"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in family (18)





We haven’t seen a hawk yet in Paris, but we’ve seen pictures.

Just before you die, everything in your character seems to become reduced down to its essence.

In cooking, a reduction means cooking a liquid until some of the water evaporates and the remaining liquid is thicker and has a more intense flavor.

As a boy, he was home-schooled by his mother; they covered eight grades in six years. When he entered a private high school at the age of 12, he was smaller than the other freshmen. He made an astute decision: he would have no enemies in his life. Instead he would make friends.

He changed physically, grew tall and handsome, but that decision formed the core of him. Everyone would be his friend, no one above him, no one below.

His Amherst College roommate had a blind date one night with a girl from Mt. Holyoke, a blonde beauty, with brains, spirit and character.

When the roommate returned, he asked him if he’d mind if he asked her out on a date.

That was fine, the roommate said. He’d only just met her. She didn’t belong to him.



Hawks are the swiftest of birds.

He and the blonde beauty were engaged before long, and the roommate saw that he’d been too slow to recognize what his friend had instantly seen.

They married in Massachusetts in 1943.

Few Americans doubted then that fighting the Axis was a just cause. He joined the Navy and was soon commanding a sub chaser in the Pacific.

English, Irish, Welsh and French by ancestry, he was born and bred in New England.

After the war was over, he and his bride settled in Massachusetts.

They wanted a family, and one, two, three years later, they had three babies.

They were focused in life, and focused in work. He found a job in a pre-fabricated housing company, doing what he loved to do from the time he was five years old: building something.

No one is lucky all the time, even a man who is strong, focused and kind.

The company went bankrupt.

But he’d married a fearless woman.



Let’s go west, she said.

They drove across the continent in a Ford sedan, looking for job opportunities in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

They sat on the beach in Santa Monica, looked at each other and said, All the doors were open in Arizona.

They moved their young family to a small house in Phoenix, bought with a GI loan.

He worked for other contractors.

She sewed curtains for their house, clothes for her children and tiny clothes for the two girls’ dolls.

Then, with the right partner, he started his own construction company.

She helped him as the company secretary.

Do it right the first time, was their motto.



Get to the goal swiftly, like a hawk.

Vision and passion, strength and focus—these are qualities one needs to find the right livelihood, choose the right mate.

But what if at the core your intention was to be a friend to everyone?

Wouldn’t you then approach the business of constructing buildings and houses in an open and generous manner?

Wouldn’t you offer jobs to those whom others tried to exclude?

This he did, being among the first to hire Native Americans, blacks and Latinos in Phoenix.  

Wouldn’t you offer employees the chance to buy shares in your company long before it was common practice, simply because, if your profits were increasing because of their good work, their profits should increase, too?



And if you were married to a woman who was not just smart, but had X-ray insight (the first time she saw Richard Nixon’s face on TV, she said, “He’s a crook”)—wouldn’t you listen to her, really listen, when she argued against the Vietnam War?

Wouldn’t you, a Republican businessman in a Republican state, have to re-think your convictions?

Wouldn’t you even have to admit that the Democratic Party was a better friend to everyone than the Republican, and change parties, even though almost every business associate and friend you had was Republican?

And when you and your wife, who now had five children, traveled through China in the ‘70s, and you saw how humane the Chinese practice of providing on-site childcare at work was, on returning home, wouldn’t you offer it to your employees?

And wouldn’t you laugh good-naturedly when you showed people slides of your China trips, and they called you and your wife “Commie pinkos?”

Was there anything that could obstruct or discourage your friendly approach to the world?

I never saw it.

Not when your powers failed you one by one.

Not when you could no longer work.

Not when you had to give up driving, mobility in the world.

Not when your memory started to go.

Not when it was mostly gone.

That sweet core of goodness, the kind treatment of others—that was there till you took your last breath.



You looked so much like a hawk, the slight curve of your nose, like the beak of the peregrine falcon on your family’s ancient coat of arms.

The morning after eleven of us gathered around your bed to say goodbye, all of us loving you deeply, a large hawk appeared outside your home, perched on a palo verde, looking fiercely in at the place where you and she used to sit and eat breakfast.

He looked in at your blonde beauty and your two youngest daughters.

He swiveled his handsome head to look at your two oldest daughters in the guest room.

He looked south towards the place where your son lived.

And then he flew away.

Mother had never seen a hawk so close to your home before.

She guessed that it was a Swainson’s.

I called Richard in Playa del Rey. As I told him about your beautiful death, a hawk circled the courtyard of our home. This was the first time he’d seen a hawk anywhere close to our house.

