Doorways of the Past

door-collageOn a recent trip back to London I visited most of the places I used to live and took pictures of the doorways. It had been four decades since I last trod those particular pavements, walked up those steps, slid my key into the lock and pushed open the door to places I once called home. These flats and bedsits were all in Chelsea or Pimlico, Kensington or South Kensington. The few times I lived in North London were brief and unhappy, and not worth the trouble of going back. My home is now Brooklyn, and I hadn’t been back to London in twenty-eight years. All I had was a week, so each foray into the past had to count.

The last doorway I went in search of was nowhere to be found. St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital. How could an entire hospital disappear? I’d only spent a week there too, back in 1976, but it was such a memorable week that I wanted to go back and see the place.

st-mary-abbots-in-pencilI took the tube to Kensington High Street and walked the short distance to St. Mary Abbot’s Church. For some reason, probably because they had the same name, I thought the hospital might be behind the church, so I began walking around the block. There was no sign of it. I even enquired in a shop. The women proprietors were middle-aged and elderly; surely they would know where the hospital was. But no. They’d never heard of it. So now I Googled it on my phone, which is what I should have done in the first place, because now I learned it had been torn down, replaced with luxury apartments in a gated community called Stone Hall Gardens nearby on Marloes Road.

This was a blow, but I took myself off to Marloes Road anyway, hoping something might be left of the old hospital. It had originally been the Kensington Parish Workhouse before being converted to a hospital from 1871 to 1992. During my scrolling, I also learned that Jimi Hendrix had been brought there DOA in 1970.

stmaryabbots1I walked up and down Marloes Road, looking for something, anything that might stir a memory, but recognized nothing. Though the gateposts and part of the brick wall from the workhouse had been left standing, I didn’t remember them from my brief stay. Not to be outdone, I rang the bell and asked the gatekeeper if I might come in and look around as I’d once been a patient at the hospital. But he said no, there was nothing left of the old place now. I know when I’m beat. Time had moved on without me. Coming back at all after twenty-eight years was an accomplishment in itself, and I’d have to forget about St. Mary Abbot’s.

But how could I forget that place where I’d experienced my first spiritual awakening? That little white room with the iron bedstead and bars on the window. The sink in the corner crawling with ants. The lovely walled garden where I floated around barefoot on the grass in my long silk kimono, pretending I was Ophelia. I’d gone to the hospital because I’d wanted to die, and instead I found a beautiful new life! The place was no longer there, but the ground was, along with the memories I would never forget.

church-in-progressWhen I was back in New York the visit seemed worth writing about. The doors that were still there, and the one door that wasn’t. St. Mary Abbot’s Church would be a stand-in for the hospital that once bore its name. I began a drawing of the church. I’d write a little, then draw some more, and meanwhile I thought to look up the old hospital again to get my facts right. Now that I was more relaxed on my laptop at home rather than wandering around Kensington while I anxiously Googled the history of the hospital on my phone, I noticed the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki. It seems that Hitchcock used the exterior of St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital for footage of the character Blaney (Jon Finch) entering and then escaping from the hospital in his film, Frenzy (1972).

hospital-2I had actually seen the film on You Tube not long ago and quickly found it again. I fast-forwarded, and near the end, an hour and twenty-some minutes into it, I saw the entrance to the hospital. There was no mistaking it. The shot took place at night and it was dark, but I recognized the spacious, empty parking lot. (It had been night when I was admitted there too.) hospital-1Though it was a bit fuzzy, when I saw the plain, modern-looking, unfussy entrance, I recognized it at once. It was more than I expected. I happily finished the drawing of the church, thinking all the while of God’s Grace…

It was probably that, the thought of God’s Grace, which brought my mind back to the bombing of the hospital during WW2. I went back to the website, Lost Hospitals of London, and read about the bombings again.

In 1940, during WW2, the Hospital suffered bomb damage. Four people were killed and one of the blocks was destroyed. Then in 1944 when a bomb scored a direct hit, five nurses, six children and seven adult patients were killed. There were thirty-three casualties in all. The patients were evacuated and St. Mary Abbot’s was forced to close. After the war the hospital gradually opened its doors again.

Could it have been those deaths and the bombing which caused me to have the dream of death the night I came home from the hospital?

Being a patient at St. Mary Abbot’s in the 1970s, though only for a week, had been a life-altering experience. But the dream I had the night I was discharged was even more cataclysmic. I described the events which led up to my being a patient, along with my stay in hospital and its aftermath, in my memoir, The Nancy Who Drew; the memoir that solved a mystery (2011).

