweet peas have judges. Soon I will experience again the mix of gain and loss that accompanies a project as big as a book It changes me, and I will have to find my way back. Or more appropriately, find my way forward. With places like Tod inlet to go to, that shouldn’t be hard.