Later, you circled overhead when we walked by the sea.

Here in Paris we haven’t seen you soaring yet. But we are looking.






Aphrodite's Corner


Richard’s and my friend, Tristine, was in town last week. In our meandering around Paris, she and I met a warm, intelligent, attractive American woman who had once been married to a Frenchman. We discovered this by asking her why her French was so perfect. One thing led to another and before long we were telling stories. Love stories.

I mentioned my experience with Aphrodite (see the last Paris Play post, “Three Short Stories”) and the list I had made of what I wanted in a mate.

Jo Anne was weighing whether to stay in Paris or to return to the U.S.

What would it take to make you want to stay? we asked her.



Tristine and I had a mutual inspiration: what if I interviewed Jo Anne about her experience living as an American woman in Paris and what she was looking for in a relationship?

And call it Aphrodite’s Corner, Tristine suggested.

And so I did. I asked Jo Anne five questions:

1. How did you come to live in Paris?

2. How has your feeling about living here changed over the years?

3. Anything you want to say about being married to a Frenchman, or being a single American woman in Paris?

4. Have you thought about moving back to the U.S?

5. If you could live anywhere, with anyone, what scenario do you see for yourself? And what would be on your list for Aphrodite?

Here is what Jo Anne said:



In the 9th grade, back in the early ‘70s, a law passed allowing girls to wear pants to school, so I happily discarded my skirts and chose French as a foreign language. The two are linked in my mind as some kind of stepping stone to becoming what my fourteen-year-old brain imagined was a “free woman.”

It has always been a mystery to me exactly why I dreamed of coming to France. It was as if the plans had already been made and I was merely, and quite enthusiastically I might add, following through. Was it the freedom of being so far away from home? Was it the language, the art, or the desire to walk on cobblestones where centuries upon centuries of men walked before me?  



I was nineteen in my sophomore year in college. My mother thought a year in France would make me more “refined” and thus, I imagine, a better prospect for one of the “good catches” in our Boston suburb. Little did she know I had decided to make my own catches, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.



I fell in love with a Frenchman, became a woman, a mother, and during all this tried desperately to become French…and succeeded! After fifteen years, I lost my accent (almost) entirely and often stumbled over English when speaking to family. Some things were so much easier to explain in French. It was in that language that I became an adult, learned about history, philosophy, politics, motherhood, relationships. And observed my home country through the eyes of Europeans. I had very few English-speaking friends and would go sometimes for months without saying a word in English. I forced myself to speak English to my children but the words they learned were mostly “brush your teeth,” “nighty-night,” and “turn that television off.” 



When “je t’aime” started sounding more real than “I love you,” I knew I was losing an essential part of myself. Thus began a long climb back to re-possessing my language and re-becoming an American, with pride.

My job, working first for an international agent, then a French publisher, has helped a lot in that respect. Dealing constantly with English books and contacts, I dropped a lot of my French reading, refusing to read translations of English books or to watch American movies dubbed in French and becoming openly critical of a bad translation of anything English into French.

This struggle to repossess the “American in me” has lasted from the end of my marriage through two other significant relationships with Frenchmen, roughly twenty years, and continues today.



When I was a single mother I thought about returning to live in the USA. I missed my family a lot, but the main thing that kept me from making the jump was taking my children so far away from their father. After all, they were born in France. I just couldn’t be that selfish.



The strongest pull on my heart to return to the USA came in September 2001. A Swedish colleague rushed into my office and said, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center, check out CNN.” I was stunned for days, months even. I felt I needed to be “home” and realized then and there that I hadn’t lost the American in me after all.

But that American is a strange emotional and cultural hybrid.

Everything truly intimate, although it might be experienced in French, is translated by my heart into English. Despite all the sincerity of a “je t’aime,” I know it won’t reach that tiny compartment in my heart where those words were first recorded, and believed, in English.



I reached France at the outer limits of childhood, still young and naïve, full of dreams and time to make them happen. All of these things were transformed in French. Maturity came in French and was translated into English. Trips home highlighted what was lost in that translation as I tried to convincingly reword my experience to friends and family.



Today, I’ve reeled back in much of the American in me that has unraveled over the years.

Regarding passions, I've always been interested in too many things and envy those who have just one to concentrate on and perfect.  I love to read of course and write (poetry, short stories, songs) all for my personal pleasure. I'm still waiting for a great idea to inspire me to write a novel.  I enjoy making things with my hands and have dabbled in clay modeling, painting, quilting and all kinds of arts and crafts.