In brief, the dream involved a past-life memory of death in WW2 on board a British civilian aircraft shot down by the Nazis. I was no stranger to dreams of death, though this one was far more complex than the nightmare which haunted part of my childhood. Now I wondered if being lodged on a former bomb site had stirred up the memories again.

You can clean up the rubble and bury the bodies and build something new over a scene of destruction, but the past is still lodged in the energy field. Those who are attuned to such things pick it up.

The circumstances of my being a patient involved a complete surrender of self. In this voluntary surrender, and due to the kindness and understanding of the hospital staff (as well as the lack of medication) I experienced an opening to my Higher Self. This new openness astonished me. At the time, I thought some kind of filter had been removed, because of the way my senses were suddenly able to take in so much more. And then I went home and dreamed about a past death, the dream that would change my life forever.

Thank you, Mr. Hitchcock, for preserving the entrance on celluloid. And thank you, St. Mary Abbot’s Hospital, and the NHS, and the staff who were there in late spring, 1976. I remain forever grateful.

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Happy New Year

New Yearhappy-new-year’s Eve in the late 1950s, when you were too young to look back and not old enough to look forward, but you remember those magical nights when you could stay up till midnight in New York City. When you and your sisters and brother were given pan lids to bang together like cymbals as you leaned out your ninth story window protected by curved window guards. You didn’t need special hats or blowers, just a couple of ordinary kitchen pan lids you will bang and clang together as if to say, Hello world! I’m here! I exist!

In the teeming, grownup city that pays you no mind, living above neighbors who complain about four pairs of little feet pounding bare floorboards as they run about the house, this one night of the year it’s permissible to make a racket.

You keep awake till midnight by watching The Twilight Zone as you devour wedges of Drakes Frosted Coffee Cake, washed down with (normally) forbidden cokes. Then at last it’s time. Everyone grabs their pan lids. The windows are thrown open. Cold winter air rushes in and nobody cares. You charge over to the window. The blaring cacophony begins. Bang-bang! Clang-clang!

Time’s up, and you are shooed off to bed. But you don’t mind. You have said your piece and done your bit, and you’re sleepy anyway. So off you go on this cold black night, knowing that although you are little, you have made a big noise.

Happy New Year!

 

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In Sync with the Universe

Yesterday, when I spilled the split peas before I’d even had my coffee, I thought it was going to be one of those days. Instead, it was one of THOSE days.

First I realized the kitchen floor needed a good sweep anyway.

nickelThen I went out and saw a penny on the sidewalk. I’d done enough bending down with the spilled peas, and left it for somebody else to pick up. But on the next block when I saw a nickel on the sidewalk, that was different. Pennies may be good luck, but when I find a nickel it always seems like a wink from the universe.

I continued on. As I passed the subway entrance I saw a man tumble down the last couple of steps and land on his back. In that fraction of a second when I wondered if I should go down and help, a woman appeared and helped him up.

I continued on to the pet food store and found kitty grass was in stock. It’s only delivered every other week, and I never remember which is the ‘on’ week. What luck. Someone at home was going to be very pleased.

Then when I got home I found my ‘lucky pen.’ I’d been searching for it for days and thought it was gone forever.

Since this was turning out to be such a pleasant day, I thought I’d write down all these good things that were happening. When I had to go out again I took the list with me in case I found more to add.

This time I had to take the subway. As I was coming down the first flight of steps to the platform I heard a train coming in. I didn’t know if it was an F or a G. I wanted the G. The F train has twice as many cars and takes up the entire platform, but the G only stops in the middle, so I hurried down the second flight of steps in case it was a G. It was. So now I had to run to the middle of the platform. I ran fast enough to slip in before the doors closed. There was a seat. After I caught my breath I took out my list and wrote, ran fast enough to catch the train.

Later that evening I was carrying a bag of groceries. I wasn’t looking forward to the long walk up the hill but it was too cold to wait for the bus. Then a bus appeared. I had just enough time to dash across the street and fish out my metro card. I was too tired to take out my list to write, “caught the bus.” It was enough that I had.

Last night before I went to sleep I remembered the reason I liked finding nickels so much. They represent the number five, the balancing point between the one and the nine. (There is no ten in numerology.) Five is the median, the place between. I see it as the place between Above and Below, the balancing point between Heaven and Earth. And because I know how to count to five in French and Spanish, I knew five was cinq (sank) in one, and cinco (sink-o) in the other. In those languages just saying the word five is like saying sync. Five, that in-between place I know and love. I can’t be both on Earth and in Heaven at the same time, but when I’m in sync with the universe, it’s a little like heaven on earth.

