Seven weeks ago I moved into a beach cottage in Venice. In the morning the air smells of sea and jasmine. I awaken to birdsongs. Sometimes they are not songs, but caws. Sometimes the caws are outright shrieks. With the sea come the gulls. With the infinite majesty of the ocean and its abundant life come these scavengers, loping down upon the refuse. Yet I am struck by the beauty of their languid arcs as they swoop up discard; by the very grace in their graceless task, salvaging sustenance from remains.
I moved to Venice from the house my former husband and I bought six years ago, where we lived as a family for four years before he moved out and forward into his own, new life. After many conversations with a trusted child psychologist, we had all agreed that, as the primary parent, I should remain in the primary residence to support our fragile son through the trauma of divorce. The plan worked, as well as it could. Our Autistic child appears to have accepted the new arrangements the way he accepted the loss of classmates and teachers and school placements each year. It's all part of the shifting debris that swirls around the centrifugal pull of his deeply internal focus. Once it was clear that Matt had made his adjustment, I was free (at last) to make my own. After 24 months living in a haunted house, I packed up the ghosts, stuffed them into storage and (carrying only the minimum of what I needed) moved into a cottage that is the size of our prior living room.
I have not been this happy since I was 20 years old, and moved to New York to pursue my great passion; the theatre.
Come to think of it, when I was 20 I was adrift in post-adolescent angst. Therefore, I have never been this happy.
What I did not know and could not have understood until now is the impact of one's environment upon one's psyche. In fact, upon one's soul. After David moved out of the Brentwood house, I repainted walls that he had insisted we keep white with bright punches of poppy orange and apple green, emphatically claiming the space as my own. I hung pictures, rearranged furniture, and expanded into rooms that had been his bastion. I hosted dinner parties and dance parties and fundraisers. I held production meetings for film projects which (after almost a decade of retirement from my career as Motion Picture Executive and Producer) seemed to find me. And, yes, I even dated. To the naked eye it certainly appeared that I had commenced my own, autonomous life. That I had reclaimed my sovereignty, and had picked up where I had left off prior to folding into the role of wife and mother. But actually during these past two years, I had been walking with one foot dragging behind, caught in quicksand. Stuck in memories that lurked around each corner, in each framed photograph, in the dishes we had purchased on holiday, in the recollected squeals of children jumping in and out of the pool, between the cushions of the couch where we had sat together celebrating my husband's creative, professional triumphs, or--even better--sharing in his struggle to accomplish them. These memories did not crouch and pounce like spooks in a B-Rated Horror Film. Instead, they lingered in the ether, layering whatever appeared to be the present with an imperceptible yet impenetrable film of the past.
Since moving to Venice a tremendous shift has occurred. I feel and am, in every way lighter. I lost five pounds. I sleep less and move faster. I laugh more easily. Projects, which had been at an impasse, are suddenly progressing. And I am writing. Every day. First thing every day. I open my eyes, lift up my laptop and begin writing, as a sort of bridge from dreaming to waking state. Not since I was 20 have I been so in the flow of my own creativity.
In Anton Chekhov's great play, "The Seagull," the ingénue Nina is in love with art. When we meet her, she is in thrall with artistic expression as the finest of human endeavors; as that which makes us most human. She believes that the artist, in exalting the contours of humanity, becomes necessarily an exalted human. In mistaking the art for the artist, Nina falls in love and runs off with the gifted but utterly self-absorbed Trigorin whose very nature renders him incapable of reciprocity. He takes what she, without restriction, offers. And when he has had his fill, he moves on. She is left abject, with a sick son who dies young, and a flailing career performing mediocre melodramas with a roving ensemble. Years later, the troupe finds its way back to the "scene of the crime", and Nina reunites with Konstantin, who had loved her in their youth, and whose own heart was broken when she fled with Trigorin. In a monologue which many have mistaken as the ravings of a broken mind and heart, Nina tells Konstantin of all that has befallen her. She tells him that she not only accepts that the dreams of her youth have been shattered, but has come to prefer undecorated reality versus fantasy. Because the nature of living is to suffer and to endure, and that freedom and fulfillment of our individual humanity lies in realizing and accepting that fact; in finding sustenance in what remains. Nina refers to herself by saying; "I am a Seagull".
By the way, Chekhov considered this play to be a comedy. Because the protagonist learned the truth and how to live within it. Which was his definition of happiness. As good a definition as I can imagine.
When I descended the steep driveway of our Brentwood house for the last time, the Pop Radio station I was absent-mindedly tuned to, suddenly played a song that I had barely remembered from back when I was 20. It was a song about love ending and moving on despite it all, and the various stuff that Pop Songs are made of. But this one zapped through the radio like a signal from the Universe directly to me. It was over; the dreams of my youth which I had poured into this marriage, this child, this family, this very house. My only child is disabled and always will be. The trust I placed in our marriage vows was misplaced. These are facts. These are truths. And as I drove away down the long, winding canyon road, I began to live within them.