Recently I have taken up archery and find it most enjoyable. I have always been passionate about being a mother, adored pregnancy, and am looking forward to grandchildren (a little further down the line).  

I know that I can never, nor would I wish to, erase either side of the French/American me. My ideal life would be in a loving relationship with an American man, living half the time in Paris and the rest of the time somewhere in the beautiful American countryside. A place where all four seasons can be enjoyed to the fullest.

There is no idolization of American men in that, nor excessive criticism of Frenchmen. It’s that I now know the value of a shared cultural experience, and how different to me the word love is from the word amour.



This American man, ideally in his mid-fifties, will have developed a positive philosophy about life and is open to spirituality.

He is kind, attentive, has a generous heart and is protective of loved ones.



He must have a sense of humor, can be dry, amusingly cynical, but not bawdy unless it’s just the two of us (wink).

Enjoys learning and takes an active interest in our world... culture, politics, ecology, science, history...  and is definitely more Obama than Bush.



Physically in relatively good shape, doesn’t have to be a marathon runner though, just someone who is interested in feeling good and staying healthy but who knows how to indulge from time to time.

Is capable of self-deprecation, but has strong faith and determination to see things through. Clearly speaking, he has high moral standards and is faithful in every sense of the word.



He of course embraces compromise as a means of moving forward.

Is financially independent.

OK, down here on Earth, I have a job, a teenage daughter to support and retirement is still several years in the future. That said, few things are (as they say in French) “engraved in stone,” and I too am open to compromise.



May I end with a word to our dear Aphrodite?

Dearest goddess of love,

You have been here all along and I had shamefully forgotten about you. Thank the heavens your messenger, Kaaren, has come just at the right time and in a way so totally unexpected that I would be crazy not to act upon this chance you have offered. Please use everything in your formidable power, be it arrows, potions, sparks and roses, to help me recreate a loving relationship, as I am, and have always been,

truly yours,

Jo Anne.


                                     *     *     *     *     *     *


A final mot from Kaaren:  On behalf of Aphrodite, I ask you all, does this sound like you? Or like someone you know? Let me know if it does, and I’ll introduce said male to Jo Anne.




The Numinosity of Things


Great wars of liberation are being fought all across North Africa and the Middle East. Lesser wars of liberation are being fought in France, too. Here in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, we battled the forces of French bureaucracy to liberate our household goods from Le Havre customs.

We valued most of the fifty boxes at $50 each. Many contained books, writing supplies and journals. Many contained art. How do you assign such things a dollar amount? Customs was suspicious. ALL were the same value? Were we smuggling precious objects to sell in France, without declaring them, so we didn’t have to pay taxes? Or forbidden items?

The struggle to release our stuff took forty e-mails, twenty phone calls, 300 euros and three weeks, but we triumphed.

One week ago, the boxes were delivered to our door. The man who drove the truck three hours from Le Havre carried some of the boxes down to our cave[1], most of the boxes to our apartment, and with the help of a Romanian worker named Christian, he carried my maternal grandmother’s heavy wooden trunk up five flights of stairs, since it wouldn’t fit in the ascenseur.[2]

The truck driver, a shy, florid man in his 50s, who looked as if his favorite pastime was eating, seemed ready to pass out as he entered our living room. Christian, younger and fit, was smiling, unfazed.

The driver accepted a glass of water, but would not take a tip.

Christian stayed all afternoon, helping us slice open boxes with sculptures and paintings inside. He broke down the cardboard boxes for recycling, while we greeted beloved works of art as if they were old friends who’d made a long journey across the country by covered wagon, then a voyage by slow ship across the Atlantic, only to be held unlawfully in jail for nearly a month.

Are objects alive? Of course. How else to explain the numinous quality, the spell cast on us, by the things we unpacked?

These things spoke to us! They told us stories. Sometimes one would break into song.

Time or space won’t allow me to tell you every single story we heard in the several days of unpacking, but here are a dozen:

1) The trunk. The big, round-backed, dark brown wooden trunk belonged to my Norwegian-American maternal grandmother, Esther Moe Heimark. Esther was a poet and playwright who also bought antiques, which she sold in the small Minnesota town where she lived with my grandfather, Julius, and their three children. This trunk is the perfect size to contain the following:

i) My grandfather’s accounts of his parents crossing the United States by covered wagon, farm life in Minnesota, and leaving the farm to become a doctor.

ii) Copies of my uncle Jack’s Heimark family history, with photos.

iii) Genealogical books about my Kitchell family ancestors, Puritans who fled religious persecution in Kent and Surrey, England, and arrived in Guilford, Connecticut in 1639.

iv) My own oral history interviews with my parents, transcribed and bound as a gift to my family. How strange and heart-breaking to read it and hear how lucid my father was, just a year or so before his dementia began.