Sync is a verb that means making things work together. (Wouldn’t that be Heaven on Earth?) It’s short for “synchronize,” which came into use in 1929 to describe linking sound and picture in the new “talkies.” The idea of being “in sync” with another person didn’t come about until 1961. (Ah, the Sixties…when we spoke of being simpatico…) Nowadays, we’re more likely to describe “synching” our personal electronic devices.

But whether it’s cinq, cinco or synched, whenever I find a nickel it always means more to me than five cents. (I remember being able to buy a whole candy bar for a nickel!) Even though I had to run for the bus and the train yesterday, I felt in sync. Even if it was only in my little corner of the world, that corner is part of the universe. On the back of the nickel it says, E PLURIBUS UNUM. “Out of many, one.” On the sidewalks of New York.

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The Dark Light

Last night I dreamed about the Shadow. In my dream it was an alien virus, and I was

the-shadow

Sketchbook drawing 1980s by N.Wait

with one of the doctors (picture a white coat) trying to find a cure, or at least a containment. But this seemed impossible because the virus appeared as a shadow—and was as difficult to catch!

The one I saw was no bigger than a quarter. I saw it on the throat chakra, the vehicle of speech. You know when you shine a flashlight on an object, how it appears as a small round beam of light? Well imagine you’re in a very light, white space like I was—the room was white, all the furniture and fabrics were white, and when you shine the ‘light’ it is DARK. A shadow light!

But how do you cure (or contain) a shadow? I saw a watch-face—signifying it was Time. Or This was the time. I was in the kitchen, trying to cook something up, but I didn’t have all the ingredients… Oh dear, I thought. Oh dear, oh dear…

shadow-3

Sketchbook drawing by N.Wait 1980s

Ahhhh, the same feeling of “Oh dear,” when I heard Trump won the election. The same feeling I’ve had all through this election cycle. But this is not an ‘alien’ virus. It is us. (Dear us!) Ours. Indigenous to this wondrous planet of polarities. I read that as of yesterday there were already 900 cases of hate crimes or hate speech in the three weeks since the election.

The Shadow Self. (Fear, anger, terror, hatred—take your pick of negative energies.)

The Shadow will out. It must. In order to be dispelled it must out. And so we shine our light, no matter what the degree of darkness or light…it is still Light is it not?

(And the missing ingredient in my dream? Why, it must have been Love. Love and Acceptance. How could it have been otherwise…)

shadow-4

Sketchbook drawing 1980s by N.Wait

 

shadow-2

Sketchbook drawing 1980s by N.Wait

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Bygone Times

Nothing makes me feel part of a bygone time more than walking around my neighborhood, remembering there was a grocery store where now stands a bank, or a laundromat (so long a fixture that they displayed a washing board in the window!) replaced by a restaurant replaced by yet another bank. A real estate place is where the Cheese Shop used to be…

But what’s the point in going on about it. We still have lots of neighborhood places like the ones here on my last postcard of Seventh Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets. 7th Ave scene

I plan to do more of these little shops. They are an example of what I like about city life. The little shops. They come and go too, but at least for now they outnumber banks and estate agents.

When I moved to Park Slope in the early 90s there were two art supply stores on Seventh Avenue. Then one was replaced by a shoe store. The other one disappeared more recently, and now it’s (yet another) nail salon.

Pearl PaintTwo famous art supply stores in Manhattan have recently closed their doors. Pearl Paint, down on Canal Street, which I began visiting in the late 70s, closed last spring (or was it the spring before last…).

Lee's Art ShopAnd now Lee’s Art Supply on 57th Street is shutting up shop as well, having sold their building for 85 million dollars. (They call 57th Street Billionaire’s Row.)

Artist and CraftsmanAnd yet a new art supply store opened in Park Slope a few years ago—the Artist and Craftsman Supply on 2nd Street—and they’ve got a huge selection in a warehouse like space.

I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 50s and 60s, and it’s changed so much I can hardly bear to go back there. I remember Gitliz and The Tip-Toe-Inn, and the Beacon when it was a movie theater and those little shops that just sold candy. The little bookstore called Womrath’s. Even Zabar’s was only a small deli then.

I like reminders of the time when most us were much smaller than we are today, like when I visit costume exhibits in museums and marvel at how short the people were, what tiny waists they had. Or when I see a door with its knob about six inches further down than the ones we have today. When we were smaller, and the world seemed a much bigger place. We can’t go back, but we can remember…

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Aligning with Enchantment

watercolor and pencil by N. Wait 1987

watercolor and pencil by N. Wait 1987

As the din of gunfire around us grows louder and more outrageous with no end in sight, I think of the illustration I once did of the man and the bear.

The client said, “I want a picture of a bear and a man drinking beer in the bear’s cage at the zoo.” He added that the man was more of a caretaker than a zookeeper, the cage was more of a stage set, and the bear was really a man in a bear suit.

When I showed him the preliminary sketches he said, “Can you give it an air of enchantment?”

I looked up enchantment in the dictionary. To attract, delight, cast a spell over.

If I had been given the assignment today no doubt I would have waved my digital wand at one of the many filtering options at my disposal on phone and computer. But this was thirty years ago. Back in the old days I had to manipulate the image with paints and brushes and colored pencils. If there were to be any special effects, they would come about with actual water dousing actual paper, an actual eraser rubbing that paper. A sensory, touchy-feely exercise geared towards “attracting, delighting, casting a spell over.”

Now, being that my goal was actually to delight the client, enchant him with my artistry, I had to get myself into the right frame of mind. Which is to say, I had to align myself with his intention. This meant getting into alignment with the idea of being enchanted. I knew exactly what to do first—put on the right music—the music that enchanted me—the record of medieval choir singing that sounded like a chorus of angels.

This angelic music filled the room when I took out my watercolors and a fresh sheet of paper. Angelic voices filled my ears as I began putting color in and taking it out, over and over again, creating layers, a feeling of depth, a sense of mystery. The angels continued to sing as I smudged and softened the borders between things, creating a diffused space where anything might happen.

(The picture above is a photo of a photo…of the original, and as such it is darker and more dense here, which cannot be helped.)

As the voices guided my brush, painting felt like an act of surrender. I abandoned myself to the picture, submitted to the client’s desire. He, after all, had given me the idea, planted it in my brain, as it were. To give him what he wanted I had to make it my idea too. And so I went on smudging, defining, then smudging again. When objects became too fuzzy I used colored pencils to add definition, then softened the lines again with a wet brush. I toned down the light at the edges, making it more shadowy. I went as far as I dared with the blurring and the smudging and the softening of edges to give it a dream-like quality, the sense of a different dimension.

But in the end I think it worked because of my sincerity. My commitment to making this unreal scene look absolutely real. So that I could believe in it too.

I am still in alignment with the idea of being enchanted.

As the din of gunfire around us grows louder still, and still more outrageous, I still think of the man and the bear. I think of bearing. I think of what must be borne, and what cannot be borne anymore.

(I would like to turn all those deadly metal bullets into flakes of snow. Let the snow fall—not the bodies. And let the snow melt, and create a new stream. And let the stream nourish the fields where the flowers bloom…)

The man and the bear are drinking Amstel Light. It was my favorite beer in those days because of its name, Amstel Light, which to me meant, I’m-still-light.

I drank in the fact that I was still light. I gave it to the man to share with the bear (in his bowl on the ground), and now I give it to you.

They can’t shoot the light.

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Connections Never Die

 

tree lovers

Pastel on paper by N.Wait 1996

Strange how you can meet someone and a spark ignites, yet seems to burn out quickly. The song becomes a memory, till one day  40 years later, you google him…

…and find that the music hasn’t stopped after all. It has only shifted to an underground stream. You were listening all along, with your inner ear…

 

Yesterday, walking on a Brooklyn street, I was suddenly impelled to take out my phone and google this man I knew briefly long ago, only to learn we had been playing in parallel streams all this time. For while he played the Green Man at the annual festival in an ancient English village, I was in Brooklyn writing a story about a girl who turned into a tree. I was drawing trees as the masculine/feminine joined as one. The would-be lovers transformed into tree bark, in the woods.

Or on opposite sides of the street, leaning towards one another.trees on 10th ST.JPG

 

green man

The Green Man by Pete OMalley

I also learned that he died year before last. But energy doesn’t die, it merely changes form. And if perchance we meet someone, it doesn’t have to last more than a few weeks or months in order for the angels to strike up the band. Just because the lovers part, doesn’t mean the music stops. It plays on, in some other stream. Every meeting is significant. And sometimes the ones that burnish the heart are the most meaningful of all.

Dedicated to the one who once drew me, and I drew back…

 

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