 2) A bentwood chair, also of dark wood, from my grandmother Kitchell’s apartment in the Sequoias assisted living apartments in San Francisco, where I and my cousins Kit, Mark, Liza and Hank visited her often in the two years before she died. She was always warm and nonjudgmental towards my then-boyfriend, Gary, a wild and wooly bohemian painter. An American blueblood herself, I never saw one instance of snobbery from her.



3) Dana Point, a painting that Gary painted, shortly after we left the schooner, The Flying Cloud. We had lived on it for two years, renovating it to go around the world. The painting has three levels: landscape, woman’s body and bird. It is surreal, like the work of Salvador Dali.

4) Celestine, a papier mâché bear and two tree branches that my sculptor sister, Jane, made to honor our father. I first saw it in her art studio in Boulder, and bought it half a year before her nearly sold-out art show at my brother, Jon's, and his wife, Leatrice’s, art gallery in Phoenix, Arizona. Celestine stands in the non-working fireplace of our living room, leaning forward eagerly, just as my father did in life.



5) The soft wool blanket with bears and men and women holding hands that my mother knitted and gave to me. I told her I repaired a couple of holes Marley had made in it while kneading me as I read in bed.

“Oh, that was the worst thing I ever knitted,” my mother said.

“But it’s beautiful!” I said.

“I mean, it was the most difficult of anything I ever made.” 

6) A painting by Kathleen Morris, Shrine for Couple #3, from my Santa Fe years when I earned a living as a traveling art dealer, which brought me to Los Angeles. I stayed in a suite at the Chateau Marmont in the late ‘80s, a very good time for selling art. I began to find the excitement of the city more appealing than living in the country in Santa Fe, and moved to Los Angeles in 1990. And there I met Richard.



7) Books by friends. Richard and I met at a 1994 poetry reading at a bookstore, Midnight Special. Later, with three friends, we started a poetry reading series at the Rose Café. It lasted three years, and exposed us to all the rich work of the poets of Los Angeles, and later, from other parts of the country and beyond.

8) The photo of Carolyn Kizer reading her poems at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. She was the first person to read at our series at the Rose Café, and became my poetry mentor and friend. Later, we bought the Paris apartment she and her architect husband, John Woodbridge, owned.

9) Prayers to the Muse, the cross that my sister, Jane, made for me when I received my M.F.A. in creative writing at Antioch University, Los Angeles. It is made of red leather book end papers and dry wall mud. Antioch gave me more friends than any other experience I’ve had in my life. Six of them joined me weekly for a fiction reading and editing circle at our house in Playa del Rey for years, which continues now with us Skyping between Los Angeles and Paris.



10) Charlie the marble. I opened a well-wrapped package and out tumbled Charlie. Charlie, a photographer, was married to my great friend, Polly, with whom I lived in two communes in Berkeley in the late ‘60s. Richard and I loved visiting Polly and Charlie in their warm, art-filled Berkeley home over the years. Charlie died several years ago after a liver transplant. A glass artist whose work Charlie photographed took his ashes and made 300 glass marbles out of them as gifts for his friends. Richard and I each have one, which we keep on our desks and play with. Richard wrote a sonnet to him. We talk to Charlie. He’s so pleased that Polly’s painting and sculpture are being shown in various galleries, well reviewed and selling well.

11) My sister, Jane, made a modern Kachina, The Minotaur, for Richard. He is a Taurus. It captures his Bull spirit, and now raises its arms in the goddess salute of ancient Crete in the nonworking fireplace in his office. (We were married in Crete, since our personal myth originates there.) The heavy stone at the base made it very difficult to ship to Paris. But we found an art packer, Jorgen, at Box Brothers in Santa Monica, who devised an ingenious way to keep the stone from breaking away from the papier mâché figure, and this totem figure arrived intact.


Page 113, The Red Book

12) C. G. Jung’s The Red Book. Richard and I saw a show at the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles of this magical book of mandalas that the great psychiatrist, C. G. Jung created as a vehicle for his own healing. This may be a universal method of healing; drawing a daily mandala was my way of healing, too. For my birthday last year, three of my siblings, Jon, Ann and Suki, gave me a book certificate. I bought this book with it. It is so numinous that I can’t read it yet. But at the right time, I will.



[1] Storage units in the cellar of the building for each apartment owner. The caves are ancient, eerie and cold. You can imagine Edgar Allen Poe setting one of his stories here.

[2] Elevator